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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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January 3, 2015 | Mandolin for Dummies redux

Released almost three years ago, we think Don Julin's comprehensive approach to mandolin is one of the best written in this (and the last) century. We recommend it to everyone interested in going deeper with our little 8-string wonder.

"Don't never go full Dummy."
Paraphrase, Robert Downey Jr, Tropic Thunder


Okay, it's a rough paraphrase, but also a touch of irony that scholarly material, about anything out of The Dummies lifestyle books could be so helpful. Each book is intended to be a bridge for the uninitiated, a trip somewhere down the path of expertise, and Don Julin's entry "Mandolin for Dummies" proves no exception. We ordered our copy in July 2012, and were thrilled to keep it around.

We've got nothing but praise for the hard work put in covering such a wide variety of topics related to the mandolin. History, instrument physiology, playing techniques, music styles, and a heaping boatload of references and external resources. Julin's ability to be comprehensive, academic, but still bring it all to a street-savvy, real-world sensibility is impressive. 378 pages to cover all that's mandolin? Not an easy chore, but the upper midwest US native was definitely up to the task.

Though tightly organized book should be approached like a method book, rather the reader should feel free to encyclopedia to skip around chapters and dig out information in smaller doses over a long period of time. Definitely something to keep permanently on the bookshelf. Most of the information is more "contemporary," not so much of the three centuries of the instrument, but that's not the purpose of the book. The "Dummy" approach means any mandolinist, even if he/she doesn't own an instrument yet can find something useful immediately. Songs are available in traditional and TAB notation, photos show clear playing and handling techniques, and greyed-out trivia paragraphs take interesting side trips into the periphery of mandolinning.

We had the pleasure of posting an interview with the author twice. You will find the process of tackling a project as vast as this intriguing, so take the time to look under the hood. It will help you appreciate the book even more.

Mandolin Cafe: An Interview with Don Julin
Purchase link: Mandolin for Dummies

Posted by Ted at January 3, 2015 10:28 AM

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