It's Never Too Late

CoMando Listserve Posts

The CoMando Mail List provides a steady stream of tips, techniques, announcements, and opinions on various aspects of playing the mandolin. As expected, the members of the CoMando list respond with varied interest on subjects discussed, depending on individual interest in the topic. But, once in a while, a comment or question will spark a discussion that seems to embrace us all. The following thread excerpts are from such a discussion. What started as an outreach for encouragement, transitioned into a sense of community and a testiment to the joy, pleasure, and passion the CoMando members feel for the instrument and music. This thread is being republished as a source of encouragement to those that missed the original thread, and for those that want to revisit the insightful, uplifting comments in times of frustration and discouragement.

Date: Tue, 12 Nov 1996
From: Nancy Friedland
Subject: Never too late?

I have learned a lot from everyone on this list about the technical aspects of mando playing - tuning, holding the pick, strings, buzzes, books, etc. I keep reading and then go back to playing, and often end up at a questioning place that I haven't seen addressed here on the list.

I've lurked long enough to know that not all of you are 25 years old, performing often, and about to cut a cd; so I hope that my question will interest some others of you that don't fit that slot.

I've been playing for 2 years. I've had lessons off and on, used cassettes or instruction books every so often, and went to two different music camps to give me a boost (which worked!), listened back to my music camp tapes to get that feel back again. I sometimes play with other people, but mostly alone (I keep hoping to find some cronies, but haven't yet). There are days/weeks when things are clicking along, when I hear myself getting better, when I fall into the groove and it feels so good. And on those days I think, this is fun! I'm glad to be doing this!

Then there are those other days when I think maybe I woke up with my hands sewn on backwards, or the dull plink plink plink sounds pathetic and dry, or when I've made the same mistake over and over and can't get it. And there comes my question (finally!): why am I doing this?

I am 41 years old, trying to learn a new instrument. I will never be a Bush or a Grisman, I will never make a CD, why do I think I can do this? I didn't start when I was 17. Anytime I play with anyone else, especially a stranger, I think a lot about what I can't do. I don't have hours and hours to practice, and even if I did, should I be spending on a process that has no product, or at least none that is discernable? Also, I don't know of any women mando players - should I take a clue from this?

Then come those days when it feels good and I enjoy it and feel like that's enough; I'm just in it for the pleasure. Then come the other days, and I don't pick up my mandolin for a week because I am so discouraged and disgusted. Why struggle so hard for something that will never be great (in terms of how the pros do it).

Any responses from y'all would be appreciated. I could have posted this to just about any list - I suppose it applies to anything we try to do in mid-life. But because mando is my big struggle/project, and because this is one of the few lists I'm on, and because music is one of those fields that is mostly inspired by people who have been playing since they were wee things, I felt like this was the right place.


From: William G. Hamilton
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Gee, Nancy,

Are you in my head?!

I too have thought these very same things a zillion times! I'm 49 - in 2 weeks. I started playing the mandolin, in earnest, about a year and a half ago. I take lessons - on and off - from a REALLY great player who I am so blown away by that it can be more depressing than enlightening at times. But, he is always encouraging and always ready to remind of what I can do that I couldn't do just a few months ago!

I too am looking for people to jam with. Not that I don't know people, but I feel out-classed by most of my friends that play - they all seem (and are) better than me! But, I love them - I love the music - it's through the music that I met my wife (she plays banjo) and we just celebrated our 8th anniversery!

(Incidently, my ex went to our 30-year high school reunion last weekend, and filled me in on our old classmates activiites - most of whom we haven't seen in years. One of them, whose husband also went to our school, had dropped-out, got a GED and she now tells us he's working on a PHD!!)

If you enjoy it and it doesn't harm the environment, why not! It's only too late after you've 'crossed over to the other side'....

Keep on pickin'!


From: John Goodin
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Having just come back from beautiful San Francisco and four days of playing mando and rubbing shoulders with the famous, the never-to-be-famous and the charlatans (that's my category) I suspect that Nancy is speaking for many of us. Even the famous and incredibly gifted players often wonder why they keep playing when they will never be as good as (fill in the blank).

The people at the Classical Mandolin Society of America convention came from all kinds of backgrounds and, as far as I can tell, just like to play the mandolin. Some play better than others but they keep doing it. I think Nancy would have fit right in. Those of us who have had the good fortune to play in mandolin orchestras or chamber groups know how much fun that can be and there's certainly music available for almost any level of ability.

As far as gender is concerned around half of the players at the CMSA meeting were women and we all were spellbound at the playing of Getrud Troster (umlaut over the "o") who is probably the finest living mandolinist in the classical tradition.

It's interesting that Nancy chose "never too late" as the subject of her message because that's also the title of a good book by John Holt on precisely this subject. I highly recommend it to anyone who has mixed feelings about playing music in our "twilight years".

So, Nancy, it sounds like you really enjoy playing mando and I vote that you keep on with it.

John Goodin

From: Dow Mathis
Subject: Re: Never too late?


I've been playing, mostly by myself, for about five years. Mostly along with tapes and cd's. I enjoyed it, but I didn't seem to get any better, and it became an on again off again thing. Then this past April I started playing with a gospel group. Just sitting in to start with, but as time passed, I found myself playing better and better. I am now starting to do some solo breaks once in a while. My theory: playing with other people, whether they are lots better or not, challenges you. your ear improves, your skill level goes up, and your confidence goes up.

Find someone to sit in with. It doesn't matter if they are better than you, as long as they are supportive and you have fun with it. do this regularly, and I think you'll improve. If you love it, the rest will come.

Good luck,

Dow "I'll never be a Grisman" Mathis

From: Andy Shaw
Subject: Re: Never too late?


I'm in pretty much the same boat as you are -- 43 years old, job, kids, playing mandolin for a year or so. I also have the same feelings of frustration and "why am I bothering" at times, particularly on those days when my hands won't do what they're told.

I would just say hang in there, and be patient. It didn't come instantly to Dave Grisman or Sam Bush either... Okay, maybe they *did* pick it up three times faster than we do , but there's no point in worrying about that.

It really isn't necessary to take this to a professional level. I think we've lost something important by letting most of our music come to us pre-played (i.e. listening to concerts and records). Music can be something you *do* as well as something you receive from the outside. It just takes practice...

Good luck!

-- andy --

From: Becky Smith
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Hey Nancy,

Anytime I play with anyone else, especially a stranger, I think a lot about what I can't do. That is self defeating, isn't it? You know better than that. Think about what you CAN do. I don't have hours and hours to practice, and even if I did, should I be spending it on a process that has no product, or at least none that is discernable? You are playing for YOUR enjoyment. Relax, have fun, and don't give a **** what other people think. Also, I don't know of any women mando players - should I take a clue from this?

I'm one!!! (you guys just knew I'd jump on this one ) There are several others on this list that perform/teach, including Marilynn Mair and Antonina Nigrelli. As far as bluegrass performers goes, check out Dawn Watson, who used to tour with The Country Gazette and now has her own band, and Chris Lewis of the All Girl Boys and now also with Roanoke. Don't take a 'clue' from the fact that the percentage of male players that perform in public is more. That is true of just about every instrument. Over the many years that I have been teaching, the balance is pretty equal. You are correct that it is rare to see women 'mixing it up with the big boys' but some of that has to do with that competitive/macho thang. There are many excellent women players that simply don't participate in that type of jam.

Then come those days when it feels good and I enjoy it and feel like that's enough; I'm just in it for the pleasure. Then come the other days, and I don't pick up my mandolin for a week because I am so discouraged and disgusted. Why struggle so hard for something that will never be great (in terms of how the pros do it).

Don't suffer from that perfectionist complex...all it does is put you down.

Also, I have taught plenty of women that are 40 and over (even two in their 80's). You are NEVER too old to start anything that you really want to do. Heck, life is too short and fragile as it is. Seize the Day! Go out and have fun. I wish you lived near me, Nancy. I know I could show you what I mean.

Becky Smith (42, started mando at 20 and just a few years ago started on fiddle)

From: ryk rostron
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Hi Nancy,

I'm obviously not the first to respond to your testement but like yourself I started late. Guitar at 30, mandolin at 40. I love playing and would be insane by now without my music.

Open chords and basic arpeggios have taken me a long way. Living in large country town (120,000) in northern Australia limits the numbers of people available to jam with but five like minded people have managed to form a band, The Rogues, who play a basic blend of Celtic, Bluegrass and contempory folk (Pogues, Goats Don't Shave, Toss The Feathers).

Do you have a local folk club? If not, why not try organising one. My first was in a town with a population of 16,000, meeting once a month at the local library, just 5 or 6 friends who told somebody else, who told etc. Good nights brought 40-60 people into town. Enough to eventually bring performers in from the city every 3-4 months.

Folk Clubs are a great training ground. My mandolin, an early Korean Westbrook given to me by a friend, would never have been played in public without the support of Folk Club.

I am now 49, playing music part time 1-2 nights a week (for money!), have never cut a CD although I would love to, still heavily involved with the local folk club and going through the same ups and downs that you are experiencing. The only thing that really matters is, to steal a phrase, 'if it feels good, do it!'.

Your other point about women, as a male playing in a band with 2 women (wind and fiddle) and 2 other men (guitar/mandolin and bass), has been bugging me for some time. More women should be encouraged to take up music on instruments presently dominated (in this town anyway) by male players. Folk Club provides a venue for all musicians but until women (all women) are encouraged to develop an interest in playing, especially instruments non-traditional to women, then the gender bias will continue. Spread the word.

I wish you all the best.

Ryk R

From: Mark & Gerianne Poulsen
Subject: Re: Never too late?

All in favor of starting a Mid-life Begginning Mando Players Association please say I.

Yes, I too am a mid-life (38) beginner (two years). I started on the mando on a pure whim. After listening to a country song with a good mando background I thought -- that sounds great, wonder how hard it is to play, and does anybody in town sell the things? The next evening I was sitting in the living room with a book, a tape, a pick and a new mando. Once I got the thing in tune I never looked back.

That's not to say thing have been easy. I can sit down and play a song and think back to when my teacher first showed me how to slide a note or do a certain fingering and I thought NO WAY are my fingers going to work like that, and the first hundred times through the song they didn't. But somewhere around 123 it would click. There are times that I've gotten mad at myself, my teacher and my mando, I put everything down, veg out on something different for a day or two and then a song comes on the radio and I think -- that sounds great....

Keep on playing!!

Laterbye Mark

PS -- About six months after I started playing I read an article about the effects of aging on the brain, the conclusion was that people who continue to learn new things have less senility as they get older. The best suggestions of things to learn -- playing an instrument or learning a language.

From: John McGann
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Nancy: just because some of us make CD's doesn't mean there's a seperation between us and folks who are just starting, or who've been playing forever and will never make a CD-our culture is a peculiar 'star-based' one, where fame implies greatness, so regular folks think they don't measure up...don't buy into that glitter bullschitt. Every good player went through a learning curve and felt like a spaz at some time...for all of us, it's when we get too complacent that we start to slip. Look for a balance between not crucifying yourself and reasonable expectations.

In lots of the world, music is a communal activity; the musician is also the farmer or mechanic or whatever. Don't let the 'pros' make you feel unworthy. Try to socialize with players who are somewhere around your level of development. Interacting and learning from one person is worth a hundred instructional videos/books/transcriptions, whatever.

Keep the faith!

John McGann

From: Richard Barber
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Hi Nancy,

If you don't play, exactly what are you going to do instead? TV? Now that's fullfilling! You may as well play. Even if it's only for yourself.


PS. I'm 36, started guitar at 18 and mando about 6 months ago. Life is like riding a bike; if you stop moving you fall down. :-)

From: Ken Waltham
Subject: Never too late?

Nancy, I could write a book on all those feelings and symptoms. I am not a beginner, and have done two recordings, played on bigger stages than I ever thought I would, and have felt every one of those feelings a hundred times over.

I think every person, even the real pros, must have thoughts of inadequecy, and self doubt. I can only tell you, in this short space, that enjoyment and self expression are qualities that offer intangible rewards, and are worht the effort every time.

Don't get discouraged, and what really helps is to play with someone. It gives you a reason to keep practising, and just makes it a lot more fun!

Ken Waltham

From: Jim French
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Dear Frustrated,

Mando love is an addiction,an affinity,an affliction,not unlike how flyfisherman feel about the spiritual aspects of fishing.Relish those moments when it makes you feel the way you want to feel,the heck with any other aspects. Play,listen,play,listen etc


From: Peter Coombe
Subject: Re: Never too late?

To Nancy

Interesting post. You sound pretty normal to me!

I think everyone has up and downs when learning a new instrument. Let me tell you it doesn't stop, even after 13 years. I am one year older than you, an average player, not great, who has played mando for 13 years. Mandolin is not my first instrument. I am a much better button accordian player (better than average), but I like the mando because it gives me variety, and I've been hooked on making them. I have ups and downs, just like you. Sometimes the downs last so long my fingers go soft from lack of playing- BAD idea! I do have the advantage of playing professionally (part time) with a band and also making mandolins. The highs usually correspond with a new instrument I've just finished that sounds so good I can't put it down. At the moment I am on a big high, having just finished a King Billy Pine/Blackwood combination mando that I think, and others are agreeing with me is the best sounding and looking thing I have made so far.

I do not think it is necessary to start young to become a really good player. IMHO I think the secret is to choose an instrument that you really love playing. If you can't put it down, you are likely to make fast progress. The big problem is to maintain that enthusiasm over a long period of time. Over the years I have found that playing with other people probably is the biggest help. Playing in a band is probably the greatest fun a musician can have. At times, the adrenalin rush is so big you can't sleep after a gig. You will learn new tunes from other members and one day will be teaching them tunes. If you really love playing the instrument you will find the time to play, believe me. Playing in public on a new instrument can be pretty nerve wracking, but the more you do it, the less is the trauma and it will stimulate you to get better. Another thing that helps is a new and better instrument, which is probably easier to play and sounds better as well. The instrument you learn on almost certainly won't be the instrument you finally settle on.

All this takes time, of course, and 2 years is not much. I play with 2 full time professionals in the band, and sometimes they make me feel sick at how quickly thay can pick up a tune and play it, embellish it, harmonise with me etc etc. Dammit, it took me a weeks practice just to learn it and memorise it, let alone start playing around with it or harmonising! They are great players, I'm only average, and it is pure pleasure to play with them. However, they do nothing but play music, day in day out, year after year. As Ian often says to people who comment on his brilliant sax playing abilities - "Just years of practice", and as he has often told me - he really enjoys having a "bit of a blow" every now and again. Love of music and love of an instrument, plus time, is what turns beginners into great players.

Off the soapbox.

I have a female friend who is a much better mandolin player than me, and I can think of at least 2 other women I know who also play. One plays one of my instruments. Mandolins are not completely male dominated.

Good luck


From: Bill Wootton
Subject: Re: Never too late?


It is never too late. I am 78 years old and took up the mandoline about four years ago. Am not good, but get a great deal of pleasure out of it. Am entirely self-taught, no teachers in my area. My daughter sent me a copy of the comic strip "Shoe" wherein the Professor says--I guess 66 is not too old to take up an instrument. You have time to take lessons and practice, but not time enough to get really good. You have the time still to get good.

Keep picking, its fun, even if sometimes you get disgusted.


Subject: Re: Never too late?

Dear Nancy and the rest of the CoMando

This thread will probably elicit (he said, putting down his dictionary) a response from just about everyone on the list! Here's my 2 pence worth (we don't have cents in England, some of us don't have any sense either).

I am a relative toddler at 31 & started playing mandolin a year ago exactly. I started playing guitar & banjo when I was 17 & 19 reached a certain (pretty low) plateau at 20 and never really progressed from there, even though I was playing with other people, off and on.

Picking up the mandolin has really started to stretch me, musically. I'm actually starting to learn tunes ALL THE WAY THROUGH, not just losing the impetus after a few bars.

I think that playing in a band is a double edged sword. I play in a sort of corny hillbilly duo (me on mando and banjo, pal on guitar), our first gig (non-paid of course) is on 23rd November. So for the last couple of months I've been practicing the same two dozen numbers over and over again so that they are as perfect as my sausage fingers can get em (a "good thing") but I'm so wrapped up doing that, that I haven't really tried anything new lately (a "Bad thing").

I never even TRY to play notes exactly like the BIG PLAYERS do, I just try and work out my own arrangements of tunes that fit in with my try and work out my own arrangements of tunes that fit in with my own playing ability and energy levels (or in the case of my Tremelo version of "The Sheik of Araby" - a little bit beyond them!). If you do this it cuts down on the times that you get "Them Mean Old Mando Blues" -

anybody on the list got round to writing this song yet?

Keep a stiff upper lip, Nancy! It looks like we're all in the same boat (shaped like a 'taterbug mando, with a sail made of sheet music (or should that be tab??))

Best wishes,

PS Wish me luck on the 23rd! I'll sure need it.

From: Erickson, Peter

Subject: Re: Never too late?

Nancy writes:

"Anytime I play with anyone else, especially a stranger, I think a lot about what I can't do. I don't have hours and hours to practice, and even if I did, should I be spending on a process that has no product, or at least none that is discernable?"

I once saw posted on the door of a music teacher: "The trouble with many students of music is that they look backward from where they aren't, rather than forward from where they are."

Learn to love the notes you make now, and work on making small steps forward--one note, lick, or song at a time. Listen to the masters of the styles you like, but don't worry about how you measure up--if you love what you're doing, do it. If it's a source of stress, either learn to let go of that, or try something else.

Minneapolis, Mandosota

From: Robbie Kondor
Subject: Re: Never too late?

I'm also 41, been learning to play for 2 years. Lessons ocaisionally. Good days, bad days. Never enough time to practice. I do it because it's one of the few things I get to do just for fun. I can play badly without consequences. Sort of an antidote to career pressure, ambition, etc. Yea, I do want to play better but I don't have to. I wonder how many other members we have in the took up the mandolin at 39 club.

From: Dwight Sledge (sledge)
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Nancy Says

>> comes my question (finally!): why am I doing this?

Well kiddo, I'm 43 and probably will never be a Sam Bush either. I play the mandolin to relieve the pressure of living out of suit cases, hotel rooms and computer rooms around the east coast and because I want to. Probably deep down a part of me would like to be on stage making a living but I really don't have that as a goal. What I do that gives me great enjoyment is go to retirement and nursing homes and play for the residents. I can sing reasonably well and don't need a lot of soloing to get the message across. Usually the resident's are singing right along with me and we have a great time. That type of performance will give you a sense of fulfillment even though there is no cash envolved. I have played in bands in the past but have no greater joy than playing for free for a group of people that really appreciate it.

My point is there are outlets for your music. Sam Bush has already been done so there is no point in trying. You just need to be Nancy and play as well as you can where ever you can, even at home.

I have experienced(and still do) the intimidation of being in the presence of talent greater than my own(damn near everyone I meet) and usually it's my hangup not the other person. Really talented people most often will be as helpful as you allow them to be. I used to sit in the corner and sulk whenever I heard great players and it really was just my own jealousy. I was hurt because I couldn't do what they could do. One day I changed my attitude and asked a fellow picker "How do you do that run?" Guess what? He showed me and I had a really great impromptu lesson for next hour. I have since learned to do what I can and not worry about others. Eleanor Roosevelt said " You wouldn't worry so much about what other people think, if you realized how seldom they do." Great lady that one.

No women on the mando, hmmm I was not aware Gertrude Troester(SP?) and Barbara Mandrell were not women. What about Claire on the list, doesn't she play mandolin? What you need to do is go to a Bluegrass festival next spring and just walk around the parking lot and observe the women playing mandolin. There are probably far more guitar playing men as well, that doesn't mean women can't play guitar.

Why play? Because you want to make music! If you get stuck on some particular run and you just can't get it right, move on to something else for a while. Play something you know really well just to calm yourself and get you mind off the difficult passage then come back to it later. Maybe slow it down to a snail's pace but pace you can play it right. Don't practice mistakes, but do keep playing.


From: Arthor Weinstein
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Is it too late ... to ad my two cents? I feel like a Californian on voting day. It's a done deal, the people have spoken. Nonetheless i'll cast my votes:

It's never too late to learn.

Playing can and should be it's own reward.

We all suffer doubts about our abilities.

Your gender should in no way affect your desire or resolve.

I would heartily urge nancy to find folks to play with. It *is* worth a pile of books and videos. Technology has made it possible to make music more and more private, i recommend resisting this trend. I learn most from playing with others and the value of this experience is not a function of their "level" of play.

I've played music since i could first get my puggy little fingers up onto the piano. I have a degree, i've made cd's, i've played for money. But the joy of playing has little to do with the trappings of professionalism. The joy is in the growth, the iteraction, the potentail for transcendence.

Now and then i'm plagued by fears and feelings of futility and i imagine i always will. It is always when i lose focus, when i forget to abandon myself to the music. Learning the mechanics can be a drag - be generous and tolerant of yourself. Practice is work and work is not always all that much fun. But when it comes time to play, forget about being good or bad or skilled or spastic. Forget about what you know or don't know. When the times comes to play you must let go and allow yourself to be immersed. Then there is only the time to _be_. All thought as to your worth, validity, how you compare, these are all distractions and hesitations. Keep i mind that _great_ music does not always require athlectic feats of virtuosity, or vast theoretical knwoledge and no amount of technique will substitute for the "magic" that happens when you let yourself connect. Just jump. When you do the act of playing can feel effortless and the feeling sublime.


From: Marjorie Dybec
Subject: Never too late? -Reply

What a terrific thread, everybody!

As I have told several of you who started more recently than me, this is an exciting process. When I bought my mandolin a year ago, I had no idea if I would be able to "do it". I decided then, to delight in the process of learning and not focus on the goal.

All of your respondents, Nancy, seem to be reiterating that theme in a variety of different ways.

Advice for speeding progress: discipline your practicing, take more regular lessons, play air mandolin, play with people.

On women players: Quite a few on this list. My favorite mandolin- chopping woman is Suzanne Cox from the Cox Family...a delight.

I am not in my 40's yet but I picked up the mandolin without any musical background...not even a choir or chorus as a kid! I often feel like a dummy because I don't know some very basic music theory thing but then I quietly console myself with the fact that I know some other esoteric drivel that my mandolin teacher is ignorant of.

Nancy, you should post what city you are in. It's likely some other nearby comandos are looking for people to play with.

From: Michael J. Falk
Subject: Re: Never too late?

didn't the Stanley Bros. write a tune about this?

"I may not be able to play like the angels (sub. Grismans), but I'm willin' to try"

But seriously folks,
I too am in the 39 club, 41 now, (this must have something to do with the big four oh). The absolute best thing is to find folks to play with. It's a risk at first, but traditional musicians (like topologists) are a really friendly bunch, and they won't be strangers for long. It's amazing how much more beautiful those fiddle tunes sound with a guitar behind. When I was lucky enough to find a weekly jam (and I really stunk, IMHO), I really started making much more rapid progress. I still can't keep up with some of the other mandolin, banjo, or fiddle players on some tunes, but then I work on becoming a real solid rhythm player. After two months of hacking, I finally played a break that I actually liked. (It happened one other time too!) I took John McGann's words to heart: "You're practicing too fast". (and also "Who cares*?"). Practicing slow really does help you (gradually) to play fast. Like everything else we do, it's a process, and if one doesn't enjoy the process, but only the acheivement of the goal, then one should do something else (for a living, for a hobby, etc.)

Another really good piece of advice was "Let's turn this into a money sink" - I love it!

I started having a lot more fun when I bought a new old mandolin with lots of character (in sound and looks). Can't wait till my new new mandolin arrives ....

Is it my imagination or did my jamming partners (especially the ones I don't know so well) start taking me more seriously when I started showing up with a vintage Gibson?


From: Roberta Luft

Subject: Re: Never too late?

I am also a member of the Took Up Mandolin In My Late 30's club. I took a few lessons at first, then mostly played on my own. A year ago I got involved with a klezmer band of all things, playing the mando. It has been such a fun experience playing with other people (there are 16 pieces in the band) and has encouraged me to start lessons again to try to get better. I also recently bought a cheap, used violin on a whim ("It's tuned the same as a mandolin--how hard can it be?"--famous last words!). I am now literally driving my husband from the room when I pick up my violin, and it makes my mandolin playing seem a whole lot better!

Anyway, keep the faith and you will improve. It's a whole lot cheaper than therapy.


From: Klose, Larry
Subject: Never too late

I agree with most of the comments on the never too late issue. I'm 50 myself, and have played mando for 3 years after playing guitar at an extremely low plateau for 30. The mando is coming along fine, but takes patience.

The next question: how to gain family acceptance for your endeavors. Like all hobbies, this can consume you, and it sometimes gets old for the family, especially when they don't understand why your breakthroughs come when you practice every day. Even when you don't spend all your time at it, it would be useful to hear how others buffer the conflicts between this and other family needs, especially where the others are not musicians.

From: Rob Hakanson
Subject: Never too late?


I read yesterday's posts and pretty much agree with everything said, especially how playing with other people will inspire and energize you. However, I want to point out one thing that I did not read yesterday, or at least it was not prominently mentioned: it is obvious that you enjoy playing enough that you're not ready to give up. While you sort through your feelings about whether the mando is worthwhile, keep playing, and PLAY EVERY DAY!!

If you can find only ten minutes on some days to play, then play for those ten minutes. Consistent effort will pay off. If I don't practice for two days, I feel it. If you play consistently, avoiding two-week lapses, or even two-day lapses, you'll find that your clumsy days, when your hands aren't working at peak level, will feel less clumsy than they are now. In golf, if you focus on and practice your swing, even your miss-hit shots start getting better. It's the same on the mandolin. The key is to play some every day, even on days when you don't feel like it.

Good luck. I hope that you stick with it


From: Woody McKenzie
Subject: Re: Never too late?


It can be pretty disheartening when you feel like your learning is incredibly slow. A real problem is that sometimes you may feel that you are not progressing at all, even if you get regular practices. This is even worse if you are learning on your own with no one to play with. Just remember that learning curves aren't very smooth paths. Learning takes time. Sometimes it seems like I can do better when I haven't played the instrument for a week or so. It doesn't seem to make sense, but I beleive that my poor old synapses are perhaps pulling something together a good while after I've practiced. Then again, it could also be that I learn so slowly that I can't feel that I've improved until I have a break and a new context of comparison. At any rate, practice or play your mandolin just like any other journey-- the getting there can be worth more than the being there.

(BTW, my wife is a mandolin player who often shows me how to play!)

Woody McKenzie

From: Ed & Rita Reynolds
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Mark & Gerianne Poulsen wrote:

"All in favor of starting a Mid-life Begginning Mando Players Association please say I."


It's quite refreshing, after lurking for awhile, to come across a post which resonates (sort of like a 440 Hz A). I'm 36, married, four kids, and have been playing the mando about 18 months. My story (all professionals hit the delete key here)

I started out on violin at age 8, and played through high school. Dropped it in college, and started singing with a church folk group and later glee club. I picked up a guitar out of sheer boredom after I graduated, to keep my terminally out of key voice in the same region. I played with folk groups of various sizes, and, when I moved to Virginia in 1989, joined an excellent folk group at my church. I agree with several others who noted that playing with others better than you is the best way to improve. I learned more over the next few months than I had in the previous 5 years. Since there were six guitarists, I could experiment, and have my flubs camouflaged.

About two years ago, I decided to be different. Influenced by the Jimmy Buffet song "There's Something so Feminine About A Mandolin," I decided to teach my daughter to play mandolin. To teach, I had to know how to play myself. I found a cheapo junker for $25, bought a book and chord dictionary, and started playing. I still play with the group, and get lots of comments about that "lute."

Its not playing with other mandolinists, but I do get to try songs that are outside the normal mando repetoire. I would like to play with other country, bluegrass, or Celtic players ( I can't play lead, or even very fast), and I guess that I will eventually. (Washington DC area - e-mail off line) Otherwise, I play along with Diamond Rio, Bruce Hornsby, Jimmy Buffet, Irish stuff, and anything else that strikes my fancy. Bottom line, its fun, and the ham in me knows that very few people play this thing.

My last comment on the Mid-life Begginning Mando Players Association, to those others who post here: I paid just under $500 for my Kentucky 180S. I don't even fantasize about paying $1000 or more for a musical instrument. I respect the professionalism of musicians that can get the most out of such instruments, but keep in mind that I stretched my budget beyond the max for that $500. Bargains are relative.

I guess that that's worth three cents...

Ed Reynolds

From: Connor and Lee Hood
Subject: Re: Never too late?

Nancy, (and all others),

Wonderful, thoughtful thread. I noticed that many people saw themselves in your comments. Me too. I'm 36 and I've been playing mandolin (self taught) for 13 years, all amateur and mostly solo or duo. The musical ups and downs you mentioned are always there. I think the ups are the reason we tolerate the downs. We gain so much through playing music. There are times I wish I could take a mandolin along while I work. The relaxation of noodling around would be wonderful therapy on a stressful day. Also, I'd have to agree, the joy of playing music together with someone else is hard to replace. Don't be trapped into thinking you need to have traditional musical partners, though. My main musical partner (my wife) plays flute and recorder. We play any old music we can find that has two treble clef parts. If you can read notation and can find a friend who plays anything else, you can make beautiful music together... strange, perhaps, but beautiful. (We also play banjo-uke and recorder duets, wierd, perhaps, but the sound grows on you...)

I also play violin and have for 27 years or so. I'm not that good, and know that I never will be. I can't and won't put in the practice necessary to maintain that level of skill. Nonetheless, I enjoy my playing immensely -- probably much more than anyone nearby. It's not the sound that I like, it's the act of expression, the sharing of musical expression with others that I love. I can listen to a CD with a "perfect" example of a piece I've played without deep self criticism. Instead, I feel a sense of unity, of appreciation for the music from the inside, as one who _knows_ how hard this or that nasty little phrase really is.

Keep playing, and share it with others. The world is always better because of it.

Connor Hood

From: Tobias J. Kreidl
Subject: 39 club

Count me in! It's now been playing mando just a tad over 3 years. And, NO, it was NOT a midlife crisis... I'm mentally about at 25 now, so I figure it'll be at least another 15-20 years before that happens. And the consequence will probably be that I start playing the banjo. :-)

-- Tobias

From: Nancy Friedland

Subject: Re: never too late?

i am overwhelmed by the response to my questions! looks like indeed i am not alone. i was truly depressed when i wrote my little missive, and when i logged on next, i was so tickled by the response that i spent the whole time reading and laughing. it is good not to feel alone. it makes me want to write to ann landers and tell her she's right about the internet being so destructive to family life; i'm thinking about running away with you all so i can play music all day and night....

and it was _so_ helpful, that when i logged again this evening to find out who else had joined the club, i sped through them realizing that what i really wanted to be doing was running back down to the music room and playing that mandolin, no matter how sore, how hard, even if i only get 15 minutes -- which is exactly how much i got ;-)

i was just thinking this week about mid-life, and excitement and passion: how do you get it, how do you keep it -- and i was thinking that it really is something i just have to get myself, that i can't depend on others to provide it. yet, so many of you responded that playing with others is probably key to true enjoyment, learning, progress - that the communal aspect of it is the high. so in fact, i am depending on others to help create the excitement for me. and this is where it gets frustrating, is not finding people, or them not having the time, or schedules not meshing, or distance. and i give up cause i sometimes get self-cousious about asking people to play with me (what if they really don't want to?) but i also see that i need to put a lot more energy into making it happen, putting up a notice in the local acoustic music shop, searching harder for a teacher that matches what i'm looking for, walking around with my mandolin strapped to my body....

and amazingly, my husband went to visit a new musician friend who handed him a flyer about an acoustic jam that is happening all day this saturday. before this week i might have said, well, i'm not good enough, or maybe i'll just go and listen, or whatever weak excuse. but now i'm ready, and can't wait, and hope to meet others who are in the same boat as me. i'm in santa barbara, CA (one of you asked), and there must be other budding musicians.

and as for playing more, its like that thread way back about playing while driving. while i don't think i could quite get away with that in a small city, i can take the mando with me when driving the kids around and getting some moments at various oportune times.

another interesting comonality in the responses was hearing my background repeated: i played piano as a kid, started playing guitar at 17 and while i have a good ear and good rhythm, i never progressed beyond the chord stage, never learned to finger pick, don't even know what the notes are and how they relate to each other. i learned to do those runs between chords many times, and never really got it, just like i took Spanish I quite a few times too.... but with mandolin it all suddenly made sense - i mean "circle of fifths" wasn't just something to throw me - it was actually, physically, geometrically so understandable! i think i was struggling too long with guitar to go anywhere anymore, and so continuing the learning process had to take place on a new instrument. and i do love the sound. i sometimes think maybe i'll be able to eventually transfer my new knowledge back to the guitar, and playing individual notes won't seem so difficult (but that neck sure is damn big!).

thanks y'all.