ARTIST: MARLA FIBISH
TITLE: MARLA FIBISH IRISH MANDOLIN BASICS: TUNES AND TECHNIQUES (DVD)
LABEL: MARLA FIBISH MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: 2012
So you want to learn some Irish mandolin basics, but don’t know where to turn? Irish mandolin traditionalist Marla Fibish, the mandolinist behind the Three Mile Stone and more recently The Morning Star CDs has a great solution. She’s put together an instructional Irish mandolin DVD. Usually you would have venture out to find a local Irish session (still recommended) to pick up these tunes. (It would be helpful to have a basic mandolin/music theory background to understand some of the language she uses.) But lucky for us fledgling Irish mandy players, Marla has given us a leg up by being able to learn some Irish tunes in the comfort of our own home. And I don’t know about the rest of the mandolin learning population, but it sure helps me to learn when I have a visual aid.
The DVD opens with Marla and her trademark Vintage Gibson A Mandolin (early 1920s) playing the tune Humors of Bandon and explaining how the mandolin has only been involved with Irish music in the last 40-50 years…and that it’s still finding its way. This sort of makes you feel like a pioneer. She also talks about how to develop your own “Irish” music ear by listening to different musicians and various instruments used in Irish music to develop a “feel” for this type of music.
And anybody that’s plays, or tried to play, the mandolin can tell you how important tuning it is. Marla explains this further in detail by having your “pairs” in tune as well as the octaves on the fifth fret sounding together. She covers the left hand technique and how in Irish music the mandolin’s strength is the sustain and how very important the right hand is, as well as the selection of the pick you use…these are all covered fully. It’s truly amazing how many nuances of sound you can create using different pick shapes, thicknesses and where you place your fingers on the mandolin.
Now – on to the tunes. She divides the tunes into three categories: reels, jigs and waltzes. You’ll learn that the picking patterns with the right hand are oh so important. Marla jokes that the notes are almost optional as long as the patterns are right and you keep your right hand moving, down on the downbeat and up on the upbeat! The reels are a fun way to start. The tune structure is AA/BB and the melodies are simple but easy to remember (the first ones, anyway!). My husband (on the guitar) and I were playing them together in no time. Marla presents the tune in a very easy, understandable manner; breaking it down and then playing the tune up to speed, showing a close up of the left hand fingering. Then she plays the tune at a “practice” pace for you to play along. I found it easy to stop the DVD and play the instruction over and over again, till I got the part or musical phrase. There are just the right number of tunes to get your feet wet and whet your appetite for more! This DVD is a delightful way to learn to play this style. I certainly hope it is only the first of more to come from Marla on Irish mandolin instruction!
Annette Siegel is one half of Living Tree Music & The Seagulls with her husband Nowell. She also holds a “day” job working for the Bob Hope Estate/Family for the last 18 years.