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Thread: Learning to read music for Mandolin

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    Default Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Hey all! I'm a lifetime piano player, and can read music quite well. When I first started playing guitar and mandolin, I was amazed at how tabs made playing these instruments lots easier for anyone who doesn't have a music background.

    My question is: what are your best tips for how to learn the notes on mandolin, so I can play mandolin from actual music? Not sure if that wording makes sense. I'm a competent sight reader for piano, but if you put music in front of me and asked me to play it on mandolin, I'd be useless.

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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    I learned to read music on mandolin after playing guitar/mandolin for 10+ years. Before that, I could figure out standard notation one note at a time, but I couldn't sit down and play from a sheet. I basically gave up on playing anything interesting or technically demanding for a few months and focused on really simple songs/exercises from a classical Italian method book (Branzoli). The book would introduce one key at a time and had a series of exercises with the same key signature. It was slow and frustrating. In the end, I'm glad I put in the time, but I'd have a hard to recommending it for a bluegrasser. On the other hand, it opens up all the violin/fiddle repertoire (Ryan's Mammoth Collection, anyone?)...

  3. #3

    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    I’d learn the FFCP scales, four fingers closed position. It will provide the fingering guide, moderated by key. If you only play in first position it’s imperative to be familiar with scales starting on any finger.
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    Registered User Jonathan K's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    My suggestion would be to play scales slowly in each of first and second positions in front of a mirror, say the notes out loud as you play them and then grab a book of Irish fiddle tunes to practice sight reading. Irish fiddle tunes have the virtue of being extremely diatonic and *WHOA* in fiddle keys which makes them easy to play on mandolin.

    As Bill points out, FFcP is very important too!

  6. #5

    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    I just started taking mandolin lessons and the instructor chose The Hal Leonard Mandolin Method Book: Only for Beginners Music and Tablature as the instruction book. It teaches the fretboard and down-ups on the proper beat using music notation. It starts with the open strings, then goes to notes on the first string, then the second string, etc.

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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Well, Assuming you already know scales and theory now learn the names of the open strings then play the scales slowly until you get it. I never played the piano but understand it’s layed out very nicely, the fretboard will be more challenging but you’ll get it. A method book will help or there’s probably some resources on YouTube. Banjo Ben has beginning mando lessons, check out Mandolessons, Mando Mike, Pickin’ Lessons, PegHead Nation as they all have beginning programs. You’ll get it in no time.
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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    As you are a long-time piano player and can read standard notation efficiently, you will quite quickly learn the notes on the mandolin, I'm sure.

    Start with the four open strings - G,D,A,E and they will be your markers. From your knowledge of music and scales use the fact that each fret on the mandolin represents a semitone change in pitch, so for example if you start on the G string then your major scale (with its tone intervals of whole tone, whole tone, half tone, whole tone, whole tone, whole tone and half tone - G,A,B,C,D,E,F#, G) will be played as G open, G2, G4, G5 then D open, D2, D4 and D5, the numbers being the fret you finger. . As the mandolin is tuned, like the fiddle, in 5ths across the four courses you will find the patterns repeat, (G7 is the same note as D open, D7=A open, A7=E open), and using the FFCP model as mentioned will soon have you playing the notes anywhere. You are starting with the advantage of probably having a good knowledge of scale intervals and this will help you find the right notes in any key, and major or minor. Keep in mind the idea that each fret represents a half tone, plus what the other posters have said here.

    You will enjoy your mandolin playing, I am sure!
    Last edited by John Kelly; Feb-06-2020 at 5:23am. Reason: typos
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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    The difference between piano and mandolin is that on the piano each note has one designatet spot, namely the key that you play it on. On the mandolin you have multiple possibilities to play one note. That seems to make it difficult to play when reading notation.

    I think that you have to wrap your head around the concept that multiple possibilities to play a note on the mandolin gives you the oportunity to find out which way to play is comfortable for you. In jazz (for example on the guitar) one chord can be played in many different ways (up and down the instruments neck) with fingering that may or may not be comfortable to you. I just watched a Barney Kessel instruction video where he played certain chords that I would never play that way.

    I learned to read music when my son was taking (classical) guitar lessons. The way the teacher instructed certain fingering with respect to one musical piece was awkward to my taste. We played the same piece together (he in his fingering and I doing my thing on guitar) and it sounded virtually the same though I was much more comfortable with my aproach.

    Long story short: Go ahead and explore the fretboard. Learn chords! When you know your chords you´ll find that most melody can be centered around a chord. When you understand that, you´ll be able to read your musical notatioin while playing mandolin in no time.

    And that comes from a guy who reads music like an illiterate and who about allways plays by ear.
    Olaf

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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    At all who advocate playing scales (only). I do not think that this is the right aproach. I do think that knowing your scales is imortant. But it all boils down to knowing your chords. When you know where the chords are on the fretboard the scales fall into place automatically.
    Olaf

  13. #10

    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Mel Bay has a book by Joe Carr called Reading Standard Music Notation for Mandolin & Fiddle which has worked very well for me.

  14. #11

    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    To narrow it down further, in the first position:

    In notation any note that’s between a line will be played either open string or played by the middle finger.
    In notation any note that’s on a line will be played by the first finger and index.

    Because you play piano, you might find it easier to start with the scale of G and simply memorise each note in the open position, two octaves, thinking of the piano key at the same time?

    There are some useful apps for mobile phone too, or/and follow scores with the mandolin on musescore.com and tabledit which has the added benefit of forcing you to do a certain amount of work at a certain speed.

    Important: Both these programs have a mandolin fretboard feature

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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    the notation informs your ear. Muscle memory makes your fingers produce the sound. It's like singing.

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    I know it seems unhelpful, but honestly I believe the only answer to this is practice.

    My question is: what are your best tips for how to learn the notes on mandolin
    That is all you're asking, and all you need to solve the reading problem. You know the notes of the keyboard, but not of the mandolin finger board. There is nothing difficult about knowing the notes of the mandolin fingerboard, it simply doesn't have the easy visual cues of the piano keyboard.

    A person with your knowledge of music needs one thing: familiarity with the instrument. You get that by practicing and playing, and when practicing, think about what you're playing, i.e., the notes. You can think about chord tones while practicing variations on a theme. You can think about scale tones while practicing variations on a theme. You need to practice chords as well as melody lines, and think about the notes (among many other things, but thinking about the notes is the kind of practice relevant to your question here).

    Just in case it may help, here are two pages going "back to basics" that relate the piano keyboard to the guitar and mandolin fretboard

    http://www.markgunter.net/cool_stuff...tes-lesson-one

    http://www.markgunter.net/cool_stuff...als-lesson-two
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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Really Learning The Mandolin Fretboard ... Meaning, to have a fluid knowledge of the notes you can play all over the fretboard; or, knowing the notes of the fretboard. Certainly, understanding the value of having choices of where to play a specific note or its octave ...

    All sorts of tips and shortcuts may be offered for learning the fretboard, but whatever method one uses, what is required is enough play and practice to become familiar with the instrument's fretboard. The more intimate the familiarity, the better.

    Since each individual player comes to the instrument from a unique background, it is not possible to say how long it would take a particular person to learn this once they desire it. It is just beginning to come together for me a bit after 5 to 6 years of playing.

    Corey Lewandowski, in a recent interview, states that this is what he is currently working on. He is a longtime player who recently played the Grand Ole Opry with his group and has been nominated for a Grammy. You can hear his interview on a recent "mandolins and beer" podcast, episode #25. https://mandolinsandbeer.wordpress.c...-ramblin-boys/

    So IMO, the most important bit of encouragement is, "Stick with it, and be mindful of what you're doing." Have fun while you're at it.
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  19. #15

    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by grassrootphilosopher View Post
    At all who advocate playing scales (only). I do not think that this is the right aproach. I do think that knowing your scales is imortant. But it all boils down to knowing your chords. When you know where the chords are on the fretboard the scales fall into place automatically.
    Knowing the chords on the fretboard has very little to help you learn to read.

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    Registered User Jairo Ramos Parra's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    you can use these as a guide:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    A quick and dirty transfer that works for lots of people is to look at your fretboard and realise that the semi-tones go up to the 12th fret & repeat.
    your octave is right there marked by 12 frets, usually with a double or enlarged fret marker to highlight it.
    Then realise the next string up starts on the 5th etc.so wherever you are on the fretboard there's a 5th on the higher adjacent course and a 4th on the course below.

    Your open strings are on the spaces below the top, middle and lower staff line, with the G a couple more below the D.
    So if you start with the D scale on the open space below the treble staff that's a fairly visually simple place to begin.
    Then do the A a 5th up. Thise two will get the staff relationship going for you, then it's just a matter of running loads of simple tunes to get quicker and embed the relationship for you. If you play them up the strings as well as across then you'll get the fingerboard mapping going up the neck at the same time
    Eoin



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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Get a beginner violin book. The tuning is the same. I started on violin decades ago as a schoolkid. Being able to sightread is a skill worth earning. I've been asked to play with a choral group on an upcoming production because I can sight read. The conductor is looking for a bluegrass ensemble that can read music. He's not having much success.

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    Registered User Perry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Just do it!

    I found this helpful way back when:

    Twenty Studies in the First Position for Bluegrass Mandolinists, Opus 5 - $20.00 plus $4.00 S/H. Designed to improve sight-reading ability and increase understanding of classical music norms.

    “Lou Martin’s Twenty Studies distills a master mandolinist’s decades of bluegrass mandolin wisdom into twenty pieces that impart essential bluegrass technique along with classical concepts. Lou thinks about every note, and these pieces encourage you to do so as well.” - Andy Bing

    http://www.louismartinmusicbmi.com/

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Many of the public domain old mandolin method books have sections in the front of the book about reading music, and how to do so on mandolin. They are available on-line.

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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Lot's of good advice here. I was a choral director and music theory teacher, picked up the mandolin when I retired. Like you, I could read and theorize just fine, but I kept getting lost looking at my fingers. Knowing the strings were tuned in fifths really helped, I could figure out any chord without a chart, but I sometimes started playing a bluegrass tune in the wrong key without even realizing!
    One more word of advice I didn't see in this thread (might be there, didn't read every line): know all the places any given note (Eb, C#, F...) can be played in at least 2 or 3 octaves. Gives you a better familiarity with the fretboard in relation to written notes.
    Also, keep in mind "learning to read" is quite different from actual sight-reading. When you get a little bit comfortable, try reading easy tunes that you don't know with a metronome (slow is good) or with another player. Then you have to keep going even after missing a note or a beat: then you are really reading.

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    Registered User Dean Gray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    I hesitated to add another suggestion to all of the excellent replies you have had, but since no one explicitly recommended Bickford, allow me!
    Bickford's method is very thorough, if a little antiquated and verbose, but that's part of his charm. You can find it online at imslp.
    There is a whole history of mandolin instruction pre-bluegrass, similar to any other "classical" instrument like piano, violin etc.

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    Registered User Doug Freeman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    I found Debra Chen's "Standard Notation for the Tab-Addicted Mandolinist" to have many practical solutions for reading on mandolin (even if you aren't addicted to Tab).

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    Registered User Rick Jones's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Freeman View Post
    I found Debra Chen's "Standard Notation for the Tab-Addicted Mandolinist" to have many practical solutions for reading on mandolin (even if you aren't addicted to Tab).
    I was about to mention this book also. I bought it about 10 years ago, and just FINALLY pulled it out a few weeks ago. I don't know what scared me off for the last 50 years, but it has opened up a whole new world for me.
    "I don't want to get technical or anything, but according to chemistry, alcohol actually IS a solution."

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning to read music for Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Many of the public domain old mandolin method books have sections in the front of the book about reading music, and how to do so on mandolin. They are available on-line.
    Quote Originally Posted by Dean Gray View Post
    I hesitated to add another suggestion to all of the excellent replies you have had, but since no one explicitly recommended Bickford, allow me!
    Bickford's method is very thorough, if a little antiquated and verbose, but that's part of his charm. You can find it online at imslp.
    There is a whole history of mandolin instruction pre-bluegrass, similar to any other "classical" instrument like piano, violin etc.
    That's one of the books I had in mind in my earlier post.

    here's the link:

    https://archive.org/details/bickford...ge/n6/mode/2up

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