Preface: An email from a confused mandolin student prompted me to create this "Guide" to using my Mandolin Learning System. I intend to add this document to the folder so that all future purchasers have a chance to read it. You know me. Just tryin' to help.
BY BRADLEY LAIRD
Welcome to the world of mandolin and, in particular, the way I look at all things mandolin. In this guide I am going to tell you a few things about how I think you can make the best use of it.
KILLING TIME IN THE LIBRARY
First I’d like to tell a few of my thoughts on how we learn. My mother worked at the library when I was a child. Three days a week she worked until closing time. After school on those days I would go to the library and just ramble through the books. Maybe I had a little homework and I might sit down and do that. Then I might go over to the turn-tables and explore the 33 rpm records over the headphones. Then perhaps read some fishing article in Field and Stream or “How to Make a Tin Can Stove” in Boy’s Life magazine. I just rambled around, did whatever I felt like, and had no plan. I often thought I was bored to death. And at other times I was intensely interested in some book or subject I’d just discovered.
I learned more in those years, just hanging around the library, than all of my years of forced education and college. Self-directed learning is what I am talking about. I believe that most people never learn anything unless they take the initiative, have the curiosity, and pursue it of their own free accord. Formal schooling trains us to follow a lesson plan, an order of thought, a curriculum and that produces, with mixed results, obedient thought slaves. I don’t want you to be an obedient thought slave. I want you to be free. That is why I titled this booklet “Guide For...” instead of “Rules for...” using my “system.”
A NICE LADY
A nice lady recently wrote to me, after buying the Mandolin Learning System and complained that there were no instructions. She complimented my “Beginning Mandolin Instruction Course” for being so well organized and progressing in a way that was easy for her to follow. But, when she unzipped the files of the Mandolin Learning System she was mystified as to what exactly to do next. It is my guess that she didn’t spend hundreds of days just rambling around a library and hasn’t yet (and maybe never will) learn to self-direct.
You, having purchased my Mandolin Learning System, may be wondering some of the same things. What do I read first? What should I play next? Should I work on a tune from Mandolin Excursion? Should I work on some exercises from Training Camp? Maybe I should listen to the tracks.
I admit. I haven’t given you any instructions. Neither did my mother, or some teacher, about exactly what I should be doing in the library. It works best that way. Everyone doesn’t need the same things in the same order.
Detailed step-by-step instructions are helpful when trying to install a hard drive or adjust the nut on your mandolin. Helpful if you just want to get it done and are not really interested in learning. You’ll learn more, things that you will retain for a lifetime, if you just think on it, tinker, make mistakes, screw up, and eventually accomplish things.
If you are a complete beginner, I think it helps to walk through the basics in a clear and logical order. Tuning, how to hold the instrument, how to hold the pick, how to read the chord charts, etc. But at a certain point I can’t tell you what you should do next.
If I were sitting next to you in a lesson (assuming you had been taking lessons from me for at least a little while) I would probably have a pretty good idea of what is puzzling you or what you might need to work on. But, without first hand observation of you, your playing, and without observing your progress, it is your responsibility alone to determine what to do, for how long and in what order.
REGRESS TO YOUR CHILDHOOD
If you are a victim of the present “schooling system” (as I was) it may take you a little while to rediscover the things you were born with. As a toddler you didn’t need anyone to teach you anything. You did as you pleased. Yes, you got a little guidance and were pointed towards and away from things. But, despite all parental efforts, you followed your own curiosity and learned everything from experience.
One great example is how you learned to speak a language with no instruction and before you could read. Your parents just talked a lot and made funny sounds and you figured it all out on your own. Then think about that French class you took in 8th grade. How’d that work out for you? You would have done better to just move to France and hang out for a year or two. You’d be speaking fluent French if you just did what you did, and thought as you thought, as a baby.
Then, your loving parents unknowingly sent you off to be brainwashed with all the other children. Soon you adapted to the new conditions and began to follow orders. You were praised when you did as you were told and ridiculed when you didn’t. You learned to memorize just enough to “get by” and, by small degrees, you lost the ability to self-direct. But it is still there. You just need to forget some of the lessons you were convinced to accept.
THINGS YOU PROBABLY LEARNED IN SCHOOL
1. You are not in charge. A powerful authority figure shall direct your thoughts and actions and you shall obey. (Yes, that sweet 2nd grade teacher was exactly that. Sorry, Miss Smith. Even you didn’t know.)
2. You will do things according to schedule. You will work until a bell rings. You will eat when we tell you to eat. You will exercise when we tell you. You will go home when we tell you.
3. You must at least feign interest in the subject we put before you. You must rattle off the proper answers and exhibit the proper attitudes. (Attitude is one of their favorites.)
I could go on and on. I went through this nonsense and anyone who does is a victim of social planning and mind control. You can research it if you dare. The more well-trained you were as a victim (and prisoner) in school the more you may be recoiling from what I am saying. I understand that. I too endured the same indoctrination. This may explain things if you pay attention:
Luckily for me I discovered that my dear old mother understood what was going on. Yes, she followed the rules. She packed my lunch everyday and sent me off to school. But, at the same time she gave me little hints that it was all a little silly and I shouldn’t get too wound up about it.
She enrolled me in a “private school” operated by the church we attended in those days. I didn’t know why at the time but I liked it because we got three one-hour recesses every day and the public school only had one! Two grades shared one teacher so he would spend half an hour on one side of the room pointing the 3rd graders in some direction and then half an hour on the other side of the room with the 4th graders. This gave us lots of time with no direction. Yeah, were were supposed to be “doing our work” but do you think we were? As I sit here I am trying to recall just one single thing I was taught in that class and I cannot. However, I can recall lots of other things which never ended up on a report card. For example, I recall that my friend caught a garter snake at recess and had it in a box in his desk. I remember him pulling it out in secret and showing it around without the teacher ever being aware. This went on for days! Here is a class photo from a couple of years later:
By the way, that kid (Chuck Jackson) with the live snake was my best friend in those days and his father was the man who started the Ellijay Bluegrass Festival, Charles Jackson. (I played there in '78 or '79.) I remember that his brother played the banjo and I used to hear him practicing when I would come over to play in the woods and catch snakes and toads and stuff with Chuck. If you look closely at the kids in the photo you can see which students are rejecting the brainwashing process, which are partially-affected observers and which are willing dupes. The faces tell the story. Here's a larger view.
I also recall a girl from the 6th grade who kept walking back and forth outside our classroom door when the teacher was looking elsewhere. And I vividly recall the show she gave the entire class of stunned 3rd graders. Let’s just say she was developing physically a little faster than the other 6th grade girls (No she is not in this picture).
One other time I remember asking to go to the library instead of P.E. class and the teacher said OK. (Think that happens today?) I really blew that opportunity however. Our library was just a small room with maybe a couple hundred books and I soon got bored and started shoving strips of paper into the electric space heater to see if they would catch fire. My 3rd grade mind did not yet have the ability to predict that someone might smell the smoke from my experiments. When the class came back in I was met by Mr. Kennedy who promptly accused me and put me on trial. It all only took about two minutes. Then, I was sentenced to being whacked two times with his bolo paddle. I recall that he missed on the first whack (I guess I jumped out of the way) and he increased the sentence to three whacks. It didn’t hurt and he knew it. It was all for show.
Yes, I could have burned down the school. True. And I deserved the whacks. The point is that whatever we learned in class before and after that are long forgotten. The capital of North Dakota? The highest mountain peak in Africa? Who knows... But, I can look it up. I might even know the card catalog number (roughly) where to find it.
BACK TO THE MANDOLIN
You should do what ever you want to with the materials. Anything less would be fruitless. Maybe for you, at this time, you should glance over them, become completely confused, and not look at them for two years.
Maybe for you, at this time, you should blast through the Mandolin Training Camp exercises 1.1, 2.1, 3.1, etc. and then actually, for real--I am not kidding--use the metronome and fill in the progress chart in the back of the book. Perhaps dedicate one hour twice a week for a year to completing this process. For you, maybe that is the thing.
Maybe for you, at this time, you should just read Master Class. Print it out and keep in on the toilet tank. Just keep reading random pages. Do this for three months. You will no doubt benefit from it.
You see, I really can’t tell you what to do with this material. And if you have to ask then you need to examine your own conditioning and think about the things you have learned and how you learned them. Yes, a little hand holding and snapping a ruler on the music stand can be useful and effective for beginners, but the Mandolin Learning System is not for beginners. It is for the mandolin 2nd graders. The Beginning Mandolin Instruction Course (or the Mandolin Essentials package) is for beginners. But, even there you are free to ignore all instructions.
MY BEST ADVICE IS NO ADVICE
Here is the best advice I can give you regarding what to read, what to play, what to do next, and in what order.
Do what you would have done before you ever went to school. Play in the sandbox. Chew the pages (mentally). Try to grab the flashy, brightly colored objects. Do what ever you feel like. Do not wait on some person to come along and play the role of authority figure and tell you what to do. You are the authority figure and you are in charge. Put red ants in the teacher’s desk drawer.
When you understand how a fellow who has played mandolin since the mid 1970’s, taught lessons since 1982, has written a stack of books on the subject, has filmed nearly 70 videos on the topic (Oh! If only I had a penny for every YouTube view!) can make this statement:
“I can’t teach you how to play the mandolin.”
Then you will be well on your way to success.
When you digest all of this I would appreciate it if you would tell me what I can do to become a better mandolin player. Thinking that way will help you a lot. It has done so for me.
Serious note from the author: I hope that you take this “guide” in the spirit in which it is intended. To which you may say “Oh, great. Now he expects me to be a mind-reader.” Ah yes. So it is!
Take care and have fun exploring,
P.S. I think you will find the Mandolin Learning System packed full of ideas, concepts, new ways of thinking and yes, even a little advice.