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Thread: How to choose a mandolin teacher

  1. #1
    Registered User NCEric's Avatar
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    Default How to choose a mandolin teacher

    I recently posted a similar topic in the Newbie section, but was advised that I might get more input in the general section. So here it is:

    How do you pick/audition a mandolin teacher?

    As I posted in another thread, I have virtually zero musical history/talent, but am looking to learn the mandolin anyway. That being said, I did once try to learn guitar waaaay back in high school. My parents even got me a teacher (who was a friend of a friend). This guy was an amazing guitarist, but was a lousy teacher. At least he was a lousy teacher for me.

    So how do I go about auditioning teachers? I have received some recommendations for various acquaintances, but how do I know if they are a good teacher and not just a good musician? I donít want to end up in the same place as before - so frustrated with the teacher that I lost interest in instrument.

    So what do I need to look for? And what questions should I be asking when I call/meet with these potential teachers?

    Any advice you guys and gals can give me would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2

    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    If I was an established instructor I think I'd be insulted by the idea of a complete novice player with no musical knowledge somehow thinking he might be able to 'audition' me for a task I could do standing on my head with one arm tied behind my back.

    I understand that some teachers and students don't 'gel', but how are you going to find out how well you get on with an instructor without embarking on a series of lessons?

    If you are looking for someone local, my advice is to take advice from people in your part of the country about whom they recommend, then enroll with a teacher for a few months. If you are looking for an online instructor, the advice is the same.

    rm

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    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    Make sure you get a teacher who will work with your goals. For example, if you want to play bluegrass, don't get a classical instructor.
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    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    Well, what do you want to play on that thing?

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    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    The place I've been teaching offers a free initial trial lesson. See about that if you can. As others have implied, be specific to both the teacher and yourself what you want to do. Ask questions. I teach mandolin but don't play bluegrass and I don't try to (no pun intended) string people along just to get a student, I refer them elsewhere. If someone is a guitar player that has just learned some chords on the mandolin, he can't take you very far. Knowing what you want to do and knowing who is available that does that is key. If you don't know, wait till you do and take advantage to free Youtube lessons or some dvds to get you going.

    I don't agree that it's insulting to "audition" a teacher. You're hiring that person to provide a personal service and most people teach because they need the money.
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    Registered User NCEric's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    Ron - my intent is certainly not to insult anyone. And if there were any established schools or institutions in the area, then it would make my life a little easier. The problem is that we don’t have any such places in the area, except for ones that specialize in guitar, piano, etc. I can’t even really locate websites that don’t seems to be geared toward guitar instruction (which I know is more popular), with mandolin thrown in as an afterthought. Most names that people have dropped have come from acquaintances whose own knowledge of bluegrass and music I can’t judge. So it is hard to know if they are recommending just someone they have heard of, or if that person is actually a good instructor.

    In my opinion, this isn’t dissimilar to chowing a contractor. If I am going to hire someone to build my house, I am going to want to know if he/she gets my vision, and if they actually do good work.

  10. #7

    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    Quote Originally Posted by NCEric View Post
    Ron - my intent is certainly not to insult anyone. And if there were any established schools or institutions in the area, then it would make my life a little easier. The problem is that we don’t have any such places in the area, except for ones that specialize in guitar, piano, etc. I can’t even really locate websites that don’t seems to be geared toward guitar instruction (which I know is more popular), with mandolin thrown in as an afterthought. Most names that people have dropped have come from acquaintances whose own knowledge of bluegrass and music I can’t judge. So it is hard to know if they are recommending just someone they have heard of, or if that person is actually a good instructor.

    In my opinion, this isn’t dissimilar to chowing a contractor. If I am going to hire someone to build my house, I am going to want to know if he/she gets my vision, and if they actually do good work.
    I think your looking at this wrong, you may choose a contractor to build your house & he will do all the work while you watch NO teacher is going to build your house for you a teacher will show you how to play, what to study, your strong & weak points but the rest of it is up to you to do work & you will end up teaching yourself if you keep at it. You need to do the work not the contractor. The most important thing IMO is to have fun there will be self doubt & frustration but 99% of the time it should be very enjoyable. You will know usually within 2-3 lessons if you like the teacher and if you don't move on. I've taken lessons from several teachers a few it was one and done and one I stuck with for almost a year. I had a great experience with on line lessons from Don Julian he can play anything and will focus on what you want and knows how to help you get there. He was the last teacher I had so I had a good baseline for what a teacher should be doing for me to progress. Hope you find a good teacher but don't fret on too much just play your mando and have fun !
    Lou

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    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    Recent experience with hiring a teacher. I found a teacher at a local guitar store. Everyone loved him and gave him high recommendations. He was charming and funny. His major focus was on getting me to play tunes as quickly as possible. Minimal exposure to the whole right hand thing or chords. Essentially, his approach was to get me to memorize tunes.

    I was about six months into this when I went to my first bluegrass camp. About half way into it, the mandolin teacher pulled me aside and told me I needed to spend more time on the fundamentals of mandolin playing. E.g. right hand, left hand, scales, etc. Ultimately all pretty basic stuff. I asked around at the camp about instructors and the same name kept coming up among the most seasoned players, so I called him when I got home.

    Long story short, taking lessons from him changed my mandolin world view. I still have a loooooong way to go but the right instructor can make that journey much more focused.

    So, the question posed by the OP is spot on for a newbie. The problem we newbies face is intelligently evaluating an instructor. While my first teacher got me started, my second teacher has helped me make much faster progress while also stressing technique. We also spend a lot of time on playing with others, breaks and the whole jam experience.

    While I don’t know how much it matters, my current teacher has a degree in music. My previous teacher learned his music playing in bands. No discussion of music theory with teacher one, relevant discussions of music theory when the need arises with teacher two. By my nature I like to know why things work.

    Not sure how useful any of this is, but it my experience. YMMV.........

  12. #9

    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    Somehow when I took up mandolin, I decided to be a bit more disclipined so started playing scales and scale exercises, mostly picked up from the net. I just practiced half an hour every day with no real idea why. Then I'd reward myself with learning fiddle tunes. After a year or so, I could learn the fiddle tunes in a day or two. I think the exercises trained my brain to recognize patterns and my fingers had learned the patterns too. Lately a mandolin friend well schooled in theory has got me thinking in terms of the one, three, and five of the scale, which is the major arpeggios I've been practicing.

    It would have been helpful to know why I was putting in all that work from the beginning and how it relates to theory. A teacher that just teaches songs without theory is IMHO, a poor choice. Finding a good teacher is easier said than done.
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    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    I have no formal musical education, but if I were to give a lesson I would teach you fundamental theory. It is important. Some instructors and students seem to gravitate toward simply teaching tunes, if that is all you want to do I guess that is OK. If you want to be able to play a lead in a song or jam with folks you need to know some theory, scales, and how they work in a tune.

    Regardless of which camp you teach, technique is important, and should not be overlooked, even if you are simply teaching tunes. I don't think formal education has anything to do with teaching styles.
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    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    I have no formal musical education, but if I were to give a lesson I would teach you fundamental theory. It is important. Some instructors and students seem to gravitate toward simply teaching tunes, if that is all you want to do I guess that is OK. If you want to be able to play a lead in a song or jam with folks you need to know some theory, scales, and how they work in a tune.

    Regardless of which camp you teach, technique is important, and should not be overlooked, even if you are simply teaching tunes. I don't think formal education has anything to do with teaching styles.
    Amen! In my naive youth when I learned bluegrass guitar, I wasted years acquiring tune after tune and developing the ability to flatpick them blazingly fast, but never having any idea what I was actually doing other than the chord changes. Handy at jams, but ultimately a dead end ... equivalent to painting by numbers and thinking it will lead one to become an artist. I eventually grew bored and frustrated because I never learned to improvise or even compose my own variations, and gave up the instrument. So beware of the teacher who just starts every lesson with, "So... What tune do you want to learn this week?"

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    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    Quote Originally Posted by Gunnar View Post
    Make sure you get a teacher who will work with your goals. For example, if you want to play bluegrass, don't get a classical instructor.
    Yes to this! Learning a new instrument is such a long and challenging journey that it's essential to nurture that passion, that initial spark that inspired you to start the journey in the first place. It's important to "blow on those coals" regularly to keep that motivation alive, or you might not stick it out in the long run.

    My very first musical journey ended like that. At age 11 I had to choose a band instrument, so I chose the trumpet. Why? I thought Herb Alpert was sooo cool (embarrassed to admit it now but it was the '60s, OK?) But the teacher my parents got me was a classical musician. I dutifully played my etudes and things, and became proficient, but every time I gently suggested that maybe next time we could -- well -- could we try "The Lonely Bull" or something like that, his face curled into a mask of disgust and said that music was garbage.

    He was more right than I realized back then, and -- bless him -- he was trying to expose me to far better things.

    But that's not the point! A good teacher should find and harness the inner drive in the student and support it because that's what's going to keep the player playing in the long run. Fads will pass and the student's tastes may evolve. But crushing young motivation in a judgmental way is simply wrong! Get a teacher who understands and will help you get where YOU want to go.

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    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    If it is anything like my quest to find a 'good' teacher for golf (some years ago), it may involve taking a few lessons and deciding you are not getting what you want out of that particular instructor. Can be expensive. But find that teacher that is right for you and you are gold.
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    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    I don't know how much access you have to music camps/workshops, but there's nothing like spending a week immersed in the music you like with some instruction from some of the best out there. If nothing else, you can see how different people teach.

    I remember once at Irish Arts Week when Alec Finn was a teacher, everybody and his brother signed up for his bouzouki class because, after all, Alec Finn. I was taking a mandolin class but one of our group was in the bouzouki class. Two days into the week, there was so-and-so in the mandolin class. And as the week progressed, more and more people ended up in the mandolin class, because while Alec Finn was an incredible player, apparently he was a terrible teacher/instructor, at least that week.

    I don't know if the person you're interested in taking a lesson from would let you sit in on another lesson so you can see how s/he teaches, but you can ask. and you can ask for a sample lesson. And I'd suggest going to a camp where you can take different kinds of lessons from different people or simply hang around with other musicians. It's hard doing stuff in isolation.
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    Question I had to figure this out on my own 30 years ago..

    Quote Originally Posted by NCEric View Post
    I recently posted a similar topic in the Newbie section, but was advised that I might get more input in the general section. So here it is:

    How do you pick/audition a mandolin teacher?

    As I posted in another thread, I have virtually zero musical history/talent, but am looking to learn the mandolin anyway. That being said, I did once try to learn guitar waaaay back in high school. My parents even got me a teacher (who was a friend of a friend). This guy was an amazing guitarist, but was a lousy teacher. At least he was a lousy teacher for me.

    So how do I go about auditioning teachers? I have received some recommendations for various acquaintances, but how do I know if they are a good teacher and not just a good musician? I donít want to end up in the same place as before - so frustrated with the teacher that I lost interest in instrument.

    So what do I need to look for? And what questions should I be asking when I call/meet with these potential teachers?

    Any advice you guys and gals can give me would be greatly appreciated.
    Now you just go online and find one to follow their postings of information.. maybe pay the subscription fee.
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  20. #16

    Default Re: How to choose a mandolin teacher

    If you are looking for a live, local instructor that can sometimes be difficult though with you being near Raleigh I would expect someone to be in that area. There are a lot more guitar instructors than mandolin instructors.

    There are some extraordinary instructors who do Skype lessons. It is nicer to be in the same room but Skype works more than adequately. There is also Artistworks, Peghead Nation, Mandolins Heal the World and similar services though those work better for someone with a bit of experience playing. Camps and workshops are great too but work far better if you have at least some background.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that you can change instructors. An instructor you do not connect with should not stop you from playing. You can go find another one.

    A few thoughts on evaluating instructors. First can you talk to and listen to other students? They can provide feedback about what the instructor is like. Perhaps the instructor can provide references.

    Consider your learning style. Do you need complete detailed guidance and direction or are you more comfortable with being pointed in a direction then filling the rest in yourself? Do you need or want to read music or play by ear? Do you learn from theory or by doing? What level of playing do you want to achieve? Are you content just picking a few songs or are you highly motivated and serious? How much time do you want to put into it? As others have said, what style do you want to play; jazz, bluegrass, classical, pop tunes? Does the instructor teach from a book or have other printed or recorded course material? Do they teach entirely by ear or with some combination of ear and written material? Do they have fixed lesson plans or do they tailor to the individual student?

    There is no one right answer to any of these questions but they will affect whether a particular instructor is good for you.

    These are all things to think about and maybe ask the instructor.

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