The Backing Tracks
Audio examples of “What You’ll Play” on the left, and previews of a couple of pages so that you can “Give It A Go” on the right. The all-keys cycles repeat on average five times, with increasing tempos. Clicking on the name of the exercise will open a new tab, giving you the pdf.
If you prefer to stream these mp4’s, you can find ’em on YouTube.
WHAT YOU’LL PLAY
GIVE IT A GO
G D A E
Dancla All Strings
An excellent warm-up exercise (not that you’ll need the full 62 minutes to be warmed up!). Play this like a violinist would: put down all fingers at once (or as many as you’ll need, eg when the phrase is D-B-A-G, put down fingers 4, 2 and 1).
62 minutes 1 GB
Major scales covering all the notes in first position (eg the C major scale will go up to B on the E string, down to open G, and back to C). Tempos go gradually from 74 to 130 (instead of jumping up a few clicks when the whole thing starts over), so it makes for a good warm-up exercise.
41 minutes 685 MB
60 minutes 993 MB
Dominant 7, Diminished 7, Minor 7, Minor 7b5, and Major 7. So, G7, G#dim7, Am7, Bm7b5, Cmaj7, C7, C#dim7, Dm7 etc – it’s a pleasant-sounding progression through these thick woods. The chords are all constructed on the same set of intervals, but there are two exceptions: (1) I skip the third inversion of the minor 7 b5 because it’s too awkward to be worth it, and, (2) just my taste, but I don’t enjoy the sound of a major 7 inversion that has the 7th below the root (an octave higher), so I swap those two notes – you’ll see.
51 minutes 852 MB
A serious, classical-sounding one, but actually great for minor (real, proudly un-dorian minor) jazz and rock solos. The accompaniment on this one is fun – it starts gettin’ fugue-y after the first three key changes, and spaces out at the end of the twelve-keys cycle.
19 minutes 318 MB
Harmonic Minor Pattern II Warm-up
The harmonic minor riffs don’t fit as easily under the fingers as normal major scale riffs do, so here’s a warm-up exercise to get you a little more comfortable with the above pattern. The above exercise and this warm-up (which could stand on its own – it’s just more repetitive, not as much fun) were made as two separate videos in case you’re okay with skipping the warm-up.
25 minutes 394 MB
A quick warm-up (with gradually-increasing-tempos) this is a fun alternative to the (major) Scales 1st Position. This pattern is based on what could be referred to as a “rock minor” scale – there’s no sixth step of the scale, so it doesn’t take a song into territory (minor vs dorian) that it might not wish to carve out for itself. The pattern is in all three inversions, and does not (thankfully!) repeat.
28 minutes 472 MB
An alternative warm-up to the one above, this one’s a tad more difficult, getting faster sooner, and with more positions (many of which involve some shifting). Between these two exercises, you’ll have all possible positions covered, and you’ll be super-fluent in this extremely useful scale.
45 minutes 748 MB
All keys, in two positions: first position, and whatever position the shift up is to the next “inversion”. This backing track starts out at 108 bpm – definitely not a warm-up exercise. A deceptively simple-sounding pattern, easy on the right hand but a good workout for the left (especially the pinky) that in some positions can be a little awkward, so the tempo increases are closer together than most exercises here.
50 minutes 833 MB
Jimmy Page’s iconic riff, perfect for shredding minor pentatonic scales. This one starts on the 15th fret (that’s the highest this exercise gets), so a word about that: Most acoustic mandolinists don’t go above the 12th fret ‘cuz it just plain doesn’t sound so great. I agree with that, but on the other hand, practising up to the 15th fret sure builds up your strength, and trying to get a good tone up there is a worthwhile challenge.
38 minutes 628 MB
Solid chords and a broken chord pattern based on a I minor / VII progression. Not the easiest exercise here (it’s all over the neck), but the Major & Minor Triads and the two warm-ups below can get you where you need to be.
44 minutes 734 MB
A warm-up for the above exercise – the four-note triads are separated into two sets of three-note triads, the broken chords concentrate on the up-the-neck positions only, and there are extra beats here and there to give you time to think.
50 minutes 834 MB
This warm-up exercise is a little different than the above two exercises, and could very well stand on its own. It’s a bit of a 3-in-1, but the first part is dropped for the second tempo, and the first two parts are dropped for the remaining two tempos. The third part is very cool riff at top speeds, and great for reinforcing your up-the-neck confidence. The position-shifting is consistent throughout all three Im–VII exercises, and becomes second nature quite quickly.
49 minutes 814 MB
A “2-in-1”: A three-note triad pattern perfect for boogie blues, and an old-school (à la Sam Moore) soulful romp through four-note major triads.
29 minutes 485 MB
A condensed version of Major & Minor Sevenths II, focusing on the more difficult passages. Starting on a note other than the usual bottom-note-first, it’s very good for memorizing the best positions for these patterns. The bass in this backing track moves down by thirds, eg Cmaj7, Cmaj7/A (Am9), Cmaj7/F (Fmaj7aug11) and Cmaj7/D (Dm11) — good fun.
47 minutes 782 MB
Alternating major and minor ninths, cycling through the keys by going down a third, eg D major – B minor – G major – E minor etc. You’re actually playing a seventh chord over a root, eg an F#min7 over a D for the Dmaj9. This involves some tricky shifting, so there are a warm-up exercises before attempting all keys, in which you’ll play each chord eight times at increasing tempos. When you get to the next chord, there’s a bar with repeat signs, for you to pause the video, to figure out and memorize the pattern. It’s an impressive riff, well worth the time and effort.
44 minutes 736 MB
A bluesy one. Wanna throw some chords in your solo (and who doesn’t)? Here are three easy-enough patterns in one exercise. The first two tempos only have two patterns – the third one is maybe a little tricky to finger, but it’s too easy-on-the-brain at those speeds. (You’ll hear this pattern in the middle of the audio example on your left.)
32 minutes 528 MB
Superimpose some Debussy into your blues solo and see how spicy it sounds! A very handy tonal effect for when you feel the desire to take a getting-repetitive blues jam just “a little to the left”. It’s a “3-in-1”, but the three are simply rhythmic variations of the first-position minor seventh flat five chord, which in this bluesy exercise is really a ninth chord (eg E9, or E-G#-B-D-F#) minus the root.
33 minutes 551 MB
This little one’s easy if you know your major broken triads in first position (have a glance at the pdf for the pattern, top speed here is half note = 76, see where you stand). If it’s not so easy, well, here you go. For more of a challenge, you could try improvising something interesting using only chord tones – the slow speeds are good for giving you time to think.
19 minutes 320 MB
C G D A E
Dancla All Strings 5
An excellent warm-up exercise (not that you’ll need 80 minutes to get warmed up!). Play this like a violinist would: put down all fingers at once (or as many as you’ll need, eg when the phrase is D-B-A-G, put down fingers 4, 2 and 1).
80 minutes 1 GB
A scale-based pattern, in first position, and up the neck in the two easy positions (starting on first and fourth fingers, and steering clear of the positions that involve changing strings to go up or down a half-step). Tempos go gradually from 80 to 144 (instead of jumping up a few clicks when the whole thing starts over), so it makes for a good warm-up exercise.
41 minutes 688 MB
53 minutes 891 MB
Dominant 7, Diminished 7, Minor 7, Minor 7b5, and Major 7. So, C7, C#dim7, Dm7, Em7b5, Fmaj7, F7, Edim7, Gm7 etc – it’s a pleasant-sounding progression through this dense jungle. The chords are all constructed on the same set of intervals, but there are two exceptions: (1) I skip the third inversion of the minor 7 b5 because it’s too awkward to be worth it, and, (2) just my taste, but I don’t enjoy the sound of a major 7 inversion that has the 7th below the root (an octave higher), so I invert those two notes – you’ll see what I mean. The chords go up the neck in the GDAE version of this exercise (of course – four-note chords, four strings – where else ya gonna go?) – this CGDAE version focuses on the CGDA~GDAE switch. For the CGDAE player, doing both exercises wouldn’t hurt.
51 minutes 852 MB
This one focuses on legato, on sustaining as many notes as you can, creating little 2-note chords of thirds and fourths. The grey-out fingerings (the 4’s and 0’s) are for players of the Bahian guitar, which has a shorter scale length than most 5-string American-made electric mandolins. This one also gives you lots of practice on something that, for whatever reason, seems to come up in a lot of Irish Trad playing: alternating picking between two strings, where the downstroke is on the upper string and the upstroke is on the lower – tricky for some (Sexatonic Pattern III, above, is the reverse). This backing track starts out slowly enough to get comfortable with all the sustained notes, but eventually gets up to 112 bpm (a quite respectable Irish Session tempo).
36 minutes 605 MB
Here’s a funny one. In all of the exercises of this nature, the patterns are played in the most appropriate positions. Trouble is, if you’re improvising, you might not be in that position when you start the lick – you might well be in first position, and you’ll find yourself awkwardly climbing up the E-string. So, let’s practise doing just that. These shifts aren’t awkward on purpose, they’re the logical awkward ones, but awkward nonetheless, and being as fluent as possible at this awkwardness is a worthwhile goal. The patterns with these shifts repeat four times, at increasing tempos, and the patterns that stay in first position only repeat twice. It’s almost an hour long, giving you three times through the cycle, at 96, 108 and 116 bpm.
55 minutes 919 MB
A serious warm-up exercise (and my personal favourite), based on what I call the sexatonic scale (think “rock minor” – basically a minor pentatonic scale with the added second step of the normal minor scale). Starts out at 80bpm, quickly gets up to 104 and starts levelling off as it approaches 138. Hits all keys, all positions, all inversions (starts on the root, the third, and the fifth), and doesn’t repeat.
40 minutes 674 MB
The 5/10-string version of this chord-&-arpeggio exercise. If you’re not so comfortable with the upper positions, the GDAE “Im–VII Warm-up (a)” is designed to address that (along with helping out with the chords). Like the one below this, each repetition (each tempo increase) drops one of the difficult keys, until you’re left with only E minor, at a challenging-but-manageable 112 bpm.
41 minutes 690 MB
A re-working of the GDAE version. The more difficult-to-finger keys get dropped as the tempos increase (which is practical anyways – how often do you find yourself shredding in G#minor?) – the last/top speed is only E minor (or dorian – the notes of the two chords form the no-6th-step sexatonic scale). Crazy long, but with this super-mellow candlelight-only backing track, it’s a relaxing trip.
102 minutes 2 GB
And finally, a chord exercise based on the I minor to VII progression (which, you’ve no doubt figured out by now, are the notes of the sexatonic scale), with a groovin’ two-against-three feel.
49 minutes 820 MB
Major, minor and diminished triads. The progression (in, for example, F major) is C, C#dim, Dm, Edim, leading into F (the V of the next cycle, up a fourth, in Bb). Because the bass and the guitar move around under you, you’ll actually hear it as C, Am7, A7, Dm, Bbmaj7, C7, and then F. The pattern for the most part is two chords per string, which means that you’ll get a chance to play these common triads in higher positions than normal – handy to have down so you can zip in and out of chords in the middle of a solo without having to drop back down into the more familiar lower positions.
33 minutes 552 MB
Three Triads Warm-up 5
This warm-up accomplishes two things: (1) it helps you get the progression down, so that you won’t stumble in the above exercise when the chords change, and (2) it’s a nice workout in the common, good-for-comping lower positions.
30 minutes 500 MB
A “2-in-1”: A three-note triad pattern perfect for boogie blues, and an old-school (à la Sam Moore) soulful romp through four-note major triads. This CGDAE exercise incorporates the GDAE version, so unless you want to practise that separately on a 4/8-string instrument, this one has everything you need for these two fun chordal-accompaniment progressions.
42 minutes 695 MB
Major and minor seventh chords moving around over a pedal point, eg Em7/G to Fmaj7/G – a jazzy, Steely Dan-ish jam, and a good not-too-crazy workout for these two chords. All the chords are in the lowest position – in a couple of spots, that’s not the most convenient, but (a) keeping the format makes the exercise much more memorizable, and (b) the CGDA–GDAE jump is good practice anyways. The GDAE version at the Student Center is an easy warm-up.
37 minutes 624 MB
Same as the GDAE version, down a fifth – the only change is that a few of the higher chords are in first position, using the E-string. A bluesy chord exercise, with lots of chromatic movement. The first two tempos only have two patterns – the third one is maybe a little tricky to finger, but it’s too easy-on-the-brain at those speeds. (You’ll hear this pattern in the middle of the audio example on your left.)
32 minutes 528 MB
Superimpose some Debussy into your blues solo and see how juicy it sounds! A very handy tonal effect for when you feel the desire to take a getting-repetitive blues jam just “a little to the left”. It’s a “3-in-1”, but the three are simply rhythmic variations of the first-position minor seventh flat five chord, which in this bluesy exercise is really a ninth chord (eg E9, or E-G#-B-D-F#) minus the root.
41 minutes 687 MB
Part II of the GDAE version above, with these differences: (1) it’s a lot faster, (2) it’s only the common rock keys of E A D G C F, and (3) it’s an exercise in sustain, in holding down as many notes as possible. It’s also lots of fun! Because it’s a short cycle, there are lots of them, but each one has a slightly different backing track, which is not just more entertaining – it helps you focus on what you’re playing while dealing with an imaginative bassist.
19 minutes 316 MB