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"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."
January 23, 2015 | How modes affect mood
In trying to explain the difference between minor and major modes, we'd use emotion. "Minor is a sad sound. Major is happy." Often the harmonic makeup of the song had as much (or more) to do with the impact than the lyrics. The following Steve Terrebery video is a great tongue in cheek demonstration of this notion.
January 15, 2015 | Zak Borden; Circle of 5ths Part 2
This is as good as it gets, pedagogical genius Zak Borden once again bringing to light what's under the hood with a second installment in his video series on the Circle of 5ths. With his personal charismatic charm, playing examples, and graphics, he takes advantage of the medium and brings this essential material home.
Enjoy the popular archive material below. From March 8, 2012 | Chord Economy
It's easy to go through life just acquiring chords. Find a new fingering in context and slap it on to your personal chord vocabulary. Years of playing experience, you'll accumulate a healthy arsenal of chords, but sometimes knowing what's under the hood can put the fretboard journey into hyperdrive.
We've talked about this before in expanding the library, exploring what we call "chord economics." The fact we only have four voices with our eight strings limits how many notes of a complex extended chord we can express. The good news is despite the six note complexity in a Maj13 chord, we don't have to cut the proverbial baby in half. Knowing which tones are important, which are superfluous, we can walk proudly into a jam session and still speak the jazz dialect fluently. You just have to know some of the chemistry of the chord.
CHORD VOICE PRIORITIES Tonality: (Someone else's job!) Third: Majorness/Minorness Fifth: (always implied except when diminished or augmented) Seventh: Stability resolved or "to be" resolved) Color: (Extensions)
On the above list, if you're playing in a group, the tonality of the chord (the root) is generally covered by the bass (or the lowest note of an instrument lower than the mandolin), so you can chalk that one off. The 3rd is important because of its disclosure of majorness/minorness. The 5th is implied (unless your playing a b5 or Augmented chord), so leave it out. The 7th is important because of its stability, the "resolve me" factor. The last note(s), the 9th or 13th are your color tones. They aren't necessary but they are the delicious frosting on the cake.
In other words, you really only need three, 3rd, 7th, and color extension. Nothing wrong with having a root in there, and if you're playing solo, you want it injected as often as possible. Now you can see the fluidity that remains in four voices. Add the dimension of time, the aural permanence for the ear playing several inversions of the same chord before it changes in the music, and we really strut our harmonic prowess.
Check out some of our other articles on the nature of chord economics.
We wanted to take a little time to point out our "Tips and Tricks" section of our site by highlighting some of our favorite articles out of the weekly submissions of the year. Listed below is the link and a brief introduction. Take some time to read these, and feel to continue to dig through other years for some insightful gems.
Mike Marshall on Tremolo
Tremolo is inarguably the foremost recognizable character of mandolin technique. Even the non-musician can recognize the sound of the mandolin in a movie score or commercial when it's used. It's that unique to the instrument.
Keying into FFcP
So you've been practicing your FFcP Scales, mastering the 3rd, 4th, and arpeggios, major and minor, and you feel pretty good about them. Now you're in a funk because despite the pride you have in this accomplishment, you wonder what's next? What do I do with these skills?
More Reverse FFcP! Free Arpeggios PDF
Last week, we mentioned the problem with always learning scales from the root up. We naturally think the scale from the bottom up, but never get very good about starting at the top and going the other way. It's like building strength in your right (or dominant) hand, and never bothering to develop muscles in the other. Just like you need both there, it's a good idea to be able to do your scales in reverse. We started the with the major (Ionian) FFcP exercise last week (see New FFcP... In reverse!).
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
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
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.
December 25, 2014 | Chestnuts roasting on an open 5th.
It's been posted before, but in honor of the day, we had to rerun this clever learning tool...
The catchy, clever reincarnation of a traditional Christmas favorite, "The Music Theory Song" is not only good for a few chuckles but an astounding insight into the nature of interval labels and some harmonic functions. Kudos to David Rakowski and Dave Swenson for this delight.
Winter has officially checked in at JazzMando Headquarters in the midwestern US and like every year, it's a sure thing to get worse. We hear of concerns of mandolin shippers and recipients (especially up through the great White North), and wish to extend a message of comfort and assurance. Music retailers and luthiers have been dealing with harsh inclement shipping weather for years. What do you think a music store does for income during the months of December, January, and February? They don't stop, but they certainly employ prudent procedure.
Understand, our admonition is for the geography of meteorological extremes. Those of you in San Diego or Hawaii who don't know what "real" weather is have little to be concerned about. Those in high elevations or parts of the country prone to occasional snow should still take note. There's no reason to not be careful. A few minutes of indiscretion can cause horrible damage to finish, and there's no sense in taking chances.
If you are planning on shipping an instrument (or receiving) in a harsh winter climate, there are simple precautions you must take to assure a safe journey. Wood and strings are remarkably resilient to extremes of temperature, but not quickly. In other words, your mandolin can survive quite well in subzero, but it won't tolerate a rapid transition back to room temperature.
Generally, if your instrument is packed well enough to endure the harshness of a Yuletide UPS Brown or FedEx Home temporarily, it's probably already got the cushion to make temperature changes of the journey slowly, but only if you allow enough time for that change upon arrival. We recommend anything received in temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 C), allow 8 to 10 hours to acclimate before opening.. This means you let the package padding do the slow conversion for you. Don't unseal the box, certainly, don't cut a slit in the box to feel how cold it is. We've said 24 hours before and you'll hear that from music stores and builders for a very good reason. If they get their UPS by noon and close at 6:00 or 7:00, staff really should not unbox until the next day. Again, why not be safe?
You doctor may tell you not to stick anything in your ear smaller than your elbow. It's a bit of hyperbole, until you've met someone with Parkinson's Disease who punctured his ear drum with a Q-tip.
It's tough to not be cavalier about it, but if you do open the box, the finish and the wood acclimate at two different rates. That's where the infamous crackling or "checking" occurs. It's probably not so good on the joints either, but most of the irreparable damage will be the outside cosmetics. Do yourself a big favor and resist temptation to open a box prematurely.
Heads up, too. If you're shipping to someone in a cold region who has never received an instrument, it's on you to remind them about waiting. If you're offering a 48 hour right to return, we suggest extending that to 72. It's for your own protection, as well.
Suggestions for packing:
Never pack too tightly. Small air pockets allow not only a balance between moderate temperature "breathing" and stability, but act as shock absorbers during the rigors and stress of transport. Packing peanuts, bubble wrap, or loose newspaper balls will work, but find the balance between settling or nesting the instrument without complete stasis where all the box jarring is transferred from the outside to the instrument itself. Also, we suggest placing instrument and case in a tall kitchen trashbag prior of packing, partly because of sealing the air, but more because you'll keep the outside of the case lint and static free. It's a royal pain brushing off newspaper shreds or broken Styrofoam off of a mildly electrostatic-charged case exterior; this simple preventive measure introduces a simple cure.
We're revisiting one of our most popular articles on pick selection. From over five years ago, our entry "Top Picks" a spoken vocabulary to express the pick selection qualities for you to consider in the quest for the ultimate pick.
Picks are one of the least expensive ways you can change your sound. Every note you play starts with the pick, and your efforts to develop your own sound will always be contingent on its control and just how much you are "one with the pick."
If we were to recommend one pick (why, the JazzMando pick, of course!) we'd be as disingenuous as a shoe store clerk recommending everyone buy a size 7 wide Urban Moccasin in red suede (personal fave here at the JazzMando campus). Ridiculous to be so narrow because just like not everyone's feet are the same, neither are their hands, let along playing contexts. (Those Urban Moccasins aren't so cool at a Governor's Inauguration; speaking from experience.)
Let's articulate generalities, and yes, there will be exceptions to these, so take them with a grain of salt. The majority of mandolinists gravitate toward larger (1.5 mm and up), rounder picks (Fender 346) than guitarists. The Fender 351 shape is by far the most popular shape, but ironically, to get more sound out of our smaller instrument, we seem to need thicker and bigger to pull tone out of the double courses. Of course those more dependent on a fluid tremolo might prefer something thinner (Evan Marshall, Marilyn Mair, Don Stiernberg for example), but we'll leave it to you to experiment on what works best for your style of music.
Five areas of pick make-up for you to consider, and as we list them, we'll use a few nonsensical syllables to get the point across on how they affect tone. You'll probably come up with a few ideas yourself, and that's fine; it's all part of the exploration.
Mass (rigidity) Poh vs Doh
A flexible pick is great for the single courses of a guitar but mandolin really does better with something more rigid. Now pick flexibility CAN be good for tremolo, but there's something to be said for the control found in a stiff pick. You can probably accomplish better articulation if the suppleness is in your wrist rather than your pick. Stiffness yields "Doh" instead of "Poh."
Size (thickness) Dee vs Tee
Along the same lines (almost inseparable) as mass is pick thickness. A thicker pick creates volume with less stress on the hand and wrist. Guitar players struggle with this notion, but the majority who switch to mandolin find a hefty pick is actually less work than a weak, wimpy one. Like using a heavier bowling ball to knock more pins over, once you get a basic degree of control down, the pick works for you. Heavy yields a round "Dee" instead of a tepid, front-loaded "Tee."
Bevel (edge) (Szee vs Tzee)
You'll only notice these in a pick that's bigger than 1.14 mm, but if the pick has a more rounded bevel, you get more of the string fundamental, rather than the "snap" of articulation. Some pick hand-crafters spend a lot of time making these, as machining to produce these is not particularly effective. That means the price will be significantly higher, but don't underestimate the power of a polished pick bevel, which yields "Szee" over "Tzee," especially in a succession of rapid notes.
Point (contact surface) Dih vs Kih
Pointy picks or round tip? The rounded shoulders of an isosceles Fender 351 triangle are used by many a player, but why have two corners to wear when you can have three? The extra mass of a larger rounded (346) triangle can be useful for bigger sound, too. Some like a real pointy tip to the pick, arguably a much more one-dimensional sound, and one which we'd struggle to be fond of. More corner surface also yields more string fundamental, which means more string, less pick snap in your sound. Think "Dih" instead of "Kih."
Construction (material) Dee vs Dah vs Doh
Celluloid, Acetate, Delrin, Acrylic, bone, horn, tortoise, tin, there are a ton of materials out there to make a pick, and each of these will affect tone, playability, mass, rigidity, you name it. These are going to be as personal as what flavor ice cream you get for your next Baskin-Robbins trip. We won't give any recommendations here except to say you can alter stiffness and mass by using any variation of pick materials. We happen to like the middle-of-the-road Acetate picks of the D'andrea Pro-plec line because of the balance of weight and stiffness, and the ability to produce a hefty pick thin enough to still have a healthy bevel (1.5 mm).
Other variations, cat tongue grip, holes for lightness and/or grab, fin picks (we don't know what the heck good these do) are all out there, and we'd never discourage experimentation. You still want to find a pick to settle in to so you can achieve some degree of consistency in your pick control.
December 4, 2014 | Cafe Interviews--compelling reading!
Looking for the opportunity to get into the heads of some of your favorite contemporary
mandolin authorities? We've had the privilege of personally interviewing some of the stars the last five years. You can harvest these insights and words of wisdom over at the Mandolin Cafe with the links listed below. Grab a mug of Java and sit down for some great reading.
10 Questions For Jason Anick Ted Eschliman interviews Jason Anick, jazz mandolin and violin virtuoso and new faculty member at Boston's Berklee College of Music.
July 1, 2012
10 Questions For John McGann Ted Eschliman interviews John McGann, the central figure behind the outstanding mandolin program at Boston's Berklee College of Music and his role as mentor to some of today's top upcoming stringed instrument stars.
July 24, 2011
10 Questions for Will Patton Ted Eschliman catches up with Vermont based jazz and swing mandolinist Will Patton for another Mandolin Cafe exclusive interview.
April 24, 2011
10 Questions for Aaron Weinstein Ted Eschliman catches up with jazz violinist and mandolinist Aaron Weinstein for another of our special feature interviews.
February 1, 2011
10 Questions For Don Julin We catch up with Traverse City, Michigan-based Don Julin, one of the busiest working mandolinists in the country. You may be hearing his music on TV and Film.
November 7, 2010
The Don Stiernberg Interview The Mandolin Cafe's message board members engage Chicago-based jazz mandolinist extraordinaire Don Stiernberg for another of our exclusive extended interviews.
March 17, 2010
The Paul Glasse Interview The Mandolin Cafe's message board members engage Austin, Texas based jazz mandolinist Paul Glasse for an extended interview.
December 15, 2009
November 27, 2014 | Zak Borden; Circle of 5ths Part 1
We've mentioned the music and lessons of Brazillionaires mandolinist and clinician, Zak Borden in the past. His YouTube video series is effective at explaining some of the important theory and mandolin pedagogy that aren't always easily extracted out of a book. His latest is one of our favorite concepts, the Circle of 5ths.
Our instrument is already tuned in 5ths, and Zak exploits this as a jumping off point for getting into the larger elements of flats and sharps, enharmonic keys, and even relative minors. Even if you already have a grip on these, it's always great to see an effective teacher explain them.
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...