The Mandolin was my first instrument. I still remember how hard it was to learn music from scratch as a young adult, and I remember how long each individual tune took me to master. I think most readers can remember learning Angeline the Baker and how hard it seemed back then. I think it took me a week just to memorize the order of the notes, and it was maybe two months before I could play it (badly) at speed. It was difficult, it was mind-bending, but it was really rewarding, too.
After my first ten or so tunes, I started looking for online tune learning resource and stumbled upon the mother of all mandolin communities, mandolincafe.com. They provided a plethora of resources for new players like me. When I wanted to learn new tunes, they had tablature, which I could use in conjunction with tefview, a free and easy-to-use tablature software. When I wanted to connect with other mandolinists to ask questions or be a part of the discussions of the larger community I could visit their dynamic forums. For a while there I sort of became a gearhead, spending more time talking and reading about mandolins on the forums than actually playing them.
At some point I realized in order to get better at the mandolin I would have to start thinking seriously about my technique. This realization prompted a long series of woodshedding sessions with a resource that I had found through the forums at Mandolincafe, and one that would fundamentally change the way I thought about the instrument. That resource was jazzmando.com.
In February I was hanging out on the Mandolincafe forums (as one does) when I read a post claiming that Jazzmando was shutting down. At the time it was shocking, but if you read the thread you’ll see that the situation managed to find a resolution. This close shave made me remember just how important Jazzmando was in my formative stage. “Wait a minute!” you might be saying, “I don’t play Jazz! I play OLD TIME!” So do I! The ideas that I learned from Jazzmando taught me to think more critically about my own playing and made me a more versatile musician no matter which genre I was playing.
My favorite part about Jazzmando was their heavy focus on technique. Their in-house FFcP (Four Finger Closed Position) system provided me with a systematic approach to learning my way ALL around the fretboard, even past the 7th fret. The technique starts out in bite-sized chunks and moves through different keys in four base positions, one starting at each finger. These four closed positions allow you to play chords and solo in any key on the mandolin, since the lack of open strings makes everything movable. When I realized this for the first time my mind was blown. Being able to play in closed position not only improved my oldtime playing, it also and it allowed me to more confidently hang at the bluegrass jams without a capo in keys like Bb and B.
For the experienced mandolinist, Jazzmando and Mandolincafe won’t be new resources. For the aspiring mandolinist picking the instrument up for the first time, however, or for the more casusal player looking to deepen his understanding of his or her instrument, I can add my voice to the hundreds who have highly recommended them. Here are a few other resources for those looking to dig deeper and start that #mandolife:
Mandozine: Mandozine has an excellent tablature library for avid tune learners, as well as great resources for learning technique. TEFview is going to be a useful program for getting the most out of the tablature.
Peghead Nation: While not 100% dedicated to the mandolin like the others, Peghead Nation has great lessons for beginners.
Mandolessons: Great lessons from phenomenal teachers. Perfect for those who learn best from video lessons.