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Marcos Moletta: Multiplo
We're enjoying listening to the recently released CD "Multiplo" from Rio de Janeiro multi-instrumentalist Marcos Moletta. The 12 song instrumental project is a potpourri
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Darol Anger & Mike Marshall; Borealis
We enjoy watching the decades long pairing of string wizards Mike Marshall and Darol Anger. This one, recorded in Europe showcases an original composition, "Borealis,"
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The Killigans, mandolin fight song?
Nothing stirring like a good old traditional college fight song. Our old alma mater the University of Nebraska has a few, but one recently came
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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

September 18, 2014 | Passing Chords. Fill in the gaps.

You're probably familiar with passing notes or passing "tones." These are the notes that connect the important chord relevant tones in a melody. They aren't part of the chord, but they give a linear dimension, creating melody. You can do the same thing with chords, though.

We've written about this before, how you can take static measures of chords, say an AbMaj7 for two measures, and color them with passing chords. Instead of two measures, eight beats of Ab, you follow two beats of AbMaj7 with two of Bbm7, two Cm7, and two DbMaj7. It supports the tonal center of Ab, but injects progression, motion if you will.

You can move this pattern up the fretboard based on roots and create a whole new approach to your comping. Learn several more simple inversions and you can be a master of motion in your comping.

We covered this in a October 2006 Mandolin Sessions article. If you'd like to add a few more of these to your arsenal, check the article out: Chords in Passing; Exploring Diatonic Chord Progressions


Fitting in with triads
Creating energy with Diatonic triads.
Static Changes: V7 chords
More Three-note chords to supercharge your comping

Posted by Ted at 3:33 PM

September 11, 2014 | Best of JM: Fretboard Geometry

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From October 14, 2010 | Fretboard Geometry

Intellect. Touch. Space. Sound. Everyone attacks the way they master their instrument differently, utilizing these individual components of playing. Initially, most of us just feel the position of the finger or fingers on the strings, and hopefully, we're rewarded by a pleasant sound. As we progress, we start to notice relationships. These can be as complex as music theory, the mathematical relationships between notes and their function through time, or it can be as simple as the just the way the notes or chords feel after repetition in the fingers. Even the spatial relationships can register as a part of motor function and how the music feels in the hands.

We talk a lot about the theory behind the mandolin here on the site. The dirty little secret of our 8-string wonder is you can move similar patterns with ease because of the magnificent symmetry of the 5ths tuning. It's as much a function of geometry as anything, and we want to take a look at some simple visual patterns and how they can be repeated up and down the fretboard, and across strings. You might absorb this tactilely eventually too, but we've blocked out some graphics to assist demonstrating the concept.

The instrument is traditionally tuned in 5ths. This means open string pairs will give you the drone Perfect Fifth, but it also gives you the same pairs relationship as you close up the strings and move it up the fretboard. That Power Chord A5, A and E is simply two strings next to each other. Move it up five frets and you have a Power D5. Shift it across a string and you have an E5.

So what? This is in essence your 'I, IV, V' chord, repeatable in numerous keys and transpositions. Whole musical careers have been launched on little more than these chords, and you can do it with just one finger on the mandolin. The Power 5 chord is not just a Rock and Roll sound, it offers some delicious ambiguity in contemporary music, the with the lack of definitive "major-ness" or "minor-ness." It was also a big hit with the Gregorian Monks back in Medieval times.


You can get a similar sound from its inversion, putting the 5th of the chord in the bottom, and the root at the top. This is also as important melodically as it is harmonically. Think of several tunes that start on the 5th of the scale, "Here Comes the Bride," "How High the Moon," "Ornithology," as examples. If you have identified the root of the scale or chord, the relationship on the fretboard is always the same, down a string, up two frets. That geometric relationship is a good trick to know. Now you have two notes you can immediately jump to when your improvising. It's just a matter of filling out the notes of the scale in between.


When we close in that two fret span to just one, we have an alluring aural treasure, the Tritone or the diminished 5th (#4). This is fretboard geometry you can exploit any time you play a Dominant 7th chord. It's the guts of the V7 chord, and powerful harmonic fodder. When you recognize and physically internalize this relationship, you can have all kinds of fun landing on it while improvising.

A7tris.jpg D7tris.jpg

You can also slide it down some frets and develop a whole sequence of Circle of Fifths patterns. You don't need all four notes of the chord, these two are powerful enough on their own.

These are 5ths and 4ths, easily grasped on the mandolin fretboard, but you can also have some fun with 3rds. The following is a great little pattern you can move up and down in different keys and and harmony to your own melody. Notice graphically, sometimes there is a one fret span and sometimes there are two, depending on where you are in the scale. Getting to know where those are will give you some powerful tools for creating melody and harmony in almost any genre of music.


Many feared studying geometry in school, but ultimately found it useful in life, whether shopping for carpet or learning to parallel park. On the mandolin, geometry is your friend too. Use it as yet another tool for fretboard mastery.

Exploring Diatonic Chord Progressions
Mobility--chord transit
Two-chord jam; feed the beast.

Posted by Ted at 1:30 PM

September 4, 2014 | Best of JM: Turning scales and arpeggios into music

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From September 29, 2011 | Turning scales and arpeggios into music

Teachers of of beginning musicians will tell you practicing scales and arpeggios are crucial to learning how to play music. Teachers of advanced musicians will tell you practicing scales and arpeggios teach you how to sound like you're playing scales and arpeggios...

We're big on conquering these fundamental ingredients, scales, modes, and breaking chords into linear melody, but there's no question you can't stop there. This skill is merely a jumping off point, an ability that makes you more efficient in the aesthetic process of improvising and creating your own music. So how do you NOT sound like your playing scales in your solo? Here are a few tricks up your sleeve, and we suggest you implement this into your own practice routine. Don't just play a scale. Once you get it into your fingers, try altering it in some of these ways.


Reverse course. Bottom note G, High note G, and all the notes of the G Major scale in between. You ascend, then you descend. Sounds great, but how many times does this incarnation of the scale happen in real music? If you really want to master a major scale, try starting on the top note, descend, and then ascend again. Guarantee this is a new skill and somewhat uncomfortable if you haven't tried it before. Still, this is what happens in "real life," so practice this way once in a while.


Start in the middle. Next step to this altering direction is to alter the starting point. Try starting from the 3rd scale degree and play up, down and back. Again, this is real life. Start on the 5th scale degree. Rarely does a passage of music starts on the first note of a scale, so once in awhile you should practice this way.

Break it up. In our FFcP studies we practice broken 3rds and 4ths, another good way of playing a scale--without sounding like a scale.


Syncopate the harmonic rhythm. When you start a scale on the tonic, at least the first half of the scale as you playing 1, 3, 5, on the strong beats, which outlines the chord on the strong beats. If you started on 2 instead, and went, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc., you'd have the 1, 3, 5 chord on the upbeats. The end result is harmonic rhythm "syncopation." It's a nice effect you should plug into your solos.

Add chromatic leading tones. Determine a staring note of the scale, but precede it with a half step (up or down) leading note. For example, lead into a Bb Major Scale with a single Ab. Ornamenting your scales in this way conditions you to solo with more creativity. Playing the blues in G, you could precede any D with a Db. Instant blues!

These are great spice "condiments" to add to the culinary routine of practice. See how musical you can make a vanila scale routine sound.

Approaching Improvisation
Improvisation: Pattern Based VS. Theory Based
Critical Decisions in Improvising: 'Gravity' Notes
Suspicion of Melodic Intent
Spelling out the chords melodically

Posted by Ted at 9:01 PM

August 28, 2014 | Pencils for All Musicians


If you come from a classically trained background, or played in the school band or orchestra in your youth, the following pencil admonishing will have meaning for you. It's the teacher/conductor nightmare, trying to get students and performers to physically mark places in their music where there might be some special instructions, or in the case of private lessons, bracketing trouble spots that need intense wood shedding.

If you don't have a pencil, you're doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

Even if you learn your music aurally and never use staff or paper, there's immense merit in the notion of tagging the moments of consistent imperfection. Great players don't work on what they do well, they woodshed their mistakes. To perfection!

Driving the point home is this parody. Enjoy!

Video Link: Pencils for All Musicians

Good players practice until they get every note right...
Great players practice until they can't get it wrong.

Deliberate Practice
The Regressive Method (Learning it backwards...)
Drilling for tone
Keeping it honest: metronomes

Posted by Ted at 9:23 AM

August 21, 2014 | Easing into Modal Jazz

In the December 2008 issue of, we took a look at a kind of throw-back in jazz history back in the late 50's. It was elegant in it's simplicity, and a kind of reaction to the explosion of speed and harmonic intensity. It was the birth of the "Cool."

From the article:
Many think of jazz as being extremely complex harmonically and rhythmically. More often than not this is true, at least in comparison to its roots in American folk songs, but at one point during its century long history, the harmonic cadence took a drastic turn for something dramatically slower: during the development of "Modal" Jazz. Note, we aren't referring to tempo or speed, rather to how fast chords change. Classic Modal Jazz is extremely sparse in chords, using a different scale, or, more appropriately, "mode" for a long period of time. A very early example of this would have been from trumpeter Miles Davis' 1959 album "Kind of Blue," the classic standard, "So What," which used only two chords D minor and Eb minor throughout its entire 32 measures. Through the intense repetition and lack of distraction from the rapid-fire chord changes and tonal center ambiguity characteristic of the 50's Bebop era, jazz had taken a brief detour into something more similar to its earliest roots. Another kind of sophistication emerged: the only thing different was the "attitude" of cool.
Read more: In the Mode; Easing into Modal Jazz


Animated Sheet Music; So What
Minor 7th chord streams. So What?
Vamps. Minor modal
Reverse Dorian/Minor Arpeggios
Reviewing Scurry Dominants

Posted by Ted at 9:33 AM

August 14, 2014 | How to Adjust Your Mandolin Action


Many like to change out our own automobile oil, stain our decks, and engage in untold chores to make life better about the house. The rest of us like to hire it out and depend on the local grease monkey or handyman to do it for us.

When it comes to mandolin tweaks, adjusting the instrument for minor action enhancements, there are a limited number of easy do-it-yourself fixes out there. We shy away from the more major adjustments (especially that involve cutting), leaving those for a professional tech. Some are handy with wood and tools, and even if you don't do it yourself, it's good to know the principles behind proper instrument adjustment. You should at least know what CAN go wrong on an instrument.

The following Brad Laird video may be elementary for most readers, but a good review never hurts. It's always good to see it played out on screen.

Video Link: How to Adjust Your Mandolin Action

Posted by Ted at 9:34 AM

August 7, 2014 | Reverse Dorian/Minor Arpeggios

It's been a two-month hiatus, but we wanted to get in our final of "Reverse" FFcP entry before the time got away from us. Recall, we were looking at escaping the reliance of always starting drills with the root and always going up. We did scales in both Major and Dorian/Minor, and we did one on Major FFcP Arpeggios. It's time to finish the series with the Arpeggios in the Dorian/Minor mode.

Recall, we don't like to get trapped thinking the three forms of minor, Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic. We feel they are esoteric. It's more important to spend time on the Dorian (lowered 7th) mode when you're playing jazz, arguably with folk genres, too.

Still, you don't want to get completely away from that leading tone (raised 7th). Its harmonic pull cannot be denied, so we've include it in the exercise, thus the hybrid title.

As we've said before, get these into fingers and ears, and while you're at it, started thinking how the linear relationship of line flows with the vertical (chord) structure. We've included the chords for this reason.

Download free PDF: Reverse Dorian/Minor FFcP Arpeggios


Make sure you have all four exercise printed. See links below.

Reverse Major FFcP Scales
Reverse Major FFcP Arpeggios
Reverse Dorian/Minor FFcP scales
Dorian/Minor FFcP Studies
The esoteric Minor Scale

Posted by Ted at 4:07 PM

July 31, 2014 | Best of JM: Raking it in. Autumn Leaves Pt. 2

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From July 12, 2012 | Raking it in. Autumn Leaves Pt. 2.

We last looked at the jazz classic "Autumn Leaves" Part 1 for the opportunity to take two simple one-octave scale patterns up the neck (E dorian/minor and G major) to begin to craft effective improvisation.

4thFFcP_Em.jpg 2ndFFcP_G.jpg

Hopefully, you took the time to work the FFcP patterns for these into your fingers, and feel some degree of comfort playing out of open position. It's great if you have some backing tracks (or an accompanying instrumentalist) to start to break out of the patterns and experiment with some soloing. This is where the rubber meets the road with the FFcP exercises. Out of the lab and into the field...

Scales vs. Licks
We've talked about two distinct approaches to improvisation, one using the framework of scales, the other using licks or motives from other songs and moving them around the fretboard. There's a viable school of thought that spending time transcribing and analyzing other artists' work to get into their heads for these sound nuggets, and begin the process of recreating your own licks. We think both approaches are necessary in optimal creativity. The scale approach can give you efficient, map like access to the "right" notes, but at the risk of sounding sterile or clinical. The "lick" approach gives great material, too, but leaves you dependent on others for material, and can leave you stuck endlessly repeating the same material.

We've worked up something that's a little of both, and cover it in the book "Getting Into Jazz Mandolin." For example, the "ii V7 I" patterns roll out the classic cadence and offer increasingly complex licks based on the scale. Pardon the hard sell, but this is a compelling reason alone to acquire the book, since it covers all four FFcP patterns in both major and minor keys. For now, we'll give you a taste, and you can even apply this material to "Autumn Leaves."

Take a moment to play through these, and see how they might be your own personal starting point to jamming with this terrific tune.

Download two page PDF: pdf_sm.gif E Minor ii7b5 V7 i 4th FFcP

Minor ii7b5 V7 i 4th.jpg

Now see what you can do with these measures for your own experimenting. Note the progression of starting notes in each of the four sections of the exercise--it helps you get away from always beginning your solo with the root of the chord.

You might even want to dig up an online backing track:


Four Finger Closed Position FFcP
Dorian/Minor FFcP Studies
ii7b5 V7 i Minor Patterns
Improvisation Techniques
New to JazzMando: Dorian/Minor FFcP!
Minor Blues: Fresh patterns

Posted by Ted at 1:20 PM

July 24, 2014 | Best of JM: Raking it in. Autumn Leaves Pt. 1

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From July 5, 2012 | Raking it in. Autumn Leaves Pt. 1.

We love music theory. It's a great tool for looking under the hood and exploiting beneficial shortcuts to creating and understanding music. We use it in even in our "mechanical" approach to the fretboard, our movable FFcP system. You've probably noticed we've inserted intervals (3rds, 4ths), some arpeggiated chords, and some passing/approach tone drills in the system. It's finger coordination but if you've been listening while you play, there's some heavy subconscious aural training going on, too.

Still, theory is no good if you don't apply it. We want to go out of the lab now and into the field with the jazz standard, Autumn Leaves and show you a simple way to apply two FFcP patterns to this classic.


Without altering with any sophisticated substitutions, you can trim this down to just two patterns based on two keys. The whole song is in only two keys, E minor, and it's relative G major. We'll draw from two finger patterns to come up with the one-octave field of notes to harvest. The idea is you can go back to the Dorian/Minor FFcP drills, pick up the 4th FFcP in D minor and move it up a couple frets to E minor. Your 4th finger starts the pattern on the 9th fret.


Before you start playing the tune, drill the 4th FFcP in this key for awhile. Take a few days even, until you are comfortable with it.


The next thing would be to take a 2nd FFcP incarnation of the G scale by basing the one octave field with the second finger on the 5th fret. Note, you aren't moving hardly at all from the E minor. Work it similarly until it becomes second nature, reviewing what we created for Bb in the FFcP Introduction series.

When you feel solid on this you're ready to start applying the new found scale intuitive proficiencies to the actual song. Below is a color coded interpretation of where you would use the FFcP patterns, the pink shows where you'd use G major, the blue would be E minor (dorian).


We don't want to go too deep in the semantics of raised 6th and 7th in the minor scale, other than to say when you're using the Dominant Function chord B7, you'll probably be rasing the D to a D#. This is where the chord/arpeggio part of the drill can help out. Trust your ear--it will tell you what to do.

This is where the rubber meets the road, theory to real life. We're still at a point where if this is all you do, grab scales and play drills, your improv will sound like scales and drills. It's a starting point.

Next session, we'll look at applying the FFcP to some licks.

Four Finger Closed Position FFcP
Dorian/Minor FFcP Studies
ii7b5 V7 i Minor Patterns
Improvisation Techniques
New to JazzMando: Dorian/Minor FFcP!
Minor Blues: Fresh patterns

Posted by Ted at 4:01 PM

July 17, 2014 | Best of JM: Making sense. More than five senses?

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From June 11, 2010 | Making sense. More than five senses?.

We all grow up with the notion that we have five senses. Sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. There is always an added ethereal reference to a sixth sense, tons of movies and books have been written about this tantalizing phenomenon, but what many may not be aware of, physiologists have even expanded these senses to as many as nine to twenty-two, although categories can blur, and some of them involve non-human ones, for example a bat's radar (echolocation).

The additional human ones are interesting. You have balance and acceleration, also known as equilibrioception whose organ is the vestibular labyrinthine system found in both of the inner ears. Some of us are good, some are lousy, as failed experiences with pole vaulting in childhood can reveal. You also have the thermoceptors in the skin yielding a sense of temperature, different from the homeostatic ones in the brain (hypothalamus) which provide feedback on internal body temperature. Direction, magnetoception (or magnetoreception) is the ability to detect the direction one is facing based on the Earth's magnetic field. Directional awareness is most commonly observed in birds, though it is also present to a limited extent in humans. If you've ever arrived at a destination on a cloudy day or at night, sometimes you still have a feeling where north is, devoid of the sun.

Nociception or physiological pain signals near-damage or damage to tissue. The three types of pain receptors are cutaneous (skin), somatic (joints and bones) and visceral (body organs). Of course these are important signals for a player to recognize; pain is a message not to ignore.


Also, relevant to mandolin playing, proprioception or Kinesthetic sense, provides the parietal cortex of the brain with information on the relative positions of the parts of the body. The notion that if you close your eyes, with this sense you can touch your index finger to your nose. You use this when taking your eyes off the fingerboard, and developing an important kinesthetic sense of finger and pick position. It's more than just touch, it's a fretboard GPS.

Others that aren't commonly covered in physiological studies but are very important to playing are senses involving rhythm, pitch, harmony, and melodic distinction. Certainly, we all have varying degrees of abilities here, some may have perfect pitch, the awareness of A440 or any other pitch at any time. Some are blessed with good relative pitch and while the former is something you are born with, the latter is one you can develop over time.

Sense of rhythm should be included, too. You know musicians who have developed incredible time; some seem to take this gift to new dimensions. There's nothing like playing with a good drummer with a finely honed awareness of time.

Some have a knack for hearing chords, some are better at melody. It's a vertical verses horizontal sense, and it's interesting how some musicians are all about the chord and harmonic progression (likely attracted to jazz) and some can memorize and repeat melody in vivid and intricate detail. Those who can internalizes lengthy, complex phrases are probably highly attracted to the intricacies of Celtic or Balkan music and other sophisticated folk genres.

We call it "playing." It should be that. You can get the best enjoyment out of discipline and developing these additional senses through exercises and listening, but be aware that humans are as different and individual as snowflakes, and we will each have different access to skills within the palate of senses. Work on weaknesses certainly, but at the same time, recognize and bask in the aptitudes you are blessed with as a player, the gifts God gave you.

We're going to go work on ours with a little FFcP now...

Fingers, Ears, Brain
Four Finger Closed Position FFcP
Chords in the fingers. Chords in the head.
Dr. Mao: Four Exercises to Sharpen Your Brain.
Starting, Stopping, and That Stuff in the Middle.

Posted by Ted at 6:20 AM

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