Author of the best-selling Mandolin For Dummies and Mandolin Exercises for Dummies for Wiley Publishing, Julin left the road as part of a popular touring act last year and informed us he was in the process of creating a new online educational resource designed for mandolin players, one for which he felt there was a strong need.
And what a resource it is!
After a soft launch at IBMA in late October, the site has flourished with new instructors and content accumulating at an impressive rate. Ever the creative force, our job in wanting to find as much as possible about Don's new venture was to get out of the way and let him tell us the story, so in minimalist fashion, we literally sent him a bare bones outline and left it to him to communicate what he has created. We think you'll enjoy what he has to say about Mandolins Heal The World.
What is Mandolins Heal The World?
Mandolins Heal The World is an online learning website dedicated to the study of the prince of all stringed instruments: the mandolin! The site contains hundreds of lessons, and practice tracks of all levels, from a variety of instructors. A basic membership allows members unlimited access to all content on the website.
My basic teaching style on these video lessons could be called action oriented. This approach simply encourages imitating or copying what is seen and heard on the screen. Many of the tunes are broken down phrase by phrase with emphasis on proper left and right hand technique. I am a strong believer in memorizing tunes and playing by ear. When you learn a song or a strumming pattern by watching, listening, and imitating, you will retain this information and be able to apply it to many other songs. I suggest that my students try to learn the exercises or tunes without using the sheet music. Of course, all lesson include a downloadable PDF.
Additional curriculum is being designed and will be added in early 2017 for the student that prefers a structured set of lessons to accomplish a specific goal. There are many mandolin players out there interested in the black art of improvisation, so I am designing a series of lessons with a goal of being able to address certain aspects. Another specific group I am very passionate about is the adult student that has little or no musical experience. This late bloomer may benefit a great deal from a step-by-step course that encourages good technique, posture, timing, and most of all, fun.
A few years ago at the Wheatland Music Festival I was scheduled to give a mandolin workshop. I looked at my festival schedule to see who was going to be giving the other workshop as they have two workshops scheduled at a time. OMG! It was Bela Fleck! So I am walking toward workshop lane and I see him approaching. I introduce myself and name-drop Mandolin For Dummies as my proudest accomplishment to date. He told me that teaching to beginners is really important work. He told me that the statistics show that there are far more beginner students than there are advanced students. He said his workshops are more like little informal concerts and sure enough, about every 15 minutes the crowd around his "workshop" erupted into loud applause.
Don Julin Demos a Bluegrass Lesson
Who are the main "players" in Mandolins Heal The World, so to speak?
You could say that I am the man behind the curtain at MHTW. I have been buried in a secret bunker shooting videos, and making practice tracks for about a solid year now. In recent months I recruited some other gifted mandolin instructors that will be supplying videos (shot in secret locations, of course) moving forward. At first glance it may be difficult to identify the instructors as many of the video lessons are cropped so that the viewer can see both of the instructors hands clearly leaving them looking like headless torsos playing the mandolin. It is actually easy to tell who the instructor is as each lesson is clearly marked and many videos have introductions from the instructors. All lessons are also cross-referenced by style and instructor.
I have created the majority of video lessons on the site but over time we will see more videos from guest instructors. At the time of this interview we have a few video lessons up from Tim Connell, a highly respected mandolin player and teacher from Portland Oregon. His version of "Here Comes The Sun" is one of the most popular videos in the first 60 days since the site launched. David Benedict caught my attention with his Mandolin Mondays video series that we have all enjoyed right here on the Cafe. I am simply taking some of the Mandolin Monday videos and formatting them for Soundslice so us mere mortals can slow it way down, zoom in and see what he is really doing. Alan Epstein is the founder of the Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra and is a certified Wernick Method bluegrass jam instructor. Alan is really good with beginner/intermediate level bluegrass and is working on a series of videos featuring mandolin breaks for standard bluegrass songs.
In coming months look for video lessons from 2016 National Mandolin Champion, Jordan Ramsey. Jordan is a fantastic player with a total command of cross-picking. Chris Henry is one of the best Monroe style players on the scene today and stays pretty busy touring with Peter Rowan and his own group Hard Core Grass. I am expecting some ancient tones from Chris' video lessons as soon as he has a chance to send them in. I am very proud to announce that Grammy nominated and IBMA award winner Frank Sollivan has agreed to join the team and help heal the world with some spicy mandolin entrees. I can't wait to see what he cooks up for us. More great instructors will be added as we move forward, stay tuned for further details.
What was the motivation behind tackling such a large venture?
First of all, I love playing and teaching mandolin. I have this belief that the world would simply be a better place if more folks played mandolin. A few years back I enrolled in some online arranging classes from the Berklee College of Music. I was impressed at how online learning could supply the same information as a traditional classroom in a way that I could fit into my life. A few distinct advantages over traditional classroom or private lessons are the ability to study when you have time and the ability to watch the video lesson many times. Repetition is a key element in learning.
Shortly after Mandolins For Dummies (2012) was released, I began touring and playing shows with William Apostol (AKA Billy Strings). We traveled from sea to shining sea for almost 3 years and what I found was, not only are bluegrass people some of the friendliest folks you would ever want to meet, but I found that I had many mandolin loving friends around the world. I can't tell you how many times we would be at the merchandise table after the show selling CDs, when someone would come up to the table with a copy of Mandolins For Dummies and ask me to autograph it. After almost 3 years of living out of a KIA mini-van, staying in every La Quinta, Quality Inn, and Motel 6 in this great country, I decided to leave the road for a while and sleep in my own bed. Mandolins Heal The World gave me an avenue to pull together years of experience playing, and teaching, with my other passion which is studio production. By working from my home in a fairly secluded part of the country, I am able to share what I have learned in over 35 years of playing and studying the mandolin.
Don Julin Demos a Jazz Lesson
What makes Mandolins Heal The World different?
My philosophy is that music is a language and should be learned as a language. If we take a look at how we learn to speak, we may find some interesting parallels. The way a young child learns to speak is by hearing adults and siblings make sounds. At first the child simply imitates the sounds of the vowels and consonants and eventually forms words. After a while the child can string words together to begin communicating with others. It is at that time that we introduce the child to the printed page. I am simply suggesting that we approach music the same way. As in any language, you can further your study to include theory, history, and the evolution of this language, but in the long run what most folks really want is to be able to join the musical conversation.
I see a few major differences in MHTW from other web learning centers.
- My intention is to provide a wide range of content from easy nursery rhymes like “Skip To My Lou” to bebop standard “Scrapple From The Apple” available to all members. You can think of it as a Netflix type of model, were you pay your monthly membership fee and watch whatever movies or TV shows you like.
- I try not to take myself too seriously and try to have a little fun in the videos. You could say that MHTW, we not afraid to let our hair down. My King Charles Cavalier, Harlow makes a few guest appearances on a few of the videos. Some of the videos are shot on cell phones in kitchens instead of controlled studios. I believe it is the content that matters most, not how much money you spent producing the video.
- Soundslice being embedded in the site makes this a unique mandolin learning experience. Just watch a Soundslice demo and see how this can make learning at home much more fun and effective than traditional online methods. It is software that synchronizes a video or audio recording with the sheet music/tablature. You can simply follow the cursor as it stays in sync with the recording. The next feature is the ability to slow down the video or practice track while still keeping in sync with the printed page. I know that many readers have used the Amazing Slow Downer or Anytune, which are apps that can slow down music without changing the pitch. Soundslice combines that technology with streaming video. Add an animated fingerboard graphic display that tells you were to put your fingers, and looping so you can practice that tough part over and over at whatever speed you like until you can play it. There is nothing for you to download, no incompatibility issues, no MAC only. It’s all embedded on the website. Many teachers, and universities around the world are licensing Soundslice to enhance the online learning experience.
- The staff. These are all great players with a passion and a knack for teaching. Some of them are touring musicians, some teach at popular mandolin camps, some stay close to home and teach locally or via Skype/Facetime. What they all have in common is a love for teaching and sharing their knowledge of the mandolin. In addition to video lessons, many of our staff including myself, are available for one-on-one private lessons via skype or facetime at an hourly rate. We are making an effort to be the hippest mando-school on the web.
Instructor Tim Connell Demonstrates Soundslice
What else would you like to tell us about Mandolins Heal The World?
The actual location of MHTW is in a small (basement) recording studio in Traverse City Michigan. Traverse City is a great vacation destination and often, people I have met online contact me for a private lesson while vacationing in northern Michigan.
We are officially open now even though some parts of the site are still under construction. We had a soft opening in late September at IBMA. Luck had it that our exhibit booth was located right next to our friends at Northfield Mandolins and directly across from Elderly Instruments. We had our own little Michigan mandolin mafia going in one corner of the convention center. I really had a great time seeing all of my bluegrass friends and heroes but regretfully did not have as much time to pick as I would have liked. Next time for sure. Speaking of bluegrass, the bluegrass section at MHTW may look a little anemic at the time of this publication but not too distant future plans include many instrumentals, mandolin breaks for standard songs, practice track, and even a collection of kick-offs and standard bluegrass licks. As of December 1, 2016 there are 109 video lessons available with new videos added weekly. Many of the lessons include practice tracks.
Any tips for using the site?
In order to get the most out of your on-line learning experience, you will need to have the right equipment. Below I have listed some essential pieces of gear that will greatly enhance your mandolin practice time.
- Mandolin. This goes without saying but someone will ask if I don't include this.
- Electronic tuner. Even if you can tune your mandolin to itself by ear, you will need a tuner to make sure you are in tune with the play-along tracks. I suggest one of the many clip-on type of electronic tuners.
- High Speed internet or cellular network. The lessons included on the web site include videos and audio tracks as a primary element. You don't need the fastest internet connection in the world, but if you are on dial up or a 3G phone network you may experience trouble with slow or choppy playback. In general, if you can watch YouTube videos without having to wait for them to load you should be OK.
- Media Speakers. A big part of Mandolins Heal The World is playing along with videos and tracks. Many of these tracks are full band tracks and feature bass, percussion, keyboard, and a variety of instruments. If your speaker will not reproduce a full spectrum of sound, you will not hear the rhythm section well enough to keep in time with it. Most media speakers are good enough to handle this.
- IrealPro. IrealPro is an app that allows you to quickly and easily create play-along tracks in a variety of styles. Many of the tracks on this site are created with IrealPro.
- Soundslice is used on many of the lessons on MHTW.