Ten Tips for Becoming a Better Mandolin Player - dummies

Ten Tips for Becoming a Better Mandolin Player

By Don Julin, Scott Tichenor

Playing mandolin can become a major source of happiness. Although building your chops can seem difficult and even frustrating at the beginning, the more you practice, the easier it gets and the more fun you have. To get your mandolin playing moving along more quickly, follow these ten tips.

Listen to mandolin music

The number-one thing you can do to become a good mandolin player is to listen to mandolin music. Fortunately, in today’s world of instant digital downloads, you can easily find great new and old mandolin music to listen to.

Listen to a variety of mandolin players in a variety of styles so you can begin to form an opinion on what you want your playing to sound like. Do yourself a favor and start building a library of great mandolin music.

Get a good teacher

A good mandolin teacher can spot problems in your playing and offer ways to correct them, and also hold you accountable for lessons and progress, just as a trainer at the gym does when you’re trying to get in shape. Ideally, your mandolin teacher should teach the type of music you’re interested in playing. For example, a good bluegrass player may not be your best choice if you want to play classical music.

Don’t settle for a guitar teacher who can play a little mandolin. If no reputable mandolin teachers are within driving distance, look online. Skype or Internet teleconference lessons are becoming more common, along with downloadable lessons and even online schools where you can interact with other online students and teachers.

Keep your mandolin nearby

Getting at your mandolin needs to be easy. Everyone leads busy lives, and the best way to add a new thing into your schedule is to make doing so easy. So get a good mandolin stand and leave your instrument on it. If doing so is difficult, perhaps because you have young children in the house, use a separate room, but try to make access to your mandolin as easy as possible. Then practice whenever you have a few spare minutes.

Play your mandolin every day

Music is a language, and in order to be fluent at any language, you need to speak it often. So try to play your mandolin every day, whether it be structured practice time or playing your favorite songs just for fun. Any time you spend with the mandolin in your hands helps your playing develop.

Practice with a metronome

Timing is by far the hardest part of learning how to play music. Metronomes are totally unforgiving and can be frustrating at first, but don’t give up! The right note played at the wrong time is still wrong. The wrong note played at the right time may still sound good. Timing is more important than playing the right notes!

Go to mandolin camps or workshops

Mandolin camps are popping up all over the world. (The Mandolin Café publishes a list of mandolin camps.) These camps can be great for helping mandolin players gain experience playing with other people and study with some of their heroes. Mandolin camps, symposiums, and conferences are all great ways to get a huge dose of mandolin in a small amount of time.

If a weekend-long camp is out of your comfort zone, try attending a mandolin workshop. These are often held in music shops and normally last just a few hours. Workshops may focus on a specific style or may be more general, and some are designed specifically for beginners.

Practice slowly using good technique

Practicing slowly with good left- and right-hand technique builds up a good foundation. When the time comes to play fast, you already have the technique needed to be fast and accurate. Playing slowly is much tougher than it seems, but some of the fastest mandolin players suggest that the key to playing fast is the ability to play slowly.

Develop a musical ear

Developing a good musical ear is an essential skill for the mandolin player. Do this by listening to mandolin recordings and trying to reproduce what you hear. Even though this attribute can seem difficult to acquire at first, over time it proves to be one of your most valuable tools.

Learn some music theory

You don’t need to start analyzing the chord progressions in Bach chorales or trying to figure out why John Coltrane played what he did; for some types of music, a very basic understanding of scales and common chord progressions can take much of the mystery out of discovering new tunes. You can choose from loads of books and websites that explain music theory.

Record yourself

Recording yourself playing is a valuable tool and has become easy and affordable, with quality results. You can make decent recordings on many mobile phones, but if you don’t have one of these, buy yourself an easy-to-use handheld recorder. Recordings of yourself reveal what you really sound like, instead of what you think you sound like, plus they give you a way to chart your progress as you become better.

Try to record your private lessons and any workshops you attend. Most teachers allow and even encourage you to do so.