Welcome to the Peghead Nation Beginning Mandolin course.
September 15, 2014
Hello, budding mandolin players. In this course, I will cover basic posture for holding the instrument, right and left hand technique, tone, learning tunes by ear, pick direction, chords, learning rhythm/accompaniment patterns for tunes, switching between playing melody and rhythm and will give some tips on learning the notes on the fretboard. I welcome your feedback and questions. Hopefully, I can help give you a successful start on the mandolin and a good foundation for progressing beyond the beginner level. Thanks so much for signing up!
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Comments and Discussion
Thanks so much for the feedback.
Glad the course is being of help.
Cool that you are taking both courses - Joe is great!!
Keep on playing and keep it fun:)
Thanks for signing up,
I have been playing chords on the mandolin and singing songs with my partner on his guitar for 7-8 years, but never picked. I am delighted to be learning tunes by heart. The question I have is, could you confirm the key(s) for Cluck Old Hen, and following tunes. When I can keep a steady pace I would like to play along with chords, just like a real life situation.
Hi! The key for Cluck O'le Hen is "A" - it's a model version of A, but you can use an A Major Chord if you like. Or you can use the A chord I showed which is: G string: 2nd fret; D string: 2nd fret; A string: open; E string: open. That A chord works for A major or A minor as it leaves out the "3rd" of the chord which is the chord tone that distinguishes between major or minor chords.
I am sorry I need a list for all the other tunes I have taught.
I probably have it somewhere and can find it, but for now am answering quickly.
If you'd like to send me a list, it would help!!
Thanks so much for signing up for the course.
I hope you are enjoying it - especially learning the tunes by heart - that is SO important and helpful!
Keep up the good work and let me know if you have other questions.
Old Joe Clark - A
Chinquapin Hunting - D
Angeline the Baker - D
Squirrel Hunters - A
Hope that helps!
Just wanted to say hello and that I am enjoying your beginner course. I just completed the first song "cluck old hen" and plan to take it to my next jam.
I don't want to think ahead to far but wondering if it's really possible for a "middle age" guy to learn (physically) four finger chords?
Lastly, I love your reaching style and thanks for being involved in the program.
I'm wondering at what speed we should be playing a song before moving onto the next one? I can play the first two songs note for note but slow at this point.
Loving your lessons. Your tips on holding mando & hand positioning were very helpful. I can play pretty good sitting but then lose tone & accuracy when I stand. Any tips on this transition?
To answer your question, yes! - you can play 4-fingered chords at any age. I am planning on doing a lesson on chords and chopping soon, so keep your eyes out for that one. I will go over common left hand position issues that can make the stretches more difficult than they actually are.
Good luck and thanks so much for signing up for the course!
I now spend much time practicing standing up. I often teach standing up now, too.
This is partially to give myself a break from so much sitting and partially to be ready to play while standing.
Of course, you want to make sure your strap is at a good height for standing.
While sitting and practicing, sit up with good posture. Make sure the body of the mandolin is staying in one plane - straight up and down. A lot of people will lean back which will cause the bottom half (near your lap) of the mandolin to be positioned slightly forward from the top half (near your chest). I find that even one inch difference in that angle while sitting can really throw off my right and left hand technique and make chords harder to grab, make pinky notes harder to grab and make the E-string harder to get a warm tone on...
Perhaps sit towards the front edge of whatever chair you are on, so you don't lean back.
I personally think it's simply important to spend time playing standing up and finding your best position while standing so you are ready when the time comes to play standing with others.
When it comes to tempos, I would say in the beginning it is most important to play the tune through slowly and smoothly making sure the right and left hand techniques are feeling coordinated and smooth. Feel free to keep learning new tunes without pushing tempo on the others yet. In my course, I gradually increase difficulty of tunes. So by the time you have learned tunes 5-10, playing tunes 1-4 should feel easier and speed should start picking up.
By the time you get to tune 10, you may want to make it a regular practice trying to speed up those 10 tunes with the metronome - make it a slow and steady process and you will get there.
I'm a new student with you, i'm already in course with Joe. It's good and important to fix some basics with you and your explanations are very clear.
As i'm studying classical mandolin, playing by ear is really uncomfortable for me because i'm always playing mandolin with my sheets music.
So that's very uncomrfortable but i know that i have to explore that new way of playing mandolin, hoping that would be more easy in the future. I'm sure that way of playing is better even for the sense of music itself. Very often i have the problem of improvisation, of adding notes on a simple tune and i'm sure that the fact that all the notes are written on a sheet music doesn't help me to find myself these adding notes.
So thanks very much for your help.
I wanted to comment on your earlier post regarding learning by ear.
First of all, congrats. on taking on the challenging of learning by ear after already knowing how to read music. I appreciate your willingness to develop your musicianship and grow in a new direction.
I had an experience in 2008 where I started learning old-time fiddle from a great player and teacher named David Margolin.
He knew I played mandolin and would know "Angeline the Baker" so suggested this as the first tune for me to transfer to the fiddle. I thought it would be a piece of cake!
So he played some of it and asked me to play it back to him.
It was SO vastly different than how I would play it on the mandolin.
I could hear all these extra-notes (mostly open strings ringing out) - beyond the basic melody notes - which I recognized, but for the life of me I couldn't tell how he was catching them with the bow.
I tried and tried, again and again and could not get my foot in the door on a tune I had played nearly all my life. I was stumped to say the least.
The teacher told me he could dictate every up-bow or down-bow and every open-string to me, but that he felt it was important that I learn it by ear.
I worked very hard at this practicing with his recordings for 2/3 hours a day and finally after about a month, I figured out a bowing pattern that made one of the sounds he was making. Then I realized - ah!, there are bowing patterns and if I can figure those out, I can get my foot in the door. And it worked!
I felt like I progressed 6 months down the road in one month's time - because I did the work by ear.
I changed how I teach after that to teaching mostly by ear - especially for beginning students.
I no longer watch students go through the painful and time consuming process of trying to get away from the sheet music or tab. It saves them a lot of time and gets them ready to start jamming with people much sooner. And they are able to pick up some tunes by ear at jams when they do start playing with other folks.
The gains truly outweigh the challenge.
I am giving this long response so that other people taking the course can better understand my approach.
I love reading music and very much value my ability to read and write standard notation for certain situations. For me, most of those situations are a little more advanced situations or occur in ensemble settings or have been helpful when I've wanted specific parts recorded in the studio or played in a performance for a project.
That's my two (or maybe more-than-two) cents!
Thanks and keep up the good work!,
I know the Monroe/chop chords can be challenging esp. for those with shorter fingers.
I would have to see your hand and hand position to better direct you.
The one thing I can say though is to really watch the alignment from the back of the palm on the left hand through the wrist and into the forearm. If you are bending the wrist out to the left or if the wrist is caving in to the right towards the neck, you can have trouble - esp. if you have short fingers.
Be sure to watch your position in a mirror.
Look for a smooth, straight line from the palm to the wrist and into the fore-arm.
Also, make sure that you can only see the very tip of the thumb on the left hand in the mirror.
If you are facing yourself in the mirror dead-on and can see any more of the thumb than the finger tip (sometimes I can see the whole length of the thumb on someone) it means that you have pulled the wrist up in the air and along with the wrist, comes the fingers and you lose some length there. I find it helpful to keep that left thumb hanging down long in a straight line going towards the floor.
This is not always necessary for folks with bigger hands, but can be really helpful for those with shorter fingers.
Other than that... I think I am going to patent some finger-extensions just for this very purpose.
Bluegrass Cosmetic Surgery - there's an oxymoron!
Thanks for your story, it makes me think a lot of this ability to play by ear, ability I couldn't imagine to have.
So I really play the game....I have learned Clinch mountain backstep, Squirrel hunters, Chinquapin hunting, Angeline the baker and the eighth of January, all those tunes by ear...and sincerely Sharon, that's a revelation... I really couldn't imagine to remember easily a tune that was not written on a sheet music and each day, when I take my mandolin, those tunes just come so easily...
Really hope to see you in Berkeley in August during my trip in order to show you those tunes.
Yes, on Angeline the baker, I have watched you play it a huge amount of time to try to catch those adding notes, not always easy, we'll see that in August together.
Thanks so much
I have a question about speed. I've seen Dave have already talked about that but I would like to know how you work with the metronome, I usually start slowly, the speed up which is OK. But the day after, I have to work the same way, feeling that the speed is not acquired.
How do you work the speed ?
Loved the beautiful Midnight on the Water with you and John and Scott. I have been working on the mandolin part, I think I have most of it. Any chance of a PDF of the music, so I can see if I am really getting all of it correctly? Thanks, Joan
I'm just beginning and am determined to learn to playThank you for offering this course! I'm working on the first tune 'CLUCK OLD HEN" Im happy to say I've got part A down! My husband plays guitar and we'd like to know what key this song is played in? I'm excited to learn to play by ear because I've been glued to my books! Thank you for challenging me to stretch forward in achieving more on my mandolin!
Welcome to Peghead Nation. If you'll look ahead at the Rhythm Play-Along Tracks lessons in your coure, you'll see one there for Cluck Old Hen. This is designed for you to practice playing rhythm, when you get to that point, but it also includes a chord chart to Cluck Old Hen, so your husband can see what the chords are.
Editor and Co-Founder
I love these lessons! When practicing the tremolo exercise, I find it easier to maintain the light touch if my ring finger or little finger rest and slide on the pick guard. Is that ok or is it a bad habit to get into? It looks like you don't do it on the video.
Enjoying the course, but do you have the tab for the pieces? I signed up for the Flatpicking guitar course as well and this course has tab available for each of the pieces.
There's no tab for the Beginning Mandolin course because Sharon thinks that it's important for beginners to learn to tunes by ear. That's also one of the reasons she plays each tune slowly, numerous times, so you can pick up the tunes by ear and play along with her.
Editor and Co-Founder
I am sorry to ask the same question as the one above about getting tabs. I know this may be a philosophical thing about only learning by ear but I am a person who needs to see things visually and hear them. I have learned many songs using both the ear and tabs and find it goes a lot faster. It just would be nice to have the tabs as reference. thanks.
I have a question about holding the pick, as I have never actually played with one. Which part of the pick hits the strings? I have always assumed it would be the pointed end, but now that I try holding it in different ways, the slightly curved side feels easier.
I am loving your lessons. I am also loving the new friend I have in my mandolin. I have one request in the lesson set, I would love to have a nice long play along and chord tab with each new song.
One other lesson request is that it would be helpful to have a lesson on how to play along in a jam session, to maybe show how a new song you are teaching us could be actually played in a group with others.
The other item may not be for you necessarly for you but I would dearly love to have some Irish/Celtic tunes or maybe those that cross over to Bluegrass that have a Irish flavor.
I understand your desire to have written music available for learning.
However, I feel strongly that it is important to be able to learn these basic tunes by ear.
This level of ear training is essential to any player outside of classical music. It opens doors in a variety of musical situations that will become important the longer you play the instrument.
The first 10 tunes I teach any beginner are taught in two different keys - A major and D major.
This allows students to start hearing certain finger patterns that occur in those two keys repeatedly.
It gives a chance for the ear-training to take hold a little quicker.
I am a visual learn as well. When it comes to an aural art form like music, it is important to have this level of ear-training down. Hopefully this can be an opportunity to quicken the process of learning by ear.
I strongly encourage students to set a goal of learning 10 tunes by ear when starting. After 15 years of teaching, I have seen the same process for everyone who is willing and able to put in consistent practice time. The first three tunes seem impossible and miraculous to learn by ear. By the fifth tune, students start trusting the process more. By the tenth tune, they no longer question it. The first ten tunes are your learning curve. Have patience as learning curves are generally uncomfortable.
How quickly one learns a tune is not the goal here. Learning by ear is the goal. That will quicken by your tenth tune. I do hope you commit to learning ten tunes by ear.
Thank you so much for taking the course.
This is a great question.
Which edge of the pick to use for striking the strings is a matter of personal preference.
The point gives a brighter tone. The curved edge gives a darker tone.
Many mandolin players outside of classical music like using the curved edge. It balances the high-end nature of the mandolin giving a deeper tone.
Some players prefer the point as it feels easier to catch the strings, quicker and can give a little more clarity to one's tone.
Some beginning players may like using the point, as it feels easier to manage at first - less cumbersome.
I've seen many great players using either edge, so it is really up to the player's preference.
The natural tone of one's mandolin, the weight of their hand and their particular style of playing are all factors in shaping one's preference.
Keep in mind the weight of the pick is important. In general, I feel mandolin players need at least a heavy gauge pick to get good tone and volume.
Thanks for the great question and for taking the course.
All the best,
These are all great suggestions. Thanks.
We plan on adding rhythm tracks for tunes soon.
I will think on the suggestion regarding a lesson on bringing tunes into a jam session situation.
I admit I am not an Irish player. Most of the tunes I know that do cross-over to Irish are not beginner tunes.
Marla Fibish is a great Irish teacher if you want to head in that direction. http://www.marlafibish.com
Thank you so much for taking the course!
Loving lesson one already, sort of wax on wax off thing :) Listening to the sound coming off the mandolin is a sort of clue as well.
I have been enjoying your Beginning Mandolin and was wondering the best way to restring a Mandolin? Thank you very much.
Restringing a mandolin - that's hard to put into words.
Here's a few pointers though -
It's important to change the strings one at a time since the bridge is moveable.
I like to get 1.5/2 wraps. You don't need more than that.
Stretch the string out a few times, re-tuning each time you stretch it out.
Clip the extra part of the string off fairly short.
Stretch the string a few more times and then move on to the next string.
Here's a video from D'addario that demonstrates very well how to change strings:
Full disclosure here! - I use D'addario EXP74's and have been for years now.
I hope this helps, Herb.
Keep up the good work...it all pays off.
Your rendition of "squirrel hunters" is great! The practice video with Scot Nygaard was really helpful and I hope you post more of these since they are at a faster pace. If I am playing without a guitarist to accompany me, would it make sense to play the second verse of "squirrel hunters" on a lower octave? This seems to be a common bluegrass pattern when playing alone so that the tune doesn't sound repetitious. The third verse might be a further embellishment or improvisation. If you have ideas about how to do a simple improvisation, that would be really interesting, although it might be beyond this Beginning Mandolinist course.
Really like the course. My Midnight on the Water is really starting to sound like Midnight on the Water. I'm wondering if you have a set amount of time for practicing. Is there too much practice? Or not enough? I play until my fingers don't respond as well, which is getting longer and longer each time.
I'm really enjoying and learning a lot from your lessons. Could you please Identify that beautiful melody that opens the tremolo lesson. I've got to learn that one.
Editor and Co-Founder
So glad to hear you are having good luck with Midnight on the Water. As for practicing, there is no one method to follow. Here are some thoughts:
1- Time put in on fundamentals like technique, tone, timing, fretboard work (learning scale patterns, arpeggios, double stops, etc.) when starting an instrument can save a player practice time later by preparing one for more challenging passages that come up as a player advances.
2 - You are doing the right thing by paying attention to how your hands feel.
In the beginning, it is important to slowly build one's endurance. Mandolin requires a lot of dexterity. So it does require practice time to get strong, but too much could hurt the hands or arms.
3 - My practice time varies with my work load/life. It is important to be consistent when starting an instrument though as you are laying the foundation for technique you will rely on for some time. I'd say you need to be playing at least an hour or two a day to progress when starting. This doesn't need to be all in one sitting. I play no longer than 50 mins. before I take a short 5/10 minute break. This requires a lot of discipline for me to do, but it is important for my hands. I have experimented recently with working on one thing for 20 mins. then breaking for 5 mins. as this is recommended for maintaining optimal attention span. It is hard for me to stop after only 20 mins. so sometimes I just shift focus after 20. Of course 3, 4 and 5 hours a day is super and can help a player progress greatly or be in top shape. The great violinist Itzhak Perlman suggests that it is not necessary to play more than 5 hours a day and that doing so increases the risk of hurting oneself.
I think of my practice time like this:
I split each half into quarters:
1/4 right hand (various picking patterns on open strings, rest strokes, tremolo, 2 string playing, single string, etc.)
1/4 left hand (various exercises, scales, folding scales, arpeggios)
1/4 tunes, chords/back-up/rhythm, transcribing & learning solos
1/4 fretboard patterns - scales, arpeggios, double stops, sequences
I use a metronome when working on most any of these aspects.
I certainly don't practice equally on all four parts all of the time. It's natural to shift the focus from time to time.
Sometimes I have gigs to prepare for and my practice time is spent mostly on learning that material/ "content." I still do a little right hand and left hand warm-up at that time though. When I don't have music to learn for shows, I may get on an obsessive kick of practicing right hand technique - or maybe learning certain kinds of tunes for a time. I do find that this basic way or organizing the components of my practice time helps keep me aware of all the parts. When I've have time to focus on all four parts, I simply mark how much time I have that day and then divide the time into quarters.
Hope that helps! Good luck.
Thanks so much for taking the course,
Editor and Co-Founder
It's sort of on the side of the thumb, which is bonier and has less cushion than the front of the thumb. It starts to feel sore after a little while of practicing, and I'm wondering if I'm making a mistake. It feels difficult for me to keep the thumb planted completely flat against the neck while reaching the fingers into their respective places in first position.
This course is great, by the way. As a fellow music teacher, I completely agree with and admire your ear based approach. Thank you!
Just wanted to say thanks for the lessons. I'm a beginner mandolin player (seasoned guitar player though) and your advice is helping me no end.
I'm in Australia so the web based training option is brilliant for me. It seems odd sitting on the verandah of our place on a very small tropical island playing along to your lessons, but I do, and I love it.
Cheers - Simon
Thanks for the great lessons. I am working through them and getting better.
It took some very deliberate practice for about the last month to be able to play and switch between the monroe chords. I actually used them in a recent jam session (I started a beginner jam session at my house -- two mandos, two banjos, a fiddle and a guitar, although the others are actually quiet a bit more advanced than me). I'll push through and learn Whisky this coming week, and then my plan is to work through all the play along tracks and bring the tunes up to a reasonable level of proficiency, as well as to incorporate the new stuff that Sharon sometimes introduces in the play along tracks. (June Apple has been particularly difficult to get up to the speed of the play along track. Anyone else finding that?) After that, I'll pick up Sharon's new course. Cheers and Happy New Year, John
Editor and Co-Founder
Little 'ol me from Uk. Started this January. Loving your style am doing pretty well, focusing on getting through the first course by September then follow on with your intermediate course. I do play the guitar, mainly bluegrass. By the way am 72 years young and intend to be the best that I can.
God Bless, your'e a fine tutor.
So glad I came across peghead nation, even better that I met yo, "sort of", ha! you're Monroe lessons awesome love your attention to detail. Am targeting September to get through the beginners 'lessons so that I can progress to the Intermediate course. I am fortunate in as much in my younger days about the only way you could pickup songs was to repeat them and figure out the key chords and melody that part has stood me in good stead on your course. Only one slight criticism you have a soft voice and sometimes I find it difficult to hear what yousay. shame they didn't turn the volume up on you. All the best William xx
I signed up for your beginning mandolin course. I started trying to learn mandolin about 6 months ago. I was playing guitar, an elbow injury many years ago caused a lot of pain when I played.I picked up a rogue 100a dor 50 dollars. Playing it, does not seem to bother my elbow. Plus it seemed easier to pick out tunes. I just bought a loar 310f and I love it. I was never good a playing by ear, but your instruction has made it easier for me. I love your course. I plan to retire when I am 62, I am 58 now. It is my dream to play in a band to earn extra money when I retire. Wish me luck.
I've been a guitarist for 50 years, but I've never played the mandolin. I finally bought an Eastman MD315 and started your beginning mandolin course on March 1, 2017. Although I can read music, I learned the guitar by ear so your mandolin course is perfect for me. (The most difficult part of the course is the scales...!) I absolutely love the course. I just finished Midnight on the Water. At age 66, I still work full time, so finding time to practice is a challenge. I never imagined I would have learned 10 songs in two months...! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
P.S. Do you by any chance know Don Julin? He is an acquaintance of mine and an incredible mandolin player. I've thought about supplementing my Peghead lessons by taking a few private lessons with him.
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