I’m now learning to play the mandolin.
I hadn’t expected to be adding the mandolin to my musical instruments, but a nice series of events has led to me having a Kentucky KM-620-S.
A few weeks ago, my aunt gave me her old mandolin (pictured below). She had started taking mandolin lessons, inspired by the music in the Dr. Zhivago movie.
She purchased a new mandolin as she continued to take lessons. She gave me her previous mandolin. When the two of us sat down to play together, I really enjoyed the music we created — even with a few mistakes.
Playing the mandolin with my aunt reminded me how much I’d enjoyed playing the mandolin more than 25 years ago when a friend had given me her mandolin. I had been taking guitar lessons at the time and worked on transferring that stringed-instrument experience to the mandolin. This was in the days before the Internet, so I learned from a mandolin music book.
Later, when I started graduate school, I sold that mandolin – thinking I didn’t have enough time for studying and playing/learning the mandolin. That was true, then. But recently when I strummed a few chords on the mandolin, I remembered how much I had loved its voice.
As I played the mandolin my aunt gave me, I began thinking about how a better mandolin would make playing a little easier. If I were going to keep the one she gave me I would have needed to fix the bridge, put on a new set of tuning pegs, set up a new set of strings.
It so happened I was going to Nashville for the Four Voices Concert. (I wrote about that concert of Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Indigo Girls in a previous post.)
Years before, I’d visited a music store in Crossville, Tennessee, which was on the drive to Nashville. I called Musicians Pick, one of the music stores in Crossville, and asked the store owner if he had any mandolins if I were to drop in. He said yes.
Based on research I’d done online, I had decided that I’d prefer a Kentucky mandolin and hoped to find one made of solid wood, as quite a few mandolins are made from laminated wood. Those mandolins are attractive but since I work with wood, the solid wood appeals to me.
When I arrived at the store, the owner had about eight mandolins tuned and ready for me to try. Some were on display on the wall with dozens of banjos and guitars. Others were on the counter in their music cases.
I tried several Washburn mandolins, including a Jethro Tull model. I tried a Fender. I tried the A style and the F style. All the instruments in the store were used, which was why the Kentucky KM model I really liked was no longer available for purchase in stores that sell only new instruments.
One mandolin had ornate mother of pearl and abalone inlay. I imagine this mandolin would have quite the story to tell.
I tried all the mandolins – some of them several times. An advantage of purchasing the mandolin in person was that I could feel how the instrument felt in my hands – the fit of the neck, the weight of the instrument, and the action of the strings.
The Kentucky KM-620-S spoke to me.
The store owner took my aunt’s madolin as a trade-in, which helped me be able to afford what would have been a mandolin out of my price range.
Since then, I’ve been playing my Kentucky mandolin every day and have skimmed through a lot of online mandolin learning materials. Mandolin Cafe posts are helpful. I’ve listened to several podcasts — although there aren’t too many on learning the mandolin.
Brad Laird had a podcast episode about taking time to record your progress as you learn a new instrument. It’s a great idea. When you encourage people to play and make music as I do with my Native American Style flutes and kanteles that I build, it’s important to remember the struggles of being new to an instrument — the uncertainty, the wrong notes, the effort to get it right. Yes, I have recorded my starting struggles on the mandolin. And there’s a lot to be said for persistence, practice and play.
Since I signed up for some virtual tutorials with BanjoBenClark, this is his easy version of Amazing Grace. And since it’s always more fun to learn music with a friend you’ll hear the recording with a friend who is learning some new chords on the ukulele.