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Instrument finish names destined for market failure
Marketing experts depend on branding that sells the sizzle of the steak. A catchy slogan or description can make or break a new product. Consider
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Fresh Rigel bargain gems
There's quite a quintet of quality used instruments recently listed in the Mandolin Cafe Classifieds by a seller in the Pacific Northwest, and in particular
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D'Addario FW74 flatwound strings now EFW74
The question has come up. What is the difference between D'Addario Strings newly listed EFW74 flatwound strings and the FW74 we helped them develop seven
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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."

November 20, 2014 | What to do with my mandolins when I'm gone

Cypress Creek Bluegrass Band, "You Can't Take It with You," Roy Jenkins

You Can't Take It with You
Ted Eschliman

It's important to include in any estate planning some kind of action or clause specifically on how to deal with musical instruments. A spouse or child distanced from or completely disengaged in your mandolin passion may have no idea of the worth of them, or even more uncomfortably, how little the value might be. It's a good idea to get an expert and trusted third party in place to handle evaluation in your departure, and just as importantly, distribution or sale of them. One of my most uncomfortable positions was having to tell a widow her husband's prized pro-model trumpet from the 50's just wasn't worth that much today. You'd be surprised at how often this happens, and how little spouses really know what these instruments might sell for.

In writing our own will, my wife and I included a clause that appointed a long-time trusted friend to deal with the sale of my mandolins. I didn't want either my wife or daughter to have to deal with this personally, or have to go looking for someone to handle it. We documented his name and outlined a 20% commission due on the sale of any of the instruments, with the remaining profits going to the estate. We thought it important to pay him for his time, energy, and expertise.

This would take the burden off the family, as well as assure maximum resale value. It's in a legal document, so there should be no question how this should be handled. You can't really transfer value on something that is as fluid as the selling market, but you can at least put a procedure in place that reduces the anguish of those who might grieve your absence.

Have one you want to pass on to a specific person, too? Absolutely, write that in. I have a violinist daughter that may want to play the mandolin someday, let alone treasure something to remember me by. Never hurts to include these instructions, too!

Shouldn't have to say it, but you can't be clear on your wishes when you're gone...

Posted by Ted at 3:01 PM

November 13, 2014 | 5 Steps to Mastering Sight-Reading

If you're a simple folk musician, sight-reading is not a priority item in your took bag. You may function completely in an aural world, but if you've ever wanted to participate in an orchestra , or sit in with a reading band, you want good sight-reading chops.

A recent article in gives some critical tips in developing this important skill, five steps in making print music work positively for you. We think it's important to be able to learn music through both eye and ear, so take some time to dig deeper into what it takes.


Mental check-list every time you see a piece of music:

  • Get into the mindset of total concentration and tune out distractions

  • Before you begin, memorize the key signature and scan the page for trouble spots

  • Look at the music in larger chunks of time (see the page like it's in cut-time)

  • Recognize common rhythms and watch out for tricky rhythms

  • Visually identify scale fragments and arpeggios

  • Remember to keep counting through rests

  • Continually keep your eyes scanning ahead so you're always ready for the next measure

  • Don't be phased by your mistakes, keep the time going and get back on track

Read article: 5 Steps to Mastering Sight-Reading

Concentration (I'm going to get every note right)
Read bigger chunks of music (Multiple measures or phrases)
Recognize rhythms and patterns (Uncover scales, arpeggios, trick rhythms, unusual rests)
Looking ahead (read what's coming up in addition to now)
Continue through your mistakes (don't dwell, move on)

Posted by Ted at 2:17 PM

November 6, 2014 | How playing an instrument benefits your brain.

We love the YouTube videos and documentation supporting the connection between intellectual capacity and the brain. The latest one we've uncovered uses some very specific science to demonstrate how the act of playing a musical instrument is in essence a brain workout.


"When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What's going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians' brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout."

Video Link:How playing an instrument benefits your brain

Charles Limb: Building the musical muscle/
The Jazz Brain; Improv
Fingers, Ears, Brain
Making sense. More than five senses?

Posted by Ted at 2:45 PM

October 30, 2014 | Best of JM: Dirty It Up

Enjoy the popular archive material below.
From November 4, 2010 | Dirty It Up


If we are serious about performing well, we work a lot on the fundamentals of playing. Just as in sports, it's the fundamentals that allow us to perform the athletics and express our music more effectively, yet in the pursuit of effective execution, we can't forget that great technique is a means to an end, and not the end. It's often the bane of classical training, the musician who can play notes brilliantly, but not play the "music."

Listen to some classical musicians attempt jazz. They can sound stiff and unconvincing, despite playing all the notes cleanly and correctly. There's still something missing, and we suggest it's because of an unbending focus on execution rather than aesthetic. Not to condone sloppy playing, but once in a while a player needs to work from a solid skill base, and "dirty it up." Four elements to consider:

Rhythmic control. We learn to play in time. We have to do that, especially when playing in an ensemble setting. A good metronomic sense is crucial to cooperate with others in a group, and you need a good sense of rhythm to keep it consistent. The problem is in jazz (and bluegrass), you're missing the "swing." Notes aren't evenly divided into duples and triplets, there's a subconscious and grey area of timing that yields an aesthetic tension and energy, when subdivisions aren't clean. Things sound too "white."

Articulation. Good pick control is an inarguably important skill. Playing with a clear pick stroke is crucial to pushing tone and a strong fretting finger is the only way you can maximize sustain. That said, we still have tricks at our disposal, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, mutes, and harmonics. It's these more subtle ingredients that give our music character and individual identity. Pick and fret cleanly, but don't think every note has to be started by a pick. Don't be afraid to glissando into a note, or prior to its release.

Dynamics. Variations in volume are routinely overlooked by the best of players. We have to have more than two dynamics, loud and off. Playing quietly makes the louds louder. Fortissimo is great for statement and drama, but the ear tires quickly, and we need the contrast. Subtle changes in picking including grip, angle, and pick contact can also lend character to a passage. Silence can be a terrific weapon.

Phrase consistency. Thinking where our musical sentences start and stop is important, but we need to go the next step and build within these "story arcs" the sense of action. We start soft, build, climax, and get soft again. Introduction, tension, resolution. Tell a tale, communicate an aesthetic narrative within the string of notes, or that's all you have. A string of notes.

We don't want to undermine the importance of good technique. You really can't embrace the subtleties we mentioned without a strong physical command of your instrument. Scales and arpeggios are crucial to developing these abilities, and unintended sloppiness is not pleasant to listen to. Once you have achieved some of the fundamentals, embrace the next step.

Dirty it up.

It don't mean a thing, if it ain't...
Tremolo. Stirred, not shaken.
Keeping it honest: metronomes
Pick propulsion
Respect the Silence

Posted by Ted at 3:58 PM

October 23, 2014 | Freeing us from the tyranny of the bar line

Thumbnail image for Jmandology1.jpg

An intriguing TED video from Queensland musician John Varney illustrates a unique way of visualizing rhythm outside the context of traditional notation. We all know how print music often fails to communicate the nuance of swing and blues. He uses an object we are all familiar with--the wheel.


His graphic crosses all kinds of genre lines in the presentation. This is another great way for you to conceptualize and communicate the often undefinable that exists in the aural.

Video Link: A different way to visualize rhythm - John Varney

Don't mean a thing. If it ain't...
On the "Up and Up": Jazz Articulations
It's a drag...
Circle of 5ths. Like a clock, especially when it is a clock.


Posted by Ted at 8:43 AM

October 16, 2014 | Zak Borden: Build Your Own Chords! Part 1


Last week, we took a step back to review the building blocks of the triad on the mandolin fretboard through the artistry of Don Julin. We're going to review similar material from Brazillionares mandolinist Zak Borden. He has a similar knack for explaining some of the music theory complexities in terminology we can all understand. The following is the first of a three part series. You'll want to dig deeper, for sure!

Video Link: Zak Borden: Build Your Own Chords! Part 1

YouTube channel: Zak Borden

Posted by Ted at 6:57 PM

October 9, 2014 | 3 string major triads with Don Julin

Music theory is most easily understood stripped down to its simplest elements. Recording artist and best-selling author Don Julin gives concise demonstration of the triad chord spelled up and down the fretboard spelled in its purest form, the 3-note chord.

Though we like to confine the 3-note spellings to the three thickest strings, Don covers it beautifully back and forth, moving across the strings, and gives a credible reason to do so, thinking the voicings from the top (3rd on top, 5th on top, root on top).

It's easy and brilliant at the same time.


Video Link: 3 string major chords

If you don't already have Don's books in your library, we strongly recommend you do!

Purchase information: Mandolin for Dummies

Thumbnail image for Dummies.jpg

An Interview with Don Julin
Creating energy with Diatonic triads.
Fitting in with triads
More Three-note chords to supercharge your comping

Posted by Ted at 4:11 PM

October 2, 2014 | Improvisation is conversation


We always enjoy articles on the science of music and how it affects the physical realm. A February 2012 Atlantic article "How Brains See Music as Language" addresses the nature of the impact of jazz, particularly improvisation, and the similar response of language--conversation with words.

From the the report, "What researchers found: The brains of jazz musicians who are engaged with other musicians in spontaneous improvisation show robust activation in the same brain areas traditionally associated with spoken language and syntax. In other words, improvisational jazz conversations 'take root in the brain as a language,' Limb said.

'It makes perfect sense,' said Ken Schaphorst, chair of the Jazz Studies Department at the New England Conservatory in Boston. 'I improvise with words all the tim--like I am right now--and jazz improvisation is really identical in terms of the way it feels. Though it's difficult to get to the point where you're comfortable enough with music as a language where you can speak freely.'"

The best aesthetic experience is when players lock in to each other in dialogue.

Read article: How Brains See Music as Language

Charles Limb: Building the musical muscle/
The Jazz Brain; Improv
Fingers, Ears, Brain
Artist phrasing

Posted by Ted at 3:18 PM

September 25, 2014 | Vamps summary. How to amaze and impress your friends.

One of the series we are most proud of was our 2012 comprehensive approach to Vamps in which we mapped out some common 3-note comping patterns you can apply to a myriad of tunes. These were even placed into permanent history as a Lesson Archive at the Mandolin Cafe

If you do nothing else on the site, at least make sure to dig into them. Amaze and impress your fellow musicians:

Vamps Pt 1. Creating energy with Diatonic triads
Vamps Pt 2. Expanding the Diatonic triads
Vamps Pt 3. Scurry Dominants
Vamps Pt 4. Circle of fifths
Vamps Pt. 5 Minor Modal


Along the same lines was our series on 7th Chord Streams, Major and Minor. If you haven't already, be sure to print out the two page PDFs of the chords there. They are especially good for the 5-string mandolinist or tenor guitar/mandolaist.

Posted by Ted at 4:16 PM

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

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