Mandolin Crosspicking Techniques By Mickey Cochran
Reviewed by Dave McCarty
The crosspicking roll Jesse McReynolds pioneered on mandolin as a way to mimic the driving three-fingered bluegrass banjo roll created by Earl Scruggs has become one of the most elegant and broadly influential techniques ever created on mandolin. Not only has it become a staple of nearly every bluegrass mandolinist's repertoire, the versatile approach to generating long-ringing passages of notes has given musicians like Radim Zenkel and others a technique to stack arpeggios and other note combinations, further enhancing their creative expression on the instrument.
But for its importance to the mandolin community, few books or videos have singularly approached this technique or expanded much beyond the familiar three-string roll used by most players. To remedy this deficiency, Mickey Cochran has taken a systematic approach that explores crosspicking as a total means of mandolin expression.
"There are no limitations on how or where crosspicking can be applied," he writes in the introduction. "It's truly one approach to the mandolin that can be adapted to any style of music.
A thorough introduction to mandolin tablature, including attack symbols, chords and pick direction indicators, gives the beginning student a solid grounding in how to use the instruction material included here. More advanced players will likely skip right to the heart of the subject.
Unlike many mandolin instruction books that are adaptations of fiddle or violin lessons, Mandolin Crosspicking Technique is written entirely in tablature; there's not a line of musical notation anywhere in the book. I feel that's actually a major strength in Cochran's approach to the subject, since, as in chromatic-style banjo, notation can be subject to interpretation while tab shows exactly which strings should be played at which frets.
The book begins with simple two-string exercises, forward and reverse rolls and alternating bass patterns to give the student a thorough grounding in basic crosspicking techniques before moving on to common tunes like Wildwood Flower, Redwing and John Hardy.
Cochran does an outstanding job here, giving the student a basic right-hand pattern to practice and the chords of the tune as preparatory work before giving them the actual tune to work on. This approach builds a logical progression of skills that the player can then use in their own playing.
After a few bluegrass-style tunes, the book turns to fiddle tunes like Down Yonder and Whiskey Before Breakfast. Cochran has done a good job for the most part picking tunes the student is likely to actually play in their next jam session (although who ever heard of Bald Headed End of the Broom?)
He even gives us some highly challenging tunes to work out, including Ode to Joy, and jazzier numbers like Cotton Patch Rag and Beaumont Rag. The book ends with a nice discography and a list of suggested materials for further study.
One could complain that this book does not include the typical companion CD playing each example, but the text is so clear and each tune is so well written out that almost any serious mandolin student ought to be able to read through these pieces without needing to hear them.
Mandolin Crosspicking Technique does a fine job introducing the mandolin student to the basic principles of this fascinating technique, and shows them some exciting possibilities for some advanced uses of this engaging, versatile style.
If you've never really explored this aspect of mandolin or want to add some new approaches to your current crosspicking technique, this book is an excellent place to start.
Mel Bay Publications MB96613
PO Box 66, Pacific, MO 63069