View Full Version : How Do I Get That Good?

Andrew Reckhart
Feb-11-2004, 12:00pm
Bush, Grisman, Thile, Steffey, Baldassari ~

How do they do it? How do you get that good? Do you practice 8 hours a day and make it your job? Do you spend big bucks on lesson? Can it happen if you started to play Mandolin at 28 years old or do you have to start at 6 or 7? What's the secret? Is it just God given ability? Probably a combo, huh?

Feb-11-2004, 12:04pm
Man, I dunno... but I started at 29, am lucky if I can squeeze 2 hours a day of practice in, and sure as heck am not gonna get paid to play professionally.

I'm doomed.


Ah well, it's still a blast. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Feb-11-2004, 12:43pm
Well, I'm sure there's a bit of natural ability involved when it comes to some of those players, but always remember you're playin at the best of your abilities at any given time and constantly improving, imagine how hard it would be for them to get to the "next step" in their playing.

Feb-11-2004, 12:53pm
I think you nailed it Andrew. #It's a combination of events, conditions and timing. #I think they occasionally align themselves to create an environment where certain human beings will surpass the best efforts of the rest of us. #

It's when a gifted child has the opportunity to learn at a formative age, combined with whatever motivates and disciplines that child to excel at it. #Sometimes it's a desire to please (parents, music teacher, etc). #Sometimes it's a desire to belong (an orchestra or a family band). #Sometimes it's just the child's fascination with the music's beauty and its endless possibilities for expressing emotions.

Fortunately for me, I 'dodged the bullet' on coming under such pressure and scrutiny. #I'm OK with playing the mandolin for my own amusement. #Or, to paraphrase the late John Duffey, "for my own amazement". #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Christine W
Feb-11-2004, 2:13pm
I wonder the same things sometimes. I still keep plucking away though something drives me to do it. I know I never will be as good as Thile. Marshall or any of the other countless great muscians out there but thats ok. I still love it.
Mike Marshall told me when I asked him about my being too old to get good. He said , 'most people in Brazil don't start playing till thier thirties and they rip it up'. That encouraged me. Thought I'd share

Feb-11-2004, 2:22pm
I asked my therapist that same question and he said that if I really wanted to be the very best mandolin player I needed to divorce my wife, quit my job, and do nothing but practice as much as possible. Obviously he was suggesting that maybe being the best player ever was an unrealistic expectation for myself and that I should consentrate on enjoying the slow progress I do accomplish. Fact is, I love my job, wife, and other activities-- I also love playing mandolin. Also, I don't think I would be happy being the best because progress would be so much harder to evaluate!

Feb-11-2004, 2:26pm
Well said, Rich!!!

'most people in Brazil don't start playing till thier thirties and they rip it up'.

... Sweeeet. #Maybe there's hope http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Bill James
Feb-11-2004, 2:40pm
A lot of people are as good at their professions as those players are at playing the mandolin. Many of you I'm sure. Whether it's playing the mandolin, wrenching on cars, or welding, etc. They will all tell you it takes many hours and years.

I've made a vow never to accept money for playing no matter how good I get. Not that I would ever be worth paying anyway but this way I know I will always be playing for one reason. Enjoyment.

Life is good at the bottom too!

Feb-11-2004, 2:44pm
Don't know how many of y'all watch TV, but on Scrubs last night there was a pretty good story line that was relative to this topic. #Michael J Fox was on the show, and his character had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder... #Because of the disorder he'd go over textbooks over and over again, as well as practice surgical procedures over and over again. #The end of the show showed another doctor wanting to be as good as Fox, but basically ended the show by saying you gotta pick your priorities. #If you really want to be as good as Thile, Marshall, etc, your going to obviously have to give up a lot of other stuff as to be able to put the time and energy towards practicing mando. #Therein lies the "Pick Your Priorities" rule. #I want to be really good, but I don't want my son to grow up not knowing me because all I do is practice, nor do I want to risk divorce because I spend all my time with the mando, etc... #Its all about balance.

Feb-11-2004, 2:45pm
When I started playing about 20 monthns ago at age 45 and couldn't even come close to making the four-finger G chord I thought, "This is impossible! I'll never be able to play this thing." Now I can just chop away making all kinds of chords and wonder why I thought it was so hard.

Sure, I'll never, ever be able to play like any of the aforementioned giants or even as well as a lot of parking lot pickers out there, but when I think about where I started from and where I am today, I can't wait to see where I'll be in another couple of years.

How do the greats become great? Innate ability coupled with hard work -- lots of hard work. How do I become the best player I can be? Take what innate ability I have and work as hard as my circumstances permit. It's a blast.

Andrew Reckhart
Feb-11-2004, 3:19pm
I don't want to be any of those guys. I want to be awesome within my own style, and get there faster. I guess that my son and my career ARE more important than my music. Maybe I should get Isaac pickin' a.s.a.p. so that we can start pickin' together. Maybe by the time he is 16 (12 years away) or so we can both be good enough to play full time and work regular jobs for the "fun of it".

Feb-11-2004, 3:37pm
I don't want to be any of those guys. I want to be awesome within my own style, and get there faster.

This is a great outlook. Remember, there is someone out there who thinks Johnny Cash (or whoever) is 20 times the guitar player that Tony Rice (or whoever) is.

Being a great player is defined in countless ways, all in the eye of the beholder. Do you think a classical violinist is impressed by an old time fiddler? Conversely, do you think an old time fiddler is impressed with a classical violinist? Maybe, maybe not.

Even within your own defininition of a great player, the greatest player is invariably a guy or gal you've never heard, working a day job or meditating on a mountain somewhere in Alaska. There is always someone better than the best, and I think goals for improvement should be based on one's own playing, rather than a measureing stick against the top dogs rounding the club circuit.

Tom C
Feb-11-2004, 3:48pm
There are people I only pick with or see once a year. Everytime they say they see tons of improvement -more confidence, cleaner,quicker etc. I do not feel that way but I guess it's like watching the grass grow.

Andrew Reckhart
Feb-11-2004, 4:31pm
I was going to do a scratch pad recording of myself on New Year's day this year. #I planned on putting it away until next New Year's day. #After I recorded a few cuts next year I was going to get out this year's cuts and evaluate my progress. #Too bad I forgot to do this year's recording. #Maybe I'll do it on Valentine's Day instead. #Nicole will LOVE that! #(Me spending all day at my Dad's in the basement/home recording studio on Valentine's day! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif )

John Flynn
Feb-11-2004, 4:58pm
Three points of two cents each:

I saw a report of some research that was done on prodogies. Like with any piece of research, I don't take it as the last word, but I thought it was interesting. They looked at young people who were experts in music, other arts, math, science, etc. I mean kids who were really good, like playing Carnegie Hall or getting PhD's at 16 years old. They tested them for every parameter they knew how to test for: IQ, math, reasoning ability, physchological profile, etc. The only significant variable they could find was that the prodogies had the ability to spend hours a day working on what they were good at. They were not smarter, faster, stronger or in any other measureable way better than non-prodogies. If you give this research any creedence, the moral would be that the top players are normal people who have had no problem practicing many hours a day for many years. And my personal conclusion is that to do that, you just have to love it for its own sake. I can't imagine someone being able to force themselves to that extent.

My second point is that I spent many years agonizing about why I couldn't play like my guitar heros and later my mando heros. I have given all that up. I decided to be perfectly content and happy to play the best I can play. I appreciate and admire the greats, but I no longer envy them and I am no longer anxious that I am not one of them. If I can play well enough to add joy to my life and to the lives of any audiences I might play for, that is all I am after. And you know what? Since I made that mental shift about a year ago, I have actually improved more than I had for the previous ten years.

Finally, I have come to believe that everyone who plays has something unique to offer, meaning there is a sound that is uniquely thiers, that they can do better than Sam or Butch or whoever. It is not all technique. Each person just has to find that sound, that voice, thier own unique voice. I am not there yet, but I am starting to discover it. I will never play as fast as those guys, but I will eventually have something that I do that sounds great because I made it sound great. #

Atlanta Mando Mike
Feb-11-2004, 5:42pm
I beleive that if someone has the ability to be a top notch player, he/she or people on the outside, would have an inkling within the first couple of years of serious playing. I don't mean they will be that player within 2-4 years, I mean they will display charecteristics that lead to an assumption of the possiblities of his/her playing potential given infinite practice and refinement. Doesn't mean anyone can't become good, really good or even great with enough practice. However, to get to that top 2 percent you need genetics, drive, the right mentors/influences and an unbridled passion. Just my opinion.

Feb-11-2004, 6:50pm
It's when a gifted child has the opportunity to learn at a formative age, combined with whatever motivates and disciplines that child to excel at it. #Sometimes it's a desire to please (parents, music teacher, etc). #Sometimes it's a desire to belong (an orchestra or a family band). #Sometimes it's just the child's fascination with the music's beauty and its endless possibilities for expressing emotions.
or it can be a desire to be the best or to master specific skills or any one of a number of motivations (this is my job to analyze motivational patterns). But the thing I agree with is that the right motivation, combined with the right conditions and the natural ability create the opportunity

Feb-11-2004, 10:33pm
I heard a story of a virtuoso violinist (a person that plays a violin, which is like a fiddle, but you have to wear a suit to play one). Anyway, he had played a beautiful concert and an admiring fan went up to meet him afterwards and said, "That was beautiful! I'd give half my life to be able to play like that!"

The violinist replied, "That's what I did."

Feb-12-2004, 12:07am
Good anecdote, Guitolin. #There's a lot of personal sacrifice, it's lonely at the top when you get there, and how do you keep improving when you've run out of mountaintop? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/sad.gif

Feb-12-2004, 12:08am
Of course it involves talent and all of that but it is simply how bad you want it! #When I started playing, I played 8 hours a day every day for years because I wanted to learn everything Bush ever recorded, only because that was my goal and I worked my butt off to achieve it. #I still continue to set my goals higher but it is mostly to incorporate everything I learned from Bush, Benson, Grisman, Marshall, Steffey, Legere, Lawson, Monroe, Thile, Leftwich, and any other mando players that have something to offer that I hadn't thought of into what could be Jeremy's style. #I will play like me, even though it is heavily influenced by Bush. #It's just desire my man. #Do you want it bad enough? #Are you willing to not get married, not date, or not do any of the "normal" things of this world for your music? #That's how it works, you must sacrifice quite a bit to be "good". #I often used to look at myself and wish that I could just have a normal life because my life was ALL about music and everything else was just relational to my existance. #I only use the word "good" because you did and I interprete it as being unique, individual, creative, and just YOU! #If you want it bad enough and are willing to put in the time and work, you can have it. #It is 10% talent and 90% work!

Feb-12-2004, 12:37am
Yup. Tiger Woods goes out and hits balls at the range after playing a round at a major. Its one part innate talent, and 1000 parts conscious repetition.

That said, I think you can wind up a very entertaining mandolin player practicing on a "regular person's" schedule. Aim as high as you dare, because you'll end up exceeding your expectations.

jim simpson
Feb-12-2004, 8:01am
I may be repeating all of the good info said before me but here goes my take. Unless you play music full time for a living, you can't possibly put the same time into it. Professionals practice too and get a chance to tighten and refine what they do on a frequent basis. Even if they didn't practice, the frequency of performing would put them at an advantage over regular folk. Individual talent and ability will be the variable in how quickly one advances, professional or not.
I get amused when people approach me after a gig and ask if it is a full time gig as it is not. I know that many pros in bluegrass still need to keep a day job to makes ends meet.
I wish I would have started mandolin as a teenager rather than in my late 30's, perhaps if Hendrix had an F-5 at Woodstock instead of his Strat. Of course it would have been upside down.
I guess we are our own worst critics at times because we always compare what we can do against what we hear others do. It is good to have the goal to improve as long as it is in perspective.

Feb-12-2004, 8:27am
if you have played an instrument before, an instrument you "learned", then it shouldnt be too difficult. if you have never played music at all.... then I would probably go with lessons if I were you.

I dont know if you intend to read music. people I have known who tried to learn music (reading) as adults had great great great difficulty and I am not sure if they ever really got good at it. I dont remember how I learned to read music ,so I dont have any advise for that. I think maybe if you learn the rythem first, like buy a book that beginning drummers would use... when you are comfortable with the beat values, then apply your pitch.

as far as technique, I think an hour or two a day will be fine. for practise. no less than 30 minutes on your most hectic days.

Feb-12-2004, 8:33am
PS. - you are comparing yourself with absolute pros...
thats ok

just realize that students are typically put against the virtuosi of their time. you dont look up to the average, right? its usual to sit and listen and feel intimidated.

Andrew Reckhart
Feb-12-2004, 10:15am
I do play fairly well. #I have only been playing Mandolin for 2 years and most people who hear me think that I've been playing 5 times that long. #I have played at a lot of the same festivals a year apart now, and I had dozens of comments on how drastically I have improved since last year. #I know that I am progressing much more rapidly than average, but I am the definition of a 'Type A' personality. #I am possibly too competitive and driven to be the best at everything that I do. #My biggest problem is time. #I am too far into life to be afforded the luxury of 8 hours of practice time. #I work 9 am to 9 pm 3 days a week, and 9 am to 6 pm 3 days the other three. #When I am home I need to spend that time with my family. #I am really lucky to get 30 minutes of practice in per day. #All that being said, most of the guys that pick in my area are amazed at how quickly I am able to progress. #I definately have the aptitude and physical abilities to be really good, maybe not Sam or Chris, but definately at professional level. #It seems like basically I need to get out of bed at 5:00 am so that I can put in 2 hours before I have to get ready for work. #A really good teacher would probably speed up the process and make me really focus in on what I want and need. #Thanks for all of your help! #You guys really are the best!

John Flynn
Feb-12-2004, 10:35am
I have only been playing Mandolin for 2 years and most people who hear me think that I've been playing 5 times that long.
Gee, that equation is exactly backwards with me. LOL! You are doing good! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Bobby Brite
Feb-12-2004, 10:39am
Well put MAndo Johnny.
I have found since I started playing mandolin 3 years ago that it is essential to listen to the previously mentioned greats. You can learn alot of valuble things just by listening. But you can't stop there. You have to take that and add, delete, and alter to be your own creative self. Your own style, influenced to an extent by the greats, is what makes people enjoy your playing. They have heard Bill Monroe hundreds of times and probably do not want to hear you do a note fo note rendition of Kentucky Waltz. I believe that they want to hear what you have to offer. So take what you have to offer and practice that until it is up to your standards. I've heard people that play mainly double stops in there solos, some that can obtain chop rythms that are definately not of the "norm", while others play very simple licks that I have found to be very enjoyable. Live, Learn, Pick, and most of all be happy!!!


Feb-12-2004, 11:12am
To some it is a job I read somewhere that the pianist Roger Miller plays piano every day for 6 hours a day ?to me thats not fun its work I want to do what is fun !!So guess ill never be a Skaggs or Dawg ??http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

John Flynn
Feb-12-2004, 11:30am
So guess ill never be a Skaggs or Dawg ??
Maybe not, but you can be a better Kenneth Froman than they can, and that will be something great if you want it to be.

Andrew Reckhart
Feb-12-2004, 5:54pm
Amen~ Mando Johnny! Just be yourself and be the best you can be!

I realized that I probably need to develop patience more than anything!

Feb-12-2004, 7:00pm
If you have a gift for something ... anything .... and don't use that gift, it will rot in your life and drain your joy. Find a place to use your gift and find joy in using it. That's not pap. It's a certainty. Not using your gift because someone else has refined theirs more or has more basic talent isn't healthy.

Feb-12-2004, 7:49pm
Yes, all those mentioned above are great players, BUT the one thing they've all done is played the mandolin to the exclusion of other things. Not necessarily the same things, but they all made the choice to give up some aspect of life - career, marriage, home ownership, sports, financial stability, you name it. The mandolin took the place of one of those key elements, and they are either happy with the choice or not. Wayne Benson once told me he could only do what he does by being debt-free - no house pymt., car pymt., child costs, alimony, insurance premium, the list goes on and on. Frankly, I don't know any adult who lives like that, other than other musicians or artists. Do I yearn for that? Well, sometimes I think what might have been, but then I look at my family, job, financial well-being and say "Yeah, but..."

Feb-18-2004, 9:33am
greatness = sacrifice

A wise man (maybe it was me) once said to me "anyone can be a millionnaire by the time they are 40. No social life, no family, no bad habits.

No fun.