The Ultimate Music Fake-out Mandolin Method

        O.K. here it is in one easy lesson.  How to play the mandolin and fake out the world.  I know- I’m an expert!

        Now before we go any further, this will not work for doctoring.  In fact, if your doctor gestalts his way around his right brain like this to prescribe your medical treatment, RUN!

        First of all, as we have discussed, don’t forget the mandolin is tuned in fifths.  Do not confuse this with corn liquor quantities, and whatever you do don’t partake of Galax strawberries.  (That is another lesson- they are soaked in moonshine)  Smell ’em if you aren’t sure – it’ll remind you of lighter fluid.  Don’t go to a doctor who’d eat them by the way.

        Now that you know the thing is tuned in 5ths, you have it made.  Unlike how that ‘B’ string on a guitar runs me crazy, the whole dang mandolin fretboard has geometric symmetry.  (It don’t change)  So, once you learn a chord all you gotta do is move it up two frets and lo and behold you are in a brand new key- ex. ‘G’ to ‘A’.)  It is so easy Bill Monroe made it against mandolin law to use a capo.)

        So find a “G” chord, then if you can count from one to seven you got it, at least if remember the phrase one major, two minor, three minor, four major, five major, six minor (relative minor- important there) and 7 is a diminished deal us bluegrassers don’t use much except for guys like Mike Marshall, and probably that Thile guy too.

        The modes are another lesson.  My daughter knows all of ’em , but here’s how to get by.  Think Ionian (ie start on the 1st note of the scale) for most of your western music like bluegrass and fiddle tunes, and the 5th note, or mixolydian, for your darker songs.  Tim Stafford of Blue Highway says most bluegrass bands have at least one murder tune per set to get all that traveling out of their system.  Use you mix mode there, and use a lot of Monroe down strokes.  Shawn Lane does the style very well- musta come from hanging out with Stafford.  Alan Bibey is great on those too.

        And if you get lost just learn to use the Penatonic scales (Five notes, not five sides as in Pentagon for heaven’s sake) and hang out with David Grisman or the Grateful Dead crowd, too.  Gris is an all time expert on the method and will point you in the right direction. 

         If your goal is for a bunch of women to chase you play those big rock n roll Barred Power chords.  They work best if you let out your mandolin strap a few notches so the thing hangs around your knees- a bluegrass Mick Jagger like Sam Bush comes to mind- he rocks.

        Only problem is that doesn’t work so well for gray haired doctors who wear pagers and shirt pocket pencil protectors.  Somehow it doesn’t come out sounding the same- better not give up my day job.

        The only thing I’ve found tough is to get my fingers to walk the talk- that has taken some practice, and is gonna take some more.  As they say about the PGA tour- those guys are good.

        More theory later.  Sorry to cut the lesson short, but my lovely daughter is here to visit and I don’t get to see her enough.  Talk to you soon.

Dr. B

Explore posts in the same categories: Advice- Five Cents, Mandolin Players I Know, Writing

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6 Comments on “The Ultimate Music Fake-out Mandolin Method”

  1. Cindy Carter Says:

    I have to admit that I am one of those people who need to “see” and “do” to learn. So, reading it, though interesting, gets me lost. Kinda like part A goes into part G. I need them in my hands to see it work.

    I got as far as visualizing the mandolin. I could see the frets on the neck. Then I got lost. Maybe a sound byte with your explaination?

  2. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Cindy,

    I agree- without a mandolin in hand it is hard to see it.

    The best DVD series I have seen on this is Mike Marshall’s at Homespun Tapes. He is a bonfide expert.

    When I do my little book tour I’ll take my mandolin and demonstrate my humble version. Of the mandolinists I’ve met, Mike and Wayne Benson are the best at teaching this concept.

    Dr. B

  3. Billy Says:

    If I wanted to be told Greek, Ionic, Penatonic, mixolydian Pentagon frets i would have turned to a different station. Show me he emotion, play me a song with your words. I don’t want no lesson, I also am visual and want to be shown verbal entertainment.

  4. Smitty Neuse River Pres. Says:

    Doc, thanks again for the mando lesson. Just got thru playing 36 with the preacher on a course in lower Alabama, could’ve worn shorts. I have got to get back to work on the lick you showed me at the house, some of this jogs my memory.

    We will be playing in town for a block the street Christmas thing and the next night playing for all the little ladies at the other baptist church in town,( you know we are Methodist but our preacher even comes down in the congregation when the spirit moves). I was talking to him earlier today about how I explain his theology to people. I tell them,”All I know is at 11:30 he open up the Bible and lets us out pretty close to 12:00″.

    And by the way, when we try to play we usually have a sing along section of our program. We were working that section the other night and yep you could guess it if you had time, Blue Christmas by Elvis. I do the lead because all of our bunch wants to do the backup part. We had a blast. The bass player got so tickled we had to shut practice down for a while so he could keep his belly for shaking. Happy Thanksgiving. Elvis to the Pelvis the King of Rock and Roll. Bluegrass and Blue Christmas, sounds like a fit!

  5. drtombibey Says:


    Got on a wild music hair- will revert to writing in the am.

    Dr. B

  6. drtombibey Says:


    Glad all is well in Mississippi. Way too cold up here for golf.

    Yeah keep on working on those double stops- they are the ticket.

    Dr. B

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