music files
levels of instruction

The Spokane Mandolin Congress recruits two guest instructors each year, and also brings in its local panel of professional mandolin performer/instructors. Collectively, we are able to offer a broad and deep selection of workshop topics. Each instructor has his performance specialty, but can cross easily into other styles and techniques.

The 2017 Syllabus is nearly complete. Here is the way it is shaping up:   (Last updated October 20 2017)

SESSION 1  (9AM – 10:45AM)


Digital Dexterity And Hello, Mandolin! (Don Stiernberg)
A session on hand position, sound production, and note location for those who have been playing for only a short while. Goal of the class is to make your playing easier and more relaxed.
Featured materials and exercises will work on developing strength and independence in the left hand (all four fingers!), picking flowing eighth note lines, tremolo, chord changing, and knowing where things are on the fretboard.


Scales And Double Stops, Connecting The Dots (Don Thomsen)
Learn to connect the the dots between scale intervals and double stops for melodic and backup situations.

Kick It Up A Notch: Making Mandolin Jam            ( Sam Lyman )
This session will focus putting the jam into songs with basic chord progressions. We will work on techniques involving harmony, melody. double-stops and scales.


Improvising On Vocal Songs You Don’t Know. Solos & Fills Techniques     (Chad Fadely)
How to create a solo for songs (and tunes) “on the fly” Simple tricks, licks and technique tools to use in a jam session or on stage!

SESSION 2  (10:45AM – 12:30PM)


Larger Bodied Mandolins And How They Are Played      (Ken Glastre)
The mandolin player is shown methods for forming blues, rock, and swing scales and how to make seventh chords and other minor forms.


Picking Patterns And Triplets In Irish Music         (Don Thomsen)
There are five different types of Irish dance tunes, Jigs, Reels, Polkas, Slides and Hornpipes.The secret to playing them with the proper feel on mandolin is in the picking patterns.

Intro To Chord Melody "Jethro Style"    (Don Stiernberg)
Playing melody and harmony simultaneously. Who needs a band? Stating melodies 2,3 and 4 notes at a time. Basic(easy!) chord positions used in solo arrangements. Tips on arranging favorite tunes in the chord melody style.


Arpeggios From Beethoven To Grisman                  (Dan Gore)
Yes, the arpeggiated chord is like a jungle gym of noted ladders, slides, swings, and parallel bars on which the proficient musician can move quickly around in three dimensions. We’ll examine some examples of these. We’ll look at a tune composed by L. Beethoven for mandolin, time travel into the 1950’s where Bill Monroe makes extensive use of the arpeggio, and then forward to the music of David Grisman. Along the way we’ll explore whole tone scales, diminished chord arpeggios, and some hot intros that are built from a single chord arpeggio. If you have taken this session before, it will contain many added examples and new material this year.

SESSION 3  (1:30 - 3:15PM)


The Bluegrass Chop: Chords & Rhythm Techniques         (Chad Fadely)
We’ll explore different rhythm techniques and new and different chord shapes. We’ll also discover how to “drive” the band!


Learn A Few Tunes By Ear, It’s The Irish Way!     (Don Thomsen)
Irish Music is an oral tradition, passed on from generation to generation by hearing the tunes then playing them the way they are heard. A handy skill no matter what kind of music you play, get a few new tunes without having to look at a tune book.

Brazilian Choro, Intro to Samba Rhythms              (Dan Gore)
The samba rhythm is applied to the right hand action of the mandolin. The choro form is discussed, its history, and an appreciation of the music is gained. The samba phrasing is dominant in Brazilian Choro and keeping the right hand moving in sixteenth notes is essential to getting the timing right. This session will break down the 2/4 measure and rebuild it in 1/16 notes. We will then apply this method to learning several common choro patterns taken from well known choro songs.  Leading a phrase with an up-stroke will be practiced. Students will learn a simple choro. Facility with either tablature or music notation is helpful.


Licks, Fills, Tunes, And Making Your Own             (Don Stiernberg)
Approaching improvisation by hearing and looking at transcriptions(standard and TAB) of ultra cool ideas played by great players from a variety of improv styles. Tunes that include phrases that can be cut and pasted into your own solos. Twin(harmony) parts for commonly played swing tunes and one fiddle tune. Harmonic analysis of phrases. Building improv vocabulary and finding The Good Notes.

SESSION 4  (3:15 - 5:00PM)


Playin' it like The Skillet Lickers: Old-time Fiddle Tunes and melodies        (Sam Lyman)
In this session we will learn 2-3 basic fiddle tunes that also have words in the style of Gid Tanner (Gid is my co-pilot), Uncle Dave Macon and Bruce Molsky. We will address the main components of this approach to old-time music including fiddle tune melodies and chords, vocals and corny down-home humor. Come learn to play like Gid but you don't have to keep your eyes crossed to do it. Please bring a mandolin, a pick, ability to pick out a fiddle tune slowly, and, your sense of humor.


Double Stops Every Bluegrass Mandolin Player Should Know     (Chad Fadely)
We’ll learn and explore the use of double stops in traditional Bluegrass mandolin. Kickoffs, fills and even entire breaks…. we’ll take the mystery out of the Double Stop!

Mandola Grooves For Rhythm And Blues Vocals               (Ken Glastre)
The mandola is shown to be an effective accompaniment for rhythm and blues. Scales common to blues and rock songs are explored. The student is shown how a mandola can provide rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment to both vocals and another lead mandolin.


The Fiddle Tunes Of Swing And Jazz       (Don Stiernberg)
Just as there are essential fiddle tunes that mando people learn to develop repertoire and technique, there are any number of requisite "heads"(melodies) in the Swing and Jazz idioms that foster chops development and feature flowing eighth notes. In this session we will pick apart several, and better yet, put them back together again.


The following topics cover a comprehensive list of mandolin related material. The final selection that becomes the Congress syllabus is chosen according to feedback from registered attendees and what it is they wish to study at the Congress.

Beginner Topics
Allow Me To Introduce To You, The Mandolin.
Beautiful & Fun Beginner Mandolin, All Styles.
Beginner Mandolin Techniques
Ergonomics For Mandolin
Left & Right Hand Techniques To Build Speed And Accuracy
Mandolin Team Player: The Mandolin Roll In A Bluegrass Band
Right Arm Ergonomics
Vocal Backup For Solo And Small Ensemble Mandolin Playing.
Warm-Up Exercises 

Chord Formations, variations, and rhythm
Circle Of Fifths
Double Stops Every Bluegrass Mandolin Player Should Know
Intro To Chord Melody "Jethro Style"
Jazz/Blues Chord Constructions
The Bb – Gm – D  Triad

The Bluegrass Chop: Chords & Rhythm Techniques
Improvising Breaks, Fills, And Backup
Constructing Bluegrass Mandolin Solos
Developing Solos, Fills & Improvising For Vocal Songs
End Tag Licks
Improvising Lead Lines and Lead Lines
Improvising On Fiddle Tunes
Intros To Songs
Licks, Fills, Tunes, And Making Your Own
Vocal Backup For Solo And Small Ensemble Mandolin Playing

Keys, Scales
Arpeggios From Beethoven To Grisman
Chromatic Runs Across Strings
Minor Keys
Scales And Double Stops, Connecting The Dots
Transposing To Another Key
Whiskey Before Breakfast From D  To B

Large Bodied Mandolins
Introduction To The Octave Mandolin
Larger Bodied Mandolins And How They Are Played
Mandola Grooves For Rhythm And Blues Vocals

Music Styles
Brazilian Choro
Constructing Bluegrass Mandolin Solos
Contra Dance
Crossing The Old-Time Threshold With Old Crow Medicine Show
Fiddle Tunes
Introduction To Brazilian Choro Style Mandolin
Irish Mandolin Technique: Learning Tunes By Ear
Irish Polkas Rock
Irish Tunes On Mandolin Overview
Swing Progressions
The Fiddle Tunes Of Swing And Jazz
The Mandolin Is A Blues Instrument!

Novice Topics

Allow Me To Introduce To You, The Mandolin
Choosing The Right Picks & Strings And Tuning The Mandolin
Digital Dexterity And Hello, Mandolin!
Introduction To Mandolin
Irish Polkas Rock
Mandolin Gear From A-Z;
Picks, Strings And Tuning 


How To Decorate Your Mandolin Tree With Ornaments That Blink And Shine
Tone Variations
Toward Neck

Position Shifts

2nd  And 3rd Position Playing

Right Hand Picking Pattern

Inside Coarse
Near Bridge
Outside Coarse
Rhythm Chunk
Single String

Time Signatures

4/4 Time
2/2 And 2/4
6/8 Time

Vocal Backup

Improvising On Vocal Songs You Don’t Know. Developing Solo & Fills Techniques