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What It Takes To Become an Advanced Mandolin Player


What does it take to climb the mountain of mandolin greatness? Is there something that separates the masters from the rest of us mere mortals?


In today’s post, you’re going to get the insider’s scoop on exactly how to ascend the mountain of technical and creative challenges on the way to mandolin mastery.


Become a legendary mandolin player by learning from a legend. Mike Marshall, a world renowned mandolin player, offers lessons for beginner, intermediate, and advanced players here.

Playing in the Pocket

Also known as “groove,” “playing in the pocket” simply refers to a player’s ability to lock in to the underlying “flow” of the music. We’re not talking about rhythmic accuracy here, although that’s also important. Rather, “groove” is that hard-to-describe yet easily felt aspect of great playing. The best way to develop groove is play with other musicians as often as possible. As you become a better listener, your groove will develop along with your ear.

The Magic of Tone

Why does a masterful player sound better on a cheap instrument than an amateur player on a world-class instrument? The answer lies in the magic of tone. The picking hand is largely responsible for tone, but is also balanced by fret hand pressure and technique.

Experiment with different types of picks and pick angles as well as different gauges of strings to find your own “sweet spot” where you can consistently produce the sounds that you hear in your head. Lastly, don’t forget to really listen to everything you play and how it fits into the music as a whole.


If great tone, groove and technique form the foundation of your musical house, creativity is what turns the house into a home. Without creativity, all the technique in the world won’t do you much good. By the same token, an unending fountain of creativity cannot be shared without the techniques to properly express it.

While creativity is largely innate, there are a few things you can do to improve it. Listen to as many different styles of music as you can, and strive to be as well-versed as possible in left and right hand techniques such as vibrato, tremolo picking, slurs, and muting.

Musical Awareness

Music is much like the art of conversation in that listening and responding appropriately are more important than simply blurting out ideas with little context or forethought. Without awareness and responsiveness, you’ll find yourself in a musical monologue rather than a true conversation. Whether ideas come in the form of words or melodies, remember that both must be given space and encouragement in order to create a musical environment where real magic can happen.

Supporting the Group

Speaking of group playing, how can you become a better listener and help take group improvisations to the next level? First and foremost, you’ll want to direct your focus to what others are playing and also pay attention to cues such as when to return to the top and when to crescendo or decrescendo. More specifically, always strive to make other players shine. Notice when other players are taking solos, playing fills and altering rhythms, and trust your innate sense of what sounds good.

If you approach the group with the intention of helping everyone sound their best, you’ll find that you naturally and effortlessly play the right thing. Not the good or bad thing, but the right thing that really takes it to the next level.

Speed and Accuracy

Speed is something every instrumentalist wants. It is especially coveted in genres with fast tempos such as bluegrass and metal, which means that just keeping up demands a fairly quick set of hands. What’s often overlooked, however, is the relationship between speed and accuracy. Most teachers will tell you the same thing — “start slowly and work your way up”, when what they really mean is “start accurately and speed will come.”

Keep that in mind each time you hit the woodshed and your technique will develop quicker than you think!


Become a legendary mandolin player by learning from a legend. Mike Marshall, a world renowned mandolin player, offers lessons for beginner, intermediate, and advanced players here.


Read more about Mandolin at ArtistWorks:

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear: New Mandolin Lesson

How to Noticeably Improve Your Playing in 30 Days

Mandolin Student Spotlight: Rico Walleda

11 Ways to Leave Your Musical Level