Archive for the ‘mandolin lessons’ category

April 28, 2012

A recent FB”Song of the Day” for me was “All of Me” as rendered by Don Stiernberg. From his ‘Swing 220’ CD. If you like jazz, swing, big band era, or just all around fine mandolin playing, you’ll like this recording. Jethro would be proud. Cuts also include ‘Caravan, ‘Limehouse Blues,’ ‘Pennies From Heaven,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “After you’re Gone,” “Lady Be Good’ and more. Excellent work!

Here’s his website: WWW.DONSTIERNBERG.COM

“ivealways heard when New Grass toutred through the Chicago area, the band always allowed some extra time in the schedule  so Sam Bush could take in q lesson with Jethro Burns and  Don Stirenburg. I figure if the material is worthy of Sam’s 1me…


Left, Right…Left, Right.. (A Mandolin Method)

January 25, 2012

        I once knew a golfer who had a standard reply if he’d had a bad day.

        “How’d you play?”

        “Army golf. You know, left right, left right.”

         It had two meanings. One was the obvious: he’d hit one shot left and the next one right. The other was more subtle: On that day he’d been unable to co-ordinate right and left brain activity.

        That doesn’t work in golf or music. Especially in music, if you need one more it might be the right side. I know players who seem predominately right-brained who play great, and left brainers who often have a lot of book learning but have trouble expressing it in their play.

        Now being a doc who came up in books I was afflicted with this malady at times, but I found ways to adapt. One answer for me was my bluegrass young’un, Darin Aldridge. He taught me so much over several decades. I am forever indebted to him. The second influence came along a bit later and that is my bluegrass brother Wayne Benson. I had known Wayne for years and began to take some lessons from him in 2007. As I have said many times if a man can’t learn to play with Darin on his right hand and Wayne on his left he’s hopeless.

       Wayne and I just stated a book project based on Wayne’s teaching method. His lesson plans are the first method I have seen that teaches practical mandolin theory to the student’s left brain and shows them how to transfer that intellectual knowledge to the right side. Instead of Bonaparte Crossing The Rhine” it is “Benson Crossing the Corpus Callosum,” the partition that divides the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain. It won’t make us play like Darin and Wayne but the knowledge will help move us in that direction. If should be fun.

        It’ll be at least a year before the book comes out, so in the meantime go to these guys if you live near them or book some time with an instructor in your area. There’s a bunch to learn, and it sure is easier with an experienced instructor to guide you.

        Left right, left right!!

Dr. B


November 28, 2011

        This post is to update folks on my art projects. As my last post indicated, my brain cancer diary in now on Amazon. We also hope to publish it in a booklet form soon. You can look it up in Amazon under Kindle Store and “Brain Cancer Boogie.”

“Grandpa’s Mandolin Book,” a coloring book for children of all ages, is now at the prototype stage. It still has some flaws and will go through at least one more revision before it goes to press. A half-dozen prototypes are in the hands of musicians, both professional and amateur, for advice. I hope it will be available after the first of the year, no later than late winter. More details are in my blog archives.

I am almost finished with my final edit of “Acquisition Syndrome.” After that it goes back to my editor Dorrie for her final touches and then on to my agent and the publisher. We are still on track for a spring release. I always liked old Bones Robertson. In this story he shows more than ever how to be decent person but not be trampled on. The lessons were so powerful I felt compelled to pass them on before I’m out of here. (There is no evidence my time is near, so don’t worry yet) In addition there is plenty of bluegrass subplot here, this time with more banjo in the mix. (Can’t have bluegrass without banjo huh? (( except for the “Manzanita” LP perhaps) 

“The Kid and Dr. B” A mandolin duet CD with Darin Aldridge that also features story-telling and a bit of doctor advice. I anticipate early spring on this one.

In January 2012 I plan to start a mandolin instruction book with Wayne Benson called “Practical Theory for Mandolin.” It is based on Wayne’s lesson plans. ((I have taken from him once a month since late 2007)  I plan to devote most of 2012 to this project. This book is designed for the amateur mandolinist who wants to get involved in jam sessions, be in regional bands and play for small festivals, church socials, fundraisers, and private parties. A working subtitle might be “How to play Mandolin if you thought you could only play the Radio.” So if you want to sound like Wayne, my pal Darin Aldridge, “Cuz” Alan Bibey, tone master Adam Steffy, rocking Sam Bush, Darren Nicolson of Balsam Range, red-hot melody man Emory Lester, Mike Marshall or Chris Thile….well, this book alone will not do it; be prepared to start young and spend six hours a day.

        Instead this book is designed for folks who do something else for a living but still want to play the best they can. I am of the opinion that if you start the mandolin as an adult, have a job, kids, bills, etc that it is unrealistic to for most of us (me included) to expect to play at a top shelf professional level, but my hope is this book will allow you to approximate that level of play after you learn some fundamental improvisational skills out of Wayne’s play book. He is going to proof every stage of this project because it is based on his knowledge and lesson plans. 

        After 2012? Who knows? I might be a little less productive on the blog for the rest of this year. My wife loves Christmas, (I call her “The Christmas Queen”)  the kids and grandchild will be in, and I love the holidays with all of them. I will be in touch though so don’t give up on me.

Dr. B

A Coloring Book for Both Children and Adults

October 9, 2011

        Over the next month to six weeks I plan to update you on my artistic projects in the works. I’m going to do this in the rough order that I anticipate their release.

The first of these projects was inspired by the announcement that we were going to be grandparents. As soon as we got the news my son and daughter-in-law appointed me as lead mandolin instructor. (when the time comes and if the child shows interest; I will not push but will lead by example) After they broke the news I’d lay awake at night and dream of the best way to teach a child music. I had some experience. I taught my boy mandolin, banjo, and guitar and he his mom learned the bass together. My daughter took piano and  played violin and bass in the high school orchestra, and picked up some mandolin and guitar from me.

        Our kids turned out fine but I broke a lot of the rules. I always read that you should not be a friend but a parent to your children. I pretty well ignored that one. We were best friends. Of course I was nothing but a large child who was fortunate to have a decent grown-up doctor brain.  In fact, after she was in about the third grade my daughter ’bout half raised me. (My boy helped too, esp on the golf course) My only rule of music was if the venue wasn’t suitable for a child I didn’t sign up for the gig. Consequently I played a lot of church suppers, charity fundraisers, small festivals, and private parties. We didn’t do the bars or “drunk fests.” So after all those years I had a dream we could put some of our family ideas in a format that could be transmitted by the printed word. The result of all that was a children’s coloring book for both children and adults.

So you might ask what does that mean? Well this book could be approached on several levels. The initial prototype will be strictly an old-fashioned coloring book. On their own a child could color in all the pictures, have fun, learn a little music, and not hurt their development. (In medicine we always say, “first, do no harm.”) However, to take it to a higher level, the book is designed to be an interactive adventure between an adult and a child. By going through it in a systematic fashion and following the instructions the adult will also learn some basic music. It is my belief that even an adult with no background in music whatsoever could teach their child or grandchild something about the mandolin and music in general via this coloring book if they follow each step of the adventure as prescribed.

        Think of it almost like a treasure hunt. And remember; I’m nothing but a big kid. If nothing else you’ll have a lot of fun. I took Jesus, family, heart attacks, cancer and big GI bleeds seriously. Most of the rest of life was a whimsical lark for me. I played music at the highest level I could, but I figured if I missed a note no one died. This little book adheres to that philosophy.

        I had my banjo pal Kristin Scott Benson look over some very early versions of this book. It appealed to her even more as a mother of a four-year old than it did on the basis of her experience as a professional musician. She thought the book had a lot of potential to bring people to understand the fundamentals of music and even if they had no training or background in it. I also talked to the great jazz and Scruggs banjoist Alison Brown of Compass records about the project. She has not seen the early prototype yet but said she would be glad to try it out on her children, which is a thrill to me. Check out Compass Records. They have a fine roster of traditional artists. Compass’ll keep you pointed in the right direction. 

This prototype will not be an expensive item. If it is well-received then we may get it on iPad and other applications. I will say that any book that finds a way to integrate Pythagoras, ancient Greek theories of scales and harmony, Bill Monroe, Roy Huskey Jr., the light spectrum of the rainbow, and mandolin music in a simple enough manner that a child could put the concepts together and do it all from one little coloring book, well……it’s a fun project and I guess it would take some old doctor with a big imagination and too much time on his hands to dream it up.

        Again, I’ll try to present my projects in the order that I think they might see publication. I hope this one will see press by the first of next year. I would love to have it by Christmas but I think that is a little optimistic. Look for posts from me every Monday for a while about what all I’ve got in the works. I appreciate your interest in my work. After I turned up with a brain tumor and did not have the full-time doctor gig I had to do something to feel useful. My music, art, and the writer gig are all a big part of that. I will only be a part-time Doc until next summer when I finish chemo. I hope to get my books off the ground by then so if I improve and can return to full-time Doc status my artistic projects will already have legs and I can concentrate on my patients. In the meantime, if it weren’t for Faith, Family, Music, and writing I don’t think I would have coped with all this nearly as well. Bless all of you for being a part of my healing.

Dr.  B

Wayne Benson and the 2010 IBMA Mandolin Award

May 26, 2010

        I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you more about my agent and the development of my book, but I wanted to digress today. It’s my day off. I just got my ballot for the IBMA awards and it set me to thinking.

        Folks, Wayne Benson has won the SPBGMA award for “Mandolin Player of the Year” a number of times. I know a lot of people don’t realize this, but somehow he has been overlooked for IBMA mandolin player of the year. I believe this is because people assume he has won it in the past.

        Give Wayne is the long-time mandolin voice of III Tyme Out, one of the most important groups of the second generation of bluegrass, I’m sure serious students of the genre will agree with me this is an inexplicable oversight we need to correct.

        As a long time devoted mandolin enthusiast I realize there are many fine players on the circuit. I’m a good amateur but I can’t carry the cases of journeyman pros out there who are all but unknown. Over time they all deserve this award. But at this time in bluegrass history, at least in this old Doc’s opinion, no one deserves it more than Wayne Benson.

        Not only has Wayne been a virtuoso player for III Tyme Out, but he was a major force in the Bluegrass 95 series, and he also did a stint with John Cowan, singer extraordinaire. Russell Moore has won the IBMA male vocalist award a number of times, and I am sure he would tell you there is no one in the world he’d rather have back him up on the mandolin than Wayne Benson.

        In addition to all that, Wayne is a superb teacher. I have worked with him over two years now. He is a very intelligent man. Over years of study he has honed a sophisticated but quite teachable approach to practical mandolin theory. He understands the ”why” of how he plays, and is able to articulate it to the less gifted, (like me) better than any great mandolinist I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve known more than a few.

        Wayne can play Monroe style with the best. He is not only true bluegrass, but has command of chord melody, jazz, and classical work. He is an artist. In addition he is an ambassador for the mandolin community. He’s forever interested in the mandolin network, and has participated in countless workshops to help students of all levels.  

        Folks, I know Wayne. He’s a humble guy who won’t brag on himself. He’ll not tell you how good he is. In fact, I don’t think the man realizes how good he is. So I figured it was up to me to do it.

        When someone’s music makes our lives that much better we should take the time to thank them, so Wayne Benson has my vote for IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year in 2010. I hope you will give him full consideration for your vote too.

        Thanks so much.

Dr. B

Classical Mandolin- Bach

April 17, 2010

        Wayne Benson has me working on a Bach piece right now, “Prelude From Suite 1.” When you get up with the early birds and sit on the back porch and play a tune like this, you can’t help but feel like you are part of something bigger than just your little self. As I struggle to get the piece under my fingers, I realize nothing good every came easy to most of us. My mind wanders. Maybe it did to Bach, but I bet he put in his time too. The wind whistles through the trees. I think Bach could hear the ancient tones just like Monroe. As Wayne says, “it’s all music.” 

        At the turn of the last century, as Mike Marshall says, “mandolin orchestras roamed the earth.” I think my friend Butch Baldassari might have made it happen again if he had not died so young.  Maybe Mike will see mandolins rule again. I do know this; I believe our kids would be better off in the orchestras than to watch reality television. T.V. is all instant gratification. For me, the best of life came from long years of commitment, be it to family, friends, doctor books, or cello suites.

        Maybe it’s just what they call “cognitive dissonance” where you have to believe in your cause for your existence to have meaning, but I feel like so far I’ve used my time on earth the best I could, and I’m gonna continue in my quest until the end. My talents are humble but I’m gonna do my best with ’em every day.

Dr. B

You Are My Sunshine and the Double Stop Mandolin Lesson

April 14, 2010

        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……………                       sun                shine.

3/2 (I)           5/3 (III)       7/5 (III)        8/7 (IV)                 12/10 (VI)
You                make             me                     hap………………

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

3/2 (I)

        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.

Dr. B