Experimenting with mandolin

I’ve played instruments for the majority of my life, and playing music has been an enriching and enjoyable way to express myself creatively. I grew up playing band and orchestra instruments (violin, alto horn, clarinet) but in high school and college moved over to guitar and bass guitar. Those have been my instruments of choice for the majority of my adult life. In fact it was my bass playing that introduced me to my friend Michael and started a friendship that has endured to this day.

Lately though I decided I wanted to try something different, and since I’ve been listening to a lot of folk and newgrass music, I thought mandolin sounded like a good idea. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I didn’t invest in anything too expensive, and for the past couple weeks I’ve been slowly plucking away and figuring it out. One of the huge benefits of our modern media landscape is the instant access to tons of tutorial and lesson material (some that has a nominal cost, but much free). I’ve been able to look up songs and videos that are giving me a solid idea of what to practice and how.

Despite that, I do have to say that it’s been a tough grind so far. Almost all of my experience is in rhythm or backing instruments. I’m never playing lead parts on guitar and so getting my right hand to work in concert with fast motion on my left is taking a lot of practice. Additionally, the frets are much closer together than I’m used to. This is both good and bad, as I have smaller hands, so one might think that I’m more comfortable with a smaller fretboard. However, what I’m discovering is that many techniques still require longer reach that I’m used to.

Now, having typed all that I decided to pull out the instrument and play a bit before typing more. Suddenly I realized that things were starting to click more. My wife even commented (from the other room) that my playing has gotten much better. It’s really fun when you can recognize and appreciate progress. It’s still not what I’d consider easy, but little by little it is starting to feel more comfortable.

I’m also discovering how cheap I actually went on this instrument and realize that maybe a few more dollars could have been warranted. However, the point of getting an inexpensive instrument was to see if this is something I would want to invest further in. Due to the pandemic I couldn’t just go hang out at music stores and try my hand at mandolin for a little while. Getting something cheap was the next best option without having to plop down a lot of cash.

Even though there’s been some struggles I’m keeping at it. I’m hoping that with some restrictions lifting in the next couple months I’ll be able to take my basic skills to a music store and see how much of a difference a better instrument makes. I’d like to really feel what quality action and intonation can do for ease of playing. I know that on guitar and bass there’s no substitute for a really well crafted instrument.

Until then it’s more repetition of Cripple Creek and Irish Washerwoman… off we go!


Beer, running, and geeky things.

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