Monday, March 06, 2006

My Birthday Prize

A good friend of mine has been coming over on Saturdays and I've been helping him learn how to play his mandolin. I've played guitar for 20 years, so even though I don't technically know how to play mandolin, I can help him play some tunes and just get used to playing with another person. It's been great fun and in the process, I've actually started to learn how to play the mandolin, too!

On my birthday, my husband and I took the day off because our puppy was having some surgery that day. We figured we'd go frolick during the morning and early afternoon while Aussie was at the vet and then we'd have a nice quiet evening at home. While we were out we talked about me getting a mandolin. We drove by this strip mall with a music store I'd never been in. On a whim I said, "Let's go in there."

I walked in and there was one mandolin on the wall with a very attractive price tag on it. I took it down, played it for 5 minutes and said, "I'll take it." I know I could have done a ton of research and all that stuff, but this thing played great, sounded great and was right in my price range. I said, "Happy Birthday to me" and took that thing home.

I got home and immediately whipped out some music from Nickel Creek. If you don't know who they are, they are an amazing group of three young kids that are just extraordinary musicians. I had to laugh that the first song I was going to try and tackle was this piece called "Ode to a Butterfly". It's crazy difficult. I figure if I'm going to learn something new, I might as well really challenge myself in the process.

As I was sitting down struggling through the first few bars, my husband told me to close my eyes while he brought my birthday present out. When I opened my eyes, there was a gorgeous wooden music stand he had bought for me. It's totally hand crafted and beautiful. So, I got to spend the rest of the evening playing my new mandolin and reading music from my new stand. It was great.

It's been interesting to learn this new instrument at this stage of my life. It's odd to look down at a fretboard and have to think about what notes I'm playing...or worse yet, not knowing at all. With the guitar I am at home. With eyes closed I can tell you what notes I'm playing and will know what something is going to sound like when I imagine my fingers running up or down the fretboard. With the mandolin, it's mostly a mystery.

I remember when I was learning to play guitar I would look at the chord charts and put my fingers in the configuration and say "That's a D major" and not realize that there are easily 20 different ways to play that same chord. I was a kid and just thought that I had to just do what was shown to me.

So now I come to the mandolin and I see those same kind of chord charts, but I know those black dots and lines are just a guide and not really the "law," so to speak. So I fumble around for a bit and can think through the theory of the chord and find better variations of it to play, that make more sense to me. It's much like getting older. Experience gives you the knowledge to improvise, make better decisions and judgements, and get through the rough times more quickly and with greater ease.


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