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Thread: How do you get better at the mandolin?

  1. #1

    Default How do you get better at the mandolin?

    I know there are mandolin players with less than a year to over 30yrs of experience in this forum. When I played guitar I learned quick..I peaked...then just fizzled and stayed about an early intermediate skill level. I enjoy the mandolin so much more than guitar and I still have a lot of passion for this instrument. It seems to be on my mind probably more than it should be.

    I don't want to fizzle or plateau on the mandolin. Many people get their panties in a wad if you say I practice the mandolin...they say "I play" the mandolin. In any even, how do you guys continue to grow as mandolin players. Are there things you decided to spend a little more time trying to learn, or are you just constantly just going for it on the fly. Being self taught its easy to not know exactly what to practice/play to make myself a better player. Right now I am trying to add singing to my playing and trying to "fake" breaks. But I would truly like to know how you guys increase your skills so you don't plateau for years at a time.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    I'm self-taught so far, just over a year. IMO, if you can read music a bit and have a decent ear, and have already been playing tunes, then it's time for those "boring" technique drills.

    I started by just picking out a melody, now I'm going back to first principles. I have just started on the drills in the beginning of Mike Marshall's DVDs and it's already paying off. I'm just doing the stuff in the first 20 minutes of DVD 1, drills I would have started right off the bat if I had had a teacher. It's hard to recommend anything specific without knowing you and your playing style.

    Would you feel comfortable posting a clip of you playing and asking for constructive feedback? Takes a thick skin, but could be very useful.

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  5. #3
    Mark Evans mandozilla's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Hog, listen, listen, listen, practice, practice, practice, play, play, play, jam with others, jam with others, jam with others, take some lessons, take some lessons, take some lessons, this and as long as you're loving it you'll keep progressing...IMHO.

    There's no secret magic just a lot of hard work.


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  7. #4

    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    I think I'm pretty good at listening and know when to change chords even on songs I've never played. I play as much as I can, and with people when I can. Now the practicing..not really sure what to practice...mandolin...is a huge subject. I guess that means mandolin drills? I love the hard work...I love finger tongue twisters...I'm very stubborn so I stick with it until I get it or it can pass as done right.

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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    I don't know if it's an option, or something you already do, but playing regularly with other people has been the single biggest motivator/inspiration for me. I'm lucky enough to play weekly with guys who are far better musicians than me and who were very gracious when I was learning the basics. Hearing them interact and play off one another, and do fills and leads, etc., have put riffs and melodies in my head that, after a lot of noodling, experimentation and practice, are finally starting to come out of the mando. Just listen enough times to someome walking one chord to another through sevenths and passing tones, and suddenly the realization hits; Ah! that's what their doing! Anyhoo, that's how it's been for me. Sounds like you have enough enthusiasm that I wouldn't worry about plateauing yet. Just enjoy!
    Mitch Russell

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    Registered User jim_n_virginia's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by cedarhog View Post
    But I would truly like to know how you guys increase your skills so you don't plateau for years at a time.
    The skills increase when you "work" at it.

    Musicians plateau on an instrument when they lose there passion for it or they get so busy with life, work etc. that music gets put on a back burner.

    It just depends on how bad you want it.

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  12. #7

    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    It's funny, but players at all levels struggle with this. I don't believe that the majority of us are destined to be 'stellar' musicians. I can play a guitar, a mandolin, a dobro, all with some degree of proficiency. I've reached plateaus on all of them. The one thing that I can say has advanced my playing beyond a plateau, or two (they recurr) is listening to lots of different music and players. Trying out different instruments is a neat way to discover things. (If you're not that adventurous, get a ukelele. It'll make you look at things differently)

    I'm not a great flatpicker on guitar, but I'm better than I was because of my mandolin playing. I think differently about taking breaks because of my dobro playing. It all interlocks. Just keep playing and listening, you'll have some rewarding moments where you realize, "I'm actually improving"!

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    once upon a time, drmole Joel Spaulding's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    I think (lookout!) we as players often get to a level where we reach a comfort zone and tend to not reach outside that zone unless pushed; either by ourselves or other musicians. Learn a few chords, scales, be able to chop or strum with I-IV-V. Those basic skills allow us to have fun and play a good number of tunes/songs at least at a rudimentary or "good enough" level. Because of the fun, this is an easy place to stay.

    I speak from personal experience During my first year of "serious" practice I would practice tunes that I "knew", using techniques/fingerings etc that I "knew". Maybe techniques I could fake from minimal guitar playing or just taking the intuitive route. I don't forsee me ever being a Mandolin Monster (as mentioned in a recent thread) - or making my sole living from playing the Mandolin but I want to play what I hear between my ears.(Which is always so much hipper, cleaner and better than what comes out of my hands) So,year two of Mandolin, I started practicing VERY uncomfortable positions, fingerings, exercises; went back to the metronome set at 60 and played quarter notes for 5-10 minutes daily focusing on tone and technique. Then after reading many a thread on the Cafe, tried to (still trying!) strike a balance between "comfortable" and "uncomfortable" tunes, techniques and songs. I am still no good - but I am better, and that was the question, right?

    Playing with others is the often lauded yet often underappreciated technique that can really push one to improve. That d*mn ego doesn't like to flop at a jam or when on stage . I haven't played the Mando very much with others- partly because of the aforementioned ego. I, and my ego are pretty much over that now. Not because i play better - but realizing I NEED to suck it up, play, fail, improve and learn from those of you that were seemingly born with an F5 in your hands - if I ever really want to be better.

    There is a true mountain of learning materials out there to climb. Try a variety of methods, books, genres, videos - whatever it takes. I have books and CDs by Roland White, Steve Kaufman,Sam Bush DVD, Getting into Jazz Mandolin by our own Ted Eschliman,(fantastic book& CD- still being underutilized by me) A subscription to Mandolin Magazine (great resource) and probably 10 lbs of printouts from various websites- especially Jazzmando.com and the Cafe. I am also applying my old piano regimen, playing Hanon exercises on the Mandolin - some interesting stretches, fingerings and patterns that might not be present in a lot of everyday Mandolin music.

    Niles Hokanen posts frequently regarding the wiring between our brains and hands, making the connections that don't exist and strengthening those that already exist.(The entire collection of Mandocrucian Digest is on my Christmas list !)He suggests to not limit yourself in any way (paraphrasing, apologies to Niles!!) and to basically play every way possible - then try the improbable - then try what others say is impossible. In that spirit, this week I revisited Soldier's Joy, RHB, St. Anne's Reel and a few scales and exercises using only upstrokes. A humbling experience! Enough of my drivel - I will let the real Mandolinists and pedagogists speak.

    Good luck!

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    Registered User 300win's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Play with high caliber musicians. I've always found this to be one of the best learning situations. I too am self taught, by listening over the years to various pickers. One of the things I do is if I think up a riff in my head, then I'll work on it until I find it no matter if it's mandolin, guitar, or banjo. As you get more experience you will find things come faster, and also don't worry how the other guy plays, find your own style. I play Bluegrass music, but have tried finding other kinds of music to incorporate in my picking, blues, acoustic rock,celtic, anything I think sounds good. Another thing is always have a open mind, no matter how good you get, you can still learn I'm 54 been playing for 44 years, not as fast as I used to be, but understand music far beyond what I knew when I was in my 20's, and although I don't have the speed anymore, I pick up on things faster than I used to. Play as much as you can.

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    Registered User Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Well I tell you I have had the same problem, but playing with others has always motivated me to get better and at least helped with increasing my tune list. I've also been fortunate enough here in Wichita to find a good teacher that is helping me with moving past my level that I'm at. He helps me keep focused on those things that will make me a better player.
    martin keimig
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  18. #11

    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    When you stop striving for excellence, stop trying to improve...stop really trying, then you'll stagnate. That's different than hitting a plateau. A suggestion already mentioned...listen to all kinds of music from all genres. When you hear a technique or fingering or sound that you like, work until you can do it well. Constantly seek out more and more and more difficult songs. Strive to get to the point that anyone can open a piece of any kind of music in front of you and you can play it nearly without errors on the first pass. If you achieve any/all the above suggestions on this thread, you'll keep yourself improving for a couple a' decades.

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    Registered User fredfrank's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Playing with others and taking lessons have been mentioned here, but there is a combination of the two which I think can be inspirational and very instructional. Try to attend a bluegrass mandolin camp or multi-day workshop on a regular basis. Being in a group of like-minded individuals can get you excited and moving in the right direction. Not to mention the more than likely famous instructors in residence. There's nothing like being able to see up close and personal how the big guys do it.

  21. #13
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Practive things you're not good at.
    Having something to say is highly over rated.

    The entire staff
    funny....

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  23. #14

    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Sure would be nice to have other musicians in the area...I'd play with them everyday if they wanted too. I have put adds in the paper trying to flush them out, but a town of 500 I guess doesn't hold too many player. I still think there has to be a closet picker local that just doesn't get the paper.

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    Mark Evans mandozilla's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Hog! Start a 'Social Group' here on the Cafe for mandolin/bluegrass pickers in your state, area, or region...that might do the trick.


  26. #16
    Registered User jim_n_virginia's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by cedarhog View Post
    Sure would be nice to have other musicians in the area...I'd play with them everyday if they wanted too. I have put adds in the paper trying to flush them out, but a town of 500 I guess doesn't hold too many player. I still think there has to be a closet picker local that just doesn't get the paper.
    I am pretty lucky. There are 4 or 5 mandolin players in my area that we all met through the Cafe and now we play together with others non mandolin players regularly.

    At Bucket's jam at Elliott's it was so heavy with mandolin players one time I counted 9 mandolin players there at one time!! LOL!

    Keep looking you'll find some jamming partners. Start a social group on the Cafe and also put an ad in Craigslist I have met some great pickers through there that are now very good friends of mine!

  27. #17
    Registered User Perry's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    I apologize if this has been mentioned up above....
    A great method (if not the best method) to get better is to play with musicians who are better then you.

    And keep listening to music (especially not just mando music) that inspires you.


  28. #18
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    To quote the good Doctor "practice like the devil" (Doc Watson).

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    Registered User Gerry Hastie's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    1. Try not to noodle apart from to warm up.
    2. Play everything as properly as you can verbatim as from the source you learn it from.
    3. Try not to play fast until you can play well.
    4. Find a good tone and build from there - that way you'll get your own sound.
    5. Play with others as often as you can.
    6. Dare to make mistakes and get through it.
    7. Listen to other mandolinists.
    8. Don't spend too much time on the cafe, great though it undoubtedly is!

    Add your own 9, 10, 11......

    These are principles that I have taken time to learn and hope to aspire to at least most of the time!
    GerryHastie

    "There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
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  31. #20
    Kelley Mandolins Skip Kelley's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Cedarhog, I have heard it said by Dan Crary that one can learn a little bit quickly on the guitar but, to get really good takes quite a while. I think the mandolin is the same. Spend a lot of time getting to know your mandolin. Learn where all the notes are on the fretboard. Try to learn as many new songs that you like. Practice with a metronome, record you playing and then listen to what you need to work on. try to pick with others that can push you to the next level. Listen to alot of music when you aren't playing and hear what is going on. Above all enjoy where you are musically even if you aren't where you want to be.

  32. #21
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Have you looked into FFcP?
    Having something to say is highly over rated.

    The entire staff
    funny....

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  34. #22
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Reading Skip Kelly's post about Dan Crary, I heard an interview with him awhile back. He was asked how is it he's so darned good! He said the greatest trick he has learned to vastly improve his playing was to practise in the mornings! Seems to make sense to me, I am a carpenter by trade and by the end of the day my hands are usually pretty beat up and swollen. I try and practise in the mornings now, I am definitely looser. When i'm sounding better, feeling looser, I tend to want to play more, the "stuck" meter gets put aside.

  35. #23
    Mark Evans mandozilla's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    8. Don't spend too much time on the cafe, great though it undoubtedly is!
    AHHHH! BLASPHEMY! But really, I'm usually only on the Cafe when I can't pick my mandolin...like at work...at 0200 in the morning.

    Hog, bottom line is you get out of it what you put into it...there's no easy way around that and there's no substitiue for pickin' with others.


  36. #24
    Mike Cable Hytest Mando's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    Hog I know it's tough trying to find others to play with. I have not been playing long myself and have heard from friends that have gone to local bluegrass jams that if the people don't know you that they will just turn their back on you and shut you out. That type of rejection is hard for a beginner to take. Everyone was a beginner at sometime in their lives. I am going to try to set in on a few jams this weekend at a festival in Towsend, TN.

  37. #25
    Mando Hack ChrisStewart's Avatar
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    Default Re: How do you get better at the mandolin?

    I find playing in a band works best for me. It gives us a reason to get together and practice every week. Even though my progress is very slow I believe I continue to progress.

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