Greg Cohoon (drmellow) wrote,
Greg Cohoon

The Girl I Left Behind

Last Wednesday, I had my first mandolin lesson. It was lots and lots of fun. I don't think that I've faithfully put in the 30 minutes a day that I should be doing, but if you look at my week as a whole, I think I'm on track. That's been achieved by the fact that I got more than my daily dose in over the weekend. I know that practicing in a "burst" like that is not nearly as good as sustained daily practice, so I'm working hard to try to incorporate better practice habits in my daily routine.

The first lesson was pretty standard as first lessons go. I introduced myself to my instructor, Jeff, who probably recognized me when I walked into the store 'cause it was time for my lesson and I was walking into the store with a mandolin case looking like I was looking for someone. We headed off to the practice room, which is actually in the store window. The blinds were pulled, so it wasn't like I was completely on display for the lesson, but it was still pretty cool. It was a nice, spacious practice room.

Jeff looked at my mandolin and we chatted a bit about my musical background and what I was looking to get out of mandolin lessons. He seemed happy to learn that I've got a pretty decent musical background -- it'll mean that we can skip over a lot of the basics like counting and reading tablature, etc. -- and we jumped into playing a bit. He asked what I could do already. I told him that I had started working through Bluegrass Mandolin, but kinda quit making progress when I got to the part where they were teaching chords. I told him that the chord formations didn't feel terribly natural and I didn't want to risk learning poor form and having a difficult time unlearning it later. I made that mistake when I learned how to play a G chord on the guitar, and to this day, it's difficult for me to make smooth transitions between G and C, which is a rather common transition.

It turns out that part of my difficulty stemmed from the way I was holding the instrument. I tended to keep the neck more or less parallel with the floor, when I should be holding it at as much as a 35 or 45 degree angle from the floor. Once I made that adjustment, the fingerings for the chords were much, much easier.

I played a little bit out of my book so that Jeff could see where I was and what kind of raw material he'd be working with. He seemed pretty impressed -- I do a pretty good job of making sure my upstrokes and downstrokes are appropriate. I was really nervous about playing for him, since it had been about a week since I had even picked up the instrument. It went OK anyway.

Another thing that Jeff mentioned was that he had a book that he taught out of for people who are interested in learning how to read music when playing the mandolin and we could do that if I wanted. I told him that I would definitely be interested in learning that -- I'm not interested in being a mandolin player who can only operate from tab or playing by ear. Jeff seemed pleased that I was interested in persuing that. I bet most beginning mandolin players really just want to learn a few chords and melodies so they can play along with basic stuff. One of the things that Jeff said was good about being able to read music is that you can play violin/fiddle music on a mandolin without much difficulty because the instruments are tuned the same way. There is a lot of good music out there for violin/fiddle that can be easily adapted to mandolin. For even more fun, there's apparently a lot of violin/flute duets that sound really good with a mandolin instead of a violin. I'm looking forward to trying some of them out when I get better.

Our lesson time was approaching an end, so Jeff decided that he'd teach me a simple tune before we left. He wrot out the tab for The Girl I Left Behind as well as the chords used. He spent some time showing me some tricks about the chord transitions I need to be making. I'm still struggling with them, but I might be passable by the time I have my next lesson on Wednesday. Regardless, I'm really excited that I'm able to do the chords that I can do now. I sound a lot better than I did when I was attempting to teach myself how to play.

Just before I left, Jeff made a cassette recording of him playing the melody of the song so that I'd have something that I can practice with throughout the week. Doing that is a great idea. I've been able to use that to help practice the chords, e.g. I'm going to really enjoy working with Jeff and I really look forward to becoming a good mandolin player.

Last night, I was practicing downstairs and I heard Mrs. Mellow play the tune that I had been practicing all week on the piano. I guess she heard me playing it enough that she could pick it out herself. (Actually, she's pretty good at that -- hearing it only a time or two would have probably been sufficient.) So I took Loretta upstairs to see if she wanted to duet with me. That was lots of fun. We took turns playing melody and chords. Then she got her flute out and would play the melody on the flute while I practiced the chords. The flute and mandolin make a good pairing.

All in all, I'm really happy with my mandolin instruction so far. My fingers hurt, but that's just the good hurt of developing the callouses on my fingertips. That's what I keep telling myself, anyway. I also need to really build up some pinky strength on my left hand if I hope to reach some of these chords.

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