Goichberg Mandolin Methods, a review

This review was originally published in “Mandolin Quarterly,” 1999 Vol. 4 Nr. 3.

35 Progressive Mandolin Studies, Op. 6, Sol Goichberg (PSE 010, ed. Neil Gladd, 1983, originally published in 1937);
Studies for the Mandocello, Volume I, Sol Goichberg
(PSE 026, 1999)
Published by Plucked String Editions, PO Box 2770, Kensington, MD 20890

Sol Goichberg (1908-1978) was a gifted American mandolinist and teacher, who lived and performed in New York City mid-century. His musical background included conservatory training as a cellist, and he later taught himself to play the mandolin and mandocello. Active as a mandolin soloist and chamber musician, his recordings of the Vivaldi concertos with the New York Sinfonietta still draw praise. A reviewer of the period wrote, “Mr. Goichberg has taken the instrument out of its supposedly frivolous setting and revealed it as a charming medium for the classic language of Mozart and Paganini.” Goichberg’s books of studies for mandolin and mandocello reveal him as an insightful teacher as well, with a far-reaching vision of the artistic potential of the mandolin family.

35 Progressive Mandolin Studies, Op. 6, copyright in 1937, is Goichberg’s only compositional work published during his lifetime. It has been reissued by Plucked String Editions, who have also published some of Goichberg’s solo concert pieces and, most recently, a volume of his comprehensive mandocello studies. In his preface to 35 Progressive Mandolin Studies, Goichberg writes that the book was “planned to assist the student in his second year studies,” and intended to supplement a regular series of method books. Goichberg’s exercises today, however, seem applicable to a much wider range of students. The works are musical, concise (each is a half-page in length), and, as Mr. Goichberg writes in his forward, each “contains one or more valuable points that the student should master before attempting to continue.” The exercises are mainly in 1st position and some include passages in 2nd and 3rd positions as well. The “drills” are written in all of the major and minor keys, since “preference for certain keys over others is developed unless proper care is taken.” This alone makes the book of benefit to mandolinists who feel out of their element when confronted with key signatures full of many sharps or flats. The book also clarifies and elucidates aspects of right-hand picking technique, while developing the player’s musicianship and an awareness of “the proper fingering, stroking, and phrasing necessary to achieve the highest form of musical results.”

The exercises in 35 Progressive Mandolin Studies focus on scale work, finger alternation patterns, tremolo, phrasing, and mixed rhythms. They are of appropriate difficulty for an intermediate-level player, no matter how many years s/he has been playing, and are of interest to more advanced students for some of their unusual technical aspects. Notable among these are Goichberg’s inclusion of the “short tremolo,” a delightful and little used technique devised to imitate the violin’s “spicatto” effect. Like Pettine’s invaluable Plectrum Mechanism, Goichberg’s book imparts a sense of how a mandolin concert artist achieves an expressive technique, and can be of real benefit to those seeking to develop a classical sound on the mandolin. I recommend the book highly for its insight as well as its exercises.

Studies for the Mandocello, Volume I includes 50 of Sol Goichberg’s 100 extant exercises for mandocello; the remaining 50 are planned for a second volume. Historically, methods for mandocello are rare, and those published earlier in the century are largely out of print and unavailable today. Thus these newly-published studies take on an added dimension in establishing the technical potential of the mandocello. Far more comprehensive than Goichberg’s mandolin exercises, this volume of mandocello studies fills a void in mandocello instruction, setting a high standard to which the instrument’s performers can aspire.

Goichberg was known for his artistry on the mandocello, and Studies for the Mandocello, Volume I shows his understanding of the instrument’s unique qualities, and gives a hint of his virtuosity as a performer. The breadth of the exercises, their musical depth and beauty, and their technical demands are unparalleled. Goichberg’s conservatory cello training and grounding in theory are clearly evident, too, as he integrates arpeggios and chords into lines that move from bass clef notation to alto and tenor clefs. In addition to developing a versatile right-hand technique, the exercises are written in a variety of major and minor keys, pushing the student’s left hand to become familiar with all of the frets on the fingerboard. The studies make full use of the instrument’s range as well, frequently incorporating wide leaps and a two-an-a-half octave span. Most of the mandocello studies are longer than Goichberg’s mandolin “drills,” which allows them to develop musically as well as technically. And mandocellists, so often relegated to the bass line, should delight in Goichberg’s beautiful melodies, written to show off the instrument’s tone color and expressive qualities.

Every mandocello player should own this book, both for instruction and inspiration. Studies for the Mandocello, Volume I presents a unique body of original work designed to explore the instrument’s technical and artistic possibilities. Any player will be impressed by its expectations and inspired by Goichberg’s demonstration of the instrument’s potential.

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Posted July 30th, 1999. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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