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Thread: Playing level

  1. #1

    Default Playing level

    What is your idea of beginner, intermediate, and advanced playing ability?
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Playing level

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    What is your idea of beginner, intermediate, and advanced playing ability?
    Hmm. Well... I'd say something like these...

    Beginner:
    • Has difficulty making the notes sound clear/clean.
    • Has problems with timing/rhythm.
    • Doesn't feel quite at ease or comfortable with the instrument.


    Intermediate:
    • Can play a fair amount of material and is fairly confident, but maybe the person still isn't quite satisfied with how it sounds, as far as the tone, timing, improv/variations, etc.
    • Still in the "trying to sound like the people on the favorite recordings" mode. Getting really close to being able to sound like them, but not quite yet, a little more finesse and attention to detail is still needing to be learned.


    Advanced:
    • Good grasp of how to turn notes into music in such a way that other people actually enjoy listening to it.
    • Comfortable experimenting with one's own variations and trying out things that go beyond what their mentors played. Copy the mentors, sure, then musical curiosity inspires a person to go beyond that to see what other kinds of nice sounds are possible.
    • Good ability to keep a beat.

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    Default Re: Playing level

    Looks like I'll always be a beginner! Oh, well. Luckily I don't have a day job to quit.

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    Default Re: Playing level

    If you are asking about where to put yourself in a "camp" program look up Steve Kaufman's Acoustic Camp website. There is a good page on level descriptions.
    Beginners can be divided between , one, those that are brand new to their instrument and know nothing other than how to carry the case. And , two, those that can cord and play a few tunes or songs tune their instruments and keep time.
    Intermediate players are able to play a couple of dozen tunes ie instrumental pieces and accompany songs comfortably. They can hear chord changes coming and know when and where to make them. They are usually interested in the "how" to make better music.
    Advanced players can sit in pretty much anywhere and make some music that goes along with what is going on. Chords, theory, what works and what doesn't when and where …. They are able to play the same thing twice but often prefer not to. Wherever they are they are learning and trading knowledge.
    Many good players fall in the space between intermediate and advanced ….. you will find those folks in both groups at camps having fun and shaking their heads …. depending. Play on... R/
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing level

    I like the way JL277z puts it above, because it's genre-agnostic. Those categories could apply to Irish trad, Bluegrass, Blues, Jazz, or Classical mandolin players. Each style would have its own areas of focus, but that pretty much describes the progression from beginner to advanced musician.

    The only changes I'd make would be to emphasize that even at the advanced level, a good musician is still always learning, never completely satisfied with their playing. There is just much less self-criticism than in the early years.

    I would also shift "keep the beat" to the Intermediate level, because you'll never get much further until you can master that. It's a fundamental skill, in both solo playing and in locking into the rhythm of a group of musicians playing together.

    UsuallyPickin also makes a good point about how these aren't always fixed categories. It's a continuum where some skills may lag behind others, and where most of us have good days and bad days.

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    Default Re: Playing level

    This from another camp:

    o Rank Beginner – knows what a mandolin is, but that’s about it
    o Beginner – Can tune the instrument; can play very simple melodies/tunes, in time and slowly; knows a few chords, both open and closed shapes; has difficulty playing with others in a group setting
    o Intermediate – Knows many tunes, can improvise a little; knows several chords, using different voicings; can play in a group setting
    o Advanced/Pro – Knows dozens of tunes, can improvise freely, on the fly; can play musically-pleasing lines to songs that you’ve never played before; can ‘parrot-back’ licks that you just heard for the first time

  11. #7
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    Default Re: Playing level

    My definition of "advanced" must be fairly fluid as it hasn't changed in a looong time, at least on guitar: If I can't figure out what they're doing, then they're REALLY good!

    Especially humbling, back around '90 or so, was an up-close performance by jazz legend Tal Farlow, at a small music store in Lyndhurst, NJ. For the much of it, I couldn't even tell what key he was playing in!
    - Ed

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    Default Re: Playing level

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post
    My definition of "advanced" must be fairly fluid as it hasn't changed in a looong time, at least on guitar: If I can't figure out what they're doing, then they're REALLY good!

    Especially humbling, back around '90 or so, was an up-close performance by jazz legend Tal Farlow, at a small music store in Lyndhurst, NJ. For the much of it, I couldn't even tell what key he was playing in!
    I must be super-advanced then, there are times even I don't know what key I'm playing in!

    In the classical world you can find repertoire and educational material that's ranked by level, usually based around technical complexity, but for the most part, the above systems seem pretty accurate. I think there are different priorities to different genres, Irish trad might emphasize the ability to improvise less than Jazz, while Classical might place a higher value on being able to sight read than Old Time, etc. so a player who's "advanced" in one field might find themselves a "strong intermediate" in a different context, though the really good players seem to be able to handle a little of everything (or less talents like myself can be mediocre across several genres).
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    Default Re: Playing level

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post
    My definition of "advanced" must be fairly fluid as it hasn't changed in a looong time, at least on guitar: If I can't figure out what they're doing, then they're REALLY good!

    Especially humbling, back around '90 or so, was an up-close performance by jazz legend Tal Farlow, at a small music store in Lyndhurst, NJ. For the much of it, I couldn't even tell what key he was playing in!
    Oh yes, to Tal. No capo for him, no way!

    I remember seeing him at a Sunday brunch at The Yankee Clipper, in Sea Girt, NJ; he often had Gary Mazzaroppi on bass. Nothing like eating phat food and listening to phat guitar.

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    Default Re: Playing level

    I'd add a couple of steps within some of the listings, just because being able to, say, play "dozens of songs" is a lot different from being a professional with a stage presence capable of holding a show together.

    I see music as a spectrum skill, and the line between one level and another pretty blurred. I mean, I can play -- meaning I know by heart -- probably 300-400 or more tunes and can play them at session speed and even lead a session if nobody else is around, but i consider myself an intermediate player -- a strong intermediate, if i'm pressed. Because there are people faster, better, know more tunes, have more technique than I do -- because I've played with them.
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    Default Re: Playing level

    I was wondering if it'd be helpful to make a list of all the techniques and skills that a mandolinist could have and then rank them.

    I'm thinking of a five year old girl I once heard playing a beaten up old guitar years ago in Brazil. She played 'twinkle twinkle little star', she'd been learning for about three weeks on a Suzuki course with a neighbour. What a performance! Her rhythm was advanced, stage presence advanced, etc. One song repertoire though... Was she advanced?

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    Default Re: Playing level

    JL's post #2 explains it very well.
    If you're talking about camps, my experience at fiddle camp was as follows.
    If you join the Beginners class, you'll be in with absolute beginners, who can perhaps play "Twinkle Twinkle," but not like the girl in the previous post. You'll likely learn a couple of simple jigs at a slow pace. If you know how to tap your foot for a jig and for a reel, you're beyond Beginner level.
    Advanced is for highly skilled players. The teacher of the most advanced students played a complex tune, and students had to immediately play it back by ear, without mistakes, to be in his class. Many of these students competed in national competitions. They might be from ten to seventy years old.
    Intermediate covered a wide range of students, from those who were just a little past beginners, and could play a few tunes, but simply, to those who weren't yet good enough for Advanced, but soon would be. Fortunately, at that camp, which no longer exists, there were a few intermediate classes, so that people could change from one to another if a class wasn't suitable. Still, people at quite different levels being together in an intermediate class is a problem, especially if there's only one class.
    Unless you suffer from self-aggrandizement or self-doubt, I suspect that if you have to ask, you're Intermediate.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
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    Default Re: Playing level

    There are a number of old method books that, if you read the table of contents, show the order, or level of skills to master. It does depend on the type of music one is trying to master. For example a jazz player would be interested in playing in most all keys while an old time, or Irish player would only be interested in a few keys and modes.


    Also I've noticed that some guitar players are also interested in non-standard techniques in order to get a certain effect.


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    Default Re: Playing level

    Quote Originally Posted by atsunrise View Post
    I was wondering if it'd be helpful to make a list of all the techniques and skills that a mandolinist could have and then rank them.
    You'd have to make a separate list for each major genre of music, because the priorities would be different.

    If you're interested in being a Classical mandolin player, then you'd want to learn how to sight-read sheet music right away. A Blues player wouldn't focus on that. Someone who only played OldTime or Irish/Scottish trad "fiddle tunes" wouldn't have much use for improvisation skills like a Bluegrass or Jazz player. And those players wouldn't need to know how to ornament and find the right rhythm pulse for an Irish dance tune.

    Different skills for different genres. I know it's been said here (and elsewhere) that it's a good thing to be a well-rounded musician, that it's important for all musicians to learn the same skills regardless of the genre you play in.

    Personally, I don't think that's true. At least, not for players who want to immerse themselves in one genre of music and get good at it. There are some mechanical skills at the beginning that are common for all genres, but it can quickly diverge after that. Like the reading example for Classical vs. Blues.

    There are some musical geniuses out there like Chris Thile who can "play anything," but I think most of us mortals need to focus on one style, or at least a few related styles with skills in common like Bluegrass and Jazz, if we have any hopes of reaching the Advanced level we're talking about here.

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    Default Re: Playing level

    Tommy answered this question about playing levels in a very nice way at 4:07

    The Polish subtitles are a bit distracting but this interview is exceptional.


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    Default Re: Playing level

    Like all rating or classifications these are all subjective. While it is useful to talk of musical skills I have always felt that it is a continuum and no matter how long I have been playing what keeps me going is learning new things musically or, in the greater scheme of things, in life. The only use of labeling your level is for music camps or group lessons where you want to be with similarly skilled cohorts.

    A good teacher might initially ask what your level is but essentially he or she will see what skills you may need to work on and give yo the skills to raise your level of musicianship.
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    Default Re: Playing level

    I have an advanced knowledge of reading music and music theory, but am still intermediate in playing by all of the definitions ( I am still working on learning to improvise and get better on leading in a jam.) I feel about a year or two from advanced, but feeling better because of the definitions - thank you. I thought I was still more of a beginner!

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    Default Re: Playing level

    Quote Originally Posted by DougC View Post
    Tommy answered this question about playing levels in a very nice way at 4:07

    The Polish subtitles are a bit distracting but this interview is exceptional.

    Thos is a great video to watch thanks!
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    Default Re: Playing level

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    ... even at the advanced level, a good musician is still always learning, never completely satisfied with their playing. There is just much less self-criticism than in the early years.
    Yep, I agree with that. I think the "always learning" thing is probably one of the most important reasons why some musicians make it as far as they do, to the advanced-player category. They always have something on the horizon to keep them going.

    My dad used to always say that one never really "arrives" (in any field, whether music or anything else), that there's no point where one can say, "Ok I've learned enough, I can just kick it into idle and stop learning now." To be alive is to learn. It doesn't always have to be some big dramatic thing, it might be some little detail that most people won't even notice. It all helps.

    (The learning thing can run in streaks though. Whether musicians or book authors or whatever, people have "dry spells" where they feel no inspiration. Sometimes one just has to let those dry spells run their course, just maintain or take a li'l break to go do something else for a while (could be months or years), and then find new inspiration later. It seems that in music, everything new that a person learns, in some way contributes to and makes it easier when later on they might want to revisit some of their earlier pursuits and pick up where they left off but with cool new ideas to try out.)

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    I would also shift "keep the beat" to the Intermediate level, because you'll never get much further until you can master that. It's a fundamental skill, in both solo playing and in locking into the rhythm of a group of musicians playing together.
    Good point. I guess the reason why, in my earlier post, I'd put it in the advanced level was because I've known a number of players who firmly believe they're intermediate (or higher) yet their sense of rhythm is atrocious (very frustrating trying to play along with people like that), so I've come to think maybe that was normal lol. But for me, coming from a dance-tune background, the rhythm is *the* most important thing, way above the notes and chords and technique and everything else, if the rhythm's wrong, it might as well not even be music, but that's just my own personal viewpoint in the genres I'm used to. But, now that I think more about this category thing, I believe that foldedpath is right.

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    Default Re: Playing level

    Oh! Level of playing!
    I was going to say I prefer playing at a slight angle with the neck inclined.


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    Default Re: Playing level

    Another who does believe it's more a transition, rather than specific levels. I will probably never see myself as even intermediate, no matter how many shows and dances I play. Am still that way after 20 years on guitar. Have been surrounded by too many excellent musicians over the years.

    As to rhythm, it can be in the advanced when one is talking about specialized music. Say, backing up a polska correctly. And Finnish polska is different than Swedish, which has it's own regional styles.

    Would also add to advanced (in certain musical styles) not only being able to sight read easily, but transposing while sight reading with little hesitation.
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    Default Re: Playing level

    Charlie was right in post #3 . . . I am a lifetime beginner.

    Is there such a thing as Kazoo camp . . . I might do better there . . . . .
    I recently finished a new homemade 4-song EP of original solo acoustic songs; (sorry, no mandolin content this time). If you are interested in a FREE copy, feel free to send me your address via Private Message, and I will be glad to send you one. Trust me, it will be worth the price!


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    Default Re: Playing level

    Thanks for this thread you guys, and MandolinCafe.

    Now I know that I'm an intermediate player, which is good but I also realise that I play a beginners mandolin, which is good.
    Time to change.

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    Default Re: Playing level

    Here I am stuck in mediocrity. . . Nice to know it may be intermediate!

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