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Thread: How to approach practicing and improvement?

  1. #1
    Registered User cbroadbridge's Avatar
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    Default How to approach practicing and improvement?

    I want to improve as a player, but I'm not 100% sure how I should be tackling this. As a bit of reference, I've been a guitar player (mainly metal/hard rock) for about 20 years or so, and I've been playing the mandolin for about 8. As a guitarist, I'm largely self-taught, and never had a thorough practice regimen or anything, I just learned songs from tabs.

    I really love the mandolin, and I really want to get better at it. I've got a few books (listed below), and I was getting lessons last year, but the teacher was more of a guitar player who understood mandolin, as opposed to a mandolin player. The area I live doesn't have too many teachers around, the closest one is about 15 minutes drive (I know, not really that far away).

    The books I have:
    Mandolin Exercises For Dummies
    Hal Leonard Mandolin Method Book 1
    Fretboard Roadmaps
    Standard Notation for the Tab-Addicted Mandolinist

    I also have a couple of instructional DVDs, Essential Mandolin Techniques by Chris Thile, and Secrets Songs and Tunes by Sierra Hull. I've never used DVDs in the past, so I bought these and haven't really used them. I guess I'm kind of daunted by them?

    I think my biggest problem that my practicing is really shambolic. As I've never really had a proper regimen devoted to specific improvement, I don't really know where to start. I feel like my main goal is to be able to solo more confidently. I am pretty confident in my ability to learn chord shapes but soloing confidently is something that's always been an issue for me, even(especially?) as a guitarist.

    I also want to be better at reading sheet music, I get the basic concepts and can kinda figure things out but it's a VERY slow process. I doubt I'll ever be able to sight read, but to reach a happy medium would be great.

    Sorry for the massive, rambling post!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Develop the habit of practicing at a specific time. Here’s a practice schedule:

    Warmup. 10%
    Technical exercise, chords, scales, arpeggios 30%
    New repetoire 30%
    Old repetoire 30%

    Repeat daily, make it fun. Pay attention to the sound you generate. Vary to meet your needs and desires.
    Play it like you mean it

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  4. #3

    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Work on your scales every day. Just like singing and playing guitar, the guitar has to go on autopilot. The scale , i.e. pentatonic scale in the given chord or key. Strangley, i learnt to drill 8 note scales first. It seems like there's more melody notes to be found in an octave. Learning to improv just takes time. I personally wouldn't work on anything that wasn't either my style or more specifically songs or tunes, so as to not waste one's time. Play a bunch with forgiving folks. 3 times a week is optimum. 9 hours a week, plus an hour a day, is 16hrs. a week. Times 52 is 832hrs. well spent. In the 90's, i was doing about 18hrs a week for five or six years. Builds hours fast. The last 5 years i've maybe only put in 100hrs a year. We don't rehearse. Wish we did.

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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Another approach: Matt Flinner occasionally offers an online course devoted to practice techniques. Check his website. Frequently there’s a link on the cafe.
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Mandolessons.com

    If you have an iPhone then try ‘Sight reading’ app.

    Use a program, BandCamp or metronome that wont stop for a certain length of time, you have to start it, and you have to finish it, go so slowly that you don’t make mistakes, force you mind to think about patterns (or ‘chunks’) on the fretboard if your mind begins to wander. A chunk is a movement of the hand that goes from start to finish without you consciously thinking about it, well you only think of the beginning. It’s also thinking in terms of finger flow of the five letters ‘s-o-u-n-d’, but instead you think ‘sound’.

    Or ‘aDBFE’ that you read, and the movement your hand has to make to get what that group sounds like, if that makes sense.
    Good luck.

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  10. #6

    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Check out the book The Musician's Way by Gerald Klickstein (Amazon link). For me it had great advice on structuring practice and how to approach learning difficult pieces. Applicable to any instrument.
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Nudging one's self forward is a part of this practice. Playing scales and arpeggios is great, finding tunes that are musically and technically challenging is important too. OF course these tunes will keep changing as you grow, and when look back you notice that once tunes that were once musical Mount Everest are quite doable. In this process be self nurturing but don't baby yourself. Warm up, hit the challenge and wind down on stuff you know well.

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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Hi Simon.

    Can you be more specific about the sight reading app you recommend? there are a lot of options...

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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Ha ha! Speaking of rambling, see my rant about variations on fiddle tunes from yesterday. ... The first thing I would address is the "shambolic" part. In my opinion, you need to be deliberate. You need a SYSTEM that replicates itself and guarantees progress. Try to pick a time when you can practice, even if it's 15 minutes. Pete Martin has some GREAT YouTube video practice tips I've been putting to use.

    1. Work in five minute blocks. (This really works!) Decide you're going to work only playing the first two measures, or memorizing them, or working on a variation over them. Set a timer. Then take a little 1 or 2 minute break -- look out the window, warm up your coffee. Then deliberately pick something specific to work on for the next five minutes, set the timer, and go.

    2. Use a metronome.

    3. Remember that practice is different than playing (running tunes you already know isn't really getting you anywhere new, unless you're working on a difficult passage or right hand technique or something that constitutes "practice").

    4. Recommend starting sessions with 5 minutes of scales and arpeggios. First position scales all around the circle of 4ths is a great warm up.

    5. Be satisfied with small improvements. If you just memorize one small bit of music, or learn to play a difficult passage that was tripping you up, that's progress. And progress is cumulative, if you have a SYSTEM (deliberate daily practice).

    6. Have fun.
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  18. #10

    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Andreasen View Post
    Hi Simon.

    Can you be more specific about the sight reading app you recommend? there are a lot of options...

    j
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    Hi Jean I just looked (iphone) and the program’s called sight read.
    But I can’t find it in the Apple store now, perhaps it was too good?

    It’s an extremely simple app that doesn’t collect much ongoing data from you.

    All it does is play a note every second or so, (adjustable), pitch at random in the violin range and then it shows you what the note looks like as notation. It doesn’t care what your score is. It’s up to you to think about how you’re doing, which notes you have problems with.
    That’s it, oh and it doesn’t pause. It’ll play like that the whole day.

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  20. #11

    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Another way to advance quite quickly is to join the Song A Week Social group here on MandolinCafe.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/group.php?groupid=67
    It even helps if you write a post and declare your intention to learn and record the next week’s tune.

    Quality is not important, you will be praised just for posting!
    (Because posting your attempt is a great achievement)

    And next week we begin again at song number 1, (of 500+) so there will probably be a big online party with famous mandolinists joining in too. (Friendly bunch are mandolinists)

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  22. #12
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Since you are asking about the subject of practice itself, I’ll add a recommendation to the advice already given above. Check out the book, The Practice of Practice,​ by Jonathan Harnum. It is full of encouragement as well as factual studies and suggestions - a book about understanding practice - for musicians. I have it as an audio book and have listened to it numerous times. It has helped me to gain some direction in my practice as a mostly self taught musician.

    Image links to amazon page, NFI

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    If I simply had the book to read, I'm not sure if I'd have gotten as much from it. Listening to it via audio has definitely been a big help.
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Somewhere (perhaps in an MC post) I read that Isaac Stern recommended:

    30% scales, etc.
    30% technical studies, etudes, etc.
    30% repertoire

    Not sure about the missing 10% ... but this is what I do regardless of the amount of time I have on a given day:

    10% warm up
    30% scales, etc. (using Julin's Mandolin Exercises for Dummies)
    30% studies/etudes (slowly working my way through Calace's method (as edited by Marshall & Lichtenberg))
    30% on pieces I can almost play (Gervasio sonatas, Leonardi's "Souvenir de Sicile" (thanks to a pdf offered in the Classical forum)) and pieces I can't play (Bach sonatas)

    Am I making progress? My two dogs, JoJo and Koukou, both agree that they've heard improvement over the last few months. I give them a treat.

    Joe

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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    OK two problems. Possibly same solution. Get an instructor. Easy to do these days, especially with Skype. You can get a teacher anywhere in the world and meet once a week on line.

    Problem one - unclear non specific goals - a good mandolin instructor, (not a guitarist taking on mandolin students) can really help you prioritize your goals and work efficiently to achieve them.

    Problem two - practice motivation - I know for me I will let myself down much sooner than let someone else down. An instructor you meet with regularly helps with being motivated to make some progress by the next class. You will be less likely to let your instructor down. Human nature.

    Good luck. Remember that no matter what be patient. No way around it, it takes about ten years to sound like you have been at this for a decade.
    Indulge responsibly!

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  28. #15
    Registered User cbroadbridge's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Wow, there are some awesome tips here! Thanks so much all for your advice, I think I'm gonna get off my ass and check that teacher's availability, and start figuring out some more concrete goals, then structure the practice sessions around those.

    I'm quite keen on learning David Benedict's Super Mario medley so I'll start basing part of my practice sessions around that.

    Your advice is very much appreciated, thanks again all, and please don't stop with the tips!

  29. #16
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    I'll also add to see if you can play with someone else, preferably better than you are. I learned a ton of new tunes and pushed myself to master them because a person I play with had them down cold and I wanted to play them with her. And I was way more motivated to learn them because I didn't want to sound bad when we got together. Pride does wonderful things if you use it to move yourself up a level.
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Highest priority for me would be to learn how to play the simple melody of any vocal tunes you like. This builds your intuition. Like being able to “sing” with the mandolin. Also, focus on concepts that are of interest to you, that you like to hear others play. Double stop, cross picking, blues / Monroe style, etc. Then work on tunes that have those concepts as part of that tune. For me, once I started doing this, things absolutely exploded. I invested the time and cash in finding the right mentor, which for me was Emory Lester. The above outlines much of his philosophy, and WOW is it working. He’s a great mentor, coach, all of it.
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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Quote Originally Posted by cbroadbridge View Post
    I want to improve as a player, but I'm not 100% sure how I should be tackling this. As a bit of reference, I've been a guitar player (mainly metal/hard rock) for about 20 years or so, and I've been playing the mandolin for about 8. As a guitarist, I'm largely self-taught, and never had a thorough practice regimen or anything, I just learned songs from tabs.

    I really love the mandolin, and I really want to get better at it. I've got a few books (listed below), and I was getting lessons last year, but the teacher was more of a guitar player who understood mandolin, as opposed to a mandolin player. The area I live doesn't have too many teachers around, the closest one is about 15 minutes drive (I know, not really that far away).

    The books I have:
    Mandolin Exercises For Dummies
    Hal Leonard Mandolin Method Book 1
    Fretboard Roadmaps
    Standard Notation for the Tab-Addicted Mandolinist

    I also have a couple of instructional DVDs, Essential Mandolin Techniques by Chris Thile, and Secrets Songs and Tunes by Sierra Hull. I've never used DVDs in the past, so I bought these and haven't really used them. I guess I'm kind of daunted by them?

    I think my biggest problem that my practicing is really shambolic. As I've never really had a proper regimen devoted to specific improvement, I don't really know where to start. I feel like my main goal is to be able to solo more confidently. I am pretty confident in my ability to learn chord shapes but soloing confidently is something that's always been an issue for me, even(especially?) as a guitarist.

    I also want to be better at reading sheet music, I get the basic concepts and can kinda figure things out but it's a VERY slow process. I doubt I'll ever be able to sight read, but to reach a happy medium would be great.

    Sorry for the massive, rambling post!
    Lots of great tips here. May I add a couple more?

    If yes, read on...

    Whenever I get a new student, I ask two questions: why do you want to play? And what song or piece would you like to play?

    Usually the answer to the first one is for fun. It doesn’t matter. But think about why you’re playing the mandolin. If it’s for home, or for performance, or something else, then you can start to set goals.

    The second answer helps you map the initial road. Work on or toward that song or piece. Set small achievable goals and reward yourself (a chocolate, or something little) when you reach it.
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    A simple way around it is to permanently improve the small things you're not good at. One small step at a time.

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    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    I hate "practice", have my whole life. But. No one ever gets good at anything without, practice.

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  39. #21

    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    If your goal is to solo more confidently, practice doing that.

    Just like anything else, you manage it by slowing down and working on small sections.

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  41. #22
    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    I really like that "The Practice of Practice" book. Best book I've personally seen on the subject.


    I have 4 videos of practice suggestions you may find useful here:

    https://youtu.be/ISHvWO7rqKE
    https://youtu.be/x-Auh6JwpTg
    https://youtu.be/JMtVAUz2FHw
    https://youtu.be/Gvuu6ohbuB4
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  43. #23
    I really look like that soliver's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    I try hard to spend some time with a metronome regularly, particularly if I'm working on a typically fast played tune. You'll be amazed at how that can help you grow, even just with practicing scales.
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  45. #24
    Registered User cbroadbridge's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to approach practicing and improvement?

    Update for those who might be interested: I had my first lesson with a proper mandolin teacher, and it was an actual revelation, I'm so disappointed I didn't do it earlier.

    He gave me a few tips on technique and how to get a good tone, and probably the most revelatory of all, I finally understand WHY it's important to learn arpeggios, and by the end of the session I was already feeling way better about the concept of soloing and improvising.

    My teacher's also provided me with a Bach piece to get started on which he said will be a great technique exercise and will revolve around arpeggios so will be really good for my development.

    Thanks so much all for your great advice, and as before it's always great to have more tips so keep 'em coming!

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