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V-picks Giveaway!
V-Picks and the Mandolin Cafe will to select three winners at random to receive a V-Pick Personalized Display Case containing 20 V-Picks. Each winning entry
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NY Times; Broadway's Musical Chairs
Emon Hassan for The New York Times The New York Times had an interesting report on the life of a pit orchestra musician yesterday.
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How not to play violin?
Do you suppose we're playing the mandolin wrong, too? Over 12,000 shares on Facebook, we had to share it, too. Okay, violin pedagogists--impressed or
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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."

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

Enjoy the popular archive material below.

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?

Enjoy the popular archive material below.

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

July 10, 2014 | Online rebroadcast of Mike Marshall's ArtistWorks workshop


Here you have it! The successful video session of last night's Mike Marshall Mando Magic with a click of your mouse. Moderated by Mandolin Cafe admin Scott Tichenor, you get a sample what it's like to partake in specialized group lesson from the convenience of your computer, literally across the planet.


View Video Link:The REAL Mando Magic with Mike Marshall

Limited offer: Get 20% off an ArtistWorks subscription by entering MANDOMAGIC at check-out. Information

Posted by Ted at 10:31 AM

July 3, 2014 | Jazz Advice: The Real Book Player

An interesting article on the Jazz Advice blog was recently brought to our attention by one of our Australian readers, Professor David Lewis. Titled "Why You Shouldn't Be a Real Book Player," it takes a critical look at the dangers of becoming too dependent on "Real Book" use, the collection of jazz standards many players depend on at gigs and practice. The thrust is players get tied to a print umbilical cord, pun unintentional. We've witnessed this in pedagogy, the student jazzer that can't wean him/herself from the music stand, eyes perpetually glued to the security of staff and chord symbols.

Read article: Why You Shouldn't Be a Real Book Player

The author has merit to his argument, though we fear a baby-out-with-the-bathwater move.

Certainly, the Realbook should be considered notes to a performance, and not the script. If the page isn't considered a jumping off point, but a final interpretation, it becomes counter productive. However, we would argue players have three different approaches to internalizing music.

Kinetic: The scale exercises we do are great for absorbing melodic pathways. They aren't the journey, but they are a toolbox to fretboard prowess and accessibility. They are a means, not an end, and the skeleton of the leadsheet gives an immediate interpretation to a classic song that can be drilled over and over to free the intellect up to add flesh. Fingers first, brain, later.

Aural: Some learn better through hearing the tune. Nuance is captured and retained, and they are better equipped to live in the world of rote and sound. Not all of us have that ability, however.

Visual: A map internalized through the visual cortex is best for many. Some have to see words before they can hear them, and music can be the same way. SEE the chord. SEE the triad in the staff. SEE the accidental. This does have a disadvantage, absent the nuance of rhythm, tone color, and feel. Still, it can be a start, and in an ensemble situation, the players can begin and end a song with something mutual, organized, and uniform.

Though most will lean heavier in one of the three directions, it's best to incorporate all three in developing playing skills. A heavier kinetic base frees the brain to inject intellect and later, aesthetic. The visual offers community participation more effectively. Still, at the end it is music after all, and it must reign in the world of timbre and rhythm, or you end up with nothing but a stark audio crossword puzzle.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Realbook Playing:

Instant access to form and melody.
Uniformity. Playing the head in an ensemble context uniformly.
Visual analysis of the harmonic framework of the song.
Breadth of repertoire, time to learn more songs.

Trapped in the sheet music--inescapable safety line.
Player's creativity limited, less likely to interact with rhythmic and harmonic shifts of the others.
Dependent on visual, you don't use ears to explore.
You are the drama of the script, not the character of the music.
Not learning by ear denies opportunity to develop your ear.

Purchase: Realbook

How we learn
Approaching Improvisation
The Joy of Mandolinning
Again. Fingers/Ears/Brain
Inner Game of Tennis

Posted by Ted at 10:55 AM

June 26, 2014 | Dave Peters TAB: Au Privave!

We posted an expertly executed Jordan Ramsey transcription of the Dave Peter's solo on the classic Charlie Parker "Au Privave" last week. The Rocky Mountain teacher and in-demand session mandolinist, Jordan contacted us directly with news of an entire book in the oven, and we'll be excited to see this published once through the logistical process, but meantime, he's graciously lent us a sample print TAB of this very tune.

Download 3 page PDF: Au Privave!

What a treat, a great opportunity to pick the creative brain of a great player, and you could do us a solid by visiting Jordan's band CDBaby page and purchasing a copy of their latest self titled project, "Espresso!" available in CD or digital download. We love the online sample of the swing quartet's recording, including vocal, clarinet, guitar, upright bass, and of course, mandolin. Some terrific tunes, and another chance to hear a brilliant mandolinist in a gypsy swing context!

Purchase information:


Posted by Ted at 12:01 PM

June 19, 2014 | Can you trust your ears?

Musicians can be notoriously arbitrary and dogmatic. So much of what we experience in the arts is based on intuition and context rather than hard science, and the following video highlights some of the controversy in nailing down verifiable judgement in the aesthetic experience. A Major 7th interval, say a C and a B natural can sound dissonant. Add an E and a G, and you have a Major 7th chord, arguably one of the prettiest in jazz. Play that chord in a bluegrass jam and you'll be thrown off the stage.

This is all context. What if you knew it's the ears themselves that don't always agree?

Video Link: Can You Trust Your Ears? (Audio Illusions)

Fourthness and Purple
Building off silence
Making sense. More than five senses?
Mandolin Chord Economics

Posted by Ted at 12:12 PM

June 12, 2014 | Mandolin accompaniment--avoiding the third rail

3rdRail.jpgRapid transit trains are powered by a semi-contiuous conductor near the tracks, often referred to as the "third rail." It's a great metaphor for things to avoid, necessary for getting somewhere, but something you absolutely don't want to touch.

When mandolinists play an accompaniment role with other percussive instruments like guitar or piano, there are intrinsic dangers cluttering up the ensemble rhythmically. A general rule of acoustics is the highest (in pitch) instrument will always be identified as the offender in a conflict. When you clash with a guitar, mandolin loses.

Clacky Clacky. Swing division is rhythmically defined intuitively. Fast and hard, slow and relaxed, and everything in between, the best bands demonstrate an uncanny uniformity when all the players are feeling the same groove. Think Count Basie, how unique it is for a section of wind instruments can play with a feel that both defies and supports the solid pulse of the rhythm section. When the bass and drums lay it all down, it's sparseness that gives room for groove. Conversely the clutter of two rhythm fret musicians in a trio or quartet can completely destroy it.

Thumbnail image for Jmandology1.jpg

It's generally not the downstroke that is the culprit; the syncopated upswing of the pick and when it lands. Swing ranges from dotted 8th note to triplet, and 95% of the time somewhere in between, and the placement of the upstroke defines the feel. When two fret musicians give space to this, it lessens conflict. Stay out of the way and advice to the mandolinist, you have the heavier burden of not being pegged as the offender when strumming gets ragged. Watch the upstroke!

Four to a bar. Think Django Reinhardt and gypsy jazz and how the groove is laid. It's almost always the role of one instrument, a rhythm guitar that does nothing but hard "chops" on the downbeat. Done well, it's defining and absent drums, it plays the critical role of the ensemble's "clock." It's a lot easier for a mandolin to join on the downbeat in this situation, but it still must be perfect. Don't feel obligated to play all the time as a song can be so much richer when you vary the texture of the instrumentation. Sit out some choruses.

Meat in the strings. Harmonically, the mandolin comps better in the lower three courses of strings. There's color in the 1st string for a chord extension, but it's not always easy to agree with the variations of another rhythm instrument, especially piano. If she's varying it with a A7#9 and you slip in an A7b9, it muddies the harmony, so it's often better to leave out the 1st string in your voicing. Acquire a good 3-note chord vocabulary.

Thumbnail image for jazzmando_3note_7th_chord_mug2.jpg

Texture. Sometimes we just get too busy. We think we have to contribute energy to the group the whole time. Sit out some of the time. It gives variety when you do, and makes your playing even more meaningful when you do. Use 2-note chords, half-note melodic counter-melody, or a sustained tremolo occasionally. It doesn't always have to be chop, chop, chop.

A large majority of mandolinists come from a guitar background and are guilty of approaching it as a little mandolin. Don't make this mistake!

Five part series on 3-note vamp chords complete
Guitar to mandolin
Plays Well With Others
Ensemble Sensitivity: Corps playing
The Fight for Sonic Turf

Posted by Ted at 7:16 AM

June 5, 2014 | Reverse Dorian/Minor FFcP scales

We mentioned we're in the process of compiling exercises for an FFcP supplementary book. We recently took the basic Ionian (Major) scale and arpeggios and tipped them around, up to down and back. As we continue to plow through these, we have a win/win situation. You get to print these and keep them for free, we hope to have our readers help catch mistakes before we go to print.

Again, the goal here is to keep you from being trapped into always thinking root and up. If that's the way we practice our scales, that's the way our improvisation will sound. So let's start from the top!

Download free PDF: Reverse Dorian/Minor FFcP scales


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

Posted by Ted at 2:20 PM

May 29, 2014 | Reflections on the creative process

Two years ago, when the final issue of Mel Bay's Mandolin Sessions was published, we wanted to go out with a bang. Our final article sought the knowledge of some of the world's finest mandolin talent. We published their thoughts with this question in mind. The Muse Continuum. Where do good solos come from?

A mandolinist has two approaches to crafting a solo. One is objective, the intellectual, the analysis of chord structure, modes, arpeggios, riff repetition and regeneration of familiar motifs. We bang out the notes of a familiar scale, pluck out the members of a chord, and revive licks we've heard somewhere else. The other tack is subjective, innate, intuitive-the spontaneous creation of "the Muse," the ethereal material of the soul that's inspired or seems to come out of nowhere. The first is conscious and calculated, the second is subconscious, reactive, indefinable and illusively of the moment.

Ultimately, everybody has their own strategy, so we asked what works for them? We asked the question below of Michael Lampert, Don Julin, Craig Schmoller, Jason Anick, Jamie Masefield, Will Patton, Danny Williams, Aaron Weinstein and Scott Tichenor. These are names you are very familiar with if you've been around JazzMando for long. Sadly, our interview was one of the last one's of the late John McGann who passed away suddenly. We also received some additional words of clarity from David Grisman and Mike Marshall.

Read article: Reflections on the creative process


Compose yourself. Story Arcs
Compose yourself. Antecedent/Consequent thinking
Don Stiernberg on the "Big Picture" of improvising
Intentional Improvisation
More Appropriate

Posted by Ted at 7:10 AM

May 22, 2014 | Best of JM: Vamps. Creating energy with Diatonic triads.

Enjoy the popular archive material below.

From August 23, 2012 | Creating energy with Diatonic triads.

We've done several articles on 3-note chords, particularly 7th chords, including Major, Minor, and Dominant 7ths. It's long been our contention you don't need to worry about hitting all four pair of strings to get the most of your chords. Sometimes, not worrying about that 4th voice frees you up to move around the fretboard, plus liberate the pinky for all kinds of delicious mischief when you just voice comping chords on the thickest three strings.

But how about we go back a step further? There's nothing that says you always have to do 7ths or even extensions beyond that. Once in a while, a simple triad is enough, especially when you employ the tricks within this lesson. Triads (sans the 7th) based on the diatonic scale give you the same sense of motion and energy, without betraying the tonal center. Think of the song "Lean on Me." It's all a sequence of diatonic chords. I, I, ii, iii, IV... IV, iii, ii I, etc.

Lets start with simple triads based on the first three notes of an A scale:


If you were playing a song with multiple measures of A chords, you could fill in with these, move up and down, back and forth:


Many pit orchestra scores include simple instructions written: "Vamp." These will be measures where the conductor can adjust the length of the music to the dialogue, giving the actors more breathing room to articulate the dialogue. If a pianist or rhythm player were to just thump, straight A chords, the orchestration would be pretty dull. Chances are chords would be spiced up similarly and in a way that doesn't lose the sense of "A-ness" so that the singers and orchestra could return to the music. Of course, you can do the same in jazz comping.

Let's open it further by adding the IV chord. Move it up and down, mixing different chords in sequence:


Next, let's broaden this by using a different inversion of the A chord . We spelled the earlier ones based on the root, aptly named "Root" position. Let's spell the chords with the 3rd (C#) as the lowest note (also known as 1st inversion, fellow theory geeks):


Add the IV chord, too:


We still have one incarnation of the triad left to put as the lowest (bass) note, and we'll arbitrarily call this the 2nd inversion:


It gets up there in the fretboard stratosphere, but it's a good solid set of blocks for you to learn and internalize! Have fun moving these around. If this doesn't work on your mandolin as well, transpose the latter set to the key of D. We can do that, you know:


Note, you can run the board with this, literally. You can transpose the A root inversions to the key of D, and the 1st inversion as well. Step out and move these blocks into other keys and really have some fun. You'll see these repeat all over the place, and if you can internalize these 3-note blocks, you can open yourself up to untold possibilities!

1.) Chord melody. You have a free voice in the E string for voicing a melody
2.) Chord extension. Add a Maj7, Maj6, Add 9, etc
3.) Vamping texture. Make your chord comping interesting by inserting the variations into your background accompaniment.

Start practicing these in large and small doses. It will pay you back exponentially!

Fitting in with triads
5-string chording. A different way of thinking...
Static Changes: V7 chords
More Three-note chords to supercharge your comping

Posted by Ted at 5:27 PM

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