Learning to Play the Mandolin Better

Playing the mandolin is now my favorite hobby. I write a lot about making musical instruments, but the end goal of it all is making music in a meaningful way. Learning the mandolin has been a lot of fun, and allowed me to reconnect with music in ways I never even imaged. My wife sang along to Christmas carols, I started learning songs by ear and discovering new genres. It re-energized my musical pursuits, and gave back way more energy than I put in.

Image via The Black Apple

I wanted to share my roadpath for learning the Mandolin. My goal with this post is to transform your thinking about learning the mandolin, share my favorite resources, and ask your feedbacks for tips to become a better Mandolin player.

The starting point for all Mandolin players is Mandolin for dummies. If you haven’t seen this book, I recommend you check out the reviews at Amazon. For less than 20 bucks, it provides exercises to get you playing fast, online audio examples, tons of songs and tips on setting up your Mandolin.

How Much Time Do You Have? 10,000 hours. 20 hours. 5 Minutes.

When Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote that 10,000 hours are required a master a skill, it had the negative effect of leaving wondering whether something is worth doing unless I can put 10,000 hours into it. Setting goals of practicing one hour a day, would mean 27 years a required to reach 10,000. That’s demotivating, and misdirected advice for where I want to go as a player. I’m not looking to be a professional Mandolin player, but I wanted to reach a level of playing that I could share with my family.

Josh Kaufman has a better approach of learning anything in the first 20 hours. 20 hours is 40 minutes a day for a month. This is more manageable. His guideline is based on four steps:

  • Deconstruct the skill into a series of learnable building blocks
  • Self-Correct your mistakes with reference materials
  • Remove Barriers to Learning 
  • Practices at least 20 hours

I value the importance of hardwork. But even 40 minutes a day for a month, is a commitment that doesn’t fit into my schedule. Life gets in the way, missing a day becomes draining and keeping the energy going on this approach is challenge.

In a great youtube Master class video , Kenny Werner laid out my favorite advice for Effortless Mastery. Keep your hobby easily available so you can jump into it at any time. Just shoot for 5 minutes of practice. How many of you have moments in the day in between tasks when you make 5 minutes? Once I started looking for these moments, I found more and more. These moments kept me connected to the learning instrument, keeps it fun, but even more importantly, so many of these 5 minute practices turn into 15 minute sessions, 30 minute sessions or even hour long sessions.

What Is Your Favorite Way of Learning

There are a wealth of online resources for learning the internet.Books are still my favorite way of learning. Online tutorials can be distracting. Its too easy to check email, and loose focus on the task at hand. But when I want to learn a specific skill, its amazing how helpful a webpage, youtube video or mandolin forum can be at answering the question.

Venturing Outside Beyond Your Knowledge Box

Eventually, to progress you need people to provide external feedback, correct mistakes, and show you ideas that you didn’t even know you exist. Now that I’ve climbed the learning curve, I’m excited to go to my first jam session and work with a teacher.  It’s a great chance to socialize, and find new ways to play music.

What is your favorite tip for learning the Mandolin? I’d love to hear your favorite tips, books, videos  and a add link to your site from.

Additional Suggestions 

Here are some other ways to improve your Mandolin playing.

Don Julin offers Mandolin lessons over Skype.


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