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Learn to Play the Mandolin - Beginner's Guide

By Edited Jun 11, 2016 0 0

Learning To Play The Mandolin: The Instrument

The mandolin wasn't very popular when it was first introduced into the United States from Europe about a century or more ago. The concave back or bowl-back gave this instrument the nickname 'tator bug and it was inconvenient to hold while playing. For this reason the mandolin didn't catch on until Orville Gibson, a Luthier from Kalamazoo, Michigan, created mandolins based on the more convenient shape of the violin. The rest is bluegrass history.

Mandolin Design: If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body

The mandolin looks pretty complicated to figure out, let alone to play, but as with all musical instruments, a basic understanding of the design and principles of what makes it tick – or hum or toot or twang – will help immensely. Essentially, the mandolin is made up of two portions – a body, or soundboard, and a head, or headstock, joined together by a neck, or fret-board. There's also a tail in there somewhere in case you were wondering. A set of strings – the number depending on the type and style of mandolin – is stretched across the front, from head to tailpiece (see, there it is). The body is designed to naturally amplify the sound of the 'picked' or 'plucked' strings. Plucking or strumming is done with a flat piece of plastic or metal called a plectrum, or simply, a pick. And that's the skinny on the mandolin.

Learning To Play The Mandolin: Making A Good Start

If you're absolutely new to learning to play an instrument, the tablature method comes highly recommended. This is basically similar to learning sheet music, but modified to that particular instrument and a lot easier. A number of great books have been written to show you how to read mandolin tablature, such as 'The Mandolin Songbook' by Bradley Laird or 'My First Mandolin Picking Songs' by Steve Kaufman that comes with a CD so you can play along. You can get these at Bluegrasscenter dot com for less than $14 each. There's also the 'Mandolin Primer' by Bert Casey from Amazon at $15. Once you learn the tablature method, you no longer need to play by ear, and you can better communicate your tunes to other mandolin players if you ever decide to write your own.

Mandolin For Bluegrass: A Man Called Monroe

The popularity of the mandolin in bluegrass music is credited to a Bill Monroe, who floored the audience with his amazing virtuosity and style at a Grand Ole Opry in October of 1939. Any thoughts of the mandolin being sent to the musical museum were dispelled from the moment he picked his first note. Bluegrass mandolin players have come a long way since then, but he's still remembered as the Big Daddy of them all.

Learning The Mandolin: Tips For Training

A few tips to keep in mind when you learn to play the mandolin would be useful at this time. First, keep your arms loose. Tensing is the main cause of the aches and pains that a new player goes through, and most of it is unnecessary. Most of the tightness comes from self-consciousness, and a desire to get it to sound right rather than feel right. If you consciously loosen up and keep it loose through your session, you'll find that the pain is less, and it's a lot easier to play. The second tip is to find the right stroke for kind of music you're going to play. A DOWN up down (or D u d) stroke repeated is the right one for a jig, whereas a D u d u D u d u is more suitable for reels or hornpipes.

Becoming An Expert Mandolin Player: Gotta Keep Keepin'

Whatever method or style you learn, remember that practice is the key to making progress. No matter how many mandolin instructional videos you watch or bluegrass concerts you go to, the only thing that will get you up to speed is your commitment and effort to go the whole hog. If at any time your interest flags or things seem to be getting monotonous, by all means take a couple of days off to re-orient yourself; watching a seasoned professional strut his stuff might be a good thing at this point, and it will likely inspire you to pick up your instrument and go at it with gusto once more. It's like watching a Bruce Lee movie – didn't you feel like you could kick anybody's assets when you walked out after watching him?


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