PDA

View Full Version : 10 Questions For John McGann



NewsFetcher
Jul-24-2011, 7:22pm
The Mandolin Cafe has posted the following news release:
10 Questions For John McGann
http://www.mandolincafe.com/news/publish/mandolins_001366.shtml

Ted Eschliman interviews John McGann, the central figure behind the outstanding mandolin program at Boston's Berklee College of Music and his role as mentor to some of today's top upcoming stringed instrument stars.

---------------------------

NOTE: You may use your board membership to comment on news articles published by the Mandolin Cafe. Your comments will appear here and also will be appended to the end of the news article for public viewing. Standard board membership posting guidelines apply. The addition of images, videos, links and BB coding is turned OFF for this area so as not to compete with or interfere with the news item.

Will Patton
Jul-24-2011, 9:50pm
What a great interview from an amazing player and gifted educator - this is a master class, right here. Thanks to all involved.
Will Patton

yoshka
Jul-25-2011, 1:21am
I second what Will wrote. Thanks John for your insights about all that was covered in the interview.
Thanks to all for making this happen.

Yossi

Aaron Woods
Jul-25-2011, 8:42am
Very interesting and helpful. Thanks John.

JeffD
Jul-25-2011, 9:02am
Ted, all your questions were ones I have thought about would have asked. Very excellent job.

Markus
Jul-25-2011, 9:28am
I only wish it was 100 questions, as the first ten were great. Nice interview.

Chris "Bucket" Thomas
Jul-25-2011, 9:32am
Thanks. I certainly count John as one of the “Expert” contributors to the forum. His insight & advice has been extremely valuable.

grassrootphilosopher
Jul-25-2011, 11:41am
It´s a great interview. Yet, for the beginner or (almost) intermediate the answers/the advice might appear a little bit too complicated to follow. I´d advocate another McGann interview or an interview series for the beginner branch on the café.

Some of the greatest advice and the one that I also experience few follow: Build a repertoire. If you don´t, you´ll never learn the language.
Also: Listen! (The "read"-advice is hard to follow for a non reader like me. I know that even Paco De Lucia learned to read music in order to play his Manuel de Falla album)

farmerjones
Jul-25-2011, 1:53pm
Having Mr. McGann so close by, on the Caf'e, i feel rediculously lucky. It's like having Neil Armstrong around to answer moon questions.
Sorry, but i have to ask: Why no fiddle? Or do you privately?

SincereCorgi
Jul-25-2011, 1:58pm
Just one more saying 'great interview'... more interviews with good mandolin educators, please!

John McGann
Jul-25-2011, 3:13pm
Thanks everyone for being a fantastic audience...I don't play fiddle for a few reasons; it's a jealous (vicious) mistress and doesn't want you doubling on other instruments, and when I do try it, it sounds like the gut is still in the cat, if you know what I mean... ;)

John McGann
Jul-25-2011, 3:17pm
Re: beginners- some advice here, most everything still applies- learn tunes, go slowly and try for good tone and timing...things in my Sound Fundamentals DVD actually demonstrate and show you things I verbalize on my site, which for many is VERY helpful.

TonyP
Jul-25-2011, 7:18pm
That was such a good, satisfying interview for me. Good job Ted, the interviewer is as important the interviewee. I've known the name, and reputation of John McGann ever since I first saw in the back of a Frets magazine where he would transcribe any solo you wanted. I thought then I want to hear more from this guy, but I was on the wrong coast. It was also very satisfying seeing a "seasoned vet" swapping licks with the whippersnappers in those vids. Pick on John!

MandoNicity
Jul-26-2011, 2:34am
Most excellent interview! John has much to share with us all and I for one am happy that he takes the time to join in with us on the Cafe. Let's have another 50 questions from Ted! ;)

Dan Hoover
Jul-26-2011, 6:37am
a lesson on it's own...very cool..thank's for this..

bjshear
Jul-26-2011, 7:28am
Great interview! Most enjoyable one I have read to date on the cafe. I really enjoyed reading while listening to the two Celtic tunes at the beginning. Is that song downloadable anywhere? It was great listening.

John McGann
Jul-26-2011, 10:52am
Thanks bjshear; that was a one-off recording for a site called Pay The Reckoning that I did 5-6 years ago- it's downloadable from there as a very lo-fi mp3, the one streaming on the 10 questions is much more hi-fi; I'd imagine it would be downloadable somehow...I can ask Scott to put in the in mp3 section...glad you liked it; I am really fond of hornpipes (as is my pal Joe Derrane)...you rarely hear them at sessions nowadays, but they are a particularly attractive form of tune, with quite complex dance moves as well, kind of a double-time thing happens in the dance, which may be one reason why they are played at a slower pace than reels...that particular set of tunes was recorded by Michael Coleman in the 20's or 30's; I first heard it on the Shanchie James Kelly/Daithi Sproule/Paddy O'Brien trio album. James is one of my favorite fiddlers ever, and a wonderfully friendly guy as well, he has many great recordings out including a solo fiddle album that is just fantastic!

J Walsh
Jul-26-2011, 11:42am
Right on, John, great interview. Good to be in your tutelage again, via the cafe!!

JonZ
Jul-26-2011, 12:00pm
Hey John, what edge of that Tortex pick do you use on mandolin?

John McGann
Jul-26-2011, 12:14pm
Hey John, what edge of that Tortex pick do you use on mandolin?

What someone once called "the dumb end", that is to say, not the point, but one of the shoulders. The edges are beveled, so the pick "slides in" to the string nice and easy. I try to emulate what Russ Barenberg showed me about "drawing the sound out like a violin (or cello) bow, rather than slapping it out". Russ and Andy Statman were my biggest influences in terms of technique and tone production...

Scott Tichenor
Jul-26-2011, 1:23pm
I've added John's cut from the interview to the MP3 page (http://www.mandolincafe.com/mp3/) as requested under the Celtic section. Or, a more direct link right to it (http://www.mandolincafe.net/mp3/mcgann-thestage.mp3) if you prefer.

bjshear
Jul-26-2011, 1:35pm
Thanks John for 'releasing' that recording. And thanks for adding it Scott! Is the music notation, not tab, for that arrangement available anywhere John?

Jim Nollman
Jul-26-2011, 1:36pm
re-affirms my hunch that it's time for me to look seriously for a 10 string mandola. Many thanks for the hinted encouragement.

John McGann
Jul-26-2011, 3:51pm
Thanks John for 'releasing' that recording. And thanks for adding it Scott! Is the music notation, not tab, for that arrangement available anywhere John?

I think both tunes are in "O'Neill's" and probably at thesession.org as well...

Jim Nollman
Jul-27-2011, 12:10pm
Also makes me wonder how a discussion about teaching optimal techniques to play mandolin, such as the most musical way to grasp a pick, relates to Jimi Hendrix playing his strat upside down.

John McGann
Jul-27-2011, 12:46pm
On electric, the sonic differences between down and upstrokes are kind of lost in the compression/EQ etc. that happens with an amp- especially at Hendrix performance volumes!

They are much more self evident on acoustic instruments...

I wouldn't say how I hold the pick is "more musical" than any other way, that would be pompous; it's just a personal preference born out of trying to emulate the butter-rich tones of Grisman, Reischman and players in that area of the sonic rainbow...

Jim Nollman
Jul-27-2011, 4:48pm
My point is more about the subjective hard-won style of the self-taught vs the objective mastery over several styles sought by many students graduating from a place like Berklee. While the interview gives good examples of the benefits of good technique, I want to hear something about the benefits, if any, of what some might refer to as bad technique. I must add that this distinction is borne of my own ongoing attempt to better understand the obvious limitations in my own choice to remain self-taught. You have described your occasional judgment to leave alone the Sierra Hull's of the world. I am seeking more about how you decide to either teach or not teach, especially the rare students of uniquely creative but eccentric style, whose very eccentricity will never allow them to attain objective mastery. It's a very fragile boundary, and I'm curious how you navigate it.

John McGann
Jul-27-2011, 8:37pm
Thanks Jim- since I am a lifelong learner, I feel I am in similar shoes as my students. I try not to be dawgmatic (no pun intended!) and try to present ideas and materials that I feel will be the most helpful to students, and those are the kind of things I seek for myself. We are all self taught in the long run IMHO.

I studied music formally and mostly informally; I only ever had one "mandolin lesson", but it was with Andy Statman, and was a life changer. My technical (instrumental skills) development had much more to do with associating with good players than it did from formal study; I learned the most about 'how music works' in an applied theory sense from learning jazz arranging techniques with the great Herb Pomeroy (legendary trumpeter and arranger/composer who taught at Berklee for many years) and Ken Pullig (now chair of the Jazz Comp dept. at Berklee). I had things 'in my head' that took quite awhile to get 'on the instrument'.

As many "self taught" players, I also learned by ear from many many recordings all through my life, many many hours with a turntable and stubborn attitude, deciphering everything from The Beatles and Yes to the DGQ, Miles and Cannonball, Allan Holdsworth etc. etc.

That said, if I see things that I feel will limit a player's ability to grow and be expressive, i will always explain why and allow them to make their own decisions- I am not of the "my way or the highway" school of drill sargent ;)

DougC
Jul-27-2011, 9:21pm
That was one amazing interview John. I have read it three times today and I'm still 'blown away' by how much great information is in that one article. It zeros' in on the weaknesses of each "culture's" approach, Jazzer's, grassers and celts and classical folks. And it uses their terminology to clarify the message. I suppose you have a rather unique perspective being at Berklee. I'm glad to learn more about you and I'm inspired to learn more about 'the neck', theory, and where the heck I'm at within a given tune.

Also I'm glad to see all of these 'alternative styles' put into the larger perspective of the world of music. And, although it may be challenging to explain why would we (fill in the blank; folkies, jazz players, Irish musicians, etc.) want to learn all this stuff. I think you have the insights and experience to say why. It is not easy being outside our comfortable niche and under the light of scrutiny.

John McGann
Jul-28-2011, 6:37am
I want to hear something about the benefits, if any, of what some might refer to as bad technique.

The only 'bad technique' is one that doesn't allow you to sound as good as you want to. I can't say there is much benefit in 'bad technique', but we'd have to define the idea. To me, it means a physical approach to the instrument that has the potential to cause physical damage via tendinitis/carpal tunnel (which I have never experienced myself) and/or does not provide the player with a foundation upon which they can contiune to build.

Sometimes people may not understand that there are more efficient, easier and better sounding ways to approach the instrument, and they become defensive about the way they currently play (I owned that attitude at one point myself)...it's an attitude that can keep people away from positive change, but folks paying good money for lessons are usually seeking ways to grow.


You have described your occasional judgment to leave alone the Sierra Hull's of the world. I am seeking more about how you decide to either teach or not teach, especially the rare students of uniquely creative but eccentric style, whose very eccentricity will never allow them to attain objective mastery. It's a very fragile boundary, and I'm curious how you navigate it.

Sierra will tell you I didn't "leave her alone" at all, I just chose (and rather wisely, methinks) to not try and mess with her technique. The proof is in the pudding- if you can play like her, with that fluid physical ability, along the lines of Mark O'Connor or Chris Thile, then you must be doing something right! Sierra is exceptionally gifted, and I was able to help her with theory and ideas, as well as exposing her to a variety of new improvisational techniques and concepts. As you'd expect, she's very bright and curious, and was very open to learning about all kinds of different styles- for example, she dove right into my Django Reinhardt ensemble and played great...

There is always room for people's personalities and creativity in my teaching. Without those elements, it would be pretty dry for swimming! I could never use a one-size-fits-all approach, I'm not that kind of person.

Jim Nollman
Jul-28-2011, 11:54am
Thanks for the thoughtful answer. Some of the tunes on my upcoming CD release feature a 1970's Berklee grad on electric guitar who is way way beyond me in sheer skill level. I think we both enjoyed the creative interplay between my own rather eccentric compositions that rely on both the mandolin and the studio as an instrument, and his own spontaneous ability to play along with these very untraditional renditions of traditional compositions 2 or 3 different times, and not only have each take be a gem, but also be remarkably different from each another. He is the product of some great teaching wed to a deep study of finger memory.

John McGann
Jul-28-2011, 2:53pm
Neat and very 3-D sounding track, Jim!

catmandu2
Jul-31-2011, 7:41pm
Thanks everyone for being a fantastic audience...I don't play fiddle for a few reasons; it's a jealous (vicious) mistress and doesn't want you doubling on other instruments, ;)

haha...aren't they all!

Thanks for all the great remarks John, Scott, et al.

JonZ
Aug-01-2011, 4:24pm
Have you considered trying a more expensive pick? I have read that there are some new brands that will do wonders for your tone.;)

John McGann
Aug-01-2011, 9:12pm
Unobtanium corborundum? ;)

mandopete
Aug-02-2011, 9:55am
Hey John - just went out to your You Tube channel to check out the videos - very nice!

I see Jim Kelly in a couple - is he still teaching at Berklee? I studied with him back in '76.

John McGann
Aug-02-2011, 10:05pm
Yes, Jim is still at Berklee and playing his heart out!

Gelsenbury
Aug-03-2011, 3:34am
I try to emulate what Russ Barenberg showed me about "drawing the sound out like a violin (or cello) bow, rather than slapping it out".

Could you please clarify whether this is about pick angle, the smoothness of the attack, or something else? I'm trying to develop good tone, and this sort of thing seems to be very important. My repertoire is growing, but I'm constantly concerned about my basic technique going all over the place!

John McGann
Aug-03-2011, 7:09am
Could you please clarify whether this is about pick angle, the smoothness of the attack, or something else? I'm trying to develop good tone, and this sort of thing seems to be very important. My repertoire is growing, but I'm constantly concerned about my basic technique going all over the place!

Technique Tips Page

mandopete
Aug-03-2011, 9:32am
Cool to hear that Jim Kelly is still teaching at Berklee. I recall spending an entire lesson working on a Gentle Giant song. It wasn't easy to find a guitar teacher at Berklee at that time who would do that.

Gelsenbury
Aug-04-2011, 4:33am
Technique Tips Page

I do apologise. I had in fact read your page before, but the idea of "drawing the pick across the strings" had not stuck in my mind.

I do pick at an angle (my thumb and the pick are fairly horizontal, but the angle is created by lifting the neck of the mandolin), so I'm probably innocent of "slapping". I suspect that unclean fretting and poor right-left coordination are responsible for my room for improvement in tone. Thank you.

Scott Tichenor
Apr-06-2013, 12:05pm
John passed away exactly a year ago today. This interview from July, 2011 is a glimpse into why he was considered such a great teacher, mentor, human. Beats arguing about capos.

greg_tsam
Apr-08-2013, 10:10pm
Beats arguing about capos.

True but I'd argue capos all day long if it meant John could still be here with us. :mandosmiley: I miss his insight and contributions.

Scott Tichenor
Jul-24-2013, 9:44am
Like to remind people of the wealth of great interviews (http://www.mandolincafe.com/news/publish/cat_index_17.shtml) we have housed here. Two years ago this piece by Ted Eschliman was published featuring the late John McGann who passed away just nine months later, far before his time. If you missed it or haven't re-read since then, worth the effort.

http://www.mandolincafe.com/news/publish/mandolins_001366.shtml

mtndan
Jul-25-2014, 9:21am
What an amazing soul. I am so sad that he is no longer with us. I picked up his rhythm, tone and metronome videos and feel very fortunate to learn from what he left behind.

Mandolin Cafe
Jul-24-2017, 11:11am
Noting that today is the anniversary of this interview published in 2011. Lots of bits of wisdom in we'd all be wise to read.

https://www.mandolincafe.com/news/publish/mandolins_001366.shtml

Mandolin Cafe
Jul-24-2018, 7:15am
Another day to observe the anniversary of this important interview.

Mandolin Cafe
Dec-05-2018, 11:40am
Enjoy spotting small movements like this in the digital world. John McGann's Developing Melodic Variations on Fiddle Tunes: Mandolin Edition which has been out for quite some time has just been made available for Kindle on amazon

https://www.amazon.com/McGanns-Developing-Melodic-Variations-Fiddle-ebook/dp/B07L3Q444S/