December 18, 2014 | Snap, crackling, and/or pop. Cold weather shipping.
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.
Posted by Ted at 6:56 PM
December 11, 2014 | Top Picks reprise
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.
JazzMando Signature Proplec pick
JazzMando Signature V-pick
Posted by Ted at 2:26 PM
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.
An Interview with Don Julin, author of Mandolin Exercises For Dummies
Ted Eschliman interviews author Don Julin about his follow up book "Mandolin Exercises For Dummies."
April 17, 2014
Ted Eschliman Interview
Mandolin Cafe creator Scott Tichenor interviews the site author of JazzMando
September 29, 2013
An Interview with Don Julin, author of Mandolin For Dummies
Ted Eschliman interviews author Don Julin about his forthcoming book "Mandolin For Dummies."
September 9, 2012
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
More Mandolin Cafe interviews.
Posted by Ted at 3:07 PM
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.
Video Link: Circle of 5ths Part 1
YouTube channel: Zak Borden
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Posted by Ted at 6:56 AM
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
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 JazzAdvice.com 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
Respect the Silence
Posted by Ted at 3:58 PM
October 23, 2014 | Freeing us from the tyranny of the bar line
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
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