I bought a cheap mandolin this week.
It was $80 from Musician's Friend, with a carrying case and a couple books. I figured it would be a nice way to spend a few minutes doing something other than art over the next several years. I don't really have any goals except to be able to play a few pieces of folk music. I'm not interested in performing, but it would be fun to play music with Noel.
Noel gave me a pitch pipe and we began tuning it; it's brand-new, so it goes out of tune really fast, but last night it stayed in tune for hours, so I don't think it's a problem with the cheapo construction. Lucky me.
I can play for about five minutes before my fingers are in agony.
When I was playing guitar, there was this cream we would put on our fingers to help them build healthy callouses. I can't remember what it was. So instead I'm just going to play until it hurts, stop for several hours, then play again.
It's really interesting to learn a new picking style.
Mandolins have doubled strings: there are four open notes, but eight strings, two tuned to each note. You play with up-picks and down-picks across the two strings tuned the same, or with the guitar-style swoosh across all the strings, when you're playing chords. I'm practising the picking thing, because it's more complicated. Also, I prefer a picking style on the instrument. So there you have it.
Mandolins have the same fingering as violins, so you'd think my years of violin would help, but in fact they do not. The only thing is that now I remember just how painful it was to play that E string (the highest open string on the violin), because it's thin and sharp and wire, stretched tight. It literally cuts into your finger.
The book I have on mandolin starts off with exercises on the E. This is less than optimal for helping a student begin playing, but it makes sense, musically. It's just that it's painfully (very painfully) obvious that the author doesn't remember how callous formation happens, and didn't take that into account when making his lesson plans.
So I play for five minutes at a time, and I actually feel like I'm making progress. I'm trying to play looking only at the music, but it's hard to find the frets. Practise, I guess. Eventually I will have touched the mandolin enough to just know where everything is.
I've played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with one string. Bow down before me.