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Welcome to the Peghead Nation Beginning Mandolin course.

by Sharon Gilchrist
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!

Sharon Gilchrist

Visit the Beginning Mandolin Course Page

Category: Course Discussions

Questions About Your Course?

If you have questions about the course or a specific lesson, you can email instructors@pegheadnation.com

Comments and Discussion

Posted by adam.price1@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon... I'm so appreciative of your courses here in Peghead Nation, I'm more of a guitarist, but have had a Mandolin for quite a while and wanted to just learn it for something different in my duo... I've found your foundational courses easy to pickup and have also enrolled in your fretboard picking "New" course which I absolutely LOVE also.

I thought it would be very different to the guitar, and yes, it is, but having some finger conditioning from the guitar has helped... I'm going to take it slow and enjoy the journey you're offering and so glad that there is an area to ask questions here also.

You take care and stay safe.

Warm Regards,
Posted by jpuhalski@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon, I've enjoyed watching your playing with Peter Rowan and his group and originally signed up for the new Fretboard course. Even though I've been playing the mandolin for a couple years now after being a guitar player for many years. I decided to strengthen my foundations by taking the Beginners course and I couldn't be happier with that decision. I've avoided Fiddle tunes as much as possible but I'm now on my 3rd one and feeling very confident. You have a great teaching style and learning by ear is especially helpful. I just found out about the Strum Machine from reading these comments and love it. The perfect aid for practicing.
Posted by sisemore99@sbcglobal.net on
Hi Sharon
Thank you for the wonderful instruction. You are excellent. I've finished the beginner class and have moved on to the intermediate program. My question is pick noise.
When I'm working on speed, my pick makes a lot of clicking and metallic sounds. I've replaced the strings and tried various pick angles but cant seem to make the unwanted sounds disappear. Is it technique or a mandolin set up problem. I'm using a Blue Chip CT 55. Very frustrating...
Thank you...Mike
Posted by Thomas Respess on
Taking your Beginner lesson. Excellent. Thank you very much. Question: In terms of tempo, is there a range of bpm that I should shoot for? I understand that each tune will be different, and that I must build speed slowly, but what tempo range do you use when playing the tunes in the lessons? Again, thank you so much for the tremendous care and effort put into your lessons. Tom Respess
Posted by mommysusie1@gmail.com on
Just viewed the first lesson on Beginning Mandolin. Love your approach and focus on keeping things relaxed. Quick question: to use the left hand properly, how short do my nails need to be? Please forgive me if this seems too basic or vain. Thanks.
Posted by matweber@umich.edu on
Any tips for figuring out which cords to play when? On Chinquapin Hunting, for example, you tell us to play D, A, and G cords. But without sheet music to look at, I am completely at a loss for knowing how many times I play the D cord, then switch to the A, then back to the D, etc. If there were a "strum along" track so that I could hear that the cords I am playing match yours, that would be helpful, but it looks like you only have the melody. By the way, it would be useful to have the melody playing softly on that strum along track so that I can hear how it matches up with the cords.
Posted by randcmeyer1384@att.net on
Hi Sharon,

I just completed your Introductory Mandolin Course, which I thoroughly enjoyed. You are an awesome teacher! Years ago, I took private lessons on the mandolin, but seemed to keep hitting a wall of getting any better. However, your course taught me things such as posture, proper right and left hand technique, etc. that were easy to understand and apply. I must admit that I too went through tablature withdrawal at first, having been initially "paper trained", if you will. I now agree with you that learning the tunes by ear is far superior to getting stuck to tab paper.

Thank you so much for all the time and care you put into each and every lesson. I'm looking forward to taking your Intermediate Mandolin Course this winter.


Posted by aliranguesl@gmail.com on
Well, I am just at the very beginning of the beginners course on mandolin with Sharon. I was in the tuning section. Sharon mentioned something about checking against intervals...the 5th interval and the octave. Can someone explain that to me? Thanks.
Posted by lorrin.finch@gmail.com on
As a total 43 year old beginner to Music/Mando, I love these course so far. What set these apart from the rest is the level of detail that I didnt find in most other courses.Thanks so much :-)
Posted by Robert Bishop on
Hi Sharon,
I was checking out your free sample course. I was wondering, if I took the pay course are there tabs and chord charts that come with the class? It would be nice to go back and go over the tunes with tabs. That way I would know that I'm doing it right and I could practice better. Its hard for me to just watch you go through 4 different parts and retain what you did.
Posted by norskbob@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon,

I just started your Beginner Mandolin course. I've played for several years and I play several other instruments including guitar and banjo. I think it's always a good idea to re-visit the fundamentals.

I have a quick question on the wrist movement in the basic right hand picking technique. Even though it's not mentioned, it appears the wrist movement you're talking about is most a rotation of the forearm at the wrist like turning a key, and not the flat side to side movement at the wrist. Is that true?

Posted by brokerdouglas@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon, I really like this exercise and notice that the last 3 fingers of your pick hand seem to be pretty relaxed and as many method books and others talk about using those as supporting the pick fingers more like a column. I like the idea of having them relaxed so the entire hand's more relaxed. Your thoughts please?
Posted by jimmy42005@att.net on
Sharon, as a "frequent" beginner on the mandolin, I very much appreciate the basic videos as they have been very helpful. Learning to play by ear is a very challenging task for me, other than repeatedly listening to the video, are there some tips to help me with this challenge. I have been using Tabs for playing songs so by learning by ear is a giant leap for me. Thanks,
Posted by katy@katyboyd.com on
Regarding the left had technique lesson pt 2, is it common or normal to struggle trying to do the pattern for repeating phrase on the A string (skip one fret between fingers 2 and 3)? I find it actually a bit painful and I am wondering if this will improve. I can't do the closed G chord at all, but maybe after I am better at stretching I will be able to? Thanks for the help!
Posted by Scottnyg on
Hi Don,
Good question. Almost always, the key you're in will be the same as the chord the tune or song ends on. If you're just playing the melody and aren't sure of the chords, most of the time, the key will be the same as the last note the tune ends on. There are some exceptions, but 95% of the time, using that rule will give you the key the song is in.
Scott Nygaard
Co-Founder and Editor
Peghead Nation
Posted by donkupidy@hotmail.com on
Is there a quick way to find out what key I am playing in?
When I play in a group they always want to know what Key I am in before I start.
Posted by Scottnyg on
HI khowe0617@gmail.com,
The frets are the slim metal bars on the fingerboard. When an instructor says something like "play the second fret" or "put your finger at the second fret" that means to put your finger in the space between the first and second frets, but closer to the second fret. It can be confusing, because if you actually put your finger on the second fret, it would just mute or damp the string. The idea is to get your finger close enough to the fret to get a clear note but not mute the note. I hope that makes sense.

Scott Nygaard
Peghead Nation
Posted by kenvanderstoep@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon, I've been playing with a group of about 10 people every Thursday night for a number of years now and have remained shamefully crude in my mandolin technique and lazy in my practice habits. I keep dropping my pick and after lesson one, holding the mandolin wrong. I'm excited to learn ways to improve my chopping technique to keep rhythm and eventually blow them away with a picked melody. It's going to be about more than the deserts and the sing along from now on.
Posted by Scottnyg on
Here's a response from Sharon to a question from a student who asked for some advice practicing:

I love this question. Often times we don't know how to practice something or make forward motion happen in our playing so this is a great question to ask. I would practice any of the tunes from this course in a similar process to how I taught it. Go one phrase at a time starting with the first phrase of the A part. I often start off learning the phrase by making sure I can sing or hum it out loud several times along with the track I am using to learn it. When I start playing it after singing, I find I learn it much faster. From there, play the phrase slowly, repeating until you can play it smoothly without having to think about it or struggle technically to play it. Repeat it slowly until you have it memorized.

Do this with each phrase of the A part. Then practice 2 phrases together at a time - phrases 1 & 2, phrases 3 & 4. Then try piecing the whole A part together. Practice the A part to completion - memorized, slow, smooth, in-time, stress-free and able to play many times in a row without thinking about it. Them move to the B part and apply the same process. Eventually piece together two A parts and two B parts and voila!, you have yourself a fiddle tune.

Once you can play the whole tune slowly, smoothly and fully memorized, then you can start repeating the whole tune.
Being able to play the tune one time through slowly, smoothly and memorized is great, BUT!... don't stop here!
I don't consider a tune fully learned until I can play it through smoothly many times without stopping.
For practicing repetitions of the whole tune, try using a tool like Strum Machine which has guitar rhythm tracks already formulated with chord changes already programmed in for tons of fiddle tunes. It does not sound like a computer. It sounds like a guitar and is more fun to practice with than practicing alone! You can also adjust the tempo to your liking on Strum Machine. If you don't use something like Strum Machine, be sure to use a metronome so you also work on your timing for the tune. One you can play the tune through at least 10 times smoothly, stress-free and staying in time you can start gradually increasing tempo. If you find you are still stopping and starting through out the melody, you are not ready to speed up yet.

Be sure to practice your back-up on all the tunes so that you learn the chords and are ready to jam with other people playing both lead and rhythm. You can practice switching between rhythm and lead more easily with something like Strum Machine or any recordings of the tune you might like. It's usually more fun this way too!

I don't consider a tune learned until I can play the melody and the chords by memory.
It's way too easy to only focus on melody when first learning. Remember in any jam or band situation you will play way more rhythm than you will lead, so learning the chord changes to these tunes is essential!

Also, be sure and find existing recordings on the tunes you are learning. This is always inspiring and informative and keeps the learning process feeling musical and alive!

Some practice take-aways are:

1- Be sure you can sing the phrases you are learning before starting to play them.

2 - Isolate small sections and learn them to completion. Then piece together isolated phrases until you complete each part.
This is essential and way more efficient than trying to learn a whole part or tune at once.

3 - Practice slow or what I like to call learning tempo or "molasses slow!" This removes all the stress out of your playing and you will learn it much deeper this way. Speeding the piece up becomes much easier once you have learned it without stress and can essentially play it in your sleep.

4 - By practicing a melody at least 10 or more times through in a row, you are much more likely to play it well when you get one pass at the melody as you would in a jam session or performance. 5-10 times through is honestly just barely getting started on truly knowing it!!

5 - Be able to switch back and forth between melody and playing the chord progression with smooth timing in these transitions.

Hope this helps and thanks for the great question!,
Posted by khowe0617@gmail.com on
Can you give me a clear definition of a fret? I got through the second lesson and I was practicing and I thought it was the amount of fingers down. Sorry confused.
Posted by dgriscom@comcast.net on
I could not find instructions on practicing the various lessons and I have a few questions. Should I be following the lessons sequentially? To what level of skill do I need to attain before I move to the next lesson? About how much time should I spend practicing and should I be doing other things besides the lessons during practice? Thanks
Posted by Boz1713@flash.net on
Sharon -
Just wanted to say that I am enjoying the beginner course. I have been "playing" the mandolin for a while but missed a lot fo the fundamentals. This is exactly what I was looking for.
Posted by deskinsduo@live.com on
Hello Sharon, I am a complete beginner on mandolin. I am really enjoying your beginner class. I am progressing better than I expected. I like learning the tunes by ear. It challenging but I’m enjoying it. Thanks so much for teaching the class. You play beautifully.. I’m determined to learn just have to make time for practice in my daily routine thanks again
Posted by karlec50@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon having a great time with course. I am a guitar player by trade for over 50 years, so mandolin is not difficult, but learning tunes by ear is new to me. I can read and do so readily, but this takes on new skills. Thank you. I look forward to using the skills in playing with others. Again thanks.
Posted by JuliePorter529@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon. I am loving this course! My only problem is that I’ve become obsessed with “Midnight on the Water.” I play it over and over and over.... Fortunately my husband likes to play guitar with me. I REALLY should move on to the next song, but wait— one more time...! :-)
Posted by trmorrell@att.net on
Hi Sharon,
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.
Posted by wlansdale@gmail.com on
I left the post about retiring at 62, and hopefully earn extra money playing mandolin. I forgot to leave my name. It is Bill. God bless.
Posted by wlansdale@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon,
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.
Posted by wiliamjones36@yahoo.co.uk on
Hi Sharon
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
Posted by wiliamjones36@yahoo.co.uk on
Hi Sharon
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.
Posted by wandersonpublic@mac.com on
Monroe Chords, Part 1, great lesson, just a comment about a tongue-slip by Sharon at 1:52 where she is naming notes in the C chop chord and calls ring finger on 4th-string 5th-fret a G instead of C (I'm sure she is thinking G-string). The C chop chord actually doesn't have a fifth, only doubled root and 3rd.
Posted by Scottnyg on
Actually, John, Old Joe Clark is in the key of A, so the G# makes sense because G# is the seventh step in the A major scale. The G natural is unusual and gives it what some people call a "modal" sound or in music theory is called the Mixolydian mode, in which the seventh note of the major scale is flatted by a half step. You'll hear this sound a lot in bluegrass, old-time, and Irish music particularly.
Scott Nygaard
Editor and Co-Founder
Peghead Nation
Posted by john.donaghy7@gmail.com on
On the embellished Old Joe Clark part A, we hit a G# near the end even though we are in the key of D. It certainly sounds better than hitting a G there, but I am just curious if there is any music theory behind that.
Posted by rsnelson0984@mchsi.com on
I meet Sharon a few years back at a Steve Kaufman Music Camp where she was teaching. She was kind enough to play one of my Katy Mandolins that I build and comment on its sound and action. Thanks for that, Sharon. I signed up for this course because in spite of building mandolins for a number of years I don't play mandolin. My guitar playing was always tied to the music sheet and I guess I didn't invest the time to learn to play lead by ear. This course is great, I already have four songs that I can play by ear. Well a little review is needed once in a while. Thanks to Peghead Nation And Sharon Gilchrist for this great course.
Posted by john.donaghy7@gmail.com on
Just an update from me -- and curious to hear how others are progressing, too. I started playing mandolin a year ago, and have been steadily working through this first course. I've picked up just about all of the tunes (just Whisky to go!), and have relied on learning by ear more and more (by literally turning my back on the video). I have picked up a few other tunes not covered in this course as well. I realized a month or two ago that I was not holding the pick optimally -- I have since been holding it much more loosely and also slid it further up my index finger, more on the first knuckle than the pad. Big difference!

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
Posted by JBWitten@aol.com on
Arching the first knuckle to play an open-A chord is a golden tip. I may have never discovered that on my own. Simple yet so effective. Little things mean a lot.

Posted by JBWitten@aol.com on
Playing an open A chord by bowing the first knuckle of the first finger is a golden tip. It would have taken me a long time to figure that out on my own. So simple yet so effective. Thanks
Posted by lazylester@suddenlink.net on
Hi Sharon, I'm having a problem when picking on the A strings. Still practicing on Cluck Old Hen, and when I do a down-down-up I get string buzz. I watched what I am doing, and I found I'm driving through the strings, and if I slow way down and stroke lighter it sounds great. Any suggestions on what I can do or practice to get into a better follow through on this type of picking pattern?
Thanks for the great lessons. I am working through them and getting better.
Posted by simonkwilkins@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon

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
Posted by natanwythe@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon, I'm writing for clarification about left hand posture. I'm a seasoned guitar player, and I'm accustomed to the fleshy front of the thumb making contact with the back of the neck of the instrument. With Mandolin, I've been using this part instead: http://imgur.com/3l5J0SP

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!
Posted by john.donaghy7@gmail.com on
Hey there fellow new players, I too am totally new to mandolin. I started about 3 months ago. I found playing by ear very difficult at first, too. Now it's only just pretty difficult! What has helped me (and I realize that charpist5 is way beyond me musically so this is no news to you, and could be well below your experience, too, laurelee) is knowing what key the song is in. So when I am unsure of what notes Sharon is playing, I know there is only a limited handful of possible notes that she could be playing that are in the song's key. I just try those notes until I get the one that sounds right. The first few songs I learned by trying to watch her fingers... I must have replayed each video 50 times. But I picked up the last song (Eighth of January) much quicker by barely even looking at the video. I just listened and tried notes that were in the right key. I was very surprised that I was able to do it, but it was really just trial and error and not the kind of voodoo that I thought "learning by ear" was. I still replayed the video a fair number of times, but many fewer times than before. It was also more fun and satisfying, and seems to have stuck better, too. Cheers
Posted by laureleebeedee@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon, I am new to mandolin and find I am getting lost quickly with trying to follow the fingering. Not much of a play by ear kind of gal I'm afraid. Do you provide notes for these pieces as well? Thanks, Laurel
Posted by charpist5@aol.com on
Hi Sharon, I am a rank beginner (7 weeks) at mandolin, and peghead nation has really given me a good start. I am more of a self-learner, and not sure in my town if there would actually be a place to have mandolin lessons anyway. I joined your course for a month, then dropped it after that month because I am not a "memory" or rote learner. I am a composer (harp, piano, clarinet, Native American flute) so I write notes and am used to reading them (lol). I missed your lessons when my month ended, and missed your easy-going style, so I joined again and to overcome the "by rote" issue, I cheat. I put the pieces into notation, so they are right there for me to practice, both along with lessons and on my own. Works for me! Thanks so much!
Posted by Scottnyg on
Hi John, Glad you're enjoying Sharon's course. You did find a typo but it's in the F#m chords. The 1 fr. Indication - or 4 fr. In the case of the D Monroe chord - is placed next to that fret. So the D chord is correct - it shows that the F# in the D chord is fretted at the fourth fret of the D string. But that 1 fr. Indication in the F#m chord should be 2 fr. Make sense? Thanks for pointing that out.
Scott Nygaard
Editor and Co-Founder
Peghead Nation
Posted by john.donaghy7@gmail.com on
Totally new to mandolin, just started at the New Year and really enjoying the course, Sharon. I have a question about the notation on a couple of chord charts. On the Beginning mandolin open chords, it has the notation 1fr. next to the F#M chord, which I interpret to mean that I leave one fret open, and my first finger goes on the E strong at the second fret. But if I use that same interpretation on the Beginning mandolin monroe chords, I think the D, A and E chords are incorrect. The D chord has the notation 4fr., which I would interpret to mean that I leave the first four frets open, and my index finger starts on the D string on 5th fret. But I believe that's a D#. So if instead I interpret the 4fr. notation to mean start with my first finger at the 4th fret, then using that same interpretation would move my F#m back to being the same as my F chord. Just a typo or am I missing something? Thanks!
Posted by charpist5@aol.com on
Hello, I have been learning mandolin (online) for 12 days. Just came upon this site and joined beginning mandolin. Before an hour ago, I didn't think my pinkie finger would be capable of being used! My hands are small, but I am a musician (harp, piano, clarinet, Native American flute). I have had to practice in five minute intervals at first, but have realized that I can play about 15 minutes now (without my fingers becoming mandolin-useless). Thanks to the lessons I have worked through this morning, and the exercises, I now realize that my pinkie finger will not be useless after all! It is just a matter of time and practice, like all instruments. Thank you Sharon!
Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Responding to post by: scottpaul1000@gmail.com on Dec 10th, 2015 at 5:01 PM

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,
Posted by Scottnyg on
Steve, That's the second half of Midnight on the Water, which Sharon teaches in another lesson.
Scott Nygaard
Editor and Co-Founder
Peghead Nation
Posted by Srseitz2@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon,
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.
Much Obliged,
Steve Seitz
Posted by scottpaul1000@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon
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.
Posted by jamesjones1454@hotmail.com on
The "8th of January" track is great and the video practice track with Scott Nygaard and Sharon playing together tops it off. I remember hearing the hit song, "The Battle of New Orleans" as a child which is based on this melody. Thanks!
Posted by jamesjones1454@hotmail.com on

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.

Posted by nkristensen@ziggo.nl on
love the Rhythm Play-Along Tracks! the melodies really come alive, nice :)
Posted by Bill Arnett on
Hi Sharon, I have not signed up yet. Just reading you emails in response to your student's questions. I do so appreciate your teaching abilities, just from your answers to your students. It certainly shows your sincerity in giving your all, in helping them to learn the Mandolin. You and Murphy Henry, both have the right idea,in the learning by ear technique in the beginning stages of learning the,which she also uses in her Banjo instruction. I had the same question about Tabs, but you explained it so well,as to why you use this method to begin with... it works ! Won't take anymore of your valuable time. headed to sign up now... see you around the bend, Bill
Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Niels - glad the pick holding info and the first lesson are proving helpful!
Keep up the good work...it all pays off.
Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Hi Herb - Thanks for signing up for the course.

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.
Posted by Herb Snook on
Hi Sharon,

I have been enjoying your Beginning Mandolin and was wondering the best way to restring a Mandolin? Thank you very much.

Posted by nkristensen@ziggo.nl on
hi Sharon, thanks for explaining about the pick. Last couple of days I did excercise one trying to keep 110% relaxed, and then I found the point is easy after all if you don't grip the pick tightly but hold it loosely instead.
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.
Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Hi Mike -

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!
Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Hello Niels,
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,
Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Hi Chris,
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.
Posted by Mike Gapter on
Hi Sharon,
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.

Posted by nkristensen@ziggo.nl on
hello Sharon,
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.
thank you,
Posted by chriseb721@aol.com on
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.

Posted by Scottnyg on
Hi Claire,
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.
Scott Nygaard
Editor and Co-Founder
Peghead Nation
Posted by claire.wheeldon@outlook.com on
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.
Posted by Grodenhausen@gmail.com on
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.
Posted by Scottnyg on
Hi Lori,
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.

Scott Nygaard
Editor and Co-Founder
Peghead Nation
Posted by loristricrl@gmail.com on
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!
Thanks, Lori
Posted by anne.delayat@yahoo.fr on
In case of the possibility to have the PDF I will also be interested, I have also found the notes but I don't have the chords, double notes that are added all along the melody.
Thanks, Anne
Posted by jbahm1@gmail.com on
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
Posted by anne.delayat@yahoo.fr on
Hey Sharon,

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 ?

Posted by anne.delayat@yahoo.fr on
Hello Sharon

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

Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Hi Dee,

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!

Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Hi Anne,

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!,
Posted by deannadean5@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon, Thank you You are the first one that has really gone in-depth on finger placement on the strings. Really helpful. Any tips on how to get my fingers to reach the G chop cord. I have really short fingers and when I stretch not all my fingers stays on the strings.

Posted by anne.delayat@yahoo.fr on
Hello Sharon,

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.

Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on

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.

Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Hi Sally - I understand exactly what you are talking about here.
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.

Good luck!
Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Hi Dave - So glad you are enjoying the course and to hear you are jamming with people.
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!
Posted by sallymc33@gmail.com on
Hi Sharon,
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?
Posted by somarmd@aol.com on

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.


Posted by somarmd@aol.com on
Hi Sharon,

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.

Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Sandra - here are the keys for the other songs:

Old Joe Clark - A
Chinquapin Hunting - D
Angeline the Baker - D
Squirrel Hunters - A

Hope that helps!
Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on

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.
Posted by sandrafollett@shaw.ca on
Hi Sharon,
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.
Posted by Sharon Gilchrist on
Hey Mike,
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,
Posted by mikefroke@yahoo.com on
Hi Sharon ... Although I have been playing the mandolin for a number of years, I signed up for both your beginning class and Joe's advancing course. Your class has been extremely helpful to me in cleaning up some bad habits that were resulting in some erratic and inconsistent fingering. Also breaking down new (and old) tunes by phrases has helped, rather than rushing through an entire break and "rounding off" too much of the melody. Thanks, Mike Froke
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Jul 31, 2020
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