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.