Friday, July 30, 2010

A Song A Week

You don't have to join the song-a-week group on Mandolin Cafe, but it's a good idea to learn a new tune every week or so if you want your playing to improve. Every tune has its little corners that will exercise you, no matter where you are with your playing, and if the tune is easy for you that's an opportunity to develop the arrangement or do some improvising or do any other kind of thing with it that you normally don't do very well.

Here's how to learn a song as quickly as possible:

1. Know that you will not learn to play a song well in one sitting. Are you Adam Steffey? No, you are not. So you can't do it.

2. Play the song as slowly as you have to to get through it successfully, but try to play it in time. Consider using a metronome. If you set it slow it will help you. Set it to beat on the 1 and 3 of each bar.

3. Understand that step 2 is the hardest thing you will ever do on the mandolin. Once you really have the tune down at a slow speed, you have done all the hard work. Now go back to step 2 and do it properly.

4. Gradually speed up from the slowest possible speed. Do not worry that the speed may be embarrassingly slow, and that you personally feel you ought to be able to play faster than that. We all feel like that, even pros, and we are all wrong.

5. Decide what speed you're going to achieve. Depends what tune it is of course and on your own abilities. But be realistic. If you intend to play it at a jam some time or with a band, you need to be able to play at the speed some show-off will pick for you, not a speed you're comfortable with. So figure that out.

6. Repeat step 4 until you reach the speed in step 5.

7. Record yourself, or try playing the tune at a jam or with your band. Put it on YouTube and send me the link.

8. Keep playing the tune every now and then for the next 10 years, working out different ways of playing it, different chord settings, variations, improvisations, anything you enjoy hearing others do.

9. Die happy. Oh, also, remember that sleeping between each step is advised. Every time your sleep, you get better on the mandolin. I don't know why, but it's true.

I think a lot of people wonder how long it will take to play a tune well. Recently someone told me they tried to play Blackberry Blossom for 2 weeks and then they knew they would just never be able to do a good job with it. To me, this sounded ridiculous. I have been trying to play Blackberry Blossom up to speed for 7 years now, and I still mess it up 2 times out of 3. And other songs I can have ready to go in a couple of weeks. Honestly, you will not do your best with a song until you've had it under your fingers for at least a week or two, but it could easily take years to really get it down.

Here's me playing Katy Hill very slowly, working on step 2:

1 comment:

  1. Very true David, it has took me 4 years to even get close to playing tunes to where they sound reasonable. I can only hope that I improve that much in the next 4 years. Thanks for all the vids I have enjoyed them.