Problems playing a mandolin after years of playing a guitar

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mel randall
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Problems playing a mandolin after years of playing a guitar

Postby mel randall » Fri Jan 23, 2015 12:12 am

Having played guitar for more years than I can remember a couple of years ago I had a serious accident on my left hand where I nearly cut 3 of my fingers off. I can now play again but not up to what I used to be like so for a new years resolution i have decided to learn 3 new instruments this year namely , mandolin, violin both of which I have purchased and possibly a hurdy gurdy. I won.t go on about the violin as when I tackle it it sounds like a cat with its balls caught on a barbed wire fence.
Concentrating on the mandolin for the time being albeit the chords, and width of the fretboard are different to the guitar. I find the size of it is really minute and getting fingers around some of the chord shapes is really awkward. I have tried unsuccessfully trying to hold 2 double sets of 2 strings down with one finger but as they are double stringed I am struggling to get a clean sound and now I realise why many only learn the easiest chords namely G C D. As I am learning to play on my own I would appreciate any hints or tips especially from any guitarists who have managed the transformation

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Re: Problems playing a mandolin after years of playing a gui

Postby GORDON » Sat Jan 24, 2015 10:00 am

First of all Mel, I shuddered when I read of your accident!

I think most guitarists would find it a challenge going from the relative broad width of the guitars fingerboard to the much smaller mandolin,I certainly would.My only suggestion would be try try different models with varying fingerboard widths,and of course there are some wonderful luthiers who could make you a mandolin with a wider fingerboard.

I'm sorry this isn't much help and I'm sure there are some fine players of the instrument out there that could come up with constructive help to set you on the path sir.

In the meantime keep playing whatever instrument you decide on because it can only bring long term benefits to those poor damaged fingers.

Be well.


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Re: Problems playing a mandolin after years of playing a gui

Postby BRC » Sat Jan 31, 2015 1:33 pm


I have played guitar for over 50 years and around just under 9 years ago bought a mandolin, whilst visiting friends in Germany. Being completely honest, it was such a bargain compared to the price in the UK that I couldn't resist, though had only the minimal experience of playing one prior to that.

I bought a tutorial book at the same time (in English) called 'Beginning Mandolin' by Greg Horne and used this as a starting point - one day I shall finish all the exercises in that book. The transition from guitar to mandolin is really down to perseverance and practice. Learning chords is just a matter of memorising, though using standard guitar chords can give rise to some interesting sounds (not quite like your cat allusion). However get the mind in to the concept of there only being 4 strings to play with, albeit each string being paired identically. It is a little different to playing a 12 string guitar because of the so narrow neck

I appreciate that your restricted finger movement does present a problem, again that is down to perseverance and practice, and finding your own style to suit. I suffer from arthritis that affects the thumb and little finger on my left hand, more so in this cold weather, making playing a little more awkward. Naturally the action will need to be as low as possible to reduce the pressure you need to exert on the strings. As Gordon suggests, a luthier may be able to make a tailor made mandolin for you, if at a much higher price than an off-the-shelf instrument.

I don't pretend to be an 'accomplished player' however playing and enjoying that is most important to me. I suppose learning mandolin is much the same as all those years ago of learning to play guitar from Bert Weedon's 'Play in a Day'. After more than a day I could play a quite grim version of 'Bobby Shafto' and did eventually manage a clean play of it - took me much longer than a day. Being fair to Bert he never did say which day you would be able to play.

I don't think I have given you any pearls of wisdom, just a fellow mandolin learner's view. Best wishes in you persevering and succeeding and, hopefully, the cat is recovering.


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Re: Problems playing a mandolin after years of playing a gui

Postby Trevor Raggatt » Tue Feb 03, 2015 12:00 pm

Mel, the neck on a mandolin is tiny and I've known lots of guitarists who have struggled with cramming their fingers into such unfeasibly small spaces. You might always look at another option by amending your challenge slightly from "mandolin" to "mandolin family". Something like an octave mandola would give a much more finger friendly playing area but, given it has the same tuning as a mandolin, would still teach you the same chords, scales and fingerings... Maybe worth a thought?

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