moving up to advanced classes

  1. icetea
    Hi -- I started playing mandolin nine months ago. I've never had a music lesson or played an instrument before now. I've been taking the Beginning Mandolin course with Sharon Gilchrist at Peghead Nation and it's excellent. I'm at the point where I've learned the songs and played them many times but I cannot play at the speed in the play-along tracks. I thought as time went on I would be able to match the speed but it's not coming. Maybe it's because I'm over 60?
    I feel it's time to move on and I'd like to take the Irish Mandolin class but it's listed as Intermediate/Advanced so I'm wondering if is that taking on too much. Should I be sticking to more Beginning/Intermediate?
    Thanks for any advice.
  2. NDO
    I can’t help on lessons advice since I’ve only ever taken one, but one hour’s worth, but imho 9 months is pretty early to be putting expectations on yourself to be meeting speed goals.
    My best advice is to pick a favorite song or two whether in or outside of your lessons, and learn to play it for yourself for pure enjoyment. This needs to be fun. And it’s inherently fun if you let it be.
  3. FredK
    It's good to set goals but keep them attainable. I started out playing organ when I was around 8 years old. Got into guitar in my pre-teens. Played other instruments, as well, but didn't pick up the mandolin until 5 years ago. I took Mike Marshall's lessons on ArtistWorks for a year, then took Sharon's on Peghead for a year. That, along with practicing, was the best thing I could have done but getting up to speed was a challenge even with a musical background. There's a lot of us on the Cafe that started mandolin in their 50's, 60's and even 70's so getting up to speed is going to be even slower than someone starting in their teens and twenties.

    Keep up with your lessons whether with Sharon or another great instructor. Practice every chance you get. Play the music you enjoy. Even noodle around sometimes to see what you can come up with. I agree with NDO, pick tunes you enjoy and play them outside of practice. Get good at them. Make them your own. Enjoy this wonderful instrument. And keep it fresh.

    By the way, it took me about 3 to 3-1/2 years on the mandolin before I started feeling comfortable across the fretboard, getting my right-hand in sync and getting up to a speed I was happy with. I'll never be a Thile or Bush or any of the other greats I love watching and listening to, but that won't stop me from enjoying the music I can make. So, hang in there and keep on picking!
  4. BadExampleMan
    Hey, another Peghead here (and another over-60). I'm four years into my mandolin journey and still can't play at jam-full-speed. I'm not sure if I ever will. But it is possible to increase your speed. What has worked for me is working with Strum Machine - check it out if you aren't familiar with it, but even a metronome will do. Pick a song you love and just practice it over and over, gradually increasing your tempo.

    My personal goal is to be able to play any song in my repertoire reliably at 200 eighth notes per minute. I'm inching up that way but getting past 180 is still a Very Good Day for me.

    If you stick with Peghead Nation I recommend moving to Sharon's Intermediate Mandolin course before trying any of the advanced - but you're allowed to change courses twice a month for each subscription so there's no reason you can't try the Irish class and then switch if the material seems too advanced for you, and then come back to it later.
  5. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I’ve been at it for about 6 years, but been playing guitar since a preteen (I’m 67)

    Cant really advise you as to whether to work on “intermediate/advanced” material, because that is very much a personal choice as to how much you can comfortably challenge yourself.

    As to speed, I don’t (can’t) play very fast, either. But I choose to work on tone more than speed. Someday I may work more on speed, who knows at this point. Rather than taking formal lessons, I choose to work on video lessons from Homespun and from Brad Laird, and sometimes others. I also just learn songs that I like, and sometimes transcribe mandolin solos fro others. From the beginning of my mandolin journey, I’ve pushed myself to learn advanced material as well as beginner stuff, that’s just what I prefer to do.

    I also play monthly gigs with a partner, and we play country, blues, rock and gospel.
  6. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    I took that class. I worked on those songs for months and months, slowly increasing the speed. I can play some of them at 100% speed. The others I can play at 80% or 90% of speed and I find it very very frustrating that I cannot get them up to the 100%. It was a really good exercise, as I did learn some technique improvements that allow me to play faster and more accurately than previously, such as keeping my fingers down. I don't really have any insight as to why I crash when I get up to a certain speed, except that some of them are very fast.

    I have moved on to other things, including ore advanced material, but I do come back to it from time to time and continue to work on them. I say go for an intermediate or advanced course.
  7. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Hi, icetea.

    Intermediate/advanced is a relative concept. I used to run a set of art classes. Some people would say "advanced" because they had taken two sets of six-week courses at the local YMCA; others would classify themselves as "beginner" because they couldn't draw as well as Raphael.

    Is the Irish mandolin class with Marla Fibish? She's excellent. She won't teach you how to hold the pick, how to position yourself, how to address the fingerboard. She will teach you picking patterns for Irish tunes, the difference between a hop jig and a slip jig and the difference between a polka and a reel. If you feel like you are set up pretty well and want to explore Irish mandolin, go for it!
  8. HonketyHank
    I have a theory, probably not original, about that speed limit that I and many Newbies seem to smash into. Basically, it is like learning a second language later in life. Me, I "learned" to speak Spanish, starting at about age 40. I developed a limited but functional vocabulary, learned basic grammar, and filed the edges off my gringo accent enough to be understandable. But I never got to fluency. I was always thinking what I wanted to say and then translating that into Spanish and then saying whatever it was. Fluency is basically when you bypass the translation step. You just say what you want to say. The thinking and translating take time and it slows you down a lot.

    On my mandolin, I am still thinking about how the tune goes and then directing my fingers how to play it. That takes a lot of time and it prevents me from getting fully up to speed.

    Interestingly, today I got my semi-regular note from Josh Turknett with a new episode of Brainjo Bites. In it he digs into this subject quite deeply from a neuro scientific viewpoint. Pretty good stuff. The episode is here:
  9. TTT
    I’m in the same boat! I went through a series of beginners classes and now am trying the Irish class at Peghead. It’s a nice challenge, and what’s great is that you can pause your subscription.
    I tried out the first lesson and paused it for a month or so until I was ready to do the next one.
    You should feel free to dip your toe in - it can’t hurt.
    (Adding: By pause I mean cancel the subscription- they still have your info and you can jump back in again later. It’s totally fine, they have many people do it that way - I asked)
  10. icetea
    Thank you all for your excellent advice. I feel a lot better realizing that I'm not the only one who struggles to get up to speed. Also, it's a great idea to concentrate on tone over speed. I've been so focused on playing at the pace of the practice tracks that I sacrifice how well my playing sounds.
    I've been reading that the best way to learn is not to practice something over and over but to work on a challenge so I think I'll move up to Intermediate Mandolin with Sharon and spend a few months working on my pick direction and then maybe go on to Irish Mandolin with Marla.
  11. BadExampleMan
    That's an interesting observation, HonketyHank, and I definitely went through a phase of getting in my own way while trying to raise my speed level. There was a time when I had to watch my fretting hand in order to get the right finger placement, but just watching my hand would cause my fingers to trip over each other. I no longer have that problem - I don't have to watch my hand every second - but I think now I'm just bumping up against the limits of my dexterity. So I'm working on improving more subtle aspects of technique, like keeping my fingers as close as possible to the fingerboard and using finger planting as extensively as I can. But I may have to accept that as a late starter with aging muscles and nerves that I may never be able to play as fast as I'd like to be able to.

    icetea, I have definitely used the feature of the PN play-along vids where you can slow them down to .75 speed!
  12. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    I downloaded the backing tracks onto my computer. I use them through Windows Media player and use the speed slider on there for adjustable speed.
  13. JeffLearman
    I've been working on speed (on guitar) since age 16 and have reached "mediocre at best" in the intervening 48 years. Never did have nimble fingers, and definitely never will. Regardless of my less than stellar speed, I did post a thread on tips to improve speed: .

    I recently saw a video from Steve Morse of Dixie Dregs and later Deep Purple; he said when learning something new he spends 80% of the time at a speed where he can play cleanly and 20% improving speed. Seems like a reasonable ratio.

    Regardless, I think that if you're getting bored with the beginner material, there's no harm in learning more advanced stuff as well. That's just my humble opinion without any data or teaching (or even learning) experience to back it up. I'm self-taught, which is shorthand for "too stupid to benefit from the wisdom of others." Well, I do try to learn from others; I just haven't had formal lessons.

    The key is economy of motion and muscle memory. When playing chords, it helps to practice the chord transitions. I try to find a finger that doesn't move, or doesn't move much, and use that as the anchor point during a transition.

    Playing with slowed-down backing tracks (like Southern Man says above) is excellent because it keeps you at a constant tempo, which is way more important than going fast. And it's more fun too. And being able to loop a part (which you can do with "Transcribe!" software mentioned in another thread here) can be really helpful, to loop over the toughest parts.
  14. SOMorris
    Hang in there, IceTea! I have watched some of the bluegrass players like Sam Bush, Sierra Hull and Chris Thile playing, going faster and faster to (I think) just see how fast they can go. They can go pretty fast! Some of us (like me!) will never go very fast, but if we can play well enough to enjoy it, that is probably fast enough. My advice is to sign up for the class and see how it goes. Most of all, have fun!
  15. JeffLearman
    Q: How fast does a mandolin player have to play?

    A: Fast enough to make it to the end of the tune.

    Hopefully, before anyone falls asleep.
  16. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    Ha ha, Jeff, I like the way you think
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