A Few Minutes with Roland White

Tell us about your teaching style.

We will discuss a lot of things that are of equal importance to all levels of accomplishment. For the topics where there is a skip differential, we will break up into smaller groups. I will give you as much hands-on attention as possible to get you handling the mandolin he right way. The best way to prepare for my classes is to listen to a lot of bluegrass music. Especially zero in on Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers and the Osborne Brothers. I teach by ear and by sight and with tablature.

Could you tell us something about your background?

I was born and grew up in Maine, in a musical family of French-Canadian descent. I began playing at the age of five, accompanying my dad’s fiddling by strumming a little rhythm on the guitar. I remember that at first I couldn’t reach all the strings with my left hand so I just fretted one or two strings the way he showed me, and strummed near the 12th or 15th fret. I also tried to play the tunes on the fiddle but didn’t get far because the fiddle and bow were too much to handle.

When I was eight years old I came home from school and found Dad playing an instrument I was unfamiliar with. He played a couple of tunes and when he finished I asked him what the instrument was. “A mandolin”, he replied. “How did you learn how to play it so quickly?” and he said, “It’s tuned like my fiddle, and played with a pick”. He reached it out to me and said, “Here, try it, it’s yours,” and slowly walked away. I learned instrumentals note for note but with songs I was at a loss to comeup with a break. At one point my Dad told me, “I know you know the melody, and you should learn to play it “. That made a lot of sense, and I learned that knowing the melody gave me a great starting point to improvise.

In 1954, my life changed after a visit to a local music store where I purchased a 45RPM record Bill Monroe’s Pike County Breakdown. On the flip side of the record was a duet with Monroe and Jimmy Martin singing Poison Love. After listening to that disc over and over again, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I have played music professionally ever since, first with my brothers as The Country Boys and the Kentucy Colonels, then with Bill Monroe, with Lester Flastt, Country Gazetter, The Nashville Bluegrass band, and presently, my own band. I’m still playing and teaching Pike County Breakdown. And I still get goose bumps when I hear those great old Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs records.

What do you expect to experience at the Symposium this year?

I am eager to share my knowledge of the mandolin with new students and to make new mandolin friends. I’m also really looking forward to getting to play with some of my favorite musicians, who will also be teaching at mandolin symposium, and jamming with teachers and students!

Roland White's Web Site