From Mandolin Cafe

Don Julin Mandolin Exercises For Dummies Interview
By Ted Eschliman
April 17, 2014 - 12:15 pm

Mandolin Exercises For Dummies by Don Julin - from Wiley Publishing

Mandolin Exercises For Dummies by Don Julin - from Wiley Publishing

When word leaked in late 2013 that Wiley Publishing would announce the publication of Mandolin Exercises For Dummies it was an acknowledgement of the overwhelming success of Don Julin's Mandolin For Dummies.

It came as no surprise to us as the consistent feedback on Don's initial book has been truly outstanding, so of course we were anxious to get a sneak peek at Exercises in advance of its late April targeted publication.

As with a previous interview with Don we asked's Ted Eschliman to help us get the scoop. The author of the popular book Getting Into Jazz Mandolin, Ted was the right man for the job, knew him personally, and had the right background to help us tell Don's story.

Of course we've already read the interview and are really looking forward to the release date which is within sight. It's available for pre-ordering today so what are you waiting for?

 — Scott Tichenor
     Mandolin Cafe

Mandolin Exercises For Dummies

Ted Eschliman: That you were commissioned to write a follow up to Mandolin for Dummies is pretty much a no-brainer conclusion that the first book was a such a success. In your correspondence with Wiley & Sons, what were there requests for follow up material? We're you given a wider berth this time?

Don Julin: First I would like to thank everyone that has made Mandolin For Dummies the international success that it is. Scott and the crew at The Mandolin Cafe were instrumental in letting the on-line mandolin world know about it, my editors at Wiley in the UK are all serious professionals and really know how to produce great reference manuals. A big thanks to the top tier mandolin professionals that I used as advisers including Mike Compton, Don Stiernberg, Marla Fibish, Rich DelGrosso, Tim Connell, Chris Aquavella, and even the Dawg (David Grisman) himself. And of course a huge thank you to everyone that purchased a copy, making Mandolin For Dummies the #1 rated mandolin instructional book on and UK. Thank you all so much.

Wiley & Sons has a successful format that they like to stick to. The way I understand it, is when a musical "Dummies" book proves to be a good seller, they follow it up with a more advanced or more specialized book for that instrument. Mandolin For Dummies had been out for about six months when they offered me an option on authoring Mandolin Exercises For Dummies. They sent over a few Exercises For Dummies books for other instruments so I could see how other authors handled this. Wiley's primary requirements were things like total page count, and that I work with one of Wiley's editors developing a chapter layout following basic "Dummies" guidelines. They left the content up to me.

Ted Eschliman: As mentioned in the last interview the scope of the Dummies series is international. Were you given any feedback in global demographics (geography, age, or culture) through your website, workshops, or personal travel that helped formulate what content to tackle as follow up material. Did the publisher have specific requests?

Don Julin: This book will also be distributed internationally, but due to the content I did not feel that I had to always be aware that some of the readers might not be Americans. An arpeggio is still an arpeggio and a scale is still a scale, regardless of where in the world you are located. In Mandolin For Dummies nearly half of the book deals with purchase, care, different mandolin models, prices, accessories, minor set up issues etc. These topics needed to be presented in an international way because they can be quite different from one country to another.

Don Julin

Don Julin
Photo credit: Scott Tichenor, at 2014 Folk Alliance Conference, Kansas City, Missouri.

Ted Eschliman: The first book seems to have scratched an itch, a "go-to" resource for anyone curious to go deeper into the mandolin. Have there been any surprises for you in reader feedback, topics and subjects more intensely probed than you anticipated? What intrigues you most in post-purchase follow up correspondence with your readers?

Don Julin: I must say that it a bit surreal getting emails from mandolin players around the world telling me how much they like the book. Many people have commented about the chapter on three string "Jethro" style chords. The first mandolin book I ever purchased as a budding mandolin player was Mel Bay Presents: Jethro Burns - Mandolin Player. This was my introduction to this type of chording. I remember going to my first few jam sessions having other mandolin players give me funny looks when I played these three-string chords. This is simply the first way I learned to chord on the mandolin and feel that it has advantages in certain situations and should be more common. This is not to say that the bluegrass chop chord or two-finger open chords are not legitimate because they certainly are.

Mandolin For Dummies was one of the first "Dummies" books that used downloadable audio tracks instead of including a CD. This left some readers thinking that there was no audio for this book. Nothing could further from the truth. In fact I can't imagine trying to work through this book without the audio tracks. So if you own Mandolin For Dummies and have still not downloaded the 91 audio tracks, go to and download the rest of your book. Each track features the melody panned all the way to the right speaker and the appropriate strumming or rhythm pattern panned all the way to the left speaker, so you can easily isolate each part.

Ted Eschliman: You mentioned in your earlier interview the goal of consistency with other "Dummies" book topics, but as mentioned, going deeper had to free you up to tackle more specifics of advanced mandolin playing. How did your role of workshop clinician and private teacher direct your choice of material?

Don Julin: I am a big advocate of the hand-on learning method. In my workshops, all of the students in attendance actually play their mandolins. Some workshops presenters take more of a lecture type of approach, but I see many advantages of making the workshops hands-on. A mandolin exercise book seems like a logical extension of the hands-on approach. Let's face it, simply reading an exercise book or going to a lecture about exercising is not likely to get the results you are hoping for.

Don Julin: In designing an exercise book for mandolin, my goal was to include or create exercises that include mandolin specific skills and general music skills. I tried to keep the exercises relevant to the mandolin player that enjoys a variety of musical styles. I avoided any exercise that required esoteric classical techniques. Each of the exercises for mandolin include elements of each of the following:

Left- and Right-Hand Skills

Right-hand skills include alternating picking, down strokes, tremolo, and basic cross-picking rolls for the right hand. Left-hand skills include using correct fingering along with articulations and ornaments such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides.

Basic Music Theory

This includes learning major and minor scales, arpeggios, common chord progressions.

Applied Knowledge of the Fretboard

This begins by simply learning the names of the notes on each string. I believe that musical notes are like people in that they like it when you remember their names. At the conclusion of many chapters or sections of Mandolin Exercises For Dummies is an exercise to test your knowledge of the fretboard by transposing a lick or scale sequence from the section to a variety of keys. Each of these exercises includes a rhythm section track for you to practice with. These practice tracks are presented in a variety of styles including, country, pop, swing, Latin, reggae, and funk. Some of you jazz players may be old enough to remember the Jamey Aebersold Jazz play-along records. These records would feature a jazz rhythm section playing through a set of chord changes for you to practice with. I spent many hours playing along with my collection of these legendary practice tools.

Ted Eschliman: You address the "calisthenics" of playing early in the book. Such issues as proper instrument and pick position, alternate picking and developing speed, how much of an investment of time do you think a player should commit to in developing these skills?

Don Julin: I am a big believer in the basics. Playing with good timing and tone is the difference between a pretty good player and a great one. Listen to the way Dawg plays a simple melody. You can tell it is him within the first few notes because of his signature great tone. His phrasing is also the gold standard. Never rushing or dragging, he is able to place the notes in a way that they just feel right. Even though we are all tempted from time to time to learn some flashy licks, I think that most students would be better off being able to play a tune with good tone volume and timing.

Table of Contents

Ted Eschliman: One of my favorite words in mandolin pedagogy is the word "movable" and I see it in dozens of pages. Even though the old joke about "no money to be found past the 7th fret," what are your thoughts on facility up the neck and how to get there?

Don Julin: Well Ted, your book Getting Into Jazz Mandolin has probably done more to bring awareness to the concept of moveable scale patterns than any other single piece of mandolin education material in print. FFcP has become part of the common mandolin language. Throughout Mandolin Exercises For Dummies scales and arpeggios are presented in four moveable patterns, open or first position, and in a linear method using only one string. My thought is that the moveable shapes in themselves are good but knowing the names of the notes on the fingerboard and the names of the notes that make up certain scales or arpeggios can be a real game changer. By learning all scales and arpeggios in open position, using open strings whenever available, you gain a total understanding of the first seven frets. By practicing scales or arpeggios on one string you not only learn the names of the notes that are included in these scales and arpeggios, but you learn the entire range of the mandolin fingerboard.

The real eye opening part of this method is when the student realizes that the four moveable patterns exist in open position also. For example if you study all 12 major scales in open position, you will see that the two-octave Ab major scale is simply 2 moveable patterns. The lower octave is simply pattern 1 with the higher octave being pattern 4.

Ted Eschliman: Also being a huge fan of 3-note chords, I was happy to see you tackle them. Your approach of "Seeing Less is More" is extensive, nearly 20 pages. Though it has Jethro (Burns) roots, how have you added your own Julin signature introducing them?

Don Julin: Three-string chords have been covered before in Jethro's book and in Mandolin For Dummies. The difference is that these are actual exercises with practice tracks in a variety of rhythm patterns and styles. If you are only interested in Monroe style bluegrass, this chapter may not be your favorite, but if you are like me and just love the mandolin and play music that you like regardless of style or genre, you should find this very useful. The practice tracks for this chapter have you sitting in with a variety of rhythm sections including swing, jazz, Latin, bossa nova, choro, and even funk. Each exercise uses actual rhythm patterns from each genre that you can memorize and add to your arsenal for when you find yourself in a musical situation were the old chop chord just doesn't get it.

Ted Eschliman: Speaking of signature, I like the personality you inject into music theory by using such adjectives as "dark" for minors and "spooky" for diminished and augmented chords. As an educator, how else do you instill the notion that theory (scales, arpeggios, chords, etc.) is as much "drama" as it is math?

Don Julin's Mandolin For Dummies from Wiley Publishing, 2012.

Don Julin's Mandolin For Dummies from Wiley Publishing, 2012.

Don Julin: I am of the belief that music theory is simply a way of attaching a name to a sound. Of course there are countless mathematical formulas to memorize for the serious music theory scholar, but many players without any theory training still play at a very high level. You do not need a degree from a prestigious university to hear that a minor scale sounds darker or less optimistic than a major scale. I believe that using common descriptive words is a way of making complex topics seem accessible to the beginner or intermediate player.

Ted Eschliman: Your introduction has some pages entitled, "Foolish Assumptions." Can you give us a little tease of what these might be about the mandolin?

Don Julin: The "Foolish Assumptions" section is standard in all "Dummies" books. In Mandolin For Dummies I assumed nothing about the reader other than they have an interest in the mandolin. In Mandolin Exercises For Dummies I assume that readers already can play the mandolin some, want to improve, and are interested in a variety of musical genres. I also assume that readers already have a purchased a copy of Mandolin For Dummies as many of the techniques needed to execute the exercises are explained and demonstrated in the first book.

Ted Eschliman: Unlike most other Dummies books, you went to a lot of effort crafting audio for the project. How critical was that for your first book, and have you done anything differently recording for this one?

Don Julin: The biggest challenge for the musical student is to be able to play by ear. I have seen many students try to learn a song from sheet music and have the notes in the correct sequence and yet still not sound like the song. The reason is that they aren't quite sure what it is supposed to sound like.

In the first book, the audio format is what I call a demonstration track. The idea is that you listen to the track while working on the tune so you have a target as far as what you are trying to sound like.

The tracks in "Exercises" are a bit different in that they are designed to be play-along tracks or a "Music Minus One" type of a thing. These audio tracks consist of a rhythm section playing the groove while going through a series of chord or key changes. The first time through the exercise, you hear me playing the mandolin exercise. The second time through, I drop out and leave it up to the reader to step up and play the exercise with a rhythm section.

Ted Eschliman: How has the book's exposure affected you professionally? You were a very busy man before, but has this opened new doors for you as far as clinics, performing, or traveling?

Don Julin: Yes it has. I am consistently surprised with the number of mandolin players that come out to the workshops. As you may know, I have been touring more this last year in the duo "Billy Strings & Don Julin." As part of our tours, I try to line up mandolin workshops along the way, in fact in May I will be hosting workshops in Lawrence, Kansas; Boulder, Colorado; Seattle, Washington; and Remus, Michigan.

Ted Eschliman: Talk about the sales of the first book. In feedback from your publisher, were there pockets of the world where sales performance was better, and how were sales distributed as far as book vs. eBook, music store/regular brick and mortar?

Don Julin: Overall sales are quite good. I am not privy to regional sales reports but I can tell you that I have received many emails from readers around the world that are learning to play the mandolin. "Dummies" books cover such a wide range of topics so they tend to market more aggressively in places where books are sold. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM, and other major retailers all carry most "Dummies" books, making them very easy to find. I wish the marketing team spent more time on traditional brick & mortar music stores in the USA, but they are a huge company and have their own marketing strategy, which does work quite well. "Dummies" books are available to music stores through a distribution arrangement with Mel Bay, so any music store can order it or stock it if they choose.

To give you an idea of sales, I was teaching at the Mandolin Symposium last summer and in front of the entire student body, Dawg asked how many people have Mandolin For Dummies and more than half of the campers raised their hands. I owe a big part of that to you Ted, and Scott Tichenor for letting the on-line mandolin community know about this book. Thanks guys. Keep up the great work!

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