Old Town School Chicago, beginning Mandolin class

  1. TTT
    Hello, all
    I've taking the intro to Mandolin class at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago (online only right now).
    It's taught by Colby Maddox and I'm impressed with his attitude and patience trying to help newbies on a zoom call! https://www.oldtownschool.org/teachers/Colby-Maddox/

    I'm really enjoying playing this instrument, I've never really gotten into playing music beyond some piano lessons as a child.

    This has been a very low pressure activity that keeps me off my phone and provides a break from my workday.

    I liked it so much I (cringe) bought a new mandolin from Meadowood Music in PA. Great reputation, seem to have a dedicated community around them and they had the type I was looking for (Eastman MD504). They were very helpful talking with me about mandolins in general. Will have to visit in person some day.

    Going to try and post to this thread each week, kind of as a journal for myself.
  2. HonketyHank
    Welcome, TTT! Keep us up to date on how the class is going. I was not aware of the Old Town School. It looks like it could be a good deal.

    I think you picked a good mandolin to get started with.
  3. iaindr
    Hi TTT, great to have you on board.

    I'm very new to the group too and have been made to feel very welcome. I've only recently started learning to play and I'm now taking beginner lessons at the Glasgow Folk-music Workshop (GFW), which are online for the time being. I'll check out your Old Town link, might be interesting to compare. Also interesting that you opted for an Eastman. I have the 305 and feel I made the right choice.

    One of the things I like about the Newbies group is their song-a-month. I'm not quite ready for it yet, but looking forward to having that monthly challenge and sharing with the group.
  4. NDO
    Welcome TTT! You’ve come to the right place!
  5. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Hi, TTT. Your teacher must have a saint's patience to teach over Zoom! An Eastman is always a good choice, and I'm fond of oval-holes.
  6. TTT
    Thanks for the welcome all!
    Old Town is a respected institution here in Chicago - a real hub for the acoustic traditions here.
    They’re actually the reason I settled on the Eastman. I was in their store picking up stuff for class and talked with one of their store reps about instruments I was interested in. They had mandolins in stock, but based on what we discussed he recommended the Eastman - something they didn’t have.
    I just thought that was wonderful - and will keep me coming back there.
    The class is an absolute beginners one - so it’s a victory if we get a decent note or our fingers hit the right frets! And yes, Colby has an amazing amount of patience - I think an in-person class with him would be really fun!
    We started out with “Take me out to the ballgame” and chords for “Lean on me.” This week he gave us the melody and cords for “Norwegian Wood” and we’re looking at chords for an old gospel hymn. Four things to practice!
    I’m really enjoying this as for the last several years I’ve focused on work or learning skills that would help me in my work. There’s no chance I’ll ever b good enough to do this professionally so it’s stress free and just fun!
  7. SOMorris
    Welcome to the Newbies group, TTT !!

    I have an Eastman also, and it (to my Newbie knowledge) is a good mandolin. I'm just playing for fun also.
  8. Swimbob
    Hi TTT, Welcome to the group.
  9. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Sounds like you are having a great time tripleT and (like the hokey pokey) that's what it's all about! Welcome!
  10. TTT
    Third lesson tonight - we did a round robin with the chords for “Lean on Me” (doing two lines then going to the next person).
    I can see where that would b lots of fun in person with a group. Worked OK online
    Looking at a couple of simple tunes to start learning how to read music and do our own notation (tabs). I’m thinking it might be time for a binder and three-hole punch. The nerdy organizer in me is very pleased!
  11. iaindr
    Sounds like you're having fun. Also had third lesson this week, although maybe a little less structured. Working on a melody for 'Midnight on the Water' - interesting exercise, so might post a new thread about tabs/notation. Tune folder started - got your pick tin yet?
  12. TTT
    Awesome iaindr! Teacher has not let us use the pick yet
  13. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    I'm confused, if you aren't using a pick what exactly are you doing?
  14. TTT
    Fingers for plucking and strumming. We're all pretty much absolute beginners - some people are still learning how to tune their instruments. So I think the goal is to make sure no develops bad habits with the pick
  15. NDO
    Not letting you use a pick seems sort of like not letting anyone have strings!
  16. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Never heard of a teacher starting people plucking with fingers. that's a new one on me.
  17. TTT
    Fun lesson tonight. Mostly spent time doing round robins together (each person doing a bit of a song and the next person taking over and doing another bit).
    I get what he’s doing with the intro class - keeping it loose, making it fun and sneaking in practice on chords and fingering.
    Got to b a challenge doing this all online - not being able to have us all play together has to be a hard thing to work around.
    Says we’ll be starting with the pick soon - talked a bit about the types of picks out there and what to look for.
  18. iaindr
    Enjoying the class and making tentative progress is what it’s all about for me. There’s a lot of info out there on picks, what did your tutor advise?
  19. TTT
    He showed us the shape to look for, that we could even use a guitar picks “shoulder.”
    He recommended trying a few different ones but not to get anything too thick. I have four that came with the mandolin - two are bigger and thicker than the others.
    Honestly I don’t know what to look for or to know what feels or sounds good at this point in time so I’ll probably stick with one of these four until I learn more
  20. TTT
    Iaindr, how is your class going?
  21. NDO
    “Not too thick” of a pick? That’s odd. Most mandolin picks ARE pretty thick.
    So far my two favorite picks are Wegen TF 140 and TF 120.
    I also like the large triangle Primetone in 1.5 and 1.4mm.
  22. HonketyHank
    TTT, there is something called the "Travelling Pick Sampler". Search for it over in the main forum and get on the list. Basically it is a collection of many popular picks, some of which can be quite expensive. You eventually get the collection when the previous person on the list is done trying them all out. After you try them out, you send it to the next person on the list.

    I like the same picks that NDO mentioned. But I have a bunch of cheaper and and few expensiver picks, some of which I rarely use. I do have a blue chip that I like and a Red Bear that I like, but I use primetones (smooth) or the wegens more often. I mainly use picks in the 1.0 to 1.5 mm thickness range.
  23. TTT
    Thank you NDO and Hank! I looked at what I have right now. The one I’ve been playing around with is a ProPlec 1.5 by D’andrea. The other three don’t have the sizes, but one is a Jim Dunlop that seems to be thicker than the PP, and then two thinner ones that I can’t tell much about.
    So it looks like I settled on the “right” size by chance.
    Although TBH it was the snazziest looking of the four
  24. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Hank (and TTT),

    The travelling pick sampler, unfortunately, appears to be dead. It was on hiatus when Covid started in, but supposed to return. I've asked to be placed on the list, and also messaged the person who managed the list, without any response. I was offering to help in any way to get it circulating again, even if that meant I had to manage it. Maybe it will resurface one day. It was a great resource, which I've had in my hands only once.

    I've thought about starting a new one, but it hasn't moved beyond thoughts.
  25. iaindr
    My small collection of inexpensive picks comprise Dunlop Primetone round (1.3) and Jim Dunlop Americana Tri Pick (1.5), also round. I'll probably experiment, e.g. acquire some Wegen, at some point, but to be honest, I don't want to get too hung up on picks at this stage. Both picks came recommended and seem to do the job. Got a pick tin though .

    Any comments on using different picks for different types of music or strumming vs melodies?

    @TTT - my classes are going okay. I think I noted before that mine seem a lot less structured than yours - a lot of conversation, pep talks and 'try this', but they are very enjoyable and hopefully a route to the improvers class sometime in the future. I guess it's difficult to take a zoom class for something as practical and sociable as music, so interesting to hear your experience.

    I supplement my classes with some Youtube videos, which have been really helpful, especially with the basics. Try out the beginner series at both mandolessons.com (also on Youtube), and David Benedict on Youtube, and a little less formal, Comandolin on Youtube. My advice is to take what you want from these and don't think you'll be ready for the next video after completing one (might take weeks).

    The combination of my zoom class and Youtube has me practicing the melodies to half a dozen tunes already (to varying degrees of musicality). The more I practice, the better they sound, as repetition is key for muscle memory and learning the tunes, especially for a complete newbie like me. What I'm missing from my learning is playing (and learning) with others, including playing chords to accompany. Still, going pretty well for someone who picked up a mandolin for the first time less than 2 months ago.
  26. HonketyHank
    Proplecs are pretty good picks, at least the ones I have tried. I think I have a couple of them in the pick pile.
  27. iaindr
    @HonketyHank - what you need is a pick tin!
  28. TTT
    Oh here we go. The Dunlop is a Americana Large Flatpick 3.0mm.
    One of the smaller ones is a Dunlop JD JazzTone 207 Guitar Pick
    The last small one is a Dunlop Primetone 1.3.
    The latter two just got thrown into the case by the vendor for free.
    Should dump the big Dunlop and the Jazz guitar one and play around with the other two?
  29. TTT
    Sounds great Iaindr! I signed up with David Benedict’s Patreon and have supplemented the class with his beginning series. He gives good advice about posture and such.
    I agree, I like the group experience even if it’s over zoom.
  30. HonketyHank
    iaindr, somewhere under the pile IS a pick tin.
  31. iaindr
  32. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    TTT, picks are cheap thrills. At some point, if not now, try a whole bunch of different sizes, thicknesses, and shapes. Stop by the local guitar shop and spend five bucks on a handful. Strings by Mail has a big selection, as do Banjo Ben's and plenty of other places. Don't throw anything away, at least not at first. What you don't like now may be your favorite later. Be like Honkety and let your pick tin overflow. Buying picks costs much less than buying mandolins.

    I'm an outlier in preferring lighter strings and thinner picks. Most the ones I like—Primetone, ultex, celluloid, clown barf—are the traditional guitar shape, and between .75 and 1.
  33. TTT
    Thanks Louise - I'm going to try to avoid the collectors syndrome for as long as I can!
    TBH, I'm still working on things like posture - was in the wrong chair yesterday and found myself slouching a bit, so after a half-hour my back was not happy
  34. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    It's true about the chair. I have to remember to roll away my office chair and get out my straight back wooden chair. And it's not just comfort, I feel like my mandolin sounds better when I'm sitting up in the wooden chair.
  35. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Ian, noted your question about different picks for different styles, or for rhythm vs melody …

    You can almost always get comments about pick experiences, since we all use ‘em, but there are about as many preferences as there are musicians, lol
  36. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I didn’t intend to hit “post” so soon, I wasn’t finished :-)

    Just was going to say that I prefer large triangle picks these days, and mostly use a white Wegen and a black Wegen, 120 and 140, and a blue JT’s pick and a white one. I also have a couple guitar picks in the case right now, a medium yellow one (maybe an 80 mm or so) which is interesting to me because of it’s brightness. But I do not play the shoulders of that pick, I prefer to play the point.

    I think of the sounds I get from these picks in terms of brightness vs darkness. The yellow guitar pick is the brightest of them, and I’ve been enjoying the sound of it on melodies, blues licks and exercises.

    Between the Wegens & the JTs, JTs are pointier, feel thinner and are brighter, especially the blue one. The Wegens are definitely smoother and darker sounding to me, a more muted tone, especially the black 140

    I actually play different styles or genre using any of those picks, but the thinner and pointier ones give more of a bright punch to melodies, to my ear.
  37. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Also, yes, I have pick tins full of picks, but the handful I use all the time just are happy to live in the little box compartment in the case flopping around. At least they seem happy enough, and have never complained to me about it unless it was behind my back as I was away. I just assume they’re sleeping when at rest :-)
  38. TTT
    Good class tonight!
    Adjusted my posture periodically and paid attention to how I was holding the instrument. My back feels generally tense but fine.
    Started using pick tonight! Showed us how to hold it and worked a bit on strumming. It’s surprising how little force is needed.
    Feels like I’m making progress - certainly have plenty to practice
  39. TTT
    Been really busy (we are officially empty nesters now) but classes and practice have been good.
    I attended my first jam on Saturday (to watch, not to play). Very friendly people, patient with beginners so I might give it a try in a few months.
    Song Iím working on is ďHard Times.Ē Playing a bit but mostly listening to recordings to understand the melody.
    Update: And I figured it out! Took a while and I listened to this version a lot

    We had the sheet music but Iím just starting to learn how to read that. It between that and the video I was able to tab it out.
    Iíve worked in up-and-down strokes to try and lear those - it is hard to get good tone for both!

    But, small victories - looking forward to class tomorrow
  40. TTT
    Second to last intro class on Wednesday. Left really wanting to practice. Working on ďHard TimesĒ and ďBarlow KnifeĒ
    Last intro class Wednesday and then Iíll officially graduate preschool! Mandolin 1 starts same time and day the very next week.
    On another note I ordered a new strap - adjustable with a buckle. I just canít get it right with the one I have - I canít cut another hole in the leather. So Iíll go with a cheaper, adjustable one for now and figure out what feels good, then upgrade later.
    Iíll cover the buckle with a bit of electrical tape to protect the finish when storing in the case.
  41. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    Hey TTT, sounds like you are really moving forward. So cool that you have those classes you can go to. I feel like a group class would be an ideal way to learn and get used to playing with other people at the same time.
  42. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Didn't know that "Hard Times.

    I thought you might be working on this one:

    I like this one too:

    Seems Hard Times is a popular name for a song. Way to go on getting through your first class. Hope you have fallen in love with mandolin.
  43. TTT
    Itís been great! Hereís the version Iíve been listening to

  44. bbcee
    I'm sorry, but that's astounding for three or so months of lessons, TTT! Your tempo is confident and brisk, and you're throwing lots of techniques, left and right hand, into the melody (this Stephen Foster-penned "Hard Times" is one of my favorite songs, period). Have you played other instruments prior to the mandolin and after your childhood piano lessons?

    Please keep the videos coming, great job!
  45. TTT
    OH gosh no thatís not me! Thatís the version of Hard Times I found to listen to.
    If I get the courage to Iíll post a video of myself someday
  46. bbcee
    Ha ha, I better learn to read more carefully! Well, at least I don't have to quit playing now!! That's a terrific version, very aspirational.

    Posting videos is hard at first when you think everyone is going to critique you, but you'll find this forum to be supportive and helpful. I encourage you to post!
  47. TTT
    OK bbcee, I will post a video this weekend, kind of a graduation thing from intro to mandolin
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