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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."
March 6, 2014 | Reviewing Scurry Dominants
Straight out of "Play now--understand later," we go back to the 3rd of a 5-part series on Vamps we posted in 2012. We had the series repeated in the Mandolin Cafe Lessons page, as well, but for now, just play through the chords. Get familiar with them and try transposing them.
All we are doing is adding a 'ii V7' to the I. Repeat these over and over, you get the "Vamp" effect we've been studying. It's far more interesting than the I, I, I, I voice (yawn...) you might do if all the music called for was a D chord.
Take a look at other fretboard incarnations of the V7 chord:
We can inject these into other voicings of the 'I ii V7' in D:
Again, you can transpose these blocks all over the fretboard in other keys. Try moving everything up a fret. Makes playing in the key of Eb a snap!
Remember, we're sneaking the V7 where it wasn't before. Playing it fast, a sort of "scurry" dominant, you can inject the V7 chord just about anywhere in a song. Get in--get out. We going to take the trick one step farther and add the V7 of the ii chord, the B7, injecting the B7 blocks.
We'll add this to the progression, and note if you scurry this, it still balances spice with the integrity of the home key.
Add this to the other inversions:
We mentioned moving it up a fret to apply in the key of Eb. Now you can go all over the place with these. Does the progression sound familiar? (Check out the chords for "I've Got Rhythm.") You'll find this all over the place, and don't limit yourself to places where it's written out.
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.
While we don't think it can ever replace the line propelling sustain of good grip and right hand/left hand coordination, it is important to be able to play a healthy smooth tremolo, and Mike Marshall demonstrates a few important tips to help make this happen for you.
Position the angle of the neck up so you aren't stroking perpendicular to the strings.
Don't grip the pick too firmly, don't dig deeply into the string with the stroke.
Sweep less distance on the thinner strings.
Learn to exploit a range of tremolo tones by focusing on each string.
It's all about smoothness.
Want to learn more about Mike Marshall's online school?
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Hal Leonard has just released an intriguing collection of major artists' solo transcriptions from some of the world's most popular jazz recordings, "The Real Jazz Solos Book." Almost 450 pages, the book is written in the traditional "Real Book" format, with the jazz font notation and minimalist accepted chords, with style and tempo suggestions.
From the publisher's website: "This amazing collection transcribes nearly 150 of the best-known jazz solos (regardless of the instrument) exactly as recorded by icons of the trade, including: Autumn Leaves (Chet Baker) * Blue in Green (Toots Thielemans) * Blue Train (John Coltrane) * Bright Size Life (Jaco Pastorius) * Dolphin Dance (Herbie Hancock) * Footprints (Wayne Shorter) * I Do It for Your Love (Bill Evans) * I Mean You (Thelonius Monk) * Isreal (Bill Evans) * K.C. Blues (Charlie Parker) * Milestones (Miles Davis) * New Orleans (Wynton Marsalis) * Nuages (Django Reinhardt) * Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Oscar Peterson) * Spring Ain't Here (Pat Metheny) * Stella by Starlight (Ray Brown) * Waltz for Debby (Cannonball Adderley) * West End Blues (Louis Armstrong) * and many more. Some songs are presented multiple times featuring the unique solos by different artists who performed them."
It takes a little alteration of mindset, one usually expects the "Real Book" format in a live or stage setting, which is far from the intent of the book. It's not a performance tool, it's more pedagogical in nature. The idea is to listen to the greats (recordings can be purchased or sought on YouTube) and then glean some of their tricks to turning the vertical skeleton of a standard harmonic progression, and create a horizontal line. You get chord but also some of the stylistic personality of these legendary artists.
How great to get a visual sketch of some jazz audio repertoire, Chet Baker, Django Rheinhardt, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and even some more contemporary favorites like Tom Harrell, Pat Metheny, and Michael Brecker! The Larry Dunlap transcriptions are indexed by artist, and individual recordings are referenced by instrument.
Though it would take an advanced reading skill to breeze through the complexity of most of the solos, nothing says you can't slow them down mentally and map out the chord with the harmonic and melodic strategy of the soloist. For example, the Zoot Sims solo from "I'm Getting Sentimental Over you" starts out mirroring some of the contour of the original melody and later frolics in arpeggios, D7b9 G7 C7, connecting with passing tones and chromatic embellishments. You won't repeat his solo note for note, but you'll glean insight into the way he and other jazz geniuses create their individual art through understanding their process.
At $30 list price, it may seem a hefty investment, but you have to consider it an encyclopedia of lessons, 2-4 pages at a time from some of the best jazzers out there. It's also great to get into the mind of other instrumentalists--guitar, piano, bass, sax, and even vibes. This should create a wealth of new ideas for your own instrument. The author also encourages you to learn to transcribe on your own for even more gold.
February 13, 2014 | What is the key to being less robotic on stage?
Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus, Dr. Noa Kgeyama posed an interesting dilemma every musician face, the balance between musical precision and "soul." The full article is posted on the Bulletproof Musician website, here is the question:
You know those performances that can only be described as 'robotic'? Where there is nothing wrong with it per se, but for whatever reason you are neither engaged nor inspired, and ultimately leave the concert feeling kind of blah and a little empty inside? I have to admit that I have been accused of delivering such performances on more than a few occasions.
But I don't think it's just me. After all, we're sort of stuck between a rock and hard place. On one hand, we are supposed to be musical, communicative, and fully engaged in the music-making process. But on the other hand, it has to be flawless. Especially in auditions or competitions, where we learn pretty quickly that the slightest blemish can be grounds for a quick exit.
February 6, 2014 | Best of JM: Complexity leads to simplicity
Enjoy the popular archive material below. From May 24, 2012 | Complexity leads to simplicity
How do we make music simpler?
The interesting video we've embedded discusses a new path to embracing complexity. The counter-intuitive goal is to achieve simplicity. Speaker Eric Berlow shows how diagrams can map ecological, biological, and social problems visually in science. The irony is through colors, shapes, and graphs, we can make a complex set of elements much easier to understand by eliminating components, and not adding them.
Music can be approached similarly with our own mental "spaghetti" diagrams. We embrace theoretical elements that seem complex on their own, chord extensions, modes and boutique scales, sophisticated chord progressions and tonality shifts, but ultimately, the goal is to make music simpler. We learn modes to be able to internalize inherent harmonic (vertical/chord) structure to reproduce and communicate it melodically. We analyze chord patterns to reduce it to variations of tonic, dominant, and dominant preparation (simply, "ii V7 I"). We spot consistencies in form (verse, chorus, bridge) so we can wail away without having to think or organize in form.
Music theory should always be about making the music simpler, not more complex.
January 30, 2014 | Jason Anick on effective soloing
We had the opportunity to discuss with young Berklee string legend and John Jorgensen sideman, Jason Anick in a previous interview, the significance of music theory in soloing. The following is an excerpt of one of the Mandolin Cafe questions:
Ted Eschliman. I've asked the question of you in the April 2012 Mandolin Sessions finale about your approach to improvising, constructing good solos, and you mentioned the "equilibrium of intention and spontaneity." What do your credit your own understanding of the jazz language in chord structure, phrasing, swing, and feel? How much of what you plays is scales and arpeggios vs. just "blowing?"
Jason Anick. I have spent many years studying and dissecting classic solos from jazz greats like Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, John Coltrane, and Stephane Grappelli. The first thing I listen for and try to emulate is their feel. Then I study their harmony and try to understand what sounds good over the chord changes and why. With each solo I learn, I increase my musical toolbox and continue to form my own musical voice.
I supplement transcribing and listening with frequent scale and arpeggio studies. My goal is to learn all the modes, arpeggio inversions, and chords up the neck in what I call "mapping out the fretboard." All the notes are there, you just have to find and develop a relationship with them. I am always looking to discover new ways of approaching chords and harmony.
When I am improvising, I try not to think too much and instead let my inner inspiration and musical ear take over in hopes of constructing a cohesive musical statement. There are moments when I even surprise myself with what I improvise, and that makes it all worthwhile. The way I see it is the more thinking you do in the practice room, the less you have to do when you are on stage.
The following is an excerpt from our December 2011 Mandolin Sessions article tackling the minor scale. As you read, it's easy to get bogged down in the cerebral details, and really the point of the topic is ultimately application will default to context. It's good to know the ins and outs, but when you get down to it, what sounds good is always the answer.
Ask us what time it is, we tell you how to build a watch.
The simplest form of Minor Scale is the Natural Minor. It deviates from a Major Scale in that the 6th and 7th scale degrees are lowered a half step, or m6th and m7th. An A Major would include an F# and G#. In the A Natural Minor you'd have F natural and G Natural.
Here's the problem. Harmonically, the G natural does not pack the gravity of the magic half step drive. When you're spelling out the dominant V7 chord in the key (E G# B D), unless you raise that G to a G#, you have an awkward clash between the G and G#. The solution is always to raise the 7th scale degree, and if nothing else is changed, you have the Harmonic Minor Scale.
If you play it through, you'll notice (and finger) an awkward 3 half-step gap (3 fret) between the 6th and 7th scale degree. Playing through it melodically can give it a characteristic ethnic sound (Klezmer, for example), but in some music it doesn't flow as well as when you raise the 6th scale degree.
That's your solution (raising the 6th), but there's a problem when you have the F Major Chord based on the 6th scale degree (F, A, C, E). Again, you'd have a half-step clash with the F natural and F#. The compromise: raise them going in one direction (F#, G#), lower them going in the other (F, G).
The thing is, this is all pretty cerebral. There's no rule in real life you always raise going up, and always lower going down, because real music jumps around, skips, and turns. What do you do then?
We have to remember that scales are exercises, mere snippets of music and an incarnation of theory, not always application. You can drill these three forms all you want, but we'd argue you can waste valuable practice time mastering these. You would probably be better off spending time with yet another form of minor, the modal scale known as Dorian.
Ted Eschliman: We are all fascinated by the finesse and flourish of your chord melody arrangements. How do you approach these, as melody with chords, or the harmonic structure first and working the melody into those chords
Aaron Weinstein: It helps me to think of chord-melody in terms of the melody and accompaniment being two independent entities instead of the chord and the melody always being one big block voicing. There's all sorts of things you can do to add interest in the way you break up the chords or re-harmonize or work in some kind of moving bass line. There's really an endless stream of possibilities and everyone thinks differently so I'm always curious to see how other mandolinists go about this. I wish there were more folks doing it. But my approach to chord melody isn't new at all! Guitarists have been playing this way for decades. I'm just trying to catch up!
Ted Eschliman: As a follow-up to the previous question, with the mandolin being mostly a soprano instrument, how do you approach communicating the bass notes of the chord make-up in your chord melody arranging?
Aaron Weinstein: I don't think the range matters if you treat the notes appropriately. Just look at the master, J.S. Bach and the way he wrote for solo violin. It's completely self-contained. That's the gold standard.
The former child prodigy and first call New York swing fiddler brings up a crucial point in the best way to attack chord/melody. Many think in terms of voicing inversions of the chord that keep the melody constantly in the top voice. Block chord, block chord, block chord, etc.
Super if you are capable, especially in the context of ensemble when you have texture and rhythmic variation to spice up the arrangement. If it's just solo mandolin, this can get tedious after while. We like Aaron's approach in that you are thinking two things at once, integrating a specific harmonic accompaniment underneath the melody. It's far more interesting.
If you want to attempt this, take a lead sheet with melody and chords, master the melody, master the chords and THEN try to combine. If you're chord inversions aren't interesting, the arrangement won't be.
"She's not a jazzer. She doesn't have a big record collection. She doesn't drink coffee and she's not grumpy..."
What started out as one book and an LP record would turn out to be a jazz pedagogy dynasty. Jamey Aebersold, educator and publishing legend was recently interviewed about how he created an environment where somebody with virtually no jazz experience could take small steps through a little music theory and some Play Along tracks and become street proficient in improvisation.
We think the world of the Aebersold series, having mentioned his body of work a number of times the last decade. Much of our own approach to applying it to mandolin was "borrowed" from several of his earliest books. We recommend supercharging your individual practice sessions with his theme Play Along tracks. There's no better way to prepare yourself for a real jazz jam.
"You learn licks and you learn patterns and things, and you weave them together with the spontaneity that comes on the spur of the moment."
Purchase Jamey Aebersold Jazz on iTunes
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Many great books to choose, but our personal recommendations:
All Time Standards V25DS
Jam Session V34DS
Night and Day V51DS
Yesterdays (Jerome Kern) V55DS
Unforgetable Standards V58DS
Antonio Carlos Jobim (Latin) V98DS
Nothin' but Blues V02DS
Turnaround, Cycles, & "ii/V7s" V16DS
The "ii/V7/I" Progression V03DS
Legendary guitarist John Pisano demonstrates how a rhythm guitarist can super charge static progressions in the incredible YouTube clip below. Notice how he takes a long passage of a single chord, moves up inversions up the fretboard but in between, inserts passing chords to give the rhythm both energy and interesting harmonic color.