In five introductory lessons, you’ll learn how to hold the mandolin comfortably, get advice on holding the pick, and learn to tune the mandolin. And you’ll get in-depth advice on picking-hand and fretting-hand technique, with exercises that get you started off right and help you develop efficient technique for both hands.
Sharon talks about her Gilchrist mandolin as well as the picks and strings she uses. Built by Australia’s Stephen Gilchrist (no relation), Sharon's 1991 F-style mandolin has been her primary instrument since 1994.
FIRST FIVE TUNES
Your first five mandolin tunes, which you'll learn by ear, are all tunes you’ll hear in old-time and bluegrass jam sessions around the world. They’ll help you get comfortable in the keys of D and A and are great for working on your fretting and picking technique.
Cluck Old Hen
The old-time fiddle tune “Cluck Old Hen” in the key of A has become a standard at bluegrass and old-time jams everywhere and is a great first tune to learn on the mandolin. You’ll learn the standard fingering for first position on the mandolin.
Old Joe Clark
The old-time tune “Old Joe Clark” is a favorite at jams and picking parties everywhere.You’ll learn to play it with a typical fiddle-tune rhythm that corresponds to the fiddlers’ “shuffle bow” rhythm.
The old-time fiddle tune “Chinquapin Hunting” is in the key of D, so you’ll learn the D major scale, a D major arpeggio, and a D major chord, which will help orient your fingers to the key of D. You’ll also learn basic D, G, and A chords and a simple bass/strum pattern, so you can play rhythm to “Chinquapin Hunting” and other tunes.
Angeline the Baker
A must-know tune for all roots music instrumentalists, “Angeline the Baker” is also in the key of D. You’ll learn to mark time with your downstrokes, even where there’s a rest, which will help you maintain a steady tempo.
The beautiful old-time fiddle tune “Squirrel Hunters” has a haunting “modal” sound. You’ll learn how to slide into melody notes and damp notes for a rhythmic accent.
CHORDS AND RHYTHM
You’ve learned five great tunes, but if you want to start playing them with other people you’ll also need to learn to play rhythm. In these lessons you’ll learn get a complete overview of basic open chord shapes, some of which can be played with just two fingers. You’ll also learn a 4/4 rhythm pattern in which you play the lowest note of each chord and follow it with a strum of the higher strings. You can use this pattern to practice playing rhythm on mandolin-and-guitar practice tracks for a couple of the tunes you’ve learned. With Chord Diagrams and Charts
Get deeper into mandolin technique with these great bluegrass and old-time tunes. With play-along tracks and chords for every tune.
The Eighth of January
A well-known fiddle tune in the key of D, the melody of “The Eighth of January” was used by Arkansas school teacher Jimmy Driftwood for his 1950s hit song “The Battle of New Orleans.” You’ll also learn the technique of “finger planting,” a great way to keep the notes of a tune ringing into each other smoothly.
Clinch Mountain Backstep
This bluegrass standard comes from the great banjo player Ralph Stanley, but it has a simple modal melody that suits all instruments. It has an extra beat in the second part and you’ll learn to “ghost” a note with your picking hand to make sure you get the timing right.
The old-time fiddle tune “June Apple” is a great tune to work on finger planting. You’ll learn about the importance of finger planting as a way to create “economy of motion” and play melodies in which the notes ring into each other without any gaps between notes.
A must-know tune in the bluegrass and old-time world, “Soldier’s Joy” is in the key of D, so in addition to learning the melody, you’ll learn the D major scale in two octaves.
The closed “chop” chords known as “Monroe chords” (after Bill Monroe) are what give your rhythm mandolin that classic bluegrass chop sound or bark. You’ll the Monroe chord shapes for G and C, and since they’re closed chords (with no open strings) you can move them around the neck to play any major chord. You’ll get advice on fingering the chords easily and a couple of rhythm practice tracks to tunes you’ve already learned. With Chord Diagrams and Charts
RIGHT- AND LEFT-HAND TECHNIQUES
Now that you’ve got a bunch of tunes under your fingers, it’s time to review some techniques and learn some new ones.
Learn more about “finger planting,” an efficient way to place your fingers on the fingerboard when playing melodies. Sharon begins with a review of the G major scale and then talks about keeping your fingers “planted” as they move up the scale.
Sharon shows you the rest stroke, which comes from classical mandolin and guitar technique but is used by many bluegrass mandolinists and guitarists. To play a rest stroke, you pick through both strings and then rest your pick on the next string over. This allows you to get the deepest possible tone from your instrument.
Review the G major, A major, D major, and C major scales and learn to practice the A major scale by stretching from your ring finger to pinky, which is useful for playing chop chords as well as scales. You’ll also learn some simple exercises for developing strength in your pinky.
Learn some exercises that can help you work on your tremolo. Sharon learned these exercises from classical mandolinist Caterina Lichtenberg, and she gives you lots of great technical advice on playing tremolo. You’ll use a metronome for these exercises.
MORE ADVANCED TUNES
Midnight on the Water
The beautiful waltz “Midnight on the Water” comes from legendary Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson. You’ll learn how to use tremolo to play it and how to add drone notes to the melody.
Over the Waterfall
Another great old-time tune in the key of D, “Over the Waterfall” is great for working on playing your upstrokes at the same volume as downstrokes. You’ll also learn to let open drone strings ring out below the basic melody.
Seneca Square Dance
The keys of D and A are the most important to know on the mandolin, but now you’re ready to learn a fiddle tune in the key of G. “Seneca Square Dance” is an old-time dance tune with a simple, pretty melody that sounds great played at a medium tempo.
The old hymn “Wayfaring Stranger” is a perfect tune to play on the mandolin with tremolo and it’s in the key of A minor, another key that sounds great on the mandolin.
Whiskey Before Breakfast
The fiddle tune “Whiskey Before Breakfast” is a popular tune among all sorts of roots musicians. The chords to “Whiskey Before Breakfast” change fairly often, especially in the B part. Sharon shows you a handy way to memorize them so that they don’t seem so random.
If you’re having trouble with the fabled “death grip” (holding the mandolin so tight that you can’t move your hand freely on the fingerboard), Sharon gives you (and others) lots of advice on playing with good fretting-hand posture. She reviews basic fretting-hand posture, how she likes to hold the fretting hand to reduce tension, and gives you some ways to get out of the habit of pushing into the back of the neck and squeezing the neck.
Embellishing a melody is just a matter of filling in the melody you already know with some more melodic ideas. Learn some embellished versions of tunes you already know.
Old Joe Clark
Learn two embellished versions of the melody to “Old Joe Clark.”
Eighth of January
Learn an embellished version of “Eighth of January” as well as a few variations you can add to the B part.
In this three-part lesson on pick direction, Sharon talks about the importance of playing downstrokes on the downbeats and upstrokes on the upbeats, using three different tunes you’ve already learned to illustrate some common issues you’ll run into.
Use these videos to practice playing rhythm and melody to all the tunes in the Beginning Mandolin course at a medium tempo with Sharon and guitarist Scott Nygaard. With Chord Charts