Posted tagged ‘mandolin lessons’

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


Grandpa’s Mandolin Book, a Coloring Book for Children of all Ages.”

December 26, 2011

        My Song of the Day on FaceBook was “Beautiful Dreamer” by Stephen Foster, as played by me. This one makes a fine mandolin lullaby for a grandchild. I feel sorry for families who have no music traditions.

        With severe illness you need some motivation to live, and I had plenty, but this new grandchild gives me more resolve than ever. I can just picture me teaching him mandolin out of my children’s book in five years or so.

        “Grandpa’s Mandolin Coloring Book” is a light-hearted romp through the Creation, ancient Greek history, Bill Monroe, Roy Huskey Jr, the light spectrum of the rainbow, music intervals, and more. I had several test readers on this one and they all offered excellent suggestions. Perhaps my favorite input so far came from a prominent family of professional musicians. In their house the children dug the book so much they got an old mandolin out of the closet and took up the instument. (This was a banjo, guitar, and bass household, but like many of the bluegrass families the adults can play ’em all.)

         It is very appropriate that children would like my book, perhaps even more than adults, because I never grew up. I’ve often said I’m nothing but an overgrown child who God blessed with a decent grown-up doctor brain and a fine wife, otherwise I think I’d a starved to death.

       The book prototype will go back to the graphic artist for some minor revision right after the first of the year, and I hope to have it out in a couple of months. I am very excited about it because it is dedicated to our grandchild and it revives the tradition in our family; we pass it on. My children play several instruments and love music because of the influence of both me and their Mom. I am very proud we passed it on, and the thought the book might facilitate other families to do the same thrills me. And don’t worry, even if your family has no music background this little book will be an easy, fun, and inexpensive way to start a new family tradition.

       Hope y’all had a blessed Christmas and will have a prosperous New Year. Here’s to traditional music in 2012. Let’s all do what we can to raise awareness for the art form. I believe the world longs for real music and our people play it.

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

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

October 16, 2009


        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