McGann is a virtuoso on both mandolin and guitar, and has been plying his trade in the New England area for much of the past 30 years. He first made his mark by winning the Winfield mandolin championship in 1985, and has been running his popular Custom Transcription Service since 1981.
When the Berklee College of Music opened its Acoustic String program, allowing the use of mandolin and banjo as primary instrument of study at the school, they tapped John to tackle mandolin. He is now a full professor in the String department at Berklee, where he offers private instruction to all mandolin principals and leads a number of ensembles.
The piece at Mandolin Cafe also covers his long history as a performer, composer and arranger prior to his Berklee appointment, not to mention his many accomplishments as a noted instructor in a variety of style. In this excerpt, interviewer Ted Eschliman asks about one of McGann’s pedagogic devices.
Ted Eschliman: You have some astute ideas on understanding jazz, using plumbing as a metaphor. Review this for us, and how did you ever come up with this slant?
John McGann: Spontaneously. Responding to someone’s post on the Mandolin Cafe forum I said something like “theory only seems like rocket science until you know it. Then, it’s more like plumbing!” The idea of plumbing seems pretty complicated, but there are some simple elements that combine to make a system that is reasonably easy to understand. I feel music theory is the same, but the jargon often puts people off. As an educator, one of my goals is to demystify theory and help people see that much of it is fairly simple. It’s important to be very clear at the outset, and work slowly, making sure that the concepts can be actualized in sound, and not remain “theoretical.”
Read the full piece online.