When to move on to next lesson?

  1. Bunnyf
    Very new to the mandolin. Just got it for Christmas. I play a little guitar but I'm just a strummer, so picking is a challenge for me. I'm working my way thru Greg Horne's Beg. Mandolin. I'm up to Soldiers Joy (the first big song in the book). I'm using a metronome and being very careful about my pick stroke direction and playing cleanly, so it's really a slow go. What I'm wondering is when I should move on to the next lesson. Is there a speed (bpm) that I should target before I turn the page?
  2. Kevin Stueve
    Kevin Stueve
    This only my opinion but I moved on as soon as it was smooth at about 80bpm. If I had to do it again I'd probably try to get in the 120bpm range as a minimum. Thinking this will save you the grief of going back and working on picking to push tempo to an "acceptable" level.
  3. Bunnyf
    I may be on this tune for a while. I'm only at 70 and it could be smoother. I'm gonna rake my time and keep at this one tune and just some scales and finger exercises to I get this one up to speed. I'll do some chords and strum a bit for fun.
  4. HonketyHank
    I'm going to kinda agree with Kevin and kinda disagree at the same time. If it is challenging and fun trying to bump up the tempo on Soldiers Joy, keep focus on that goal. But if it becomes boring or 'work', I would start work on something new. BUT -- I would always come back to Soldiers' Joy for 10 or 15 minutes of focused practice fairly regularly. That's enough to keep it fresh, maybe improve a bit, and still leave a lot of time for having fun expanding the repertoire.

    Maybe when you get that second tune up to 70 or 80 you'll be ready for a break from it and that might be a good opportunity to spend even more time on Soldiers' Joy (and enjoy the progress again).

    That's kinda how I do it. I have several tunes that are on the back burner like that. It looks like I may have this month's tune of the month ready early this month, so I'll probably go back and start cooking on one of those back burner tunes.

    Having fun is the main objective for me. And making progress without having to 'grind' is fun. So, all in all, just have fun.
  5. Kevin Stueve
    Kevin Stueve
    In truthfulness I do Henry's approach because I don't have the patience to stay with a song as my single focus. So I have 2 or 3 in the hopper at one time. Normally 1 or 2 fiddle tunes and then something new grass or rag or classical. Although some of my classical pieces are approaching the year mark and I still haven't made it through to the end.
  6. Bunnyf
    Thanks for the input guys. I'll add on the next tune, but keep working on Soldiers Joy. I won't move past that until I've got at least the first one up to speed. I don't bore easily and I'm really more about fundamentals right now. I just had no idea what my target speed should be as a beginner. I figured though that if I waited for it to get perfect and blazing, I would never get off the page. I really wasn't sure how mastered the tune should be before moving on.
  7. HonketyHank
    You know what? I don't think I play anything up to jam speed. I'm cool with that though.
  8. Bunnyf
    I anticipate it will be a verrrry long time before I get up to jam speed, especially when you consider the choke factor. But I'm cool with that. I can have fun singing and playing rythym. I realize melody playing may be a slow process. Funny, how in guitar chord strumming is really stressed first, picking much later.
  9. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I like to stretch myself beyond any reasonable limits, so I tend to have quite a few projects on back burners. There are a couple of tunes I play now that took about a year to get down decently. And like Kevin, I dabble at some Classical pieces, a couple of Bach pieces that I've worked at a bit off and on for two years and haven't gotten through yet.

    I agree wholeheartedly that you can move to the next lesson and begin on it, while not forsaking Soldier's Joy. Also, I think Kevin's original goal of about 80 BPM for many tunes, played smoothly, is a really good, challenging goal for a beginner. You could learn 10 fiddle tunes and get them up to 70 or 80 BPM ... and then start rotating them to push yourself for speeding them up as much as you want. But in the meantime, you'll get to learn some variety of melodies, which is a good thing.

    Personality type has a lot to do with how we learn and how we practice, as well. So what works for me, or Kevin, or Henry may not work for everyone. If you do start to cross that boredom threshold, definitely move on, and put a stake down as a guide to return where you left off at a later date when you're ready.
  10. Bunnyf
    Thanks Mark. Good advice. I pencil-in my speed that I'm up to in the lesson book and at 70 it still sounds very slow. I'll keep at it. My next question is should my goal at this point be to memorize each tune? This may be a moot point because by the time I get this tune up to 80-100bpm I may have naturally memorized it. But right now, I'm following along with the music. At what point in your practice routine, do you start moving away from the paper?
  11. Trav'linmando
    Bunny, I have a copy of Greg Horne's book also, and spent many days there. I really like his style of teaching and methods.

    I'm not going to disagree with anything said above. Especially with the idea of additional tunes to practice. I do want to point out the title of this lesson, which is called 'Alternate Picking'. This style of picking, what we call down-up is crucial to playing the mandolin. A fundamental component so to speak. On page 36 Greg has a box titled 'Secrets of the Masters' in bold print. Greg is using the tune Soldiers Joy as a means to really nail down this skill. You are probably aware that the next lesson is also Soldiers Joy (just more down-up).

    Yes, picking the tune over and over becomes tedious. That's why we have a second tune handy to pick. How are you at playing 'Old Liza Jane' from the previous lesson? Can you play that at 80 bpm? 100 bpm? I remember that Lesson 2 (1st version of Soldiers Joy was very satisfying) but I struggled horribly with Lesson 3 (2nd version). Today in my fiddle tune binder I have 9 versions of Soldiers Joy, including the 2 from Greg's book. Most are much more challenging to play. Today I will use version 2 as a warm up exercise. Some days I struggle with hitting 90 bpm and others I am rolling out at 135.

    I also pencil in the bpm at the top of page. Usually I will start out picking 15-20 bpm less than the number written down and build up in increments of 5 bpm.

    Lastly, I have not moved away from the paper. Lol. I hear the lyrics to a song 3 times and I have the words down. Yet, ask me to play and wow! I am lost. Actually if I can get the first measure or 2 then I might have a chance to pick it.
  12. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    "At what point in your practice routine, do you start moving away from the paper?"

    Well, there again is where we all are going to differ. I doubt anyone in here does exactly the same as anyone else.

    Some folk do not play except by reading the page. That is perfectly acceptable, and it is generally the way most classical musicians play. Most folk musicians are the opposite, they primarily play from memory and by ear. Some of them can read and write down their own compositions, but not many performers use sheets when they perform. There are some in jam groups that do, though. You'll see several at most jams with music stands.

    To answer your question personally, I memorize the tunes from the start. So I will use sheet music and learn phrase-by-phrase, section-by-section, just so I can learn the tune and play it from memory. I do not have the skill to sight-read. My reading is a bit weak, and that's why I do it the way I do. I've been more of a folk or folk-rock or blues musician all my life, so I've got a long history of learning by ear or figuring stuff out on my own by ear.

    I don't know if others will answer your question as well, but if so, you'll see that we all tend to do things differently depending on our staff reading skills and our musical histories, so please don't use my own anecdote as any kind of example to follow.
  13. FredK
    ​I, too, read music and work from the printed page. That was how I was trained. But, I also learn and play some music by ear. Sheet music is good because it helps me go beyond the melody to include double-stops and chords that someone has already figured out. I'm not skilled enough, yet, to go much beyond melody at this point on the mandolin when playing by ear. Either way, I strive to learn the music well enough to play by memory. I feel, at that point, I'm not limited to the notes on the page when I play. I like the freedom that playing by ear and memorization provides me, but written music gives me a written record of what I can and have learned as well as the ability to note any special fingerings or tweaks I've made to the score. I agree with Mark that it's a matter of preference and personality.
  14. HonketyHank
    If you watch Baron at mandolessons.com, you know that he discourages the use of printed material from the very start. "... but here's a link if you get stuck" is the way he puts it (or something like that). I like to have both the tabs and the music notation in front of me as I learn a tune, but I am working on memorizing almost immediately. I try to get the tune into my head and let the tune drive what my fingers do. I am not able to do that "from scratch" yet, but I am getting better at it. The key for me has been trying to develop an ear for the intervals between notes. Working on scales and arpeggios helps with that. And learning more and more tunes helps with that too.
  15. Bunnyf
    Trav, I didn't really break out the metronome for the first short little tunes. I started using it when I got to version one of Soldier's Joy, which I can play at about 80bpm, second version only 70. I probably don't play the early exercises up to speed, but wanted to get to a song that I actually wanted to memorize. With guitar, I find it easy to memorize most simple songs. I'm not really memorizing, I can hear where the chord progression is going usually, if that makes sense to you. On more complicated songs I would have to make a concerted effort to memorize them and they get forgotten easily if I don't play them regularly. I'm just strumming, so it's easier. In any given common key, I know what chords to expect and when to expect them. But on mandolin with picking out the melody, especially these more embellished melodies, I'm getting the feeling that it might be hard for me to break away from the paper. It seem to me to be a lot like when I played piano. I NEVER could get away from the sheet music on anything other than the simplest tunes. On mandolin, my goal is to be able to pick out a melody and embellish it a little and be able to play it at the average speed of a not so fast jam. No one uses paper at my regular BG jam but they wouldn't dis you if you did. I just don't want to be tied to paper. I was wondering though, in the context of working your lesson books, do you stay on the lesson til you memorize it? (Not because you particularly want to memorize a certain tune but because forcing yourself to memorize it is somehow part of the lesson and is developing in you the fundimental skills you need to pick out tunes on your own.) Or did you move on when you got up to speed w/o regard to whether you've memorized it (maybe reserving memorizing for tunes you want to play with others)? Just wondering how others are approaching their lessons.
  16. Bunnyf
    Mark, Fred, Hank thanks for your input. Playing in orchestra, we of course always used sheet music and I don't recall my music teacher ever expecting me to memorize any pieces. In fact, I'm sure I put zero effort into memorizing anything. The goal was always just to play fluidly and accurately from the page. Now going through a mandolin method (and watching mando lessons) I was just kinda wondering if I'm cheating by not memorizing now or is it a skill that will come naturally in time by just proceeding thru the lessons?
  17. FredK
    Bunnyf, I'm like you in that we were trained to read the notes on the paper just like we learned to read the words in a book. Unfortunately, many (good) teachers don't help their students to go beyond that. I was one of those students.

    Think of all of the songs and tunes you already know by heart. We learn songs as kids that we never forget. We remember rhymes and rhythms from our earliest years. Even the music you played in orchestra, you probably remember the tunes and can probably hum them now. Memorizing is a lot of repetition. I'm not very good at straight memorization but it helps when you enjoy and engage with the things you are memorizing.

    When I first started to type in my pre-teen years, it was slow and laborious. I was tied to the paper I was typing from and everything was very conscious. Later, the words on the page seem to bypass my brain and go straight to my fingers. Then, I started typing my thoughts - apart from copying - to perfect the skill. Now, I would much rather type than write because it is a part of me and it flows from my head to my fingers. Like you, I'm new to mandolin but not new to music. Right now, I have to think a lot about left-hand fingering and right-hand movement along with learning the fretboard and good posture . I know as I keep doing it over and over that my ears, eyes, brain and fingers will begin to respond intuitively. In fact, I'm already seeing it happen as I learn some songs by ear and playing along with soundtracks.

    If I'm not practicing, I'm visualizing. If possible, I even air-play when there's no instrument. I also watch a lot of videos of mandolin players I admire; focusing on the sound with my ears and watching what they do with the mandolin and when. I'll never be a Chris Thile but I watch his technique and I admire how he expresses whatever he is playing through the mandolin. Same with Mike Marshall, Ricky Skaggs and many other greats and lesser knowns. This group along with the Cafe encourages me and gives me tips that I try out to see how they work for me. Watching others on here give me hope that I, too, can get good at this thing.

    You're on the right track. We all learn differently and at different speeds. Starting mandolin later in life, my speed is much slower. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experiences. And, whether you memorize or not; whether you move quickly from one song to the next; whether you use that slave driver called a metronome or not; have fun with the music.
  18. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I was thinking about this topic this morning. I have been quite ill this new year, and unable to play or practice for extended periods. I got better and recorded Wayfaring Stranger,then suffered a relapse and went over a week without touching an instrument. When I started back, I didn't know where to begin, so I decided to learn new material. This whole issue is fresh on my mind because I started fresh on two new tunes. One of those is John Kelly's The Birdfeeder Waltz (the other is Jack Danielson's Reel). Learning both has required the same process.

    I just finally got the waltz into memory well enough to practice from memory to a practice track. That took maybe 10 or so sessions with the sheet. In the first practice session, I pretty much memorized the A part, but it didn't stick. I used the sheet to remind myself how to start, and I did that 3 or 4 times before beginning to work out the B part. Another 6 or more sessions refreshing the A part and working on the B part until finally I've pretty much assimilated the tune - I know how it's supposed to go, and can practice without the sheet, but it's still not under my fingers. Several problem areas and plenty of mistakes, but it's off the sheet and in my head now. About the same experience I suppose with Jack Danielson's Reel, which I started a few days, almost a week, before Birdfeeder. It's been about a week and a half, maybe a day or two more, since I started those.

    That kind of schedule is pretty typical with me, but on the rare occasion I can learn a tune in a day and record it, like I did with Beauty In Tears, and there are others that take months or even years, like Poor Richard's Blues or the Bach pieces that I still haven't fully learned.
  19. Bunnyf
    I've been vacillating between going through a tune reading from the sheet and playing at the speed that I can play cleanly. Then repeating, trying to improve and increase speed. And the other way would be to take small chunks and try to get these phrases in my head and fingers to the point where I can repeat and practice the phrase without the sheet. I'm not sure which is the more productive way for me to practice. The second way seems more challenging for me. I forget the part that I thought I remembered pretty quickly, but this way may ultimately get the tune "in there" better. I wonder which approach most people take.
  20. Trav'linmando
    Bunny, I am in the "playing at the speed that I can play cleanly. Then repeating, trying to improve and increase speed" camp. Phrase by phrase doesn't seem to work well for me. I have to say that I prefer a slower yet cleaner tune when learning. Additionally I get the benefit of memorization of the complete tune by section. The AA then BB come together as a whole. Plus I find that the embellishments seem to naturally fit it as I improve the quality of the tune.

    As FredK said "have fun with the music".
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