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Talking Dobro with Andy Hall

AW:  How did you organize the curriculum for your online Dobro lessons?

Andy:  It took a lot of thought because there's so many Dobro lessons to get through.  I just started with thinking about all levels of Dobro players, so I have 3 main categories: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.  And then I just tried to use my experience with doing things like RockyGrass and these academies, and the other teaching I've done, to try to put myself in the shoes of a beginner level.  'What were the things that I really needed to know'?  So I tried to look at learning Dobro from the student's perspective and think, 'what are the things that I needed to know when I was at that level?' And I just extrapolated that into the Intermediate and Advanced sections.  And I asked some people.  I'd go to a camp and say 'what are the things that you want to learn, that you feel you need help with?'.  I did some polling of Dobro students I knew, and just tried to organize my knowledge. The thing is, when you've been playing for such a long time and teaching, you know a lot more than you think you know originally . So I just scoured my brain and picked out as many topics I could think of.

AW:   It's been over a year since we launched your school.  How's it been going giving dobro lessons online?

resonator guitar

Andy:  It's going great, I'm so impressed with how many people are interested in learning Dobro.  One of my main goals as a musician and as a teacher is to try to expand the recognition of the Dobro.  There's still people out there that don't even know what it is.  So for me, to be able to connect with people directly and show them everything I've learned, and to be able to talk to so many people about Dobro who are interested, is very unique and something very cool about ArtistWorks.  And the age range is pretty broad, I just did a video response for someone who's a teenager, all the way to older folks.  It's a wide range for sure.

AW:  Going back to what you said there, 'lots of people don't even understand what a Dobro is',  let's just break it down.  What defines a "resonator guitar"?  What is a Dobro? What is the difference?

Andy:  So a "Dobro" is originally a brand name of resonator guitar.  "Resonator guitar" is the official name of a wooden body guitar with a resonator in it.

AW:  And what is a resonator?

Andy Hall and Mike Marshall

Andy:  A resonator is the hubcap looking apparatus that sits in the middle of the Dobro that gives it its unique sound.  It gives it its volume and sustain, it's essentially like a mechanical speaker.  The strings sit on a bridge, and are then connected to what looks like a metal speaker column.  That vibrates when you play the string and it gives it that sustain and sound.  So Dobro, which was originally a brand name, has become the common name for resonator guitar.  So "resonator guitar" really is the official title, whereas "dobro" is just the common name.

AW:  Is the term "resonator guitar" still used in the community? 

Andy:  Yeah it is, especially with builders. They don't want to call their instruments Dobros, that's a brand name.  Builders would probably prefer the term "resonator guitar" but it's such a mouthful that it's just never caught on.  "Dobro" is just such an easy word to say that it's become the common term.

AW:  Do you know where the word "Dobro" comes from?

Andy:  Yeah, it's a Czech word that means "good".  If you ever go to Eastern Europe and drive around you see billboards that say "dobro" all the time. It's also a contraction of Dopyera Borthers who invented the Dobro.

AW:  And it is correct to capitalize Dobro when referring to resonator guitar?

Andy:  Yep, that's correct.

AW:  What are some common things you notice in the videos students send you?


Watch Andy's Free Dobro Lessons

Andy:  I love getting those videos from students, and people are so cool about it.  I can tell sometimes they're a little timid of showing me their playing, but I always enjoy seeing everyone play.  One thing that I notice, I was actually doing a dobro lesson today on this, is incorporating feel and emotion into the playing.  A lot of times when people will learn a song, they'll learn all the notes and be able to play the notes in time  - but then there's that next level of adding, you know, that special sauce behind playing that really makes people want to listen.  So I'm trying to dive into that a little bit in some of these new Dobro lessons, to give people some of that next level - not just that I can play the notes in time, but make it a performance, make it something that's interesting to listen to.  That's probably one of the more common things I comment on in the videos. 

AW:  And that's not something that you can just learn from a video.  It takes someone watching you play to say, 'hey, here's some things to think about', or to evoke that expressiveness out of the student.

Andy:  That's right.

AW:  Is it easier to learn Dobro if you already play guitar?  Do most Dobro players also play guitar?

Andy:  Well I did.  I played guitar first, and I think that definitely helped me but I think it doesn't matter if you've played an instrument first or not.  The main thing is to just being driven enough to practice and to stick with it.  But I think a lot of Dobro players do play guitar first, and say 'hey this is what everybody does, I want to try something different'.  Or they just get attached to the sound of the Dobro.  So any musical experience you have initially is going to help you, but if Dobro's your first instrument there's no problem there, it's a great instrument to start on.

AW:  Who are your favorite Dobro players?

Andy:  Well Jerry Doulas would be my favorite, which is cool that he just called me, and also Mike Auldridge, Rob Ikes, and Josh Graves - those guys are all really awesome.  Those are my big influences right there.

AW:  What other musicians outside Dobro inspire you?

Andy: I like guitar players, I love guitar music. So I listen to rock guitar players like Hendrix and the classic guys, all the way up to shred guys.  I was sort of on that path, I was trying to be a rock guitar player before I started Dobro.  Even guys like Paul Gilbert, I was way into.  And then I love jazz guitar players, Pat Martino, John McLaughlin, guys like that.  I've always been into guitar music.

AW:  What's your favorite music to play on Dobro?

Andy:  I've gotta say, I like to vary it.  But my biggest foundation is in Bluegrass.  That's sort of the foundation for me, is Bluegrass Dobro.  And it's good to have foundation in Bluegrass because it requires such technical mastery that other styles become easy if you can play Bluegrass.

AW: What's next for The Infamous Stringdusters?

Andy:  Well we're working on a recording that we're super psyched about.  And we're going to be doing our festival again this October, called The Festy, which this will be our 4th year of doing The Festy.  And we got a bunch of awesome festivals coming up, Telluride, High Sierra, all kinds of stuff.  So, recording a a new record, festivals and touring… it keeps us pretty busy.

The Infamous Stringdusters -  "Blackrock". Kalamazoo, MI 10/24/12

AW: If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting Dobro lessons, what would it be?

Andy:  I would say, to keep it fun and to try to always concentrate on the emotional sort of personal element of music.  It is a science, but it's also more personal and artistic.  Always remember to have fun and to feel it when your playing.  Try not to not get robotic and analytical in your playing.  Always have a real foundation in feeling when you're playing.


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Dobro Lessons with Andy Hall




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