News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters students learn the mandolin

Sisters students are learning how to play one of the key instruments of Americana music: the mandolin.

Sisters Folk Festival is partnered with Sisters High School through the Americana Project to bring the students of Sisters School District musical opportunities they would not have otherwise. Last week, Sisters Folk Festival sent its development director, Steve Remington, a player of mandolin for 13 years, to teach the students in the Americana Project the basics of mandolin.

Remington began his mandolin lesson by discussing the evolution of the instrument, as well as its shape. The mandolin’s predecessor is the lute, an instrument with a rounded egg-shaped back and flat top. While the mandolin has a body shape similar to the lute, the two can be told apart as the back of the mandolin is typically flat. In fact, the mandolin resembles the guitar in this way, but possesses a much smaller body, giving the mandolin its unique sound.

Remington showed the class a few chords in the key of G. Remington remarked that there was a “symmetry to the chords” on mandolin, something he enjoys. Many of the students in the class enjoyed the symmetry of the chords as well. Sierra Henneous, a senior in the class, noted that “It was a lot easier to learn the basics of mandolin today than it was for guitar a few years ago.”

Sisters Folk Festival provided three mandolins for the Americana Project to use, as well as a packet for each student detailing how to tune a mandolin, a chord chart, and a list of the major scales on mandolin. Using these resources, the students took turns playing chords in the key of G and teaching each other. Within five minutes, each student was capable of playing a song on mandolin as they could all play I-IV-V in the key of G — or the chords G, C, and D.

A freshman in the program, Lauren Taylor, was grateful for the day’s lesson as she had “played a little bit of mandolin in the past but had never really had the opportunity to really sit down with one and play simple chord progressions.”

Following the success of each student in playing the simple chords on mandolin, Remington told the class that Sisters Folk Festival would be donating the mandolins that students had used that day to the class, as soon as they had had a few repairs. He then showed the class a few listening examples, including one where Evan J. Marshall played the “William Tell Overture Finale” on mandolin.

In addition to his mandolin lesson, Remington offered the students advice on how to be better musicians. He offered up advice on practicing their instruments, suggesting that, “When you practice you should practice in half-hour segments. Do five minutes of sight reading, 10-15 minutes of

technique, 10-15 on new material, and 10-15 minutes just playing what you already know and what you’d like to perform.”

He also suggested that students “take a song and learn it on every instrument you play, so you can connect the music inside to the music you play.”


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