John Reischman is one of the premier mandolinists of his generation, a master instrumentalist capable of swinging between re-inventions of traditional old-time tunes, deconstructions of the bluegrass repertoire, and compelling original tunes, many of which have become standards.
John is also a powerful bandleader, touring all over Canada and the United States with his band the Jaybirds. But most of all, he’s an understated visionary, the kind of master craftsman whose music is virtuosic without ever being flashy and who is renowned for his impeccable taste and tone. John Reischman embodies the true spirit of acoustic music in the 21st century.
A Juno–nominated and Grammy–award winning artist, John is known today for his work with the Jaybirds as well as his acclaimed solo albums, but he got his start as an original member of the Tony Rice Unit in the late 1970s. With this band led by the legendary bluegrass guitarist, John helped define the “new acoustic music” movement in bluegrass with a series of high-profile albums for Rounder Records. Building this sound, John was influenced early on by Bill Monroe’s mandolin playing, but also by the playing of progressive bluegrass mandolinists like Sam Bush and David Grisman, as well as jazz mandolinist Jethro Burns. Living in the Bay Area in the ’80s, John toured and performed with the seminal California bluegrass band the Good Ol’ Persons, cementing his reputation as a powerful mandolinist with an original vision for the instrument.
John moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in the 1990s and formed the Jaybirds, but he never stopped his musical explorations. In 1996, he won a Grammy as part of Todd Phillips’ all-star tribute album to Bill Monroe. Over the years, he’s collaborated with a remarkably wide range of artists, from bluegrass singer Kathy Kallick to guitarist Scott Nygaard, banjo wiz Tony Furtado, Chinese Music ensemble Red Chamber, Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Celso Machado, singer songwriter Susan Crowe, and more. This kind of cross-cultural trailblazing has always been at the center of John’s music, an extension of his curiosity about the stringed instruments and musical rhythms of other traditions.
John’s relocation to Vancouver in the 1990s led to his next big step as an artist: becoming a bandleader. Drawing from the very best bluegrass and acoustic musicians in the Pacific Northwest to form the band, Reischman led the Jaybirds on cross-country tours, five albums, and two Juno nominations. The secret to the band’s success lies in its innovative arrangements, powerful original songwriting and tune composition, as well as the mix of talents that make up the group. It’s a tight band that can turn on a dime and play with the kind of power and precision that is the hallmark of the original bluegrass greats.
In 2013, John released his third solo album, Walk Along John. Made up of traditional and original tunes, the album is a celebration of Reischman’s long career, featuring guest spots from old friends like old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky, banjo genius Tony Trischka, the Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile, bluegrass guitarist Kenny Smith, and members of the Jaybirds, plus friends from a new generation of bluegrass instrumentalists: guitarist Eli West, members of the Deadly Gentlemen, among others. Walk Along John follows in the footsteps of Reischman’s other acclaimed solo albums, like his debut, North of the Border, which was described by Bluegrass Unlimited as “monumental . . . it establishes a remarkably high standard for mature, tasteful mandolin music.”
In 2016, John teamed with guitarist Scott Nygaard and mandolinist/bassist Sharon Gilchrist to produce a recording of traditional tunes, The Harmonic Tone Revealers, about which Bluegrass Unlimited said: “The Harmonic Tone Revealers highlights three of today’s most accomplished and respected acoustic musicians. Filled with luxuriously gorgeous music and intriguing renditions of popular and obscure tunes, this CD can’t fail to please anyone who loves bluegrass and acoustic music.”
Learn the first part of John's tune “Itzbin Reel,” one of the first tunes he wrote. It’s a fiddle tune in the key of A, and John starts by showing you the A major scale and a couple of scale patterns to get used to the key of A major. With Notation/Tab
Peghead Nation is creating a library of accompaniment videos (and downloadable MP3s) for songs and tunes that are taught on the site, classics that you'll find at many jams and picking parties. As a subscriber, you have access to this library and can use the tracks to practice playing tunes and songs at a slow or medium tempo with guitar accompaniment. New songs will be added regularly.
Melodic Mandolin Tunes Lessons
A subscription to Melodic Mandolin Tunes includes:
Right- and left-hand technique lessons
High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see close-ups of both hands in action
Notation and tablature for each tune
Play-Along videos so you can play along with John
Downloadable audio MP3s of each tune
New lessons added every month
Subscribe to Melodic Mandolin Tunes today for access to all of these mandolin lessons.
JOHN’S MANDOLIN AND TECHNIQUE
John’s Gibson F-5 Lloyd Loar Mandolin John Reischman’s Gibson F-5 Lloyd Loar mandolin is considered by many to be one of the greatest mandolins ever made. It was built in 1924 and was signed by Gibson’s acoustic engineer Lloyd Loar early on February 18, a day that produced a number of great mandolins, including those owned by Chris Thile and John Paul Jones. John talks about how he acquired the mandolin in 1981 and how he changed the fingerboard to a radiused fingerboard early on. He demonstrates it by playing his waltz “The North Shore,” which showcases the deep bass sound of this instrument.
Picking-Hand Technique In this video, John talks about his pick technique, starting with the shape and thickness of pick he uses: a 1.2–1.5 mm. triangular pick with three rounded shoulders. Then he shows you how he holds the pick and the angle at which he strikes the strings. He also shows you how he rests his palm lightly on the bridge, how he sometimes locks his wrist and uses more of his forearm and sometimes he plays with a loose wrist. In addition he demonstrates how he plays tremolo and talks about how he practices tremolo with a metronome, starting with a very slow setting and playing triplets for each beat and then gradually speeding it up.
Fretting-Hand Technique John demonstrates his fretting-hand technique in this video. He talks about using the proper fingers in open position, with the index finger playing the first and second frets, middle finger playing the third and fourth frets, ring finger playing the fifth and sixth, and pinky playing the seventh. He also gives you an exercise that will help you learn that fingering (and also work your pinky), and talks about playing cleanly by fretting close to the fret as well as creating a smooth legato line by letting the notes sustain into each other. You’ll also learn the two closed-position scale positions he uses. With Notation/Tab
MELODIC MANDOLIN TUNES
Itzbin Reel, Part 1 “Itzbin Reel” is one of the first tunes John wrote. It’s basically a fiddle tune in the key of A, although the form is AABA rather than the standard AABB form of most fiddle tunes, and the B section has ten measures instead of the standard eight. John starts by showing you the A major scale and a couple of scale patterns to get used to the key of A major. And then he starts taking apart each section slowly, phrase by phrase. He also talks about keeping a steady up-and-down motion with your picking hand so you stay in time even when you’re not sounding a note. This is helpful in “Itzbin Reel,” because it has a few syncopated phrases that emphasize offbeats. With Notation/Tab
Itzbin Reel, Part 2 The B part of “Itzbin Reel” starts on the relative minor, F# minor, with a syncopate phrase. John takes it apart for you and shows you how to think about the rhythm and picking of the first syncopated phrase. The part ends with a long ascending phrase that gets you ready to play the A part in a higher octave. John also shows you how to play the hammer-on/pull-off triplet that ends the part, and then walks you through the final A part up the neck. You’ll also learn the chords and voicings John uses to play rhythm on “Itzbin Reel,” as well as an intro and ending. With Notation/Tab
Itzbin Reel, Part 3: Play-Along Track Use this video to play “Itzbin Reel” along with John and guitarist Scott Nygaard.
La Arboleda, Part 1 John learned the Puerto Rican tune “La Arboleda” from a recording of cuatro player Pedro Padilla. It has three parts, the first in A minor, second in C major/A minor, and third in A major, and the form is AABBACCA, a fairly common form for ragtime tunes and Brazilian choros, among other kinds of music. The notes of the melody are relatively simple, made up primarily of the notes of the chords, but the rhythm of the melody is syncopated and somewhat tricky. John talks about the importance of keeping the pulse in your picking hand, continuing to move it in a steady eighth-note motion, even though the phrases are syncopated. He shows you the melody and rhythm of each phrase separately, walking you through the A part in this video. With Notation/Tab
La Arboleda, Part 2 You’ll learn the B and C parts of “La Arboleda” in this video. The B part starts in C major and ends in A minor. John goes through each phrase slowly, and shows you the rhythm of the phrases and the pick direction separately, so you understand the rhythmic syncopations and how to pick them. The C part moves to A major and has some of the same syncopations as the B part, but with different notes. With Notation/Tab
La Arboleda, Part 3: Chords and Rhythm To play rhythm to “La Arboleda” John plays more open-sounding chords than the usual bluegrass chop chords. In this video, he shows you the chord voicings he uses as well as a nice calypso-style rhythm pattern you can play. With Notation/Tab
La Arboleda, Part 4: Play-Along Track Use this video to play “La Arboleda” along with John and guitarist Scott Nygaard.
The Road to Malvern
The Road to Malvern, Part 1: Melody “The Road to Malvern” is a contemporary old-time (“new-time”?) fiddle tune in the key of A and it’s one of John’s favorites. John plays it through and then starts taking it apart, phrase by phrase. After showing you the melody, he also shows you a couple variations he plays and talks a little about improvising on a fiddle tune like “The Road to Malvern.” With Notation/Tab
The Road to Malvern, Part 2: Old-Time Rhythm For playing rhythm to old-time tunes, John often likes to use open chords and play with more of a regular eighth-note-based strum, with emphasis on beats two and four. You’ll learn the voicings John uses and his strum pattern in this video. With Notation/Tab
The Road to Malvern, Part 3: Play-Along Track Use this video to play “The Road To Malvern” (melody and/or rhythm) along with John and guitarist Scott Nygaard.
Little Pine Siskin
Little Pine Siskin, Part 1 John’s tune “Little Pine Siskin,” which he recorded on Walk Along John, sounds like an old-time fiddle tune and has three parts, although the B and C parts only get played once each. John starts by playing the A part through and then breaks it down for you phrase by phrase. He also shows you how he keeps his pick moving, playing open-string chords, when there are long notes in the melody, and shows you the drone notes he’s playing on each part of the A part melody. With Notation/Tab
Little Pine Siskin, Part 2 You’ll learn the B and C parts of “Little Pine Siskin” in this video. John walks you through each part, phrase by phrase, and shows you how he plays the C part up an octave when he repeats that part at the end of a performance. He also shows you the chords for all three parts and how he plays rhythm, both with a bluegrass chop and more of a strummy pattern with open-string chords. With Notation/Tab
Little Pine Siskin, Part 3: Closed-Position and Soloing You can play “Little Pine Siskin” up an octave, and John shows you how to play it in closed position in this video. He shows you the D major scale in the closed position with your first finger at the fifth fret and recommends playing the tune in the lower octave without using your first finger, as a way to get used to the fingering you’ll use in closed position. Then he shows you how he plays the A and B parts of “Little Pine Siskin” in closed position. John also talks about how he thinks about soloing on “Little Pine Siskin” both in closed position and open position. With Notation/Tab
Little Pine Siskin, Part 4: Play-Along Track Use this video to play “Little Pine Siskin” along with John and guitarist Scott Nygaard.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Part 1 The pop and jazz standard “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” makes a great solo mandolin piece played chord-melody style. John starts by showing you a versatile movable chord voicing he learned from Jethro Burns, and explains, for example, how a G6 voicing can also be used for Em7, C9, or A7sus4. Then he walks you through the A part of his arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” explaining how he tries to make each chord ring out with sustain, and allowing the melody notes, the top notes of the chord, to be heard clearly. With Notation/Tab
Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Part 2 You’ll learn the B part (or bridge) of John’s arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in this video, as well as his ending, which alternates G and Ebmaj7 chords. This ending is a great opportunity to learn some nice voicings for maj7 chords. John also shows you a variation of the bridge with a moving bass line that Jethro Burns played. With Notation/Tab
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” Performance John plays his arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” all the way through so you can hear how all the parts fit together and how he phrases the melody.
Birdland Breakdown, Part 1 John recorded his tune “Birdland Breakdown” with the Tony Rice Unit (you can hear it on the CD compilation Devlin) in the 1980s, and it has since become a favorite of modern mandolinists. It’s in the key of D minor and uses a couple of minor scales, including the D harmonic minor. John plays it through and then breaks it down (pun intended) for you phrase by phrase, showing you how the melody matches the underlying chords and explaining the D harmonic minor scale. With Notation/Tab
Birdland Breakdown, Part 2 The first part of “Birdland Breakdown” has a fiddle-tune like melody with lots of eighth notes, but the B part has a simpler melody with a syncopated pattern. The melody is played with a nice sustain not tremolo. John walks you through the melody and shows you how he keeps his picking hand moving so that it keeps time while he’s playing the syncopated melody. You’ll also learn the chord voicings John plays on “Birdland Breakdown.” With Notation/Tab
Birdland Breakdown, Part 3: Play-Along Track Use this video to play “Birdland Breakdown” along with John and guitarist Scott Nygaard as they play through the complete form twice at a medium tempo.
The North Shore
The North Shore John composed his minor-key waltz “The North Shore” in honor of Bill Monroe, inspired by his minor-key waltzes like “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz.” It’s in the key of G minor and features tremolo and double stops using a harmonized Bb major scale, with melody notes harmonized a sixth below in most cases. John shows you the Bb harmonized major scale, so you can get familiar with the double stops you’ll use in “The North Shore” and demonstrates the tremolo he uses in “The North Shore”: a two triplet pattern over one beat.With Notation/Tab
“The North Shore” Play-Along Track Use this video to play “The North Shore” along with John and guitarist Scott Nygaard as they play through the complete form twice at a medium tempo.