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Thread: Going backwards

  1. #1

    Default Going backwards

    Beginner question. I've been learning to play mandolin for about 2 years. No prior musical background. So, very much just a beginner. Still, I was starting to think I was getting the hang of it, getting better at scales, arpeggios, fiddle tunes, and chord shapes. Lately though, I seem to be getting worse -- not able to to do smoothly what I could do a few weeks ago. I practice pretty regularly though not always systematically.

    Just wondering if anyone else has experienced this "step back", if it "goes with the territory", am I doing something wrong, etc.? Suggestions?

  2. #2
    ************** Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    I’ve been playing about 15 years now and have never gotten beyond the point of mediocrity. But I have noticed that when my playing seems to get worse, I put it down for a while; when I go back later I’m usually playing up to my usual abilities again. I find that this approach works in many areas of life. YMMV.
    "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    Many if not most players reach plateaus and dry spots in their development. Just keep working at your craft, and even if it seems like 2 steps forward, one step back, you will make progress. It's really about sticking to it long enough.

    Quote Originally Posted by beginnerbill View Post
    I practice pretty regularly though not always systematically.
    Perhaps a more systematic approach to practice could help. One great jazz musician said that you can make more progress just practicing REGULARLY 5 minutes every day than if you practice for long periods some days and not at all on others.

    Are you using any particular books or videos?

    Best of luck!

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    Default Re: Going backwards

    it is a common experience. Rather than putting it down for a while I would suggest try practicing something different. Maybe try doing some sight reading or finger exercises, working on more complex rhythms, a different style of music, etc.

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    Default Re: Going backwards

    Quote Originally Posted by beginnerbill View Post
    Beginner question. I've been learning to play mandolin for about 2 years. No prior musical background. So, very much just a beginner. Still, I was starting to think I was getting the hang of it, getting better at scales, arpeggios, fiddle tunes, and chord shapes. Lately though, I seem to be getting worse -- not able to to do smoothly what I could do a few weeks ago. I practice pretty regularly though not always systematically.

    Just wondering if anyone else has experienced this "step back", if it "goes with the territory", am I doing something wrong, etc.? Suggestions?
    You might want to hire a mandolin teacher if one in your area. Patience is a virtue ! Keep at it ! I was and am in the same boat as you !

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    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    We’re all hardwired differently. I keep a log of my practices. I can watch my improvement from regular practice or if I miss some days I excuse myself and keep after it. Chet Atkins said that if he missed a day of practicing, he could tell the difference and if he missed two days, the whole band could tell it. If that’s how it was for Mr Atkins, one of the greatest fingerstyle guitarists....

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  10. #7
    Registered User Drew Egerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    yea it happens, like others have said, just try to work on something else for a bit. Instead of just scales maybe try to play a pattern out of a scale. Or try a song or even a new genre for a bit. When I hit a big plateau with bluegrass I started exploring jazz and Dawg music, then choro and even some Bach. Still love bluegrass but it is fun to shake it up.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    Changes caused by age can also be a factor; trust me, I've had experience...
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  12. #9

    Default Re: Going backwards

    This is definitely a common problem. I have found it will happen when I have been learning and practicing a particular tune for a period of time. I agree with the poster who said that finding something new to work on helps.

    This, I believe, is a symptom of over thinking.

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    Default Re: Going backwards

    I’ve posted this before here somewhere but it’s worth repeating. For years I’ve been trying to perfect a certain O’Carolan tune and I’d get tripped up at least a little in the same spot EVERY TIME, for years. Then I went a stretch of a few months where I didn’t play mandolin at all but only guitar. When I got back to my mandolin eventually, I played the entire piece not only better than I ever had, but it was flawless. I have no explanation for this.
    "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  14. #11
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    My experience (which is fine to consider but hardly to be applied uncritically), is related to bad habits and non-standard techniques I had either acquired or not fixed. Be it pinky planting, not keeping fingers down, supporting some of the weight of the instrument with my left hand, holding the neck in the crotch of my thumb and forefinger, thumb kept in the middle of the back of the instrument, oh my gosh there are many many of them.

    I first thought about this and kind of sussed it out when I wrote my blog post about "standard" techniques.

    Quoting the part that is relevant here: "Whenever I find myself at a plateau in my playing, where better never seems to happen – whenever I am stuck, it is because of some non-standard technique that I have not addressed. As soon as I figure it out, progress seems to flood in like there was a breach in the submarine wall. Till the next plateau, where I have to find the next “bad habit” that is limiting me. (Many bad habits go unnoticed, I think, because they are of no consequence as long as you have more important, more egregious and limiting issues to work on.)"

    To be truthful, more than once it was some habit that I had fixed once already, but meandered back into.

    Conclusion for me is that whenever I find reach a plateau and can't get better, or in fact find myself falling back, I do a super critical self evaluation of my playing compared to the standards. I go right back to the beginning. I revisit that classic Mike Marshall video, and see if I am holding the instrument right, and all the rest. I have had at times an online mandolin coach who would (gleefully it seemed) point out where I was getting into trouble with techniques that limited or halted forward progress.

    Hey, it works for me, time after time after time.
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    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    All normal. I second Caleb, just leave it for a while. It happens in everything we do, not just attempting to play mandolin. You'll come back even better !

  17. #13

    Default Re: Going backwards

    You might find this podcast helpful. Mike Marshall discusses why our playing plateaus or stalls. (once on the podcast page, scroll down to find Mike's conversation):

    https://my.artistworks.com/blog/new-...-mike-marshall

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  19. #14
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    When I was first learning mandolin (I will be learning as long as I am able to play), I would experience the same phenomenon. Many days these years later I still on occasion feel frustrated that I am playing short of my capabilities. If it is prolonged for more than a few days I know I need a fix. I have found the best cure to be a new mandolin for inspiration!
    Keep practicing and you will jump the hurdle, just not as quickly as with a new mandolin.
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  20. #15
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    BeginnerBill: Some very wise advice above. I wonder if you can supply some additional info about yourself and your playing. Are you or have you in the past taken any lessons on mandolin? Before the current social restrictions, did you play with other musicians either a few at a time or even with a large jam? What kinds of music are you working on?

    To me one of the sticking points especially in early stages is to try a bit too hard and that puts a barrier into the ability to relax into the music. Granted when you first learn a tune you will not be able to play it smoothly and without mistakes. I don't care how good you are, it just doesn't happen unless you are a super genius.

    I would suggest going back to tunes, songs or pieces that you are very comfortable playing. Then slow them down and really listen to the individual notes and phrasing. Concentrate on making your mandolin sing. I think many of us playing in certain genres want to play everything up to speed. That is fine and at many points in your journey you can pull that off. However, really listening to what you are doing either live or even recording yourself to listen with a critical ear helps a lot.

    And I think that you come across the difficult passage many of us just gloss over it. The better course would be to isolate that passage and work through it so it never becomes the thing to dread when it shows up in your music. If you still can't solve the problem by yourself maybe ask some more advanced players or consut with a teacher and see how you can work that out.

    Again, music should be fun. Yes, we all come against some walls but relax and enjoy what you have. I do like the idea of taking a break and doing something else. And I am pretty sure it will get better in time.
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  21. #16

    Default Re: Going backwards

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Changes caused by age can also be a factor; trust me, I've had experience...
    Alas, I know this as well

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  23. #17
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    Quote Originally Posted by beginnerbill View Post
    Lately though, I seem to be getting worse -- not able to to do smoothly what I could do a few weeks ago.
    Yes indeed, this happens to most, if not all, musicians.

    This can be especially daunting to a beginner - and exacerbated by the beginner's growth in 'hearing' more accurately what they're doing, critically.

    Might help to listen to this episode of "Grass Talk Radio" http://www.bradleylaird.com/podcast/...how-notes.html
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    I try to have a structure to my practice session, not written in stone but using this time to reach a small goal every week or so. I break down my hour this way.
    First fifteen minutes I play warm ups. I keep a list of about 20 tunes that require coverage over the entire fret board. (I don't really like playing scales and arpeggios but there are those who rightfully find them beneficial.) And these tunes require me to play slowly because they are technically challenging. Play it slow and correctly. That's the only way to develop CLEAN. Practicing wrong only reinforces bad habits.
    Next fifteen to thirty minutes I sit in front of my music stand with my music books. I usually am working on 2 - 3 new tunes at any one time. A brand new piece can take up the whole thirty minutes. Again learn to play it as its written (learning to read standard notation is very beneficial. I've learned many fiddle tunes this way)
    Next fifteen minutes wing it! Play whatever you want! Have some fun!
    My point is practicing isn't just playing what you already know. That's repetition. Have a goal in mind when you sit down to practice.
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  25. #19
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going backwards

    Been there, done that. Sometimes, I find when I'm in that space, it's time to focus on technique -- timing, picking, etc. -- or else to learn a new tune, perhaps in a different style, e.g, old time instead of blues. It's frustrating, but so far I haven't stayed in a slump permanently.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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