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Mandolin Lessons: About the Mandolin

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This page contains a transcription of a video lesson from Bluegrass Mandolin with Mike Marshall. This is only a preview of what you get when you take Mandolin Lessons at ArtistWorks. The transcription is only one of the valuable tools we provide our online members. Sign up today for unlimited access to all lessons, plus submit videos to your teacher for personal feedback on your playing.

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[MUSIC]
Hello and
welcome to the Mike Marshall School of
Mandolin.
I'm so happy that you found us, and I just
love this
idea that we're gonna be able to share
mandolin ideas with each other.
You'll be able to send me videos of you
playing.
And I have a, quite a long curriculum
planned,
with all kinds of thoughts about how to
play this instrument.
And so I look forward to us getting to
know each other a little better.
And hopefully, you'll learn some tips from
me through this modern technology.
So hats off to ArtistWorks for having such
a clean and
clear concept of a new way of learning
about music.
So I'm playing an F5 style Gibson
mandolin.
This is one of those ones from the early
20s.
And it's what many American bluegrass
musicians choose to play.
Probably because Bill Monroe played one,
as much as anything.
They're great sounding mandolins.
[MUSIC]
One
of the things they do about as well as
anything is play rhythm.
[MUSIC]
It's really fun to play rhythm on these
kind of mandolins.
It's a curved top instrument with F holes.
Gibson also used to make round hole
mandolins.
Many of you have seen the A model
mandolins.
And this has tone bars that run inside.
Two tone bars like that.
The old A model mandolins just had one bar
cross this way,
with the sound hole that way.
And I just love the mandolin, I mean, to
me, it's, it's my baby, you know, and
when you find an instrument that you love,
that's it.
So many of you might have just picked up
an instrument, maybe it was given to you
or, or you searched high and low, and
finally found your baby.
Whatever the case, it's a very personal
thing, and
you just have to find an instrument that
feels right to you,
feels good under your hands, it's easy to
get a sound out of it.
And once you have that sort of emotional,
physical feeling, then we dive in and go
for it.
So here we are.
And I'll try to tell you a few things
about setup, because that's number one.
Many times students will come to me,
and they'll just have an instrument that's
really hard to play.
And and, I'll just make a couple of little
adjustments.
And voilà, they're like, oh, now I can
play.
[LAUGH] So I encourage you, even if you
just bought a mandolin at a,
at a music store, to take it into a great
luthier,
a great repair person who really knows how
to set the action.
When I say action, I mean the height of
the strings off of the fingerboard.
It's, it's really important that that not
be too high, and
something about the mandolin being so
small of an instrument, that it's if,
there's, the, little bit of adjustment can
really make a huge difference
in how well your instrument plays.
So get those strings really low on the
fingerboard.
Not so that it buzzes, but just so that
it's easy for you to make a sound,
press the strings down and get started
playing.
And this, this mandolin has nuts and
bolts here that you just loosen those and
the strings come down.
But you, you can't do it as long as
there's tension.
You have to loosen the strings all the way
down in order to,
even to lower the bridge.
And then the other thing that I do is, I
mute the strings behind the bridge.
This is a special tailpiece
that has little rubber gaskets that the
strings ride on.
And then this clamps down and holds them.
The other thing I've seen people do is
wind a little piece of leather through
those strings or put a piece of tape over
them.
[SOUND] Cuz I don't like when they ring.
Because when they ring.
[SOUND] You hit a note, and you hear all
this extra resonance out of the note.
The harmonics behind, of the strings
ringing back here.
And I do the same to the strings behind
the nut as well,
with a little piece of foam there under
the strings.
I just weave the foam in.
And that keeps those strings really,
really quiet when you're,
when you're playing.
So I'm using D'addario strings, J75s, I've
always used D'addario,
I love their string, they're wonderful,
and it's kind of a medium gauge set.
I will sometimes encourage first time
players to go with a lighter set though,
especially young kids, you know,
if you haven't developed your muscles in
your left hand.
Then I would go with the light gauge.
Right now, this is 11, 14, 25 and 40.
And I would bring those all down by one
gauge for a, for a, a child,
you know, make 10 and 13 and maybe 22 and
38 even.
Again, so that you get some encouragement
so
you're not always just working hard and,
and it's hurting your fingers.
Eventually, you develop calluses on your
left hand, and, and
that's, that's really important, and
that's just something you just have to
slog through if your absolute beginner,
it's just gonna take a couple of months
of developing those calluses, and as soon
as they're there, then they're set.
You might be able to get out of doing
dishes on an occasional evening.
[LAUGH] You can always use the excuse, my
callouses.
So then we play with a pick, of course.
And the selection of picks that are out
there is just phenomenal.
How many different picks there are.
And I'm right now using a Pro Plec, which
I love.
It's a pretty big triangle, I have a
fairly large thumb, so
I like to have a pick that really gives my
thumb something to sink into.
I feel like I can push the string a
little, a little harder,
get a little more energy going through the
string.
I also like having a point cuz I feel like
it enables me to go in and
out of the strings quite a bit, but it's a
rounded point.
You know, it's not as pointy as some
you'll see.
It's also very thick.
It's it's 1.6 I believe they are.
The thickness also affects the tone, if
you have a thin pick,
you're gonna have a thinner, brighter
sound, and
as you go up in thickness, it's gonna get
darker and a heavier sound.
Also the point affects how much darkness
there is in your sound.
If it's a super rounded pick, it's gonna
be a more rounded full sound.
But that's gonna be a harder pick to
negotiate in and out of the strings with.
So you need to strike a balance between
how much point, how much rounded,
how thick it is.
Then find the balance that's right for
you.
Most of us start with whatever our heroes
are playing, and
that's definitely where you should start.
But then, be open-minded.
Find things that work.
Everybody's hand's a little bit different,
and ultimately,
we do want to develop our own sound.
So I even brought a bunch of picks with me
today,
and I've got the Pro Plec that I usually
play with and
another pick I love a lot is this BlueChip
pick.
It's very similar to the Pro Plec in terms
of shape,
and, and but it's a tiny bit brighter.
[MUSIC]
And this is the Pro Plec.
[MUSIC]
You hear that darkness.
The one advantage of the BlueChip is
they're,
they're made of some high tech material
that just will not scratch.
So I really love that it never gets the
rough edge on it
sometimes the other picks made of plastic
especially if I play the mandocello or
if I'm playing really hard rhythm on the
mandolin,
I get a little burr on that pick, and who
would that bugs me, don't like them burrs.
One of the picks I played with for many,
many years was the Dog pick.
It's made by the same company that makes
Pro Plec,
except it's very rounded, as you see.
So it's gonna have a really dark tone.
[MUSIC]
And
something about the mandolin, you know,
it's already a bright, high instrument.
So many of us do everything we can to get
a darker sound,
whether that's with the kind of string we
use.
Certainly, the kind of pick we use.
And our whole concept of what we think of
as good tone as a dark sound
to sort of counter balance the nature of
the mandolin.
That's a great tone, but I find it very
hard to get in and
out of the strings with it.
Once I started playing with a more pointed
pick and a larger pick,
I was able to sorta negotiate my way in
and out of those pairs.
So one of the things that's kinda fun to
do is just drop these
picks on a hard surface and listen to the
tone.
Because what the pick's made out of and
how big it is and
how thick it is will affect the tone that
it gives you on the mandolin.
And you can almost hear that when you,
when they land on a hard surface.
So here is the Pro Plec, the big one that
I use.
[SOUND] You'll hear that.
Here's a Fender medium.
It doesn't even bounce, pretty light.
[SOUND] Here's the Pro Plec again.
[SOUND] Here's the BlueChip.
[SOUND] Brighter.
Here's a little black jazz guitar pick.
[SOUND]
Now that I've seen mandolin
players use that.
They love that it's small, maybe cuz
mandolins are small.
And they love a super pointy pick probably
because they can get out, in and
out of the strings.
But I'm gonna demonstrate sonically what
all these do as well.
Here is a Gilchrist pick by the great man
Steve Gilchrist.
[SOUND] Kinda dark.
And here is some Tortoise Shell.
[SOUND] Tortoise is real bright,
almost glassy compared to going back to
the Pro Plec.
[SOUND] Little darker.
Now when you play with each of these, the
effect is the material,
and it's also the thickness of it, and
it's also the the mount of point.
So all three of those factors are going
into creating what kind of sound it makes.
[MUSIC]
Pro Plec, here's the Fender medium.
[MUSIC]
Some people play with their rounded edge,
that was the pointy edge, here's the
rounded edge.
[MUSIC]
A little more rounded, right?
Here's a Tortoise Shell,
but the Tortoise Shell has not really been
dressed to perfection.
It's very pointed.
[MUSIC]
So
it has that, little bit of flick on the
front edge of the note.
Here's the jazz guitar pick.
[MUSIC]
And here's the Dog pick.
[MUSIC]
Hear how dark and
just kind of muffled, that sound is?
And then the Gilchrist.
[MUSIC]
And of course,
like I said, a lot is going into this.
Not just the shape, but the pointedness
and the density, thickness.
So I hope that gives you some insight.
I'm always experimenting.
There was a time when I was using a Dunlop
like a 207.
A big, thick, dark pick.
Cuz I just wanted the darkest sound I
could get.
Over the years, I've changed.
Started out with a Fender medium I
believe.
Because that's what Sam Bush used, you
know, my hero.
So well, looking forward to many more
mandolin moments with you.
And I hope this gives you some insight
into pick selection.
[MUSIC]