First of all credit where due. I didn’t invent this idea. I got it from Wayne Benson and I think he got it from Bach. I’ve learned a lot of mandolin from Wayne and from Darin Aldridge too. The main thing I learned was I better hang onto my stethoscope; these guys are good. So if you like this lesson, don’t send me money, buy a CD from either III Tyme Out or Darin and Brooke Aldridge.
So here’s the idea behind the lesson. If you can hum “You Are My Sunshine” you can play the mandolin. Don’t worry if you are off-key a little; I’ve been that way for years, and it hasn’t stopped me yet. First go buy or borrow a mandolin. Before you start the lesson, do three things.
1. Put the mandolin in your hands. You can’t take a mandolin lesson without a mandolin. Heck I wrote most of “The Mandolin Case” while I played the mandolin. When I wrote passages with a stethoscope around my neck the book was way too boring.
2. Learn the names of the strings. Starting from the high-pitched skinny ones they are E, A, D, and G. If you don’t want to memorize all four yet, for this lesson you can get by if you know the skinniest string is E and the next one down is A. Repeat it over and over. E/A, E/A, E/A. (Wonder how I got to be a doctor yet?!)
3. Memorize he following mantra: One major, two minor, three minor, four major, five major, six minor, and seven is a half-diminished hoop-te-do. (Don’t worry too much about the last one.) Do it over and over: one major, two minor, three minor, etc. until you can repeat it in your sleep. If the mandolin doesn’t work out don’t worry, all this list memorization biz could be your start in the doc gig.
Now all you gotta do is learn the double stops on the top two strings. (again, the “E” and “A” strings.) Make what I call a little G chord. This is the top two notes of the big G chord. (We bluegrassers would say the top two notes of a chop chord) This double stop represents the “one” or Roman numeral “I” chord. Remember our mantra; one is major. (One or “I” is always major in the chord scale.)
The notation for this little G chord in this lesson is 3/2, which means the third fret on the E string and the second fret on the A string.
Important point here: Notice your two fingers are only one fret, not two frets apart. This is very important because this means it is a major double stop, as opposed to a minor as you would have in the II, III, and VI chords in the chord scale. (Don’t worry why it is major or minor for now)
Now slide up to the Am double stop. This is the II chord. (Remember in the chord scale II is always minor.) The notation here is 5/3. (Fifth fret on E string, third fret on A string) Notice your fingers are two frets apart here. This is what makes it minor. If you want to impress your friends and neighbors here, just look real serious and say, “You see, this is a minor double stop because I have flatted the third.” Or if you just want to play it, then all you have to do is move your index finger down one fret to turn a major into a minor here. Try it and see.
One old fellow figured this out on his own. After the first set of a gig, he came up to speak to me.
“I done figured out what you’s a doing up there.” He squinted and turned his head side-ways as he looked at my mandolin. “You put your fingers on that thing and if you don’t like what you hear you just slide ‘em up or down ’till you do.”
“Ain’t nothing to it,” I said. “Easy as doctoring.”
Okay, back to the lesson.
Continue up the neck to the two notes of the Bm chord. This is the III minor chord. (Again in the chord scale III is always minor) The notation here is 7/5. (Yep, two frets apart or minor)
Continue up the neck to the IV chord or C. Remember your mantra. Four is always major. The notation here is 8/7. Low and behold there is only one fret difference here, voila, major!
Following the same logic, V is major, or “D”. Because it is major you can now predict how many frets apart your index and middle are gonna be. You’re right. The answer is one, and the notation is 10/9.
The VI chord is not only minor but a very important minor. It is the 6th or the relative minor. In the G scale this is E. The notation here is double-stop land is 12/10.
If you are in Nashville at a party and someone plays a sad sort of tune (as in a killing song) look up from your drink and say, “I believe they hit the six minor there (or relative minor) and odds are you will be right. The person you espouse this to will nod their head yes and at least think you know what the heck you are talking about. When you play and you’re not sure which minor you need try go the relative minor. It is easy to find and will be the sixth note in the chord scale.
The F, or seven, is what they call half-diminished. (Think of it as you will be half crazy before you figure it out) Okay, I know you are getting bored. Because you are sitting there with a mandolin around your neck and haven’t played a song yet, and because the 7th isn’t in “You Are My Sunshine” I’m gonna not explain this. (The fact I can’t very easily is immaterial)
So if you are still with me, here is “You Are My Sunshine.” I put the fret notation for the chord above the word I want you to sing with it and also the number. (ex like the II in parentheses beside that) One other note here: one place here you’ll see PCDS. This means it is a passing chord double stop in between the ones you learned above. Make sure you sing along or the lesson won’t work.
3/2 (I) 5/3 (II) 6/4 (PCDS) 7/5 (III) 7/5 (III)
You are my sun shine
7/5 (III) 5/3 (II) 7/5 (III) 3/2 (I) 3/2 (I)
My on……………..ly sun shine.
3/2 (I) 5/3 (III) 7/5 (III) 8/7 (IV) 12/10 (VI)
You make me hap………………..py
12/10 (VI) 10/9 (V) 8/7 (IV) 7/5 (III)
When skies are gray.
3/2 (I) 5/3 (II) 7/5 (III) 8/7 (IV) 12/10 (VI)
You’ll ne…………ver know dear
12/10 (VI) 10/9 (V) 8/7 (IV) 7/5 (III) 3/2 (I)
How much I love you.
3/2 (I) 5/3 (II) 7/5 (III) 8/7 (IV) 5/3 (II) 5/3(II) 7/5(III)
Please don’t take my sun shine a
If you like this stuff and live in South Carolina go see Wayne Benson, or Darin Aldridge in N.C. They both tour pretty heavy but will take you on if you are serious and want to learn. Tell ‘em Dr. B sent you. These guys are very good at what they do; good enough to make a mandolin player out of an old doctor. And that, my friends, is even more of a feat than making a writer out of one.