Did some mandolin practicing this morning. Jigs, reels, some of my own stuff. And read through Bach’s Prelude from Cello Suite #1. I think I’m (finally!) starting to get the hang of the mandolin’s fifths tuning!

So here we are approaching the end of 2012 and it’s once again that time of year for resolutions.  Like just about everyone I know, I have the same kinds of resolutions: eat healthier; work out more; be a “better” person.  But seeing as I’m a musician, I thought I would share my musical resolutions, or better yet, goals for 2013.  So here we go…

1. Practice. Not only practice more, but more consistently and with greater focus and intent.  Practice is a hurdle for any working musician, but without it you won’t be working for long.

2. Related to #1, practice all of the things that make me a stronger player.  In particular, I want to work on balancing out picked notes with slurs, so that my playing is more fluid.

3. Singing. When singing harmony with Sixteen Different Minds, I’d like to be able to consistently sing something approaching a known, recognizable interval.  There’s nothing wrong with micro-tonal singing, except when it’s unintended!

4. Memorize 20-30 more Celtic/Irish tunes on the mandolin so I can sit in on a jam session at the Dora Keogh.

Of course, I also have more directed career goals. I’d like to record one or two more records this year. And gig more. And I have some tech goals like working on my own custom synth/sample patches for Logic and Omnisphere. And updating the hardware in my studio… Lots of things to shoot for in 2013 — it’s going to be a great year!

Yes, it’s my one year mandoversary — I’ve been playing the mandolin for one year! Well, to be completely accurate it’s been slightly longer than one year, but I didn’t have the time to write this post until today.

A little over a year ago Sonya, my wife, suggested I get a mandolin. She thought it would be a great “challenge” for me. She was right.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that keen on taking up the mandolin. I already had a lot on my plate with guitar, composition, production, engineering and the wall of business stuff I have to do each day. Yes I loved the sound of the instrument, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the time investment into the mando (BTW, that’s the short form for the mandolin). So I decided I would first rent a mando from a local music store. The instrument was, to be kind, horrible. Think of a cardboard box with old dead strings on it. That would have sounded better than the rented mando. But something resonated with me and don’t know exactly what it was. I suppose the short answer is I was bitten by the mando bug.

So I made the leap and bought a fairly nice instrument — an Eastman MD515. Here’s a picture of me on the day I brought the mando home:

And then I started down, what has been (and will continue to be) a very long path of trying to learn the mandolin. It’s a great path to be on — man I love the mando!

For those of you thinking to pick up the mandolin or add it as a second (or third or fourth) instrument, here’s what I’ve learned over the last year:

Time Matters

There really is no substitute for time. You really do have to practice. And practice a lot. My teachers all told me that consistent, sustained practice was the key to progressing on an instrument. And they were right.

I have a certain amount of facility on the guitar and I think that made me think that picking up the mando would be easier than it has been. I feel like my playing has leapt up on the mando over the last few months, but it was definitely frustrating in the beginning. The fact that I play every day for at least an hour has, in my mind, been the most important factor in my progress.

Practice Right

Of course, there’s no one way to learn an instrument, but for me, taking a traditional approach to learning has worked very well. I work on scales, chords and sight reading in addition to learning pieces by Bach, traditional Celtic tunes and improv every day.

Get A Good Instrument and Have It Set Up Properly

The subheading pretty much says it all. A good mandolin, set up nicely plays like butter. To me, it seems like a good set up is more critical on the mando than on the guitar.

Pick The Right Pick

The type of pick you choose to play on the mando is extremely critical. The material and shape of the pick will have a profound affect on the tone you produce. I went through a whole bunch of different picks and found that the Blue Chip TP-1R 40 works best for me.
Well that’s about it! I’m sure I’ve learned more than I’ve written in this post, but I have to get back to practicing!