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Thread: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

  1. #1

    Question New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    A bit of background first:
    Reaching out on a familiar topic for some insight from other Cafe folks. I got some advice nearly 3 years#ago, when I got some great input on upgrading to my first 'decent' mandolin (an Eastman MD505, if you're interested!).#

    I've definitely got a little better over time since, but towards the end of last year, I found a teacher who's perfect for me which has really inspired me (if you're in the south of the UK, highly recommended - Alistair Mackenzie, based near Brighton).# So, I'm suddenly learning more songs, and fretting more complex chords, and breaking the metronome out on a regular basis!#

    The guidance sought
    I'm mainly interested in the folkie / Celtic world, but in addition to learning songs and extending my little repertoire, I'd like to be a little structured#in my practice, so have Don Julin's Mandolin for Dummies to hand (as well as a few others like a lot of the Simon Mayer books).#

    I'd like to use the MfD to frame my practice, but as this is a hobby, I don't seem to be able to work through the book - I keep just going at the first couple of chapters, and am not sure how I'll ever get through it!

    Anyone got any tips for a hobbyist to get a good routine for (nearly) daily technical practice, and how to actually get through all of the info Don Julin's ideas and techniques?

    Many thanks
    Old Wave A5, Eastman MD505

  2. #2

    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    Sounds like you have some good things working for you
    1. You have a teacher
    2. You have an interest/direction (folkie/Celtic)

    Both of which give you a solid starting point. You should ask your teacher what he thinks is most important to work on. He knows you best and can help guide you better than anyone else.

    I think first and foremost you need to think about how to use your book. Broadly speaking there are two types of instruction books for learning music, method books and reference books. Method books are a structured progression to get to a goal while reference books are packed with information. Mandolin for Dummies is a reference book--think of it like a dictionary. You don't sit down and read the dictionary cover to cover, but it's really handy when you need to look up a word. You should think of Mandolin for Dummies the same way. Start looking for parts of the book that interest you and work on those. Also think very small, like a single page at a time. Any more and you just can't make progress as you mentioned.

    A practice routine is all about consistency. Nearly daily practice is awesome. You will gain more from 10 minutes a day than an hour once or twice a week. Also be reasonable too. If you have 10 minutes a day, don't try to shoehorn 30 minutes of work into that. This is what you might refer to as focus, but I find most students equate focus with intensity and that just leads to tension.

    Technique should help serve the music. It is easy and tempting to think you need to practice every technique before starting on repertoire. Rather let your repertoire guide your technical studies, e.g. if you are working on jigs, practice triplets.

    Here's an example that I like to use for technique and have it be no more than 1/3 of your practice time:

    Tune/Warmup - Once my instrument is in tune I'll play some rhythmic patterns on single open strings, then adjacent strings, then skipping strings.
    Scales- Start with the scales you'll be likely to use like C, G, D, A, or E. Use the tunes you are working on to guide you here. It is really, really helpful to say the note names aloud before striking the notes. You're in the practice room no one needs to see what you do or how slow you do it.
    Arpeggios- Play chords one note at a time up and down. Again look to your songs for chord suggestions. If you don't know the notes in the chord, look them up or ask. You're trying to internalize this information.


    Practice routines are never finished; they're always being revised. Just start and you'll develop an idea of what you need to work on as you go. It is helpful to take a minute or two at the end of your practice session to write down what you did and how you think it's going. Every so often check to see if you feel like you are making progress where you want to be making progress. This check-in is also the best time to dip back into Mandolin for Dummies and maybe try something new.

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  4. #3
    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    I did 4 videos on Practice Tips you can see here:

    https://www.petemartin.info/practice-tips.html
    -----------
    Pete Martin
    www.PeteMartin.info
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    Jazz, bluegrass, improvisation, ergonomics
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    Pete Martin Plays Wes Montgomery free download

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  6. #4

    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    The great guitarist David Grier gave the best advice I ever heard about what to focus on to structure your practice.

    He said "What do you suck at? That is what you should work on."

    It really focuses you on improving your weak points and adjusts your focus as you progress.

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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    Quote Originally Posted by danjec View Post
    I'm mainly interested in the folkie / Celtic world, but in addition to learning songs and extending my little repertoire, I'd like to be a little structured#in my practice, so have Don Julin's Mandolin for Dummies to hand (as well as a few others like a lot of the Simon Mayer books).#

    I'd like to use the MfD to frame my practice, but as this is a hobby, I don't seem to be able to work through the book - I keep just going at the first couple of chapters, and am not sure how I'll ever get through it!

    Anyone got any tips for a hobbyist to get a good routine for (nearly) daily technical practice, and how to actually get through all of the info Don Julin's ideas and techniques?

    Many thanks
    Divide the chapters or pages into weeks or months and only look at that chapter for that week.
    And agreed with CarlM, take some small troublesome issue, a weak technique maybe, and iron it out.
    Be sure to notice the small step you have achieved. Try tunes that you wouldn’t normally play, especially foreign ones where the finger flow and rhythm are unfamiliar.

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  10. #6

    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    Thanks for the steers - I have realised and will edit my original post to reflect that it's Mandolin Exercises for Dummies (MEfD!) I've got, not MfD. Onswah, your tip to use it like a dictionary was a great help! I've actually skipped to the end for the first time since I bought it

    Being a relative beginner, there's so much to suck at it can be hard to choose where to focus! That said, I'm going to try and focus on right hand metronome exercises as well as boning up on scales. I think I'm going to set myself a minimum 15 mins x 5 times a week target for 'practice' (rather than playing) to start with. And certainly, just playing more over the last couple of months, I can already detect improvements - who'd have thought it?
    Old Wave A5, Eastman MD505

  11. #7
    Registered User Matt Hutchinson's Avatar
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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    There's a great book on how to practice called The Laws of Brainjo. It's based on the science of how our brains learn, but it's also super readable (and doesn't just apply to banjo).

    If you want to get a flavour of it without buying the book first, there's an interview I did with the author Josh Turknett here. He's a fascinating guy and there's plenty to learn. I originally found the book after Bryan Sutton mentioned it (and also that he'd bought a copy for Sierra Hull because he loved it so much).

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  13. #8
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    Danjec there is a newbies group here (see the link in my signature), you should consider joining in there. I’m not very active over there these days, but it’s a great group of encouraging folks over there. HonketyHank is a big proponent of Josh Turknett’s material as well.
    WWW.MARKGUNTER.NET
    ----------------------------------
    "Life is short. Play hard." - AlanN

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    HEY! The Cafe has Social Groups, check 'em out. I'm in these groups:
    Newbies Social Group | The Song-A-Week Social
    The Woodshed Study Group | Blues Mando
    - Advice For Mandolin Beginners
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    So I have three things that may be of some interest.

    One is to keep your practice do-able. Lots of folks can offer practice routines and practice content, and it is all good, but practicing is one of those areas where perfect is the enemy of good. A perfect practice routine that covers everything but I can never get motivated to do is worse than something half as effective but you do every day and look forward to it.

    Regular practice is very powerful, almost magic. If you a simple routine to just be playing or noodling or working on a tune or working on exercises, something - every day. That by itself, compared to not getting behind the mandolin every day, will yield great results. Do something every darn day, that is the hard part.

    A second thing is regular playing with other people, jams, and open mics, and the like. This whole aspect of music is all messed up because of COVID, so I won't go into it. But what ever you can do regularly with others will put gasoline on the fire of your desire.

    Third: as to setting goals. I wrestled with it for a while, and as I am prone to overthink, I came up with this:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/e...y-Perspiration
    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

    The entire staff
    funny....

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  17. #10
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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    Some good advice above. While I typically stink at developing and sticking to practice routines (life gets in the way, sometimes Iím brain dead after a long day of work and really donít want to concentrate/think anymore, and I just want to PLAY, lolÖlots of opportunity for improvement there) Iíve been working through Mike Marshallís Artist Works (new to me earlier this month) and thatís helping me. I do lessons (variable number depending on the length) for 15-20 minutes at least (though much longer if itís new tunes), and then Iíll play songs I know or am working on otherwise. So, ask your teacher for some advice. They can probably focus your sessions considerably. Iíve also been using this time to do my own little ďpick challengeĒ of sorts, pulling out 2 or 3 different ones to play with, noting their tonal/feel/pick click differences. Itís been fun (but I havenít found one to replace my Bluechips yet).

    Also, yes, even though youíre a beginner, play with others (as safely as possible, of course). It always ignites me. Itís just plain fun, and I always come away from it realizing something I need to focus on in practice. I have a ďfriend bubbleĒ friend learning bass, and even just pounding out some 3 or 4 chord country or rock songs with him gets me going.

    Lastly, itís good that you recognize thereís room for improvement. Keep at it, and youíll see real gains!

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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    Here's some recent threads, you could do all kinds of stuff. Record yourself, commit to playing out/jam with someboyd, busk etc. I've been learning lap steel in tunings for which there are no books (there's handwritten tab that's very hard to read), the advice was to make some chord noise, make some single note line noise, and make the noise come together.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ales-some-more

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...actice-queries
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  21. #12

    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    Pick 10 tunes that you really like, learn them by heart, and work on them every day until you can perform them exactly how you want them to sound. That is really all there is to it. It's a lot harder than it sounds though.

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  23. #13

    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    Just a little interim update to say thanks for all the thoughts and tips. Happy to say have started jamming regularly with a friend (who's on guitar), and we're trying to rustle up a few songs. Doing a quick and dirty recording has been instructive (and sobering!), but even from last session to the latest, it's possible to hear some progress.

    I've also been dipping into the MEfD, and trying some scale routines in new positions (for me) - even starting to get a baby callus on my little finger

    Now, just got to keep doing it, and trying not to be impatient that I'm not in Chris Thile's league yet

    (and if anyone had tab/tips for the mando part in John Martyn's 'Over The Hill', I'd be forever in your debt... I'm going to try and crib from:

    think it will take me a little while to master...)
    Old Wave A5, Eastman MD505

  24. #14
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    I think a lot of it depends on your level of motivation. It's really good to find your top 10 songs that you want to play and sing, but as a beginner it's much, much easier to go through all of the songs at already have mandolin in them. Then it's just a question of looking up YouTube lessons. The other thing is that your friend who plays the guitar will probably, maybe, have a different top 10 list. Another way to do it, with practising at least, is to learn the melodies of songs. These are often very simple and reasonably easy to learn, remembering key, but when you play with your friend it's probably better to play the harmony on the mandolin if you're Play mandolin at the same time as singing.

    For a beginner, if you have the motivation, it would be much better to learn 10 or more fiddle tunes off my heart, along with the scales for each key. Not more than three keys total. Then learn the double stops for those keys.
    Good luck!

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    Lets distinguish between three types of motivated:

    Minimally motivated - isn't going to to do it anyway

    Moderately motivated - works well with a plan

    Maximally motivated - is not spending time making detailed plans, too busy practicing.
    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

    The entire staff
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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    I’m all for a bit of structure. If you have a goal, you need a plan to get there.

    Warmup
    New technique or knowledge, ie, new scales/arpeggios, doublestops, tremolo, improvising, etc
    New repetoire
    Old repetoire

    10-30-30-30
    25-25-25-25
    Any other split of your practice time
    Not all the clams are at the beach

    Arrow Jazzbo
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    Clark 2 point
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    00-21 (voiced by Eldon Stutzman)

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  30. #17
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    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    This sounds obvious Danjec, but the most important thing in practising, which I've been battling all my life, is DO IT! It's very easy to get waylaid by the instrument (any instrument - YouTube vids, electric, acoustic, strings, tools, Forums like this, and thinking too much about it. I've done all of that. You've got a teacher and a mandolin, that's most of what you need. Years ago I bought a cello and practised 90 minutes 5 times a week for about a year. I got better quicker than I ever have, because I put the time in. Going to sessions once they start again is great too - I believe there are some fine musicians in the Brighton area, if that's where you are.

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  32. #18

    Default Re: New year goals - advice for getting better at practice

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Third: as to setting goals. I wrestled with it for a while, and as I am prone to overthink, I came up with this:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/e...y-Perspiration
    Thanks for overthinking this subject JeffD. I have been long struggling with my motivation for even setting goals and I think you have hit the nail on the head, "so people will want to play with me". Since turning 70 a few months ago and the advent of the global pandemic, opportunities to play with others and/or my motivation to join those few chances to play, have left me asking myself why am I doing this? I think you brought the reason why back into focus . Thanks again Jeff!!

    Len B.
    Clearwater, FL

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