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Thread: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

  1. #1
    Registered User hannah's Avatar
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    Default How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    I'm 18, a freshman in college, and just realized my life is completely lacking in the music department - I've been into art and dance since I can remember but I just think it would be awesome to CREATE music. And I would like to play the mandolin because it sounds beautiful.

    My musical past: Played the piano from age 6-9 (hahah, yeah probably doesn't count) Played the flute from age 12-14? (I was forced into that.) I sang (hah! barely!) throughout all of middle school and the majority of high school
    --- I only bring all that up because maybe I'll be able to pick up reading music again pretty quickly?



    How difficult do you believe this will be for me?

    If I work pretty hard - will I be able to play an easy song within... a few weeks? a few months?


    Any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated! Thanks!

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    Registered User Tracy Tucker's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hi Hannah, and welcome! I had never played any instrument either, and can't read standard notation. I have been playing for 2 1/2 years and still consider myself a beginner. Your progress will be completely up to you - how much time you are willing to invest is the determining factor. It helps if you have someone that you can play with (have a friend that plays guitar?) on a regular basis. Mandolin is a fun instrument, and it's a wonderful process in learning to play it. Good luck!

    Tracy

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    Registered User tjg's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hannah, I only wish I had started at 18. Go for it! Your past musical experience will only help. Playing music (especially mandolin) will give you a lifetime of joy and pleasure. I'm sure that you'll be able to play an easy song in a short time.

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    Registered User hannah's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tracy Tucker View Post
    Hi Hannah, and welcome! I had never played any instrument either, and can't read standard notation. I have been playing for 2 1/2 years and still consider myself a beginner. Your progress will be completely up to you - how much time you are willing to invest is the determining factor. It helps if you have someone that you can play with (have a friend that plays guitar?) on a regular basis. Mandolin is a fun instrument, and it's a wonderful process in learning to play it. Good luck!

    Tracy
    As far as close friends go, I don't really have anyone nearby who plays guitar. But I do have a lot of "friends" who I hang out with every now & then who play.. I have a friend's boyfriend who actually plays the mandolin and another guy, who plays the guitar, who has been trying to push me into getting into music for a long time. I go to college in colorado though and it's a pretty musical area, so I'm thinking I could probably find some people.

    And that makes complete sense that it depends on the amount of time I'm willing to put into it.. I'm really ready to put a lot of time into this.

    Quote Originally Posted by tjg View Post
    Hannah, I only wish I had started at 18. Go for it! Your past musical experience will only help. Playing music (especially mandolin) will give you a lifetime of joy and pleasure. I'm sure that you'll be able to play an easy song in a short time.
    Thank you so much! I think it could become a really positive part of my life and it's nice to hear from someone who started at an age older than I plan to!

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    Registered User Jim MacDaniel's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Since the mandolin is tuned in fifths, I found the mandolin the most intuitive of all the instruments I have played (with the possible exception of the piano since I am a highly visual person). It is therefore easy to pickup and start making music, and once you know your fretboard and basic chords shapes & scales, you can easily changes keys just by moving up or down the fretboard, or up or down string courses.

    Like any other instrument however, mastery can take years, decades, or even a lifetime, depending upon your committment level and musicial aptitude. But while I consider myself only moderately skilled, I find the mandolin nonetheless a very satisfying fun instrument, and have played it longer, and with more consistency, than any other instrument.
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    Registered User Bob Andress's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hi Hanna

    First off - Welcome! By finding the Mandolin Cafe you just made your journey a whole lot easier. There are some great folks here that are willing to help out newbies like you and I. And chances are soemone else has the same questions.

    I would be willing to bet that your days on the piano and flute will help you more than you think. You may have already developed an "ear" to pick things up. I started around age 30 with no musical training at all. I got a couple song books and learned tab for some songs, learned my major chords and scales. Playing with others/jams/festivals is important too. Learning any instrument takes time and practice. I have so much fun that I would never call it work. I learn something new every time I pick it up. I think you will too.

    No one here is going to tell you not to start the mando - We're all addicted.
    So what made you pick the mando? While you can play many styles of music with the mando, it's also very important to spend some good time listening to it. Get yourself a good bluegrass cd or two, maybe even some Sam Bush and David Grisman: "Hold on, Were Strummin" These are are two mando greats that put together an awesome album of different types of songs.

    Hope that helps. I think you'll do just fine. And if you learn the G, C and D chords, you'll be playing a song that day.

    Have fun and keep us posted!

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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hanna,

    Get a mandolin and any good beginner book and you'll be playing some simple songs in a day. Your music background will help and, if you choose, it will certainly help you read standard notation. If you don't want to go that way, you will make do nicely with tab for quite a while depending on what kind of music you want to play.

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    Lover of Weber & Martin Rod_Neep's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hannah... what you get out of it is what you put into it.

    I started to learn to play the guitar at the age of 15. Self taught, from a book. Fortunately that book homed in on fingerstyle right from the start. I had no musical knowledge whatsoever. I put time into it. Lots of time. Before long, people were asking me how much I practiced. My stock answer was "How much do I not practice". I used to get in from school and play, stop for dinner, be forced to do some homework... and then back to playing again.

    Now I am 63 years old.

    At 62 I started to play the ukulele (December 2007)..... I put the same principles into it.... played and practiced at every opportunity. By August I sang and played in front of what was potentially the most critical of audiences. 250 really great guitar players.... and stopped the show. On a ukulele!

    At the age of 63 (December 2008) I bought my first mandolin with a determination that I WAS going to play it. (That was mid December). By Christmas I played it in our church. A simple solo of "Silent Night".

    At the end of this month I will be 64 years old. I can sort of understand a little music notation, and I could probably pick out a tune from written music very, very slowly. But I dont sight read. I have zero understanding of tablature. In retrospect I wish I had put more time into doing those things.

    The moral is.... put time and dedicated practice into it, and failure just isn't an option! You want to do it. You have the desire to do it. Just go for it! The fact that you are here asking the questions is good enough for me. You WILL do it.

    Have fun. Be playing long after I am gone.
    And have a lifetime of fun from doing it.
    Oh yes... and when you are older. Tell the same message to another 18 year old.

    Rod

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Seems like you have a head start

    you can hear the difference between a note that goes Up

    from the last note played ,

    from one that goes Down.
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    I read someone elses post here on the cafe that made sense and might help...more often than not your obstacle(s) will be with you and not in the instrument.

    Bob

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    Registered User SnapCut's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hello Hannah
    At my first lesson my teacher had me playing 5 or 6 easy songs and you have more of a musical background then I do.
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hannah, there was a wonderful thread on getting better as a musician some time back. It features a video of Ira Glass from "This American Life". As your getting started it would be well worth your time to watch that video. Very encouraging.

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...ad.php?t=43785

    Mandolin Cafe is a great resource... so is Mandozine and Jazzmando. dig around and have some fun!

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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hi Hannah, welcome! As others have said, you will get out of it what you put into it, and since you are prepared to put in the time, I think you will be able to play a simple tune very quickly! Enjoy the journey

    Fliss

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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hi Hannah and welcome to the Café. With a well set up instrument, a little determination and some practice time, you'll be up and running in no time at all. It takes a while to develop some muscles to do some of the chord stretches so don't expect to play like Chris Thile or Bill Monroe overnight. Besides, its all about the music making process. Have fun.

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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hannah, enjoy the journey, you will never forget it.
    dwight in NC

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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hello Hannah & welcome.
    I started my musical journey at the age of eight. I am now well into my fifties. I have always enjoyed learning a new instrument. take your time find a good teacher and/or instruction book. and have fun with it

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    You might want to spend some time with your friend's boyfriend, since he already knows how to play. He can show you how to hold the instrument, how to hold the pick and he'll probably be able to show you a simple scale. From there, you can pick out a tune by ear to get started. Since you read standard notation (I'm assuming -- all those piano and flute lessons, not to mention reading choral music), you might want to get a 'learn to play the mandolin' book to match your fingers with the notes. That's how I learned the mandolin (good ol' Mel Bay) when I wasn't much older than you are. It's a great instrument to play. I guess the downside is you'll have to keep your fingernails fairly short and you'll get callouses on the ends of your left hand fingers, but most people don't notice unless they're also musicians.
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    Registered User hannah's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Wow, thank you so much for all of the responses!! I really really appreciate them and I wish I had time to respond to each one of them! But thank you. Everything you all had to say makes a lot of sense and you're all getting me even more excited about starting this!!

    Quote Originally Posted by Rod_Neep View Post
    Hannah... what you get out of it is what you put into it.

    Have fun. Be playing long after I am gone.
    And have a lifetime of fun from doing it.
    Oh yes... and when you are older. Tell the same message to another 18 year old.

    Rod
    Rod - thank you so much! I absolutely loved your post! Your history is very encouraging. I'm glad that you've gotten so much enjoyment out of the mandolin and I hope I do too!

    Quote Originally Posted by Noteplayer View Post
    I read someone elses post here on the cafe that made sense and might help...more often than not your obstacle(s) will be with you and not in the instrument.

    Bob
    That quote makes a lot of sense! That is something I'm going to keep with me while trying to learn.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Peter View Post
    Hannah, there was a wonderful thread on getting better as a musician some time back. It features a video of Ira Glass from "This American Life". As your getting started it would be well worth your time to watch that video. Very encouraging.

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...ad.php?t=43785

    Mandolin Cafe is a great resource... so is Mandozine and Jazzmando. dig around and have some fun!
    I will definitely watch that video very soon! Thanks!

    Edit: Just watched it! Holy cow, fantastic video. I can relate that to many other areas in my life (dance an photography especially) that is definitely an encouraging video that should help me out in many ways!
    Last edited by hannah; Jan-02-2009 at 7:02pm.

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    Registered User hannah's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Slim_Pickins View Post
    Hi Hanna
    I would be willing to bet that your days on the piano and flute will help you more than you think. You may have already developed an "ear" to pick things up. I started around age 30 with no musical training at all. I got a couple song books and learned tab for some songs, learned my major chords and scales. Playing with others/jams/festivals is important too. Learning any instrument takes time and practice. I have so much fun that I would never call it work. I learn something new every time I pick it up. I think you will too.

    No one here is going to tell you not to start the mando - We're all addicted.
    So what made you pick the mando? While you can play many styles of music with the mando, it's also very important to spend some good time listening to it. Get yourself a good bluegrass cd or two, maybe even some Sam Bush and David Grisman: "Hold on, Were Strummin" These are are two mando greats that put together an awesome album of different types of songs.

    Hope that helps. I think you'll do just fine. And if you learn the G, C and D chords, you'll be playing a song that day.

    Have fun and keep us posted!
    I would be very happy if my flute and piano background ended up helping me out! And I decided to choose the mandolin mostly because of the wide variety of music I'll be able to play with it. I've always loved strings, like guitars - but I want something that I can play classically too (my family is very into classical music). The mandolin just has such a beautiful sound - AND it's so small that I can carry it around and play it in the park as soon as it gets warmer!

    I definitely will keep you posted - this website seems like a great place to be while I'm trying to learn!
    Quote Originally Posted by Randi Gormley View Post
    You might want to spend some time with your friend's boyfriend, since he already knows how to play. He can show you how to hold the instrument, how to hold the pick and he'll probably be able to show you a simple scale. From there, you can pick out a tune by ear to get started. Since you read standard notation (I'm assuming -- all those piano and flute lessons, not to mention reading choral music), you might want to get a 'learn to play the mandolin' book to match your fingers with the notes. That's how I learned the mandolin (good ol' Mel Bay) when I wasn't much older than you are. It's a great instrument to play. I guess the downside is you'll have to keep your fingernails fairly short and you'll get callouses on the ends of your left hand fingers, but most people don't notice unless they're also musicians.
    I plan to take lessons (if I can find someone who offers them) and learn standard notation since I already kiind of know it.

    Haha, I have no problem with keeping my finger nails short - I like painting them some outrageous colors but I always keep the length moderately short. And I can deal with callouses if that means I can create music..

  20. #20
    Registered User LateBloomer's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    I plan to take lessons (if I can find someone who offers them) and learn standard notation since I already kiind of know it.

    Hannah,
    Since College students rarely have money for anything other than tuition, books and pizza - try some free online lessons. musicmoose.org has some great free video lessons that are sure to help, organized under the lesson tab by instrument.
    LateBloomer
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    Grandpapa Jack Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by hannah View Post
    ...


    How difficult do you believe this will be for me?

    If I work pretty hard - will I be able to play an easy song within... a few weeks? a few months?


    Any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated! Thanks!

    This will not be hard for you. Your fingers will just have to get used to something they haven't done before.

    You'll have a song down by the end of the first day or so. Pick up a beginning mandolin book with some tunes in it you recognize.
    Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
    When time is broke and no proportion kept!
    --William Shakespeare

  22. #22

    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hi Hannah!
    Girl to girl, I think it is fantastic that you are going to be a mandolin player. I love playing (good way to meet guys too!) I suppose the only negative I can think of is that you have to cut your nails. But they can be a hassle anyway so I think of that as a plus. I started out when I was 15. I am 28 now. Playing quickly turned into a passion and it is now how I make my living.

    If you need help or have any questions, you have come to the right place. These folks here at the Cafe are 'friends' that I would be proud to hang with anytime. Keep goin girl. Once you pick that mandolin up you may find you have found the love of your life.

    Jillian

  23. #23
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Mandolin is one of those instruments that's fairly easy to pick up and learn a few chords on. These would be the so-called "open chords", because they incorporate some of the strings played open, with your fingers holding down two or three notes. G, C & D seem to be the ones people learn first.
    It's also not too hard to figure out a few scales, also using the open strings so you don't really have to employ your fourth finger, which is difficult for most people to use at first.

    What's difficult about mandolin for beginners is the right hand stuff. There are two "rules" of the right hand. One, play with alternating pick strokes - down, up, down, up etc.
    The other rule is about the two strings in each of the four pairs. Ideally you play both strings on each stroke. The downstrokes and the upstrokes. That's usually pretty hard for people at first, especially if they are obeying the first rule.

    My best advice would be to keep a flatpick with you at all times. Whenever you can, have it in your hand in the picking position, just to get used to the feel of it and practice a pendulam-type motion with your wrist. When you pick up the mandolin, it will begin to feel more and more natural to use your right hand that way.

    Good luck and I hope you have fun!

  24. #24
    Registered User Mando_Lynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    I'll give you a totally useless but absolutely true piece of advice my father always gave me:

    "Anything's easy if you know how to do it."

    I know that won't help you any, but I like to use any opportunity to tell someone that as I like that saying.

    One thing that might be fun for you is to video yourself each month to help you mark and see your own progress. I"m currently doing this as I've been playing about a year and half now. It's fun. And others who watch your vids can offer technique tips here on the cafe if you post a link to your Youtube page.
    Lynn Tillman

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    Registered User Pastor Bill Pawlyshyn's Avatar
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    Default Re: How difficult is it to learn to play the mandolin?

    Hannah
    welcome as well
    it is great you have a basic background. I guess I am one of the older folks of the group starting with the accordion at 5 years of age, but have progressed over the last several years (now 60) into various key, wind and stringed insturments. All have their particular traits, but as the group has said don't get discouraged. Patience will provide wonderful results. For me personally, finger strength and hardening of the finger tips was the greatest challenge. As I have found out with various instruments, just because a score was written for trumpet or violin, it can be transcribed into mando for that light and hardy sound! One last thought, as you learn the fingering, keep the tune you are playing in your head (that is how I learned basic harmonica from my grandfather!) It will suprise you as you get the muscle memory for the finger positions how the notes will just flow.
    "keep on keeping on"

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