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Profiles In Online Learning: Annie, Mandolin Student

mandolin student annie Annie is a musical sign language interpreter who started off her musical journey tone deaf and discouraged at the idea of learning an instrument. She overcame her hesitation by teaching herself to play violin, and now takes Mike Marshall's mandolin lessons here at ArtistWorks. 

AW: How did you get into playing mandolin?

Annie: I was playing violin and you always play by turning to the left with your chin on the instrument, and you never get to play in the other direction. I wondered how good that could be for your body. I wanted to play more, and mandolin has the same fingering [as violin] and it's one less instrument because you're not dealing with the bow. So I tried mandolin and fell in love with it.

AW: Did you start out learning mandolin online with Mike or did you have somewhere you started learning first?

Annie: No, I'd been self taught. In fact when I first started I was tone deaf - completely tone deaf. At the beginning it was really slow. If I had had some instruction it would have been so much faster. When I first started taking mandolin lessons online with Mike I'd been making progress for some years and I just kind of plateaued out. I'd been stuck in a musical rut for a really long time. It didn't seem to matter how much I practiced or what I played, I couldn't get out of that rut.

AW: How did you find out about ArtistWorks?

Annie: I must have seen something online. I just tentatively checked out the site, and I got hooked in no time at all.

AW: Had you heard of Mike Marshall before?

Annie: Yes, actually through my work as a sign language interpreter. I've signed music and although as a mandolin player I'd be very limited with who I can perform with, I'm pretty good as a musical interpreter so I've been able to sign for some amazing musicians. I had signed for Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, and lots of other people before.

AW: How do you go about musically signing a mandolin performance?

Annie: Well the main focus in the words, signing the meaning of the words. But I do it in a way where I'm signing the rhythm and emotion too, so if it's in a minor key I'm going to sign it differently than if it's in a major key. It's the whole experience. At music concerts there may be people who are completely deaf, and then there's people who have always loved music and have gone to music shows but they can no longer hear or make out the words. But going to a musical performance is still a part of their life so they get to go and still experience this. I've had deaf people come up to me after shows and say they've never understood what music was and why anyone was interested in it, and for the first time in their life they've experienced music.

signing musicAW: So when there's no words, how does that translate into signs where the language is pure music?

Annie: Well sign isn't just what you do with your hands - it's the facial expressions, body language, it's all of that put together expressing what the artist is trying to say.

Most of the time someone would be singing words. Then when the musical break comes, you'd mostly just be moving to the music and if there was an emotion you would be expressing that. Sometimes I've been on stage and someone has told me the story of what the song is about, so even though there's no words they've told you the story to tell while they're playing their instrument. So you still tell the story with your body and your hands... Music is all about stories and emotions and feelings…

There's a lot of hearing people that come up to me at these shows after watching me sign the music. Besides getting drawn into the grace and beauty of sign language, they often have an appreciation of the fact that they can hear and realizing that not everyone gets to hear. In some ways that increases their appreciation of the music.

AW: What was it that inspired you to take up an instrument originally?

Annie: I'd always wanted to play, and this is really stupid, but I used to think 'there are already so many other people that were so good, why take up an instrument and play if you could never get to that level?'.  And then finally I realized that I don't have to be as good as Darol Anger or Mike Marshall if it gives me pleasure. It's all worth it just for that. Playing music gives me so much joy, it makes me so happy. One of the things I love is having jams with other people. There's a language, there's a communication that happens where you completely connect with somebody else and it's magic.

AW: Do have play with other people often?

Annie: There's a lot of people in my area. I often for my birthday will have a big party at a club downtown. The owner knows me and lets me have the whole place for the party, so all my friends and musician friends come. It's not an open mic.  Anybody who gets up and plays, anybody can join them so all night long the band and styles of music keep morphing and changing. All kinds of different instruments. It's a wonderful way to celebrate your birthday.

AW: What would you say to somebody who felt the same as you before, who wanted to learn but was reluctant to take up an instrument? Why should someone learn music?

Annie: Most people have some secret instrument that they wish that they could play. So I when I talk to people you can usually find out what that instrument is. That happened at the airport recently, I spoke to someone who at first said he could never play but then later he told me that he'd always wanted to play the trumpet. So I told him, 'well I can give you the secret for learning how to play and improve. It's that you play for five minutes a day.'

A lot of people think they have to put in an hour three times a week, or whatever it is. But then there'll be too many times where you don't get to do that, and then you get down on yourself and you stop playing. So if it's only five minutes, everybody can do that. And most of the time you'll play it for more than five minutes. But even on those days where you only play it for five minutes, you still have your hands on the instrument. Even after you put it down, your mind is still playing the instrument. You're going through the fingering and the music and it really will help you get better.

AW: What do you think are some other benefits to learning music?

Annie: Besides spreading joy to yourself, there's a good chance that you're going to spread joy to other people. There's a connection that can be made when you're jamming. Even if you're a beginner player, there's a camaraderie that happens that's pretty magical. Anyone can play music, because when I started I was completely tone deaf. So if I did I think almost anyone would be able to.

I taught myself how to read music, and got started playing that way. Eventually I got to a point where I could hear a song that was in my head and play it on my instrument. 

Playing music, it doesn't have to be for the stage, it doesn't have to be for making records. It can be just a really fun and exciting way to connect with other people. I think everyone has an inner artist and creative side in them. 

AW: What sort of things are you playing now?

Annie: I play some Beatles, a little samba, I like Bossa Nova…I like all different styles of music so it's all fun. I like improvising more than just playing fiddle tunes.

AW: Do you have a regular group that you play with?

Annie: I host a swing jam once a month, with all different kinds of instruments and levels of players. It's a thing for all of us to get together and become better players. I've been really lucky because so many of my friends are musicians, I get to play with a lot of people that are way better than me. I also try to give it back and help people that are new to music. I was in a jam once and I turned to the guitar player next to me and I asked, 'do you want to take a break?' and he said, 'Okay' and he put down his instrument because he didn't know what it meant. I was like, 'oh no, I wasn't telling you to quit.'

AW: Have you told other people about ArtistWorks?

Annie: Mike's mandolin lessons have been so beneficial for me. For me, people like Mike and Darol and the rest are so good it's hard to believe that they would so joyfully teach people that are so much below their level. That's one of the exciting things about ArtistWorks and I've told a lot of people about the site because it's been so helpful to me and I know it would be helpful to them. I'm encouraging a lot of people to come to the site and at least try it out, watch a few free videos and see what it is. I did that. I got addicted and signed up and I'm loving it. Even without sending in a video I've learned a ton. I'm glad I went back to the beginning and just went through it all. It's really helpful. 

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Click here to learn more about the Online Mandolin School with Mike Marshall, check out the free sample lessons! 

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