Hello to all you Old Time Musicians and music lovers. Thanks for visiting my website! This page is about how I learned technique on the mandolin. It’s also some tips for others who are struggling to learn chords. I started teaching myself Mandolin in the 1970s. I was not a clean player, and was, for a long time very dissatisfied with my mandolin technique or lack of same. Friends and I created several open jams. Jamming is the best thing in the world!!! It’s not only a great “high” but is how to learn new stuff!
After about 2 years of playing fiddle tunes on mandolin, and improvising on them, (didn’t know how to do chords!) I moved to an area where there were no open jams. So I switched to piano, which I’d played for my whole life anyway. Some 20 years later, I took up mandolin again. That was about 5 years ago. My technique was still horrible. Fortunately, I know what great technique FEELS LIKE because of a super wonderful piano teacher I had in my 20s. He corrected all my piano technical problems, so my piano technique developed and is excellent. I wanted that feel on the mandolin, and I didn’t have it, couldn’t figure out what to do. Also, the strings buzzed when I fretted them.
If you can find a COMPETENT and excellent mandolin player and teacher, you’ll advance fast! (If you practice, and know how to practice effectively. My teacher says he likes teaching me because I practice! I wonder why someone might want mandolin lessons if they never practice….)
In a community college beginning mandolin class about five years ago (I was very rusty of course, after 20 years), I met a fabulous mandolin player, who also, by some miracle is an excellent teacher. (I think that many top musicians are not particularly good at teaching.) My teacher had the class learning —arggghhh! — CHORDS!! He gave us really fun CDs to play along with, so I started playing chords then and loving it. Since then, every few weeks or months, I have an individual lesson with this teacher.
The way I learn is, I ask questions, and he answers/solves them, and shows me what to do, and waits and advises while I do that technique. Examples: Marian — Q: “What is wrong – the strings buzz.” His answer/demonstration/working out minute details. A: “Your fingers need to be closer to the frets. You need to fret as close as possible to the fret.” That was 90% of my problem, so things went much, much better from then on. On my octave mandolin, the buzzing was very bad indeed. My teacher actually said (wrongly, as it turned out) that that was “just how it is with this instrument.” Not! I took it to a good luthier. All he did was put the next-up heavier gauge strings on it — no more buzzing.
One final word in this long post — books very often do not have good, easy to play, mandolin chords. One person told me that’s because these book chords are formed “theoretically,” by guitar players! It would be so great to have a good chord book written/compiled by a top mandolin player. I have just been advised that there is such a book! I’ve ordered it, and will try it out, then if I like it I will post the name of it here at the website.
That said, the way to learn chords is from really good mandolin players. They have cool chords you won’t find in any book. Plus, you can figure out your own chords sometimes if you know the names of the notes in that particular chord. (A – C# – E for the A [major] chord, for instance). As for trusting my ear alone to figure out new chord shapes, just want to say I have an excellent ear, but it does not always tell me how to play a chord somewhere I’m not familiar with. Maybe some other people can rely solely on their ear, but that does not work for me, and I’ve tried playing over the years with various people who use their ears only, but their ears are not that great and the chords they come up with do not “work” with the tunes. So it pays to know the notes in the chords you are likely to use. In Old Time music, which I play, the main chords are in the keys of G, A, D.
There is a really nice “scheme” or form for memorizing the notes for ALL CHORDS, with seven short words. If anyone wants to know about this, please feel free to write me at postcards [at] hevanet [dot] com