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Thread: Help a Beginner?

  1. #1
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    Default Help a Beginner?

    Hi everyone!
    I wanted to basically ask for help from people who are more experienced than myself. To give some background, I have never played a musical instrument before, I have no experience with reading standard notation or tabs, and I have no idea where to start. I have always been interested in learning to play an instrument and never did it, but I find myself drawn to the mandolin and REALLY wanting to learn to play. I wanted to post this here to get some advice, resources, and tips before buying anything (and so that I would know what to buy like books that helped with standard notation and such). I would like to mainly play classical music and some jazz although I do not mind learning to play songs of other genres if it will help with learning to play the mandolin. I would like to be able to read standard notation and would greatly appreciate any resources that would help me do so (online or books, both are welcome). Anything else that I should get that would help me? I researched some stuff beforehand that helped a little but I figured hearing what other people had to say would be better. I am really grateful to any and everyone who responds.

  2. #2
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    For classical you will almost have to learn to read notation. Easier than you may think. The harder part is learning muscle memory for reading, but not really too hard. (At least it’s wasn’t for me. A good book that teaches both simultaneously is Alfreds Learn to Play Mandolin.
    People do learn differently and I have never had the patience to learn tab for except for maybe to reference a note when I was first learning. Can’t imagine how a person learns to sight read tab.
    To become a more versatile player I think it better to learn rhythm first on easy two or three chord tunes with easy to identify chord changes (I.e. Hank Williams or Dylan)and then move to notation. I wish in hindsight I had progressed that way.
    Just my humble opinion, no right or wrong way, but do enjoy the ride.
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  4. #3

    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    1. I love this guy... and he's also a member here: https://www.youtube.com/user/MandoLessons
    2. if you're using a guitar pick, toss it and acquire a real mando pick. The thickness helps
    3. learn to hold the pick the right way. I'm struggling with relearning and it sucks
    4. make sure your mando is well set up. It'll help learning. Especially, the action - i.e. the height of the strings over the fretboard
    5. Remember: it's supposed to be fun. Tons of fun. Enjoy!

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  6. #4
    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    I'll pipe in!!

    Bill's right, if you want to learn classical you need to be literate. Community collages often have classes like 'Basic Music Theory' which is a fantastic way to develop a foundation. Reading music is part of it all and an invaluable book I have used with students of all levels is this,

    Standard Notation for the Tab-Addicted Mandolisit byDebora Chen.

    I agree with mojocaster in that learning right at the very beginning saves headaches, heartaches and headbanging on down the road. I did a workshop at the San Francisco Festival of Mandolins some years ago on right hand technique and I'd be happy to email you the one page content. bckmpackard@sbcglobal.net

    Lastly, beginning with one on one instruction is invaluable but can be catastrophic with the wrong person so be diligent before you commit. These days with Skype and such you aren't limited to only those close by.

    Ditto mojocaster--Have fun!

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    In your case you would probably be best served starting out with a decent teacher. If a person comes to the mandolin after 30 years of playing guitar there are shortcuts you can take but by your own admission this is totally new to you. A teacher should discuss what kinds of music you want to play and start you down that path.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  10. #6

    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    Hi Lydii. Welcome to the forum.

    A few years ago, I started from about where you are--never played any instrument.

    Mel Bay has several books that are good. For a quick start playing a few tunes with chords, I started with Bruce Dix's book, You Can Teach Yourself Mandolin." I think it is pretty good. I also have Marilynn Mair's book The Complete Mandolinist that I think is good. Ms.Mair's book is geared towards classical music, and she does a good job teaching standard notation in it, although it has helped me tremendously that my wife is a musician and could help me with some of the things like rests, time signatures, etc. A teacher would be great if there is someone locally for you. Have fun!

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    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    Get help -- that is, enroll in classes or take lessons. This will help you avoid developing bad habits. I've been trying to unlearn mine for at least 10 years.

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    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    Quote Originally Posted by mojocaster View Post
    1. I love this guy... and he's also a member here: https://www.youtube.com/user/MandoLessons
    2. if you're using a guitar pick, toss it and acquire a real mando pick. The thickness helps
    3. learn to hold the pick the right way. I'm struggling with relearning and it sucks
    4. make sure your mando is well set up. It'll help learning. Especially, the action - i.e. the height of the strings over the fretboard
    5. Remember: it's supposed to be fun. Tons of fun. Enjoy!
    Baron Collins-Hill is a large part of how I broke through with my mandolin playing. I developed a taste for Irish Fiddle tunes because of him.
    Thick picks help a lot. I use "Jim Dunlop Primetones Triangle 1.5 Grip".
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  16. #9
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    Another vote for Baron on MandoLessons.com, if you want to just get some info on how to start without committing to a one-on-one teacher (that's best, of course).

    For a starter book, Don Julin's 'Mandolin For Dummies' is an excellent source.

    For a starter mandolin, you can't really go wrong with one of the entry level Eastman's or Kentucky's. Make sure you have them set up properly (if you buy from one of the Cafe sponsors, that will be included in the price)

    ...and welcome!
    "Keep your hat on, we may end up miles from here..." - Kurt Vonnegut

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    I'll second a Mel Bay book -- I learned how to read standard notation while learning where to put my fingers on the frets along with basic picking and holding the instrument from one and then progressed on to a teacher. I don't know if I'd recommend doing it in that order -- once upon a time I played the flute, so I knew vaguely the relationship between standard notation and sound -- but getting a 'learn to play' basic book will at least give you a start. And i also recommend you start with a mandolin teacher, preferably one who plays classical, sooner rather than later. I will say that I had a student once upon a time and we used a Mel Bay 'learn to play' book that taught standard notation along with tunes and my student picked up both at the same time because I didn't make a big deal about it. it was sort of like when I took Russian in college -- you pick up the alphabet while you're learning the vocabulary instead of learning them separately. Saves time.

    I will point out that, while jazz is heavy on chords, classical mandolin is less so. And classical mandolinists generally don't use heavy picks. And the jazz picks I use are tiny, pointed and relatively thin. Bluegrass, on the other hand, is big into chords and heavy picks, so keep that in mind when you wade through the advice you'll get here. We all recommend what we like -- I play classical and ITM and a tiny bit of choro and klezmer and so far I'm something like 20 years in and only know 5 chords, four of which are two-finger chords, and I've never been at a disadvantage with the music I play. ymmv, especially if you want to take up jazz.

    But really, the idea is to have fun. You'll have sore fingers and be frustrated at your pace, but in the end it's great fun to be able to pick up a random sheet of music and pluck away at it and make music. Fewer things in life are as satisfying.
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  20. #11

    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    Oh yeah, a few more things that have helped me since I recently started playing as well

    1. Always use a strap, even when sitting down. It helps free up the tension on my arms since I don't have to both play and hold the dang thing in a somewhat stable fashion in my lap.

    2. Don't play it close to your belly or body. Allow an angle between the back of the mandolin and your body so that it rings louder.

    3. When playing rhythm with others... you're the snare. The down beat is your friend

  21. #12

    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    In your case you would probably be best served starting out with a decent teacher. If a person comes to the mandolin after 30 years of playing guitar there are shortcuts you can take . . . .
    Very true! But guitar players also have habits that are hard (or, for me, impossible!) to break: left wrist angle, how to hold a pick, and more. So, in many ways, you have an advantage over guitarists learning mando.

    Here's a great little video some of the folks here turned me on to. Watch it often:



    Enjoy!

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  23. #13
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    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Winn View Post
    Another vote for Baron on MandoLessons.com, if you want to just get some info on how to start without committing to a one-on-one teacher (that's best, of course).

    For a starter book, Don Julin's 'Mandolin For Dummies' is an excellent source.

    For a starter mandolin, you can't really go wrong with one of the entry level Eastman's or Kentucky's. Make sure you have them set up properly (if you buy from one of the Cafe sponsors, that will be included in the price)

    ...and welcome!
    Yes, lots of on line help that is great but having someone sit across from you (As I do with Billy Packard) catching all your mechanical mistakes before they become almost uncorrectable is a tremendous thing to have. Plus hopefully with a live teacher they can help point you in the direction you'd like to play in....Bluegrass or Jazz or whatever.
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  25. #14

    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    I dare say, when it comes to online lessons and instructor-lead classes, it's like running a marathon. No one asks you which leg is your favorite leg. Unless your nickname is hop-along, both legs are preferred. Same thing here, it shouldn't be considered online vs instructor-lead, but both

  26. #15
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    I agree with all of the advice given. Especially the part about quality instruction to avoid the pitfalls of Learning bad habits. I want to emphasize learning rhythm early on allowing you to jam with other players (as in hindsight I wish I had progressed that way). I have dabbled in playing classical in an orchestra setting which I enjoyed very much. But, in doing so I met people much better than me in that setting but having no ability to join a jam playing other genres.
    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
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    Rogue 100A (current campfire tool)

  27. #16
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help a Beginner?

    Lydii, here is where I would start. See if you can borrow a mandolin from a friend, or rent one from a shop. Mess around with it for a couple three weeks. Get it tuned up. Consult with some musical friends. Watch some youtubes.

    With a borrowed or rented mandolin your investment is tiny. Seeing if you will like the mandolin does not require owning the mandolin. Not at first. After a few weeks you will have a feeling if you want to continue, and a feeling for how much you are going to like it. At that point you may be able to justify purchasing a mandolin and getting some lessons.

    Just a thought.
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