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Laurie Niles

Pickin' mandolin music

July 6, 2009 at 4:18 AM

So I'm getting ready to traverse the entire U.S. of A. with my family and I've decided that instead of bringing my fiddle and risking that it turns into a puddle in the trunk, I'm going to bring along my mandolin.

Thus, I dug out my dusty mando and set about resurrecting it today. I still had a gift card that a student had given me last Christmas, so I took my mandolin to my local music store, Old Town Music, where I was able to buy an entire set of strings -- eight of them -- for $4.50! Then for another $10, they strung it for me -- nice. What a shock, after spending something like $79 on four new strings for my violin last week, and of course, when has anyone strung an instrument for me, since I was 12 years old?

During the reinging, we meandered to the back of the store, where I looked through some books, hoping to find something that would work for me, the classical violinist. It's not easy; I find mandolin tablature to be unnecessary and unfamiliar, just plain difficult to read! And I don't really need the super-basic "this is the A STRING..." kind of book. Yet, I'm a beginner on mandolin: A left-handed person who has only trained my right hand to use a bow. Pick technique is a new challenge, and though I want some instant gratification, I need just the right thing to help me develop this new technique.

As is typical, I was thumbing through everything, frowning, concentrating, brow furrowed, finding nothing, when my son, Brian, popped up with, "How 'bout this one, Mom?"

Hmmm, Sam Bush Teaches Mandolin Repertoire and Technique...The music is all written out, there's a little CD, the notes are fairly basic but considering the pick issue, it promises some challenge...Looks good.

So I'm all set up, and after listening to a bit of the little CD, Sam seems like a good teacher. And heavens, he seems like a good player!

P.S. For his efforts, I spent the rest of my gift certificate on a harmonica for Brian -- he's not going to bring the piano in the car, either!

From bill platt
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 5:09 AM

You can't get any better than Sam Bush. He is a super talent--good pick! BTW he plays the fiddle too! You must see him in a live setting when you get the chance.

Just to keep you guessing--since you are a lefty and you have no experience with guitar etc, you might even try playing left-handed. You might find that your left hand is faster at doing good pick and rythm work, and that your right hand can deal with the fingering more than well enough (especially as there isn't an intonation issue due to the frets)---. I know a lefty  who can play guitar either way, and play either way with the strings the wrong way (that's four different ways to play guitar). It is what we lefties do--defy predconceived notions of correctness! :-)

Posted on July 6, 2009 at 5:27 AM

Now, did you thank the folks at the music store? Thank-yous are a rarity, aren't they

From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 5:37 AM

Of course I thanked them! Always!

Bill...I don't know...!

Actually, I'm feeling like it will really help my right hand, and help it for violin playing. Specifically, I'm currently working on Bach Sonata No. 2, and in the final movement, I want to do some of the 32nd notes un-slurred, as Bach indicated. But it's not as fast as I'd like. So I'm thinking, if I can get pickin', and if I can also get a good tremolo (which is rather different than a bow tremolo), this will help.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 7:50 AM

One of the greatest living bluegrass music players is Ricky Skaggs.  He can take anything with strings on it and make it sound great.  You can see and hear him play  here.

One of the things he said about bluegrass music and spirituality applies just as well to any other genre of music, including classical.  "To minister to someone through music is a wonderful gig." (source: ) 


From Jim Glasson
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 10:04 AM

I need to "second" Ricky Scaggs.
Absolutely amazing.


From Shailee Kennedy
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 10:05 AM

Yeah, I love Ricky Skaggs. I believe that was also Bobby Hicks on fiddle in that video---one of the very best.

Be prepared for your callouses to toughen up, Laurie. Two courses of strings and much higher tension will do that. I knew a mandolin player who had callouses so thick you could see through them!

You could also use this as an opportunity to practice learning by ear! 

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 10:38 AM

 Clever title ;-)  Sounds like fun!

But I don't get the image of the violin turning into a puddle . . . I'm sure your violin isn't the wicked witch.

From Steven Albert
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 12:27 PM

I look forward to your youtube of Bach on the mandolin.  :-)


From E. Smith
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 12:42 PM

I'm vicariously excited for your trip! You'll be blogging from the road, right? And of course no cross-USA tour is complete without a visit to the cradle of liberty, the City of Brotherly Love...

From Anne Horvath
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 12:49 PM

No cross-country trip is complete without an artery clogging stop at Graeter's Ice Cream...

Have fun with the mando.  Be careful with the left hand, as the strings tend to be less forgiving.  Have fun!

From Royce Faina
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 2:46 PM

I second Ann, plus if you pass up a Cheese Cake factory you'll be begging God's forgiveness for a year!

Ricky Scaggs Yes!  I would also add Roy Clark but a couple of people who met Roy in public said his ego was bigger than Texas (sigh) sorry Roy!

From David Beck
Posted on July 6, 2009 at 4:15 PM

 Shucks, aint you got no cotton-pickin' banjo ??

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