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An Interview with Don Julin, author of Mandolin For Dummies

By Ted Eschliman
September 9, 2012 - 6:45 am

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Don Julin - author of Mandolin For Dummies Don Julin - author of Mandolin For Dummies

NOTE: Mandolin For Dummies, already available in the UK and parts of Europe will be released September 19 in the U.S. Our thanks to JazzMando's Ted Eschliman for putting together this feature interview with Don about the process of creating the book and a look inside to let readers know what they can expect to find.

Ted Eschliman: How did you make the connection with Wiley & Sons for this amazing opportunity? What made them want to unearth the "secrets" of our little 8-string instrument?

Don Julin: Mike Baker, Editor for Wiley & Sons was looking for someone to author Mandolin For Dummies. Apparently the higher powers in the publishing world thought that there was enough interest in mandolins to publish a Dummies book for mandolin. They already had success with guitar, banjo, and ukulele, so mandolin seemed a good fit. Mike's job was to find an author with experience in performing and teaching a wide range of mandolin styles along with the ability to produce professional quality sheet music and audio recordings.

Mike searched the internet and in short time figured out the Mandolin Cafe is the center of the universe for all mandolin geeks. Mike reached out to Scott Tichenor (the man behind the Mandolin Cafe) to see if he, or someone he knew may be interested in taking on this project. Scott asked me if he could pass my name along as a possible author. I thought sure, why not? I'm not an author but I surely am obsessed with mandolins and thought it would be a great experience to be on the team of such a well-respected series.

Ted Eschliman: Makes perfect sense to me. How did you know how to format this?

Don Julin: A few months later I received an email from Mike asking me if I would consider taking on the project. I agreed to take a closer look. He had three Dummies books shipped to me along with an author's packet, a manual that supplies author guidelines in the Dummies style. These pages also described the editing process, intellectual property right (copyrights, etc.) and the production schedule. After reviewing this for a few days, we set up phone call and started sketching out the book.

Ted Eschliman: The Dummies series are certainly not what the title implies, rather deeply encyclopedic and carefully researched, AND highly respected. What an honor to be chosen for this. How did you manage to get the work done with your teaching, recording, and touring schedule?

Don Julin: I am very proud of this project and feel honored that this book may help spread mandolin awareness around the world.

Ted Eschliman: You should be! Lots of work, of course.

Don Julin: At times, I still find it a bit hard to believe that of all of the mandolin players out there to choose from, they picked me. As for managing a schedule I simply did not sleep for an entire year! I can't even estimate the thousands of hours that went into this. In hindsight I was not really prepared for the sheer number of hours I needed to put into this project. The first few months I just worked on the book between lesson or gigs or when the family was sleeping. By November it was clear to me that I needed to adjust my gigging and private lessons in order to meet the deadlines set by Wiley & Sons.

I live in Traverse City, Michigan and we have fairly long winters. There were times in February or March that seemed a bit like a scene out of The Shining. "All work and no play makes Don a dull boy".

Ted Eschliman: Hilarious!

Mandolin For Dummies - by Don Julin Mandolin For Dummies - by Don Julin

Don Julin: I managed to get 383 pages to them by the due date in the spring but it was no easy task. The photos in chapter 3 clearly show a sleep deprived mandolin player. These were taken in March.

Ted Eschliman: Definitely a daunting chore. Seems to me the hardest thing about this kind of open ended project was not what to write, but what NOT to write about, in other words, whittling the vast information down. Tell me something about your initial outline; what were the basic elements? I would assume lengthy history, differences in instruments and specs, etc. Literature and or/players? Playing techniques and theory?

Don Julin: The Dummies style is very hands-on, so historical and anecdotal writings are placed throughout the book as sidebars (not necessary to the lesson but interesting). The initial outline was created with guidance from my acquisitions editor, Mike Baker. We first designed the five parts of the book, followed by five to seven chapters in each part. I then wrote a single paragraph description of what each chapter would contain. Once Mike was convinced that we had all of the bases covered he had me write one complete chapter. He sent the completed chapter to another editor at Wiley named Andy. Andy would read what I had written and basically re-word it to make it appear that I had actually paid attention in grammar class when I was in school.

Ted Eschliman: Of course. Let's hear it for grade school.

Don Julin: I would then comment on Andy's work to make sure the content was still correct. I should mention that all of this work was done up to this point without a contract. This work of designing the parts and chapters was the Dummies style training.

Ted Eschliman: Wow, this really was intense!

Don Julin: Once the table of contents and one chapter was complete, Mike presented this to the review board at Wiley & Sons. The review board accepted this and offered a contract to finish the book.

Ted Eschliman: So what are the parts?

Don Julin: Mandolin For Dummies is separated into five parts:

1. Being Bitten By the Mandolin Bug. An introduction to the mandolin including the anatomy of a mandolin, the mandolin family of instruments including mandola, mandocello, octave mandolin, and mandobass, tuning the mandolin, and different ways of holding the mandolin (standing, sitting, with a strap, etc).

2. Starting the Play the Mandolin. These chapters cover basic skills needed to play the mandolin including proper ways of holding the pick, left-hand grip, counting exercises, left- and right-hand dexterity exercises, simple strumming styles using basic open chords, picking styles including alternate picking, down-stokes, and cross-picking. This section also includes a chapter on Jethro Burns style three-string chords and a chapter on scales and how they relate to common melodies. Beginner to intermediate level songs are used in this section to demonstrate many of the techniques presented.

3. Putting Playing Styles into Practice. All about styles of mandolin playing. The styles represented: old-time string band music including fiddle tunes, rags, and blues, bluegrass, Irish music, jazz/swing, (David Grisman) Dawg music, and a small chapter on world music including Italian folk music, European classical music and Brazilian choro. In each chapter, characteristics of the style including chord progressions, strumming or rhythm patterns, syncopation, and melodic ornaments are demonstrated with public domain and original pieces of music. Many of my tunes are included along with original music by John Goodin and David Grisman.

4. Purchasing and Caring For Your Mandolin. From your first mandolin purchase to full blown MAS, this section is full of photos of a variety of body styles both acoustic and electric with a rough idea of what you would pay for a beginner or student model and what you might expect to pay for a professional grade mandolin. This section also covers changing strings and other simple procedures like adjusting the action and setting the bridge for proper intonation, along with a chapter on all of the latest and greatest accessories for the mandolin lover.

5. The Part of Tens. All Dummies books include The Part of Tens. In this section there are three chapters: 10 tips on becoming a better mandolin player, 10 mandolin players you need to know, and 10 ways of tapping into the mandolin subculture.

Ted Eschliman: Again, you patterned your approach on previous Dummies books for series consistency?

Don Julin: Yes, they sent me copies of Ukulele For Dummies, Banjo For Dummies and Guitar For Dummies to study and use as a guide. Putting together a Dummies book is really a team effort. My job as the author was to provide content, organized in a manner that the editors could make an informative, easy to read, somewhat humorous mandolin reference book.

Ted Eschliman: Script writers are told before they begin to write, the best thing they can do is understand and picture the target audience they are writing for. What did you envision the basic demographic of one who would purchase the book: age, playing experience, playing style, reading ability, etc? Are there more esoteric styles or applications you intentionally left out?

Don Julin: Dummies books assume nothing other than the fact that you are interested in the topic. No previous musical experience is needed and reading standard notation is not a requirement.

Ted Eschliman: Still your approach seems comprehensive — relevant to experienced players, too.

Don Julin: While this may seem like a book aimed at beginners, and it is a great one, keep in mind that the book is 400 pages and strumming your first G chord only takes about one page to explain. The style chapters contain some intermediate to advanced techniques that even seasoned mandolin players could use to expand their bag of tricks.

Ted Eschliman: How about improvisation?

Don Julin: Advanced techniques like improvisation are not covered in this book. Classical techniques that are taught at conservatories are not covered either. A basic introduction to these topics is presented but only very briefly. This book does not attempt to be a substitute for years of study at a university or a conservatory. It does, however, attempt to be a great reference manual that will make joining the mandolin world easy and fun!

Ted Eschliman: That makes sense. The title does have Dummies in it. Still, how did you deal with the balance of making it basic enough for the beginner to grasp, but complex enough in content to challenge the more experienced player?

Don Julin: The sheer length of these books prohibits you from only writing to the beginner or novice. The tunes in Mandolin For Dummies range from beginner to intermediate or even advanced including Skip To My Lou, Red River Valley, Soldier's Joy, Stone's Rag, A Fig For A Kiss, Gaucho (corta jaca), Mr. Natural an excerpt from La Furstenberg Variations by Antonio Ruggieri and a new Dawg tune named Swang Thang.

Ted Eschliman: Ah yes, Mr. Natural, but of course!

Don Julin: One of the main things that the editors stress is a modular design, meaning that you should be able to easily get to any topic in the book without needing to read the entire chapter or any previous chapters. Every technique (slide, hammer-on, position shift, etc.) is cross-referenced to the chapter where the technique is explained and demonstrated, but if you already know that technique you will be able to get right to the topic or song, learn it, and be on your way.

Ted Eschliman: It's said the biggest chore in writing a book isn't the writing, but the editing. What would you say your proportion of time was creating over proofing/rewriting? Who did you rely on to get feedback throughout the process?

Don Julin: The editing team involved in a Dummies book is where the magic really happens. Once the contract was signed I was introduced to my new editing team that would assist me throughout the rest of the journey. I spent about six months writing the original manuscripts. During that time I took it upon myself to seek out some advisers to make sure the content was accurate in areas where I wanted a second opinion.

Ted Eschliman: Pretty intense!

Don Julin: I felt comfortable with all of the basics, but in the style chapters I wanted to have a mentor for each style. I went about contacting some of the best players in the world for advice or lessons in their specific genres. Each mandolin master graciously granted permission to use the information gathered in these interviews/lessons. This list of mandolin contributors includes David Grisman, Mike Compton, Mike Marshall, Don Stiernberg, Marla Fibish, Rich DelGrosso, Chris Acquavella, and Tim Connell. So this could be considered my first round of editors during the writing process.

Ted Eschliman: That's a pretty good list.

Don Julin: Once the manuscripts were delivered Wiley appointed a team of editors trained in making Dummies books, lead by Steve Edwards, that check for obvious things like spelling and grammar, but also do some fact checking along with making sure that everything is cross-referenced but not redundant. I got to choose the tech reviewer who is a mando-geek like the rest of us. For this job I chose Arthur Stern who has been a mandolin enthusiast for many years. Among other things, Arthur was able to help make sure that the photos of mandolins were placed in the correct spots, and that the G chord diagram was indeed a G chord. Due to the number of tunes and exercises included in the text, the folks at Wiley thought it would be good to get one more set of eyes on the music/tab contents of the book and brought in Matt Flinner to read through the tunes. Thanks, Matt!

Ted Eschliman: Is there audio?

Don Julin: As I write this, I am not sure if the book will come with a CD or if you will need to go to a website to download the tracks but there is a whopping two hours (91 tracks) of audio that come with this book. Every tune is demonstrated with melody in one speaker and an appropriate rhythm pattern in the other speaker.

Ted Eschliman: Other than the broad scope of the project, what were its biggest challenges or frustrations?

Don Julin: The two biggest challenges for me were: (1) The fact that Wiley & Sons offices are located in the U.K. Between a six-hour time zone difference and British holidays landing in different spots than American holidays, communication was difficult at times. (2) Writing for an international audience. My editors did remind me more than once to limit the U.S.-centric point of view. Being an American, this was more difficult than I expected it to be. I have even recently read posts in the forum by Americans bewildered by the fact that European customers are receiving orders before Americans. Remember that Wiley & Sons are an international book publisher with headquarters in the U.K. The most puzzling part of this process for me was during editing when the editors would try to insert a bit of humor into the text. I soon realized we are two nations separated by a common language. At first I was confused by many terms and did not see the humor in what they were adding. I read a few of these humorous things to friends and they commented that it reminded them of Monty Python. With that thought, I left some British humor in the book that may leave some Americans scratching their heads wondering if we are the "People's Front of Judea" or "The People's Judean Front."

Ted Eschliman: The liner notes mention tips on instrument purchasing information. Do you get into details like pricing and specific merchants or vendors or did you keep it very general?

Don Julin: The publishers did not want to favor one seller over the other so brand names are mentioned but store names are not. I do cover different body styles, choices in wood, factory vs. small shop, and basic prices you should expect to pay for a large range of mandolins.

Ted Eschliman: Do you talk about the future of mandolin, where it could broaden, or is it mainly about historical developments and where it's landed recently?

Don Julin: No, that would be titled Mandolin For the Clairvoyant or maybe Mandolin For Prophets.

Ted Eschliman: Nice! You have a terrific online video resource in your YouTube channel that explains basic chord progressions and approaches to rhythm and style. Are these used in the book? Do you cover specific techniques like cross-picking, chords, articulations, etc.?

Don Julin: Yes, there are complete chapters that deal with left-hand fingerings and ornaments, along with right-hand fundamentals and techniques. Throughout the book are hundreds of chord diagrams organized primarily by style, so when learning an old-time fiddle tune, open chords and appropriate strumming patterns are demonstrated, while in the bluegrass chapter I demonstrate the dreaded four-finger chop chords. There are also rhythms patterns for swing, choro, samba, and funk with songs in each style.

Ted Eschliman: Now that this is done, what's next for Don Julin?

Don Julin: I look forward to meeting many mandolin players at camps, festivals, Cafe forums and over Skype. I just can't get enough mandolins and I love sharing, talking about, teaching, and most of all playing mandolins. I have a new CD entitled Vibe that is being released on David Grisman's Acoustic Oasis. This is a straight ahead jazz quartet recording featuring drums, bass, guitar, and of course mandolin. I hope to be building a new website in the coming months that will feature downloadable lessons.

Ted Eschliman: Don, thanks so much. Here's to the success of a terrific project!

Additional information

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Reader Comments

Sonomabob
September 09, 2012 11:08 AM
This is a really nice story.
Don is a great guy who has worked at the mandolin for a long time.
Wonderful to see him achieving wider success.
SternART
September 09, 2012 01:00 PM
I agree, and it is a darn good book too!!! I'll tell ya though, I'd never take on the job of proof reading something like this again. It was way way too much work for what I got paid, Wiley Publishers must have a tight budget for these books. I did put the money towards going to the Mandolin Symposium this year, so I'm no 'dummie' and it all worked out. Getting to hang some with Don there in Santa Cruz was one of the highlights, he is a really nice guy. Don Julin is the real deal, a great player, teacher, and now a published mando geek!
papa willie
September 09, 2012 02:47 PM
Kudos to Don Julin.
lukmanohnz
September 09, 2012 04:12 PM
Great interview!! So excited that the US release date is finally nearing. What a fantastic resource for mandolin enthusiasts - Don, you (and all your collaborators) deserve high praise for the hard work and dedication to bringing this book alive!
rb3868
September 09, 2012 08:07 PM
I can't wait to get mine, it's on pre-order. the chapter organization seems different from other instruction books I've gotten and I like the concept. That the author is another Michigander is the cherry capitol on top

Thanks to the Cafe for facilitating the book, thanks to Dummies for deciding to do it and to jazzmando for the interview
Billgrass
September 10, 2012 07:25 PM
DJ has been a good teacher via Skype. I wish him success on the book.

Now I have to get back to practicing.

smile
DSDarr
September 11, 2012 05:34 PM
Way to go Don! I am very much looking forward to this book!

-David
Gerry Hastie
September 13, 2012 02:14 AM
What a wonderful story! Thanks to all involved for bringing us this book and to Ted for asking the questions.
Gelsenbury
September 13, 2012 06:11 PM
This bit is interesting:

[quote]My editors did remind me more than once to limit the U.S.-centric point of view. Being an American, this was more difficult than I expected it to be. [/quote]

Just this morning I was reading my daily bit of the book while enjoying the morning cuppa, and I noticed that the six famous mandolin players recommended for particularly good tone comprised (as far as I can tell) five musicians from the USA and one Canadian. The beginner tunes also have a noticeable American flavour. One should be especially wary of the "everyone has sung this as a child" comment in a context such as this.

Having said that, I do agree with the US-centric nomenclature for note durations. In a book designed to encourage rather than scare beginners, it makes perfect sense to avoid talk of semi-quavers, crotchets, and so on. ;)
bmac
September 16, 2012 08:16 AM
I find it intereesting that only so called "bluegrass" style instruments are featured on the cover. This suggests a rather narrow view of the options available... I realize that the author probably had little say in the cover photo selection but it suggests a narrower view than the public deserves. For instance it implies that the more expensive instruments with "strap hangers" are the mandolins of choice... Maybe so, but beginners need to know that the less expensive options are equally effective as instruments for the beginner.

I look forward to buying the "dummies" book and glean what I can from it. Although not a beginner; I can ususally find lots of good information in these technique books.
SternART
September 16, 2012 10:16 AM
Quote from Gelsenbury: This bit is interesting: Having said that, I do agree with the US-centric nomenclature for note durations. In a book designed to encourage rather than scare beginners, it makes perfect sense to avoid talk of semi-quavers, crotchets, and so on. ;) End Quote

Did they take those out? I haven't seen a final copy. They were in there when I proofed it. I had never heard of these terms and in researching learned about Breve, Semibreve, Minim, Crotchet, Quaver & Semiquaver. I suggested that the book was probably going to sell more copies on this side of the pond, and that these names were confusing.......but at the time the publisher disagreed.
Gelsenbury
September 17, 2012 09:35 AM
Quote from SternART: Did they take those out? I haven't seen a final copy. They were in there when I proofed it. I had never heard of these terms and in researching learned about Breve, Semibreve, Minim, Crotchet, Quaver & Semiquaver. I suggested that the book was probably going to sell more copies on this side of the pond, and that these names were confusing.......but at the time the publisher disagreed. End Quote

They are still in there, but consistently in brackets after the American version. I think that's the ideal solution. But the author does mention at several points in the book that he uses the American nomenclature because it makes more sense to him (and, I suspect, to most other people who don't have a British music education behind them).
stringduster
September 19, 2012 12:14 PM
delayed again. Is this ever gonna make it to the public?
Don Julin
September 19, 2012 01:08 PM
First, I would like thank all of you that have ordered this book so far. Thank You

[QUOTE]Just this morning I was reading my daily bit of the book while enjoying the morning cuppa, and I noticed that the six famous mandolin players recommended for particularly good tone comprised (as far as I can tell) five musicians from the USA and one Canadian. End Quote

Here is the paragraph you are referring to. I am sure there are players from around the world with great tone but the players mentioned in this paragraph all have recordings that are easy to find with musical styles ranging from bluegrass and jazz to Celtic and Eastern European.

"Listening to a variety of mandolin players is the best way to form an opinion on what sound you like. Some mandolin players known for their great tone are: David Grisman, Tim O'Brien, John Reischman, Mike Compton, Butch Baldassari and Peter Ostroushko."

I don't want to spoil it for the US readers who have not had a chance to look inside the book yet but in the back of every "Dummies" book are the chapters of 10s, which are lists of essential players, guidelines, suggestions, etc. One of the MFD chapters deals with ten mandolin players that you should learn about and listen to. This list does include six Americans, one Russian born immigrant, one Brazilian, one German, and one Italian. One needs to keep in mind that the intent of this book is not to uncover every obscure mandolin virtuoso that ever lived. It is intended to be a reference book for the mandolin player or enthusiast, that directs the reader to a variety of on-line or in print sources for more detailed study.

[QUOTE]I find it intereesting that only so called "bluegrass" style instruments are featured on the cover. This suggests a rather narrow view of the options available... I realize that the author probably had little say in the cover photo selection but it suggests a narrower view than the public deserves. For instance it implies that the more expensive instruments with "strap hangers" are the mandolins of choice... Maybe so, but beginners need to know that the less expensive options are equally effective as instruments for the beginner. End Quote

The object (from the publisher's point of view) is to sell books. An undisputed fact is that in 2012 on planet earth, the F5 style mandolin is outselling any other style of mandolin. The cover features three Weber instruments including a mandola and an octave mandolin. I don't know of any bluegrass bands using mandolas or octave mandolins. Chapter 15 in MFD deals with purchasing a mandolin. In this chapter, many styles of mandolins including F and A body shapes, round-hole and ff hole choices, along with flat topped mandolins, bowl-back mandolins, Brazilian bandolims, and electric mandolins are all presented to the readers.

The audio tracks were recorded using a wide range of mandolins to show the tonal differences in mandolins. The mandolins used in the recordings include: 1930s Strad-O-Lin, 1917 Vega bowl-back, Northfield F5, 1923 Gibson snakehead, Harmony Batwing (played through a 1950s Harmony tube amp), Flatiron pancake, Eastwood mandocaster, Kimble 2-point, and a Newson prototype.

I wish you would have opened the book before you passed judgement over the content. Remember the old saying "You can't judge a book from the cover".

[QUOTE]delayed again. Is this ever gonna make it to the public? End Quote

I wish I had an answer for you. I am still waiting for my copies.


I hope this answered all of your concerns so far. I am sure there will be some people, some where, that don't agree with every word contained in this 400 page book, but I hope most people that buy MFD will gain some knowledge about the greatest instrument in the world!
Pete Jenner
September 30, 2012 06:31 AM
Quote from Don Julin:




I wish you would have opened the book before you passed judgement over the content. Remember the old saying "You can't judge a book from the cover".



End Quote

No but you can certainly judge a cover by the cover and I think that is all Bart was doing.

I'm not a fan of the cover photo either, just for the record. However, that won't stop me buying the book.
Jarvis
February 01, 2013 10:37 PM
Hey guys, bought an ebook copy for my iPad 3, but the tracks won't play when I hit the button. Anyone else had the same problem? I've got an updated OS on my iPad.

Ok, just found the sound files, but it comes back saying 'safari unable to download files'.

Any fixes for this? Ta.
Don Julin
February 04, 2013 09:36 AM
It is my understanding that the audio tracks were embedded in the ebook and you did not need to download the tracks. I have uploaded the audio files to a public folder in my drop box for anyone having problems finding or downloading the tracks from the Dummies link. They are compressed into three files. Upon downloading and uncompressing you should get 91 mp3s (with the proper track names). These mp3s should play on any device that supports mp3s.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/zn7roiav1fhs7tf/D8P7oGQXxx
yep2341
February 06, 2013 08:30 PM
Great book. Would be awesome if i could download the tracks though. Tried using iPhone and iPad both say safari can not download file. I don't have desktop and would love to be able to utilize this book.
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