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Matt Flinner

Bluegrass Mandolin 101: Tunes, Technique and Improvisation I Curriculum

This course has concluded.  To view the current list of courses offered, visit the Winter Online Course page.



The next Bluegrass Mandolin 101 course, “Tunes, Technique and Improvisation I,” begins October 7th and run through December 13, 2014.  Each week, Matt will demonstrate new concepts and exercises along with a new tune (plus a bonus tune for the more ambitious student) to help you improve your mandolin technique, make better use of practice time, get more familiar with bluegrass and old-time music and have more fun playing music on your own and with others.

This course is fiddle tune-based, and will use various fiddle tunes as vehicles for improving technique, learning the fretboard and working toward creating variations and improvising.

The 101 level course is designed to help the mandolinist at a beginning to intermediate level improve the fundamentals of his or her playing and his or her ability to improvise, while expanding repertoire along the way.  Register for 101 here.

The course will focus on a few main areas:

1. Improving picking technique to improve tone, rhythm, volume and speed.
2. Improving knowledge of the fingerboard through scales, arpeggios, licks, double stops, modes and exercises.
3. Creating variations on common tunes through various methods: using different octaves & registers, using chord tones and “target” notes, using various ornaments, incorporating double stops, and listening to recorded examples.
4. Working toward improvisation using all of the above tools.
5. Expanding your repertoire of bluegrass and fiddle tunes.

101 level classes will meet every Tuesday from 8-9 pm CST, and practice sessions will be held every Saturday from 10-10:45 am central time.

All sessions (class and practice) will be video recorded, so that students may revisit the sessions as often as they would like, and students who were unable to attend the live sessions will be able to view them at their own convenience.  (NOTE: Matt will be taking off the weeks of Oct 27 and Nov 24 due to his touring schedule and the Thanksgiving holiday.  Lessons will resume each of the following weeks; in total, there will be eight class sessions and eight practice sessions over a period of ten weeks.)
During the live sessions, students can ask questions and/or play examples via their microphone (built-in or external plug-in), or they can ask questions via a built-in chat window.
All students will also have unlimited access to short recorded videos of all of the material played at a slow tempo, PDFs of all material in both standard notation and mandolin tablature, and mp3s of all of the tunes at slow and medium speeds that they can practice along with.  Students can access all of this material at any time through the class website.
Students are also encouraged to submit mp3 recordings at any time during the course, and the instructor will respond in an mp3 recording with constructive criticism.  Students can submit these mp3s either privately via email or publicly via the class website, where all students can listen and respond if they choose to.  Mp3 submissions are encouraged but not required, and there is no limit on how many mp3 submissions a student can send in.
Students will also be given a “Recommended Listening” list each week for the material covered.  A variety of versions of each tune will be provided in the hopes that students will listen to recordings and further explore the wide world of recorded bluegrass and old-time music.


1. A desktop or laptop Mac or PC computer, iPad or Internet-connected mobile device in order to view the sessions, plus a good internet connection.

2. An internal microphone and speakers on your laptop or desktop computer, or a phone to listen and speak (if desired) during the sessions.  Instructions for participating by phone are included when you register for the course (long distance charges may apply).

3. During the course, you have the option of submitting recorded examples of your playing to the instructor (and to the group, if desired). In order to do this, you will need your computer’s built-in microphone or an external microphone plugged directly into your computer (via built-in ports or an external audio interface), in addition to basic audio recording software, such as Audacity or Garage Band, that will allow you to record yourself playing andsave the recording in MP3 format.

4. A mandolin (actually maybe that should have been #1).

The fee for the course is $200.   Questions about the Bluegrass Mandolin 101 and 102 (as well as Bluegrass Mandolin for Beginners) can also be emailed to [email protected].





Register here.


WEEK 1 (Oct 7): Picking and rhythm

Picking Exercises I

Fingering Exercises I

Scales: D Major and G Major

Open style chords

Eighth of January

Bonus material: The Speed of the Plow


WEEK 2 (Oct 14): Getting a fuller sound using open strings

Picking Exercises II

Fingering Exercises II

Open style backup in G

Arkansas Traveler

Bonus material: Cotton Eyed Joe


WEEK 3 (Oct 21): Octave variations

Picking Exercises III (three and four string exercises)

Fingering Exercises III

Scale Patterns: thirds in D and G

Open style backup in D

Whiskey Before Breakfast

Bonus material: Leather Britches


WEEK 4 (Nov 4): Transitions between octaves

Learning Chord Tones

Major Arpeggios

3 Chord Inversions

Playing backup using basslines and moving chords


Bonus material: June Apple


WEEK 5 (Nov 11): Throwing in some licks

Scales: A Major and A Mixolydian; D Major and D Mixolydian

Open style chords in A and C

Dominant Arpeggios

Salt Creek

Bonus Material: Weave and Way


WEEK 6 (Nov 18): Creating variations using target notes

Minor Arpeggios

Using Bluegrass “Chop” Chords

Cuckoo’s Nest

Bonus Material: Flowers of Edinburgh


WEEK 7 (Dec 2): Incorporating Double Stops into Your Solos

Double Stop Exercise in A

Scales: A Dorian, D Dorian

Pike County Breakdown

Bonus material: Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Closer to the Fire


WEEK 8 (Dec 9): Various approaches to improvising

Pulling it all together: octave changes, chord tones, licks and double stops as part of your solos

Bonaparte’s Retreat

Bonus material: Liza Jane


2 comments on “Bluegrass Mandolin 101: Tunes, Technique and Improvisation I Curriculum

  1. Katie Bates says:

    Just signed up for fall 101 class. How do I gain access to the on-line material?
    Thanks Matt

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