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Thread: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

  1. #1
    Registered User Erin M's Avatar
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    Default A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    Hello friends,

    For years, I've wanted to learn mandolin, but due to time and money just not being there, I haven't been able to start - until now. I've had the good fortune of being able to borrow an Eastman MD815 from a friend to tinker around with during the COVID lockdown and I'm loving it so far. So, I broke down and bought an instrument of my own (a Kentucky KM-1000 - best I could afford, especially as a beginner). I'm sure my friend will be happy to have his Eastman back!

    A little back-story: I have been playing music since I was about 9 years old (flute and bass, among other things), have a solid grounding in music theory, composition, and improvisation. I've jammed with Bluegrass combos, local folk singers, etc..., so know roughly what to expect. I've also had a very little bit of violin experience, which has helped in that I can at least get around the fretboard a bit (although very poorly at this point).

    I have a teacher I've reached out to - not naming names, but someone who is known in the Bluegrass community. It's tricky right now with the lockdown, but remote lessons might be possible, depending on availability. But until that can happen, I'm doing my best to learn what I can and hopefully not end up developing too many bad habits early on. At this point, I'm just trying to get chords and scales somewhat under my control, not much in the way of tunes yet.

    That's where I'm starting from. So, I wonder if any of the experienced players here might have some words of wisdom they might like to share that could help me start out on the right path here? The goal is to make a serious effort at this - I know I'll never be that good, at least not at my age, but I'd be thrilled to get to a point where I can actually sit in on some jams.

    Thanks
    Last edited by Erin M; May-26-2020 at 4:46pm.
    "Same old moon, same old sun, same old race that we've always run." - Jeff Black

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  3. #2
    Hands of Pot Metal
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    Default Re: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    1. Have fun all along the way.
    2. Its all about the picking hand, so learn to grip the pick well and make the 3 basic strokes, down/up same string, down on a string/up on the lower and down on the lower/up on the higher. Let the notes ring. You'll play any song you want with those strokes. Tremolo can come later.
    3. Stop if its painful. You make the most progress by not getting hurt.
    4. You won't be born full grown, so have patience with yourself.
    5. Have more fun.

    A good teacher is invaluable, they come in all manner. Find the one you connect with.

    I'm no expert player, just a guy commenting on his time playing the instrument.

    Have fun. Its a wonderful journey.
    Play it like you mean it

    Not all the clams are at the beach

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  5. #3
    Registered User Erin M's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    I'm no expert player, just a guy commenting on his time playing the instrument.

    Have fun. Its a wonderful journey.
    To me, if you've been playing longer than 2 months, you're an expert
    "Same old moon, same old sun, same old race that we've always run." - Jeff Black

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    Default Re: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    I am still a newbie (or at least consider myself one!), so definitely not an expert. Since you already know music theory, you might benefit from Marilynn Mair's book, "The Complete Mandolinist." I have been slowly working my way through it. I started with no music background at all, but have learned quite a bit. I think it is well written and well worth the money.

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    Default Re: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    Right hand! If you can spend time just working on rest strokes and timing with the right hand it will pay off dividends! Part of that is holding the pick correctly. It seems like this stuff is not important, especially if you are anxious to get into fretting and playing tunes, but it really is more important than it may appear.



    Also, learning to play songs by hearing the note and finding it. Even if it is a simple melody like a nursery rhyme eventually will allow you to do that in a jam to a new song you've never heard.

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  11. #6

    Default Re: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    Make sure you get your down/up pick strokes correct. Without that foundation you'll struggle. Down on the downbeats, up on the offbeats. If you're counting 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and, the numbers get the down pick strokes and the ands are up pick strokes, no matter what string the beat lands on or how syncopated the beat is.
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  13. #7
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    MandoLessons.com - Baron has recently relocated to the PDX area, so that may be an option for local lessons. In the meantime, the site has a ton of good beginner content and a whole lot of fiddle tune breakdown lessons.

    Next fall, TaborGrass will likely be starting up again, and that's a great place to get into the Bluegrass scene, which is strong here.

    And welcome to The Fold. When the virus thing is over, I'd like to explore a gathering of all the PNW players, so we can talk shop, try out some instruments and generally nerd-out.
    "Keep your hat on, we may end up miles from here..." - Kurt Vonnegut

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    Registered User Erin M's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    Thank you all for your advice and tips, especially about right-hand control and pick technique - that's a bit of a weak area for me, since I'm not all that used to playing with picks or with the right-hand position used on mandolin. Meanwhile, I'll continue to absorb everything I can and work on getting setup to do remote lessons. Stay safe and well, everyone!
    "Same old moon, same old sun, same old race that we've always run." - Jeff Black

  16. #9

    Default Re: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    Picking techniques to pursue...
    Make a habit of, instead of playing simple open-string notes, playing the same notes as unisons (7th fret and open string, played across two courses), whenever the note is long enough to do so, especially at the end of a phrase. Playing the 4 strings at once gives a nice round sound compared to an open twang.

    You didn’t mention guitar, but a lot of new players try to bring guitar techniques over to mando. Hammer-ons and pull-offs don’t work as well on a mando (especially one with f-holes)- you will find that if you learn to pick -every note- of a phrase, your playing will sound a lot more powerful and clean (eventually).

    Upstrokes/downstrokes...after you have internalized Don Grieser’s excellent point about up and downstrokes, eventually you get to the exception to that principle: when playing a triplet, if you’re picking every note (as you should) train yourself, when its possible, to start the triplet on an upstroke, so when you get to the next beat, you will be landing it on a downstroke. You lose a little bite on the attack at the beginning of the triplet, but that is more than compensated for by being able to stick the landing. Think Beethoven’s 5th (da da da DUM). As your picking gets smoother, the difference in volume between the upstrokes and downstrokes is reduced. Eventually!

    Tremolo, tremolo, tremolo. Practice, practice, practice. Learn those double-stop positions and tremolo the hell out of them. This is an area where a knowledgeable, older player can do some great stuff without needing the metabolism of a 19-year-old. Just don’t tremolo through a whole song—use restraint ;/=

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  18. #10
    Registered User Erin M's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Cameron View Post
    Picking techniques to pursue...
    Make a habit of, instead of playing simple open-string notes, playing the same notes as unisons (7th fret and open string, played across two courses), whenever the note is long enough to do so, especially at the end of a phrase. Playing the 4 strings at once gives a nice round sound compared to an open twang.

    You didn’t mention guitar, but a lot of new players try to bring guitar techniques over to mando. Hammer-ons and pull-offs don’t work as well on a mando (especially one with f-holes)- you will find that if you learn to pick -every note- of a phrase, your playing will sound a lot more powerful and clean (eventually).

    Upstrokes/downstrokes...after you have internalized Don Grieser’s excellent point about up and downstrokes, eventually you get to the exception to that principle: when playing a triplet, if you’re picking every note (as you should) train yourself, when its possible, to start the triplet on an upstroke, so when you get to the next beat, you will be landing it on a downstroke. You lose a little bite on the attack at the beginning of the triplet, but that is more than compensated for by being able to stick the landing. Think Beethoven’s 5th (da da da DUM). As your picking gets smoother, the difference in volume between the upstrokes and downstrokes is reduced. Eventually!

    Tremolo, tremolo, tremolo. Practice, practice, practice. Learn those double-stop positions and tremolo the hell out of them. This is an area where a knowledgeable, older player can do some great stuff without needing the metabolism of a 19-year-old. Just don’t tremolo through a whole song—use restraint ;/=
    I don't have a whole lot of guitar experience (just enough to be dangerous - to others), but yes, I've noticed the weak hammer-on/pull-offs. Before I started, I was watching a video of Chris Thile playing some Bach and noticed he picked every note of a trill. That was a bit of a surprise.

    Since I play bass mainly (both upright and electric), I've got some picking experience from the electric, but I definitely need to work on technique there - I'm more accustomed to playing with fingers or bow. I'm trying to think of the pick as being somewhat analogous to the bow in terms of up/down strokes, accents, evenness of tone, etc...

    Tremolo - yeesh... I haven't even begun yet But listening to a whole lot of Dave Grisman and John Reischman for their tastefully restrained use of tremolo.

    Thanks Bill for the excellent advice. I shall keep plucking away.

    ~Erin
    "Same old moon, same old sun, same old race that we've always run." - Jeff Black

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  20. #11
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Newcomer to Mandolin Asks the Experts

    Quote Originally Posted by Erin M View Post
    That's where I'm starting from. So, I wonder if any of the experienced players here might have some words of wisdom they might like to share that could help me start out on the right path here? The goal is to make a serious effort at this - I know I'll never be that good, at least not at my age, but I'd be thrilled to get to a point where I can actually sit in on some jams.
    Here is my heartfelt advice. I know for a fact this is right, both in my experience and in the experience related to me by many many others.

    Don't wait till you get to the point where you can sit in on some jams. There is no point. There is no feeling ready. If you wait till you feel ready, you will not ever go to a jam. I promise you, your first day at a jam you will not feel ready. You will attend a jam the moment you get tired of being inhibited by perceived "not readiness". Just go. Do what you can, listen when you can't, talk to the folks and ask questions, get in there. It will add gasoline to your desire for progress, because you will practice your tailpiece off for a couple of smiles at the jam next week.

    With regard to bad habits. Some further advice. While I agree we want to learn the correct way to do things, keep in mind that trying to avoid all bad habits inhibits your progress. There is no front door. Jump in and swim out to the edges. I promise you that no matter what you do, in ten years you will have lots of regret that certain bad habits did not get corrected early. No matter what you do. There is no avoiding bad habits that will need to be corrected. And there is no avoiding regret. There is only avoiding experience playing. Embrace it, jump in, fail grandly, fail obviously, fail over and over again at ever higher levels. Fail, learn, fix, fail, learn, fix. The process begins with failing.
    Indulge responsibly!

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