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Thread: Newb's first day

  1. #1

    Question Newb's first day

    Hi everybody. (homage to mandolessons.com) Received my first ever mandolin at about 12:30pm today via Amazon. At 5:30pm, I had blisters on my two first fingers - good or bad?

    Three things:

    1) I'm an old guy - 63YO
    2) Never played an instrument of any kind before
    3) I am left-handed and this is a beginner's left-handed mandolin (so blisters on my right hand)

    Accomplishments:

    I tuned the "mandolin-shaped thing" I received successfully and in a reasonable amount of time. This was encouraging.

    Played the basic G-C-D chords many times. I can strum them and sometimes it sounds OK, but not consistently and not in time. I have not yet accomplished 4 down strokes in each chord in a row and in time that sounds OK. My fingers hurt. This is discouraging.

    I played all the scales down to the 6th fret and understand the pattern - not fast, nor even on time. Mildly encouraging.

    I am trying to do things with my left hand (your right hand probably) to give my blisters on my right hand a rest that furthers my cause. One simple thing I am trying to do is hit the open strings individually in order down with the pick consistently and in some rhythm on a down-stroke. I am trying to do it by feel and not looking. I'd give my effort a C-, but improving....

    Any comments or tips? How long does it take to turn blisters into calluses? I am really trying to focus on hand position and relaxing/removing tension, which everyone says to do, which makes perfect sense, but is not as easy (for me, at least) to do as it sounds.

    I need a thicker pick - this is the weak point in my exploration (equipment-wise) so far and not easily addressed, as I live in a rural locale. TIA for any feedback.

  2. #2
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Advice will come from the hands-on folks about things to check and adjust on the instrument. In the meantime, don't overdo the practicing. The mandolin is a hard instrument on the non-strumming (usually, I'd say, left) hand because of the double strings. It takes a while for your fingers to build up to this work. Try letting up a bit on the finger pressure, then see what happens. It'll take a few weeks for the calluses to build up, but in the meantime you don't want blisters. Tell your teacher about this situation. He or she may be able to give advice about how you're holding your mandolin and angling your fingers. Also, we oldsters have to teach young teachers about the limitations that most of us suffer with age. (When John Lennon said, "I've got blisters on my fingers!", that wasn't a good thing.) And welcome to the Cafe.
    Last edited by Ranald; Jul-23-2021 at 8:43pm.
    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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  4. #3
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    In all likely hood, the mandolin coming from Amazon, has not had a good set-up unless you have the skills to do it yourself.
    Get a good set-up from a luthier (one schooled in mandolins and not just any string instrument) and you may find it a lot easier on your fingers.
    It is notable that you are playing a G chord on your first day. I still cheat and use a two finger G chord when it works.

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  6. #4

    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    Advice will come from the hands-on folks about things to check and adjust on the instrument. In the meantime, don't overdo the practicing. The mandolin is a hard instrument on the non-strumming (usually, I'd say, left) hand because of the double strings. It's takes a while for your fingers to build up to this work. Try letting up a bit on the finger pressure, then see what happens. It'll take a few weeks for the calluses to build up, but in the meantime you don't want blisters. Tell your teacher about this situation. He or she may be able to give advice about how you're holding your mandolin and angling your fingers. Also, we oldsters have to teach young teachers about the limitations that most of us suffer with age. ( When John Lennon said, "I've got blisters on my fingers!", that wasn't a good thing.) And welcome to the Cafe.
    First and foremost, thanks for the welcome. I'm afraid me and the great interwebs are my only teachers for the foreseeable future.

    You can, of course, see my dilemma - I am old and started late, so therefore I want to go fast to catch up. Tricky... I will be as patient as I can. I don't have high expectations, but I want to add some music playing from an instrument that produces a sound that I love into my life. I have the time and inclination, but it still may be a fool's errand.
    Last edited by LRDave; Jul-23-2021 at 8:33pm. Reason: grammar

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  8. #5
    Every day is a gift. Sheila Lagrand's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Welcome, LRDave! It sounds like you've had a successful first day with your new mandolin. The thing to remember about those fingertip blisters is this: Once the blisters have developed into calluses, you must play often enough to maintain them. To be safe, plan on everyday playing time.
    Now, what was I after when I wandered in here?

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  10. #6

    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Quote Originally Posted by Sheila Lagrand View Post
    Welcome, LRDave! It sounds like you've had a successful first day with your new mandolin. The thing to remember about those fingertip blisters is this: Once the blisters have developed into calluses, you must play often enough to maintain them. To be safe, plan on everyday playing time.
    Thank you Sheila Lagrand for the welcome. I have the time to maintain my blisters for the foreseeable future. I am just trying at this point to not turn my new blisters into open sores.

  11. #7

    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Welcome Dave!
    First thing is to email Rob Meldrum for a copy of his excellent free e-book on mandolin setup. rob.meldrum@gmail.com

    Next, come join the newbies group on this site. We’re all on the same journey you are! Enjoy the ride.

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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Hi and welcome! Check us out in the Newbies social group where we are all working to overcome Newbie problems like what you are facing. And get Rob Meldrums free e-book on mandolin setup. And, and, congrats on finding mandolessons.com. That's where many of us started.
    New to mando? Click this link -->Newbies to join us at the Newbies Social Group.

    Just send an email to rob.meldrum@gmail.com with "mandolin setup" in the subject line and he will email you a copy of his ebook for free (free to all mandolincafe members).

    My website and blog: honketyhank.com

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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Hey NDO! You type a lot faster than I do!
    New to mando? Click this link -->Newbies to join us at the Newbies Social Group.

    Just send an email to rob.meldrum@gmail.com with "mandolin setup" in the subject line and he will email you a copy of his ebook for free (free to all mandolincafe members).

    My website and blog: honketyhank.com

  16. #10
    Registered User TonyEarth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Quote Originally Posted by LRDave View Post
    Thank you Sheila Lagrand for the welcome. I have the time to maintain my blisters for the foreseeable future. I am just trying at this point to not turn my new blisters into open sores.
    Make sure not to push it! Give your fingers time to heal. It's more important long-term to have healthy fingers than to do something that might exacerbate the issue. To that point, I'd say consistency is much more important than quantity. Even just a little bit of consistent practice every day can go a long way, and give your fingers time to build familiarity and calluses as well as have time to heal.

    That said, I absolutely know the excitement of learning a new instrument and I've far too often not followed the advice above myself, and especially when starting out it can be hard to gauge what's normal as your fingers get used to it. Just take care of yourself within reason. Welcome, and have fun with it! And it's absolutely not a fool's errand - more people should be brave enough to pursue their passions or explore new ones at any point in their life, even though it might take some work. ...It always does, but there is so much to learn and gain along the way. Including a great community!
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  18. #11
    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    A. 63 isn't so terribly awfully old: you can do this. You're not the first to start in their sixties.

    B. Blisters are bad. You sound like you had big fun getting them, but now you need to lay off for a few days to let them heal. After that, take some breaks. Play for half an hour, go do something else for a while, then come back to it for another half hour.

    C. Check the setup as suggested above by NDO and Honkety. Maybe try a set of lighter strings while you build calluses and hand strength.

    D. It's not a fool's errand, not at all.

    E. If correct hand position and staying relaxed were simple and natural there wouldn't be so much advice and discussion about it. You are smart to be paying attention to this on your first day.

    F. Picks are cheap, cheerful, colorful, and easily available. Strings By Mail carries tons of different sizes, shapes, thicknesses, and materials, and they sell them singly. So does Banjo Ben's. If you can't get them locally, order a few and have them mailed in. When you have an idea as to what you like order a few more. Keep the rejects, as you may like them a lot six months from now. Try celluloid, ultex, Dunlop Primetone. Try a variety of thicknesses between about .75 and 1.5, triangles and standard shapes.

    G. Have fun!

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  20. #12
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Many of us here, including me, started mandolin in our sixties. Don't be in too much of a hurry. As they say, it takes ten years to sound like you've been playing for ten years (and in my case perhaps it'll take longer).
    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.

  21. #13

    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Quote Originally Posted by NDO View Post
    Welcome Dave!
    First thing is to email Rob Meldrum for a copy of his excellent free e-book on mandolin setup. rob.meldrum@gmail.com

    Next, come join the newbies group on this site. We’re all on the same journey you are! Enjoy the ride.
    I have done both this AM. Thanks for the heads up!

    I should've checked for a newbie's group first before posting this and the mods may want to move this post there.

  22. #14
    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    Many of us here, including me, started mandolin in our sixties. Don't be in too much of a hurry. As they say, it takes ten years to sound like you've been playing for ten years (and in my case perhaps it'll take longer).
    Howdie, LRDave! I'm another newbie who started in my sixties (going on a year and a half now). What Ranald says strikes a chord with me. It's super easy to feel impatient to "be better", more important (IMHO) to have fun. There's no benefit to giving yourself a grade, just keep on pickin and having fun. Sounds to me like you're doing fine! And after you get your setup done, well, I was personally amazed at the difference it made!

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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Lighter strings right away, at least until you get a good setup. If you have a capo put it on the first or second fret and tune the mandolin to standard, that will lessen the tension and should allow easier playing until you get a setup. When not playing and trying to build calluses I will press my thumb nail into the area of my finger where I want the calluses, that will be easier on your fingers and still be applying pressure. Most of all have fun, that's what it's all about.
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    I started at age 56 as a 1st instrument and I am about 10 years in. For me a couple of years of face to face lessons, followed by group jamming has made learning and playing a lot of fun. Enjoy.

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  28. #17

    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Welcome LRDave and congrats on your first musical adventure! You're in the right place. I would echo Pittsburg Bill's recommendation of getting a professional setup even though it seems like a lot of money. With mandolins, you've got doubled pairs of strings strung up to a high tension. High nut slots (which most budget mandolins ship with to avoid buzzes) will shred your fretting fingers in no time. I've been building and teching mandolins for a long time and many players, when playing a properly set up instrument for the first time are shocked at how little effort it takes to play one. Money well spent.

    As far as picks go, the Dunlop Primetone 1.4 or 1.5 large triangle picks are a favorite around here. Good solid sound and they last forever. Again, welcome to the forum, lots of great folks here!

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  30. #18

    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Otherwise known as "your last day with a savings account".

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    Registered User urobouros's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    Otherwise known as "your last day with a savings account".
    Welcome to the rabbit hole! Check your wallet at the door

    As far as practice, I'm a firm believer there's no such thing as too much. Just like a toddler banging his head, you'll stop long before there's any actual damage
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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Ditto to all suggestions. I, too, started in my 60s and now am 6 years in. I hope you'll pay special attention to Louise's "B." I remember those early days how I would play through the pain of tender fingers. Thankfully, I realized I was becoming discouraged because something that was supposed to be fun wasn't. Lots of interesting threads in the Forum. Check them out as you're taking breaks. You can also do a search of topics in which you're particularly interested. For example, if you want to learn about pick direction, google "pick direction Mandolin Café."

    I look forward to "seeing" you in the Newbies social group.

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  36. #21
    🎶 Play Pretty 🎶 Greg Connor's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Welcome to the party LRDave. There has been a lot of good advice mentioned above. In my opinion, setting up your mandolin is the most important. It will help you accomplish everything else more easily.


    Greg

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  38. #22

    Default Re: Newb's first day

    You should not be getting blisters. It should not be painful. As others have said have the mandolin set up checked.

    The other is to understand how hard to press. Most people press too hard. Pressing harder than the minimum necessary to get a good sound has a number of effects. All them are bad and none are good. Pushing harder than necessary hurts your fingers, wears joints, wears out the frets, wears the fingerboard and strings, pulls the strings out of tune, hurts tone, slows you down and slightly bends the string pulling it out of tune. Often people press harder to make up for poor finger placement. They should be just behind the fret(toward the nut), not on top of the fretbar and not halfway between them.

    To tell how hard to press just touch the string lightly so it damps it just making a muted click when you pick the string. Pick back and forth making clicks and press slightly harder. Gradually increase the pressure till you get a clear sound with no rattles or buzzes. That is all the harder you have to press. Try it on several string pairs at several fret positions. That will give you a gauge how hard to press. It is probably a lot lighter than you have been pressing.

    You can also reverse the exercise, pressing as you normally do then gradually letting up till it starts to buzz. Your proper pressure then is the last clear tone.

    I feel all beginners should be taught this exercise. It would save them a lot of physical pain and effort and prevent bad habits from being ingrained. Playing an instrument should never physically hurt.

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  40. #23

    Default Re: Newb's first day

    I’m barely in a position to give mandolin advice, having owned/played an octave mandolin for one week and a regular mandolin never. What CarlM just said fits neatly with what I was taught by a classical guitar teacher decades ago. Pressing too hard when fretting a note or chord will hold you back. An important part of your practice should be finger placement just behind the fret in combination with minimum pressure. There’s a maxim I like: “Practice slowly to play fast.” By practicing slowly you have time to see and feel good finger placement, to become aware when you’re pressing too hard and to move smoothly from one note or chord to the next. If you can’t play slowly with good technique your odds of successfully playing at tempo (i.e. at a normal speed for the song) diminish. IOW if you can’t play it slow, you sure can’t play it fast. Take your time and enjoy the leisurely art of your new instrument! Take it easy and you’ll hear improvement surprisingly fast.

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Newb's first day

    Welcome to the mandolin and the cafe!
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