Calling All Left Brain Klutzes. Wayne Benson Can Help You- (The Bluegrass Modfied Socratic Method)


        Okay, I’m finally gonna admit it to you guys.  I hope you will keep reading my blog after I confess.  We’re all friends now, so don’t tell anyone, but I am a closet left brain klutz.  Sssssshhhhh!  Quiet!  Don’t tell.

        Don’t worry.  I figured out how to overcome it.  For all my love of music I’m just an analytical left brain doc who was trained as a mandolinist by two brilliant right brain-ed geniuses, Darin Aldridge and Wayne Benson.  Darin taught me so much about tone, timing, part singing, and band dynamics I can never repay him. 

        Today I want to speak to how in spite of my left brain ways I figured out how to use the left brain to take my mandolin skills up another notch.  In spite of being a boring doctor, I was able to find the soul to transfer it to the right brain.  I might be a left brain klutz, but Charlie Brown got to play, and even married the little red-haired girl.  It has been a good life.

        If you are a discouraged left brainer, have no fear.  My blog is all about hope, so cheer up.  I am gonna lead you to the promised land through the corpus callosum from the left brain to the right and back at will.  You can get there with the mandolin.

         Here is the secret.  The mandolin the ultimate fake out instrument.  In the interest of full disclosure I must tell you I am a good doc, but have folks fooled on the mandolin.  And here is the even better news.  If you are left brain-ed you can learn to get by and play too.

        Now, do not misunderstand.  I can not promise you will be a virtuoso.  If I could I would turn myself into one.  What I can promise is competence.

         An average athlete can’t be trained to be Tiger Woods, but they reach a reasonable level of skill as a golfer if they learn the fundamentals.  The same is true for the mandolin.  And because the instrument is tuned in fifths it is very symmetrical, thus the patterns are moveable.  (If you have a little right brain in you and keep losing your capo it doesn’t matter.)  This symmetry is why the little instrument has such appeal to the logical side of the brain.

        Wayne Benson teaches these concepts by a modified bluegrass Socratic method that stays true to the oral tradition customary for traditional music.  Wayne is a brilliant right brain-ed artist who was a professional musician by age nineteen.  Here is what makes him unique as an instructor.  Sometime along the way he decided to stop and analyze the ‘why’ of how he plays.  He does it better than any great player I have ever run into.  Wayne was able to train his left brain to store the concepts in an intellectual but practical way so he could share them with those of us who are less gifted artistically. (The vast majority of the world) 

        Now he teaches this method.  If one is hopelessly left brain-ed you can learn to play.  Wayne will translate for you.  It is like this.  You wouldn’t want a doc to say, “Your BNP, end diastolic pressures, and left ventricular hypertrophy are indicative of irreversible congestive cardiomyopathy.”  Most folks prefer, “Your blood pressure is wearing your heart down and the muscle isn’t as strong.  We can’t cure it but we sure can make it better.  I’m gonna get the best cardiologist in the Tobacco Triangle to help us.”

         Wayne won’t say,”I prefer you use the pentatonic scale on the second break.”  Instead it would be, “put your ring finger on the third fret.  Now play the opening line to ‘My Girl.’  That is the pentatonic scale.  Here is how you can use that concept to improvise in the key of ‘C.'”  Trust me, he can then leave it at the practical or get as esoteric as you desire.  

        In other words, he translates from right to left just like a good doc does from left to right.  You can’t be Wayne Benson and neither can I, but he can lead you to competence. 

        However, you have to follow though.  After he shows you these concepts you must go home and practice.  Most of all he would want you to go have fun and play.  The good news about bluegrass is it is okay to learn on the fly.   No one is going to fuss at you if while you hang around the edge of a jam session and learn your mandolin.  We all start that way.  A guy like me can sit in with the pros, although I am careful to not muddy up their session when they prepare to get on stage.  I think even the most average student could get a good start on the mandolin in a year of study under Wayne if they do their home work between each lesson. 

        One of these days I am gonna convince Wayne to write down his method.  It is the most logical one I have seen, and is especially effective for folks who tend to be analytical in their learning process.  If he can teach a doctor there is hope for everyone.

Dr. B

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10 Comments on “Calling All Left Brain Klutzes. Wayne Benson Can Help You- (The Bluegrass Modfied Socratic Method)”

  1. danny fulks Says:

    A look into my field of teaching. I used to wonder if no one is learning is the teacher still teaching. The classical teachers in liberal arts–dramatic, aloof, making sweeping points, gesturing, yet maybe just conduits between facts and students, stuff they may as well have read. I wondered why we focus on the teacher teaching instead of the students learning. We taped the teacher in full regalia in front of the classroom, paid no attention to the kids except we wanted them to pretend to listen. A teacher who leaned in to individuals and small groups in an unautocratic method didn’t make much splash but may have been the real teacher; the teacher who was easy to approach, left time for those who wanted to come up after class and clarify, not something to record but maybe the best teaching all day. The teacher who knew we only learn what we want to learn intrinsically, forget the facts meaningless to us. The teacher who took our word about family traumas as a reason she could not make it to class. A dramatic teacher may teach us how to get to Columubus when we really needed to know how to get to Charlotte. The idea of motivational speakers who entertain and cheerlead us into chants, yells, and arm waving?–all may be forgotten before we get home. Try something simple: give your young child 5 bucks, tell him if he still has it a week from now you will give another 5, if he spends part of it he loses that much when we settle the deal. If a student is making C’s and wants A,s suggest he check out how the A students play school, try doing what they do. Wayne knows you can’t learn to play an instrument just by watching him perform any more than a doctor can learn to remove a gall bladder by watching a video of someone doing it. Old joke about learning to swim by a correspondence course. A college prof can take off a day, take his kid to the doctor, no paperwork; but students were always suspect about malingering. A student with a mom dealing with cancer needs a hug more than an absence report sent up to the dean.

    • drtombibey Says:


      Your experience as a college professor makes for excellent perspective here. One time I told Kristin I thought Wayne understood the ‘why’ of how he plays better than any great mandolin player I know. (and I know a bunch) He has a real knack for showing the student what is going on his mandolin brain.

      Butch Baldassarri was also a great teacher. Wayne’s track record as a performer would be more than sufficient credentials, but add what he is doing as a teacher and I feel he is long overdue for IBMA mandolin player of the year in 2010.

      Dr. B

  2. newt221 Says:

    Your posts almost always make me smiel. I think some where in me, like that reptilian part of the brain, is a little left brain. I find myself asking a lot of whys some how rather than just accepting that it is. But, the right brain pops out a lot and it says, “don’t worry about the works so do it”.

    I also know that I have a little dyslecia(sp) because I constantly transpose stuff when I write.

    • drtombibey Says:


      As a doc I pretty work off the left brain, but when I see no hope situations my right brain gets sad. Then I have to play music to get my right brain back to where I can do my day job another day.

      By the way, I have a bit of that dyslexia too. Never met one who wasn’t a good person.

      Dr. B

  3. Smitty Neuse River Pres. Says:

    Doc, I do agree that a mando player can fake it with the best of them. I remember that a guy asked me to come over to their house for a jam session when I first started out. I did not have a clue about the songs they were playing. They were playing vintage songs and I was listening to newer grass. So what does the mando player do, choke the mando and keep time, work your way up and down the scale. Mom was in town the other day,two years later and they were talking about how much they enjoyed the night. I was scared stiff and said I would not go back until I could hold my own. I must of had the fake going that night.

  4. drtombibey Says:


    I have found if I get lost and act like I’m the snare drum and smile everyone still has a good time.

    Still got Mississippi on my brain. Hoping to hear from our publisher soon. We’ll be there is 2010.

    Played the first round of the Member Guest in the cold wind and rain today and Cuz and I are tied for the lead! I had six shots and he had ten. We brother-in-lawed a 62.

    Dr. B

    • Smitty Neuse River Pres. Says:

      Brother in Law ‘d a 62 no way, that is skill. Tom Watson would be proud of you dealing with all that weather stuff. Ok, who had the hot putter?

      • drtombibey Says:


        It was both of us. We each had three natural birdies and didn’t double up a single time. The sun might come out tommorrow and we could play bad. It is a funny game.

        Dr. B

  5. Smitty Neuse River Pres. Says:

    Sorry to write back again but tell Marfar we have a serious sewing machine. Cindy was telling me everything that it would do and asked will it sew. She said yes.

  6. drtombibey Says:

    Marfar has one of these Berninas. It will all but play the mandolin. She hopes to teach it to wash and dry and fold clothes, but so far it is stubborn about that.

    Dr. B

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