Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mandolin practice...

I caught my finger tip in a sharp screw tearing down some old shelving. I usually wear gloves. I should have learned by now. I still have all the fingers, but they have not been music worthy many, many times in my 60 year career as a musician. Enough said about that.

Not being able to play for a few days, I began to ponder on how I found the mandolin...and learned to play it. I bought a book, and found the basics were worthy of a half page. It basically taught me what I needed to know about the left hand and the right hand. I threw the book away, and went in search of a teacher. I found Freddy Goodhart, and all the musicians of Lexington, Virginia, who were many, young, wide open and good..

I started to reflect on my progress, the peaks, the frustrating plateaus, and the "to hell with it" moments.

Here are some thoughts, after teaching mandolin for a number of years, that may provide a road map to proceeding down the mandolin primrose path.

 Teaching require self examination. I began to think about some of the first tunes I learned to play. "Over the Waterfall" was a tune learned in Elkins in the 70's. It was one of those top 40 tunes from the mid seventies that I figured everyone would know. I guess it faded into oblivion, because not a one of students had ever heard of it. I began to ask what they did know, or want to learn. Blank stares.

We.settled on "Row Row Row Your Boat, and Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star. Those were the sum total of tunes they knew in their head...their "tune bank account", as I call it. I was frustrated.but, hey, I signed up to teach the class, and they signed up to take it. "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat" it was.

All my lesson plans went out the window. I made a decision. Next morning when class started I closed the door, turned out the lights, and told 'em we just invented a great new instrument, the mandolin. I told them it was  sorta' like inventing Algebra; we got the concept, now we got to find out what to do with it. I turned on the lights, and asked them to help write a simple tune for the mandolin...find something for this new instrument to do.

We went to work for 2 hours without a break. We came up with a simple "A" part. We lost a few  on the way, but the most "got it"...and began to pick up steam. That motivated the ones who weren't getting it, They began to ask for help from other class members. Everybody happy. I was exhausted. Some actually did learn Over the Waterfall before the week was out.

It's the hook, folks, you gotta' have a hook. Of course they didn't know how to invent a tune, so I invented one...and had as much trouble learning it as they did. Teaching is getting down to a common denominator, now matter how simple.

I remember having terrible finger pain for a few days, because the two mandolin strings fall on each side of the guitar calluses. Next, I had to learn some tunes to play...a "tune bank account".

 The biggest hurdle is finding the time to become a mandolin player. Adults have lives that require a lot of time...which doesn't leave much for mandolin. In the end, learning to play is finding time to practice. The career, children and all that goes with family life makes it doubly hard. If you learn before you get a life, as a kid or teen, you're better off. I know, them's hard sayings, but it's true.

Oh! one more thing. No spouse, or girlfriend, signed on to become a mandolin widow. Practice mandolin with a healthy dose of prudence. It doesn't hurt if you can get the girls, (or boys) hooked, too.

I'll be able to play in a day or two, instead of writing about it.

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