September Mandolin Diary

September 2020

By Lucia · 4 minute read

You’ll be pleased to hear (as am I) that my daily practice streak remains intact! I even managed to add daily violin practice to my schedule (something that had become a bit sporadic over lockdown).

Warming up

I started the month’s mandolining by moving onto the Grade 2 technical exercises in London Music Press’s Scales & Exercises for Mandolin. These include:

  • A few major and minor scales and arpeggios;
  • String crossing exercises (known as arpeggio technique);
  • A cadence which introduces some new chords in both notation and tablature.

I find the scales pretty straightforward thanks to the similarities with the violin and enjoy the arpeggio technique exercises as they have a vague melodic line. The chords however took a bit of getting used to!

I mentioned last month that I practised writing out the tablature to help improve my chord reading. As I didn’t want to forget the Grade 1 chords I had fun this month making some flash cards which I used in my practice a few times each week.

Recording mindset

Despite moving to a monthly diary I have kept up my regular recordings. Some of the Grade 2 pieces are a little more complex, slowing down at the end of phrases and changing tempo (speed) between sections, so there are a few moments in my duet videos where I’m not quite in time with myself! After a certain number of takes I just had to remind myself of Gretchen Rubin’s mantra: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.  After all, this is currently just a hobby!

I recently read Winston Churchill’s short book Painting as a Pastime (which I highly recommend!) in which he reminds us that we do not have to be experts at our hobbies. They exist to broaden our horizons and add joy to our lives – yes, striving for better technique and achieving it is one way to build on that joy, but it should never be a source of stress in our lives.


Entre by Brescianello

This pretty piece is fairly straightforward, so proved to be a good choice for my first grade 2 recording. I used it to improve my stroke direction decision making and was pleased with the increased flexibility in my right wrist when compared to some of my Grade 1 videos. I edited the guitar accompaniment slightly to make it suitable for mandolin.

You can find it in Music for Mandolin published by London Music Press.

Theme & Variations by Stephens

This theme and 3 variations offered a great opportunity to explore different dynamics and moods. It was also nice and simple to record as there was no accompaniment to have to fit with!

It features in Astute Music’s book First Images.

The Turning of the Leaves by Pommerenke-Steel

This calm piece starts to incorporate arpeggio technique (mentioned above) and helped me get more comfortable with locating the right string at the right time. It would be a brilliant choice for anyone looking to get more comfortable with changing time signatures. Barbara Pommerenke-Steel wrote it for pupils in her mandolin class in Scotland.

Find it in Reflections, published by Astute Music.

Moderato & Minuet by Cristofaro

The Victoria College mandolin syllabus offers a choice of either Cristofaro’s Moderato or Minuet in List B but I decided to pair them in this recording.

The Moderato presented some challenges, particularly in the accompaniment part! It features several chords, plus some Alberti-style passages which are essentially broken chords. As a result, this is the video where my dodgy ensemble disclaimer above applies the most, but nevertheless I’m quite pleased with what I achieved.

After the subdued mood of the Moderato, the Minuet will definitely cheer you up! It has great character and brings to mind Italian dancers in a village square.

Find the music in London Music Press‘s Mandolin Supplement.

Next month

As I’m writing this at the start of October, I have already had a quick whizz through the Grade 3 exercises and some of the pieces. It’s not much of a step up so I’ll have a bit of a crossover period between the two grades, adding a few more Grade 2 videos before starting on the next grade. I’ve been working hard on my trills for one set of pieces in particular, so stay tuned to find out whether or not I succeed!

I’ll finish with a thank you to the friends and family who gave me money for my birthday this month – it will be very well spent on expanding my mandolin music library in preparation for the coming grades.

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Mandolin Diary – October 2020
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