View Full Version : John McGann

Feb-25-2005, 3:00pm
Just bought his octave mandolin book. Good stuff. Most times when I get a book I complain because the songs are too easy and aren't things I'd ever play in a jam - too cheesy. Only problem here is that it'll take me forever to learn the songs. But if I do I'll play them in public. Wish he'd of put a couple simpler tunes in so I could play those while being frustrated with the others. Oh well, back to practicing.

Mike Buesseler
Feb-25-2005, 4:02pm
My sentiments exactly, Paul. #Good stuff. #I also have John's Rhythm Tune Up DVD and recommend it. #He is so comfortable and likeable onscreen, you feel like here is someone you might finally get it from.... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

I also wish the OM book started with something simpler, or at least slower. #I'll never be able to play all the embellishments John throws in. #I know John will read this (another plus--he's one of US). #John, I only wish I lived close enough to take private lessons.... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Feb-25-2005, 6:38pm
I lived close enough to him to take private lessons. He is even more personable in person!!! A great musician first, outstanding mandolin player second, and a lot more in addition.

Feb-25-2005, 8:29pm
Thanks so much for the kind comments.

I am trying in no way to be a smart ### when I say the following:

"Playing fast is the same as playing slow, but faster".

Translation: Take the CD and use it with a slow downer program. If you like, you can ignore the ornaments- usually the first and last note are all that "count" melodically. Slow the piece down to where you are comfortable. Play along, and when you feel very comfortable, increase the tempo slowly.

Be patient. Use your metronome. I mean EVERY time you practice ANYTHING. Rhythm/timing is THE #1 issue that holds people back in their development as players.

Double check your technique- most speed issues occur because the left hand fingers do not remain down on ascending passages and/or the right hand isn't functioning properly. Check my technqiue tips page at my site for more things to keep in mind.

As for simpler tunes, my "Developing Melodic Variations" book for mando takes 11 common tunes, strips them to their most basic form, and dresses them up in a way that you can compare, bar-by-bar, each "fleshed out" version to the original stripped down version and see some possibilities, which you can the apply to other tunes in your repertoire. It's kind of a "mode of thinking and hearing" lesson rather than yet another "My Version of Warhorses".

All my teaching material aims to help you to teach yourself.

On the OM book, you might skip to the very last tune "La Partida"- also "Doherty's Favorite" "Bit Of Ginger "Rights of Man" and "Arkansas Traveller" would be some of the less challenging pieces.

I will probably cook up a sort of "intro to OM" on my OM page in the coming months as a kind of supplement to the book. Meanwhile, anyone with specific OM questions can feel free to email me.

Thanks again for the support, y'all!

J. Mark Lane
Feb-26-2005, 7:23am
One sentence in this book has changed my life -- ruined it, actually.

I have about 14 tunes down at this point, that I run through each morning. I am adding a tune a month. OK, it's a humble program. I'm a simple guy.

But I thought I had the tunes I've covered down fairly well. Until I read John's comment to the effect that you should play a short ascending run on a single string and watch your left hand fingers. If your fingers tend to come up after you fret a note and move up to the next one...problem.

So I went back and started "studying" what I was doing. Sure enough, I'm doing this all over the place. And I found that the places where it is most evident...happen to be places where I am feeling some frustration getting the tunes up to speed.

Dang nabbit.

Now I'm going back and basically trying to "re-learn" all these tunes, and trying to eliminate the "flying fingers" problem throughout them. This is likely to take a lot of time and effort.

But the good news is, I am now more focused on the problem and can at least *try* to learn future tunes correctly.

I think this highlights the fact that (good) lessons early on are invaluable. Just not an option for all of us (in fact, not an option for most of us). I hope to get some private lessons from John in the future, when I'm in Boston, but in the meantime I continue to ply through his and other books and videos looking for tidbits that will help me.


Feb-26-2005, 10:08am
Mark- I started playing when I was 8 years old, and it wasn't until i was 20 that I discovered that technical tidbit. it took me three months practicing in front of a mirror to get it ingrained- but that combined with some right hand alterations (tips courtesy Andy Statman) totally changed my sound and ability to play, all for the better.

So I feel your pain! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

Feb-26-2005, 4:20pm
I'm having trouble picturing this--do you mean that on a bcd run on the A string, the first & second fingers should stay on the string while you fret the d?

Feb-26-2005, 7:28pm
I think that's right, sIm0n. If you keep at least the previous note fretted as long as possible before striking the next note, you'll expend less energy, get better tone, and have more attention on where you're going next. If, while playing a descending scale, you hold your fingers on the note as long as possible before lifting off to allow the next lower note to sound, you'll wind up with cleaner tone. Scales and arpeggios are great practice for this. I can't recall all of where I learned these things, but it's all from other's input.

(if I'm way out of line, John, please set me straight).


Feb-27-2005, 11:11am
PhilGE, that's totally right.

s1m0n, think of it this way- on the A string, play B, C and D using fingers 1,2 4. If you lift your fingers after playing the B and C, you have added almost 50% more work to the procedure-effort and energy expended. Now, if you leave fingers 1 and 2 down as you ascend, you have 3 motions for 3 notes, rather than 5 motions.

Now, if you move on to another string, it is one motion- all the finegrs* lift as a unit. So easy!

If you need to descend the string, back to C, B or any combination, the fingers are there, waiting for you. Neat!

Now, compare methods with16th notes at quarter note= 120 or faster, and you'll see that we now have an idea of how to achieve better speed and smoother, more legato lines- all the left hand energy goes into making notes rather than needlessly lifting. At fast tempos you need every micro movgement to be as efficient as possible to get the smoothness and connectedness we all desire...

Basically there is absolutely no positive argument for lifting the fingers after each note- it just causes the works to gunk up. I did it, like many others, because it seemed like the thing to do, and it looked cool- like you were "working hard". Which is true! But we need to work SMART.

I wish I knew this stuff when I first started rather than 12 years later, which was the case!!!

* regional accent for "fangers".

J. Mark Lane
Feb-27-2005, 1:14pm
I can feel and hear a difference even after only a few days of working on this. It is requiring "rethinking" and re-learning lots of tunes, runs, etc. The most interesting thing is, not only is it more efficient, and allows me to work on speeding up in areas where my fingers were fumbling, but it also does improve the tone. Hard to explain. But it does.

And I've been going back and watching footage of various great players on videos that I have, and sure enough, they pretty much all follow the practice John describes.

The one area where I'm a little perplexed is this: if, say, I'm moving up the A string as described B-C-D, and then the next note is the open E...having my #1 finger still down on the fretboard results in flubbing the open E, because part of the finger is touching that string. I can't easily get my fingers to be "straight down" on the frets, so as to avoid any touching of the string below. So I find that for runs that jump down to the next string, I still have to lift my forefinger before I move to that string. Make sense? Is this normal?

Thanks, John...very helpful, and very good of you to give these "free lessons" to us.


Feb-27-2005, 1:47pm
Hi Mark- you know how when you put your fingers down to sound a note, you strike the string with the pick at the same instant; letting the first note ring until the nanosecond that the next note is born?

How you think of the syncronization is the same when going to that open E- release the fingers as you pick the E note and they should be out of the way so the E can sound. The release happens at the same nanosecond that it would if you were fingering another note on that string.

I'm REALLY glad to share this info with people. My techniques tips page has more detail on these things. Just pass them on as you go, because I acquired these ideas from other players myself and do not deserve the credit of thinkin' 'em up anyway!

Plus all that good stuff about what goes 'round comes 'round- there's no reason for anyone to jealously guard anything in their playing IMHO.

Feb-28-2005, 3:29pm
I'm REALLY glad to share this info with people.
Well, those of us who bought your book, may be feeling slightly less thrilled!

No, only teasing John! Thanks for being one of the good guys - and for passing on your immense knowledge in this important skill area.

I had a guy from Sweden in my shop, in Ireland, today - playing one of my 'less expensive' (read: 'cheap') octave mandolins. He made it sound amazing! "Who taught you"?, I asked. "No one really", he said "I listened to others, and used tutor books - especially John McGann's". Praise indeed!


Feb-28-2005, 3:32pm
Thanks for passing on the info. I'm currently killing myself trying to hold down my fingers as I move up the neck. I've noticed an immediate improvement in tone though. Only bad thing is I'm getting an even longer scale Zouk in a month and I'll have to develop new muscles all over again. Keep the pointers coming.

Feb-28-2005, 6:10pm
Paul-- I don't know if this technique is "kosher" or not, but I often practice with my capo on the 2nd fret (e.g. shorter scale) to get the coordination down, then back it up to the 1st fret, and then take it off... gradually increasing the scale in the process...
This might help your transition to your longer scale Zouk...

Mar-02-2005, 5:11pm
otterly2k - sounds way kosher to me!