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How to hold the mandolin
Sit upright and rest the mandolin in your lap with the neck at a 45 degree angle from vertical. The neck should be cradled between the thumb and index finger with the palm close to the back of the neck. The wrist should be straight and relaxed, not arched outward. Use a strap and put it over your head, not just over one shoulder.
Holding the pick
Use Fender Heavy, point or side of pick. Grasp it between your thumb and the last joint of your index finger. Your grip on the pick should be relaxed. Tuck other fingers inward but don't make a tight fist.
When you begin playing remember to pick lightly and keep your right hand wrist loose. Keep left hand fingers hovering close to the fingerboard. The large muscle below your thumb on your right hand should lightly brush the top of the strings behind the bridge as you pick. The picking motion should come mostly from the wrist and a lesser amount from the arm.
Play These Exercises:
Strive for clean, even notes. Do each scale four times, then switch to the next string for four repetitions. When you are easily doing this, increase the tempo, but stay clean and don't cut off notes. Leave your left hand fingers down until you have to pick them up.
As you play these, sit up straight but relaxed and breathe deeply! This is a great warm-up and relaxation exercise. It's easy to get tense and hold your breath and get hunched over, but think consciously about staying upright with your shoulders and arms relaxed and breathing. Play lightly.
Tablature is notation that tells you which string and which fret to put your finger on, and the stems and flags on the numbers indicate time value just like standard music notation does. If you haven't read tablature or standard notation before before, we suggest you visit www.mandolincafe.com for a tutorial, or search the web for "how to read tablature".
Some more views of how to hold the mandolin and pick: