I have recently recorded and uploaded short free mandolin lessons to youtube.
After rewatching and some contemplation I realized these “tricks” I have recorded work for the youtube medium, but not optimal in the realm of actually learning and understanding the mandolin or it’s music.
The “tricks,” you will find on my youtube page are for the intermediate player who has an understanding of the instrument and of chord changes in western music. This does not go without saying.
First things first, learn the correct chords to the song you want to play. Leads only exsist in context with the rhythm and chords behind it. Given, some players can imply harmonies or use baselines intertwined with lead playing to make themselves a “one man band.” This is no easy feat. Classical masters as well as some modern artists like Keith Jarrett, and Brad Mehldau have scratched this itch on Piano. On guitar Joe Pass is my personal favorite, on mandolin, Aaron Weinstein, and Evan Marshall come to mind. On stringed instruments this is often called, “chord soloing,” not the other way around.
Although not sexy, playing correct chord changes while using a metronome might be the surest way for players of any ability level to increase their enjoyment playing. Given some might choose a simple I-IV-V at a very slow bpm while others will play through Thelonious Monk compositions inserting chord substitutions and turn-arounds at will, at break neck speed. This practice routine enables one to improve in ways that are realized best while playing with other musicians.
Ones understanding of chord theory can be supercharged with understanding the circle of fifths as well as ear training. In the end “soloing,” is nothing less than arpeggiating chords that fit; they can be extremely simple, or they can be predeterminded theoritcal ideas ie. tritone substitutions with extended chord voiceings. Our ears will be the final judge, and the jury is still out.
Do not forget to practice rhythm playing and chord studies, when that happens the music suffers. Drums were my first instrument as a youngster. I spent countless hours trying to fall into time with Pearl Jam recordings…eventually I did. This is no excuse, I am no longer taking rhythm studies for granted.
Play with a metronome, listen to some of the greats and how their sense of timing often called phrasing, set their playing apart. Clarence White would be a good place to start for bluegrassers, while John Scofield sticks out in the world of jazz where syncopation is most prevelent. They posses one of a kind senses of time. The reality is we all do. Find yourown, don’t neglect it for it can trump all else.
My advice is to make rhythm studies the first thing you do when you pick up your instrument, even if for just three minutes. I will discuss later effective ways of using the metronome. You can start by playing along with a recording you know and like, making sure your in time. First things first.