December 5, 2013 | Best of JM: Fiddling with Flying Fingers
Enjoy the popular archive material below.
From December 3, 2009 | Fiddling with Flying Fingers
A personal journey into violining has us pondering the issue of finger posture and the notion of "Flying Fingers." This is timely, as we've had a few readers inquire about our approach to fingering awkward 6 fret spans when the leading tone (7th) of a scale or chord calls for a half step fingering. The question comes up, "Should I slide my finger down to the lower fret, or should I finger it with that awkward span to the pinky?"
In "real life" playing, we think the answer is situational. Both approaches work, but we suggest in practice, the "finger calisthenics" or your regime, you need to practice developing the strength need in this span. Our FFcP exercises are quite clinical in this tactic. You'll see a lot of "8th fret" fingerings even in the First Position of the fretboard.
It's the same skill you develop in keeping a stealth set of fingers, NOT lifting them too far off the fingerboard even when they aren't in use. As we mentioned in a earlier article, violinist pretty much have to do this any way for spatial reference; the frets alloy a liberal dose of sloppiness in our mandolin playing.
This is a good skill to have when slurring on the violin; you can't get away with sliding down in a slur bowing. Not only does it blur the sound, you decrease the pressure when lengthening the string (descending), and that manifests as a loss of volume. On the mandolin even with the frets to lend distinction to the pitch, there will be times when you want to emphasize the lower pitch, and throwing a strong pinky down will help aurally as well as conceptually.
Try playing the beginning of "Tico Tico no Fuba" using the pinky for the leading tone (instead of the 1st finger slide) and you'll see what we mean.
Another look at Flying Fingers
Let's review. Why Closed Fingerings again?
How do I hold it?...
Fear of Flying
Posted by Ted at 8:51 AM
November 28, 2013 | Twelve Benefits of Music Education
Much has been written about the physical and spiritual benefits of music for children. We don't think these stop at childhood, either. Below are 12 points to consider what participating in music does for the brain, coordination in addition to cultural and social benefits.
Twelve Benefits of Music Education
Early musical training helps develop brain areas involved in language and reasoning. It is thought that brain development continues for many years after birth. Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain's circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds.
There is also a causal link between music and spatial intelligence (the ability to perceive the world accurately and to form mental pictures of things). This kind of intelligence, by which one can visualize various elements that should go together, is critical to the sort of thinking necessary for everything from solving advanced mathematics problems to being able to pack a book-bag with everything that will be needed for the day.
Students of the arts learn to think creatively and to solve problems by imagining various solutions, rejecting outdated rules and assumptions. Questions about the arts do not have only one right answer.
Recent studies show that students who study the arts are more successful on standardized tests such as the SAT. They also achieve higher grades in high school.
A study of the arts provides children with an internal glimpse of other cultures and teaches them to be empathetic towards the people of these cultures. This development of compassion and empathy, as opposed to development of greed and a "me first" attitude, provides a bridge across cultural chasms that leads to respect of other races at an early age.
Students of music learn craftsmanship as they study how details are put together painstakingly and what constitutes good, as opposed to mediocre, work. These standards, when applied to a student's own work, demand a new level of excellence and require students to stretch their inner resources.
In music, a mistake is a mistake; the instrument is in tune or not, the notes are well played or not, the entrance is made or not. It is only by much hard work that a successful performance is possible. Through music study, students learn the value of sustained effort to achieve excellence and the concrete rewards of hard work.
Music study enhances teamwork skills and discipline. In order for an orchestra to sound good, all players must work together harmoniously towards a single goal, the performance, and must commit to learning music, attending rehearsals, and practicing.
Music provides children with a means of self-expression. Now that there is relative security in the basics of existence, the challenge is to make life meaningful and to reach for a higher stage of development. Everyone needs to be in touch at some time in his life with his core, with what he is and what he feels. Self-esteem is a by-product of this self-expression.
Music study develops skills that are necessary in the workplace. It focuses on "doing," as opposed to observing, and teaches students how to perform, literally, anywhere in the world. Employers are looking for multi-dimensional workers with the sort of flexible and supple intellects that music education helps to create as described above. In the music classroom, students can also learn to better communicate and cooperate with one another.
Music performance teaches young people to conquer fear and to take risks. A little anxiety is a good thing, and something that will occur often in life. Dealing with it early and often makes it less of a problem later. Risk-taking is essential if a child is to fully develop his or her potential.
An arts education exposes children to the incomparable.
Carolyn Phillips is the author of the Twelve Benefits of Music Education. She is the Former Executive Director of the Norwalk Youth Symphony, CT.
Posted by Ted at 8:10 AM
November 21, 2013 | Words from Will Patton
In April of 2011, we had the privilege of interviewing Vermont acoustic jazz string master Will Patton in the Mandolin Cafe online Ten Questions series.
Question: A mandolin fronting a jazz ensemble is a bit of a rarity. What barriers do you see in public perception of the mandolin as a legitimate jazz instrument, and how do you/we get over them?
Will Patton: Great question, one I've given a bit of thought to. First off, I've found that context again is important. The mandolin as a lead instrument is just going to sound better surrounded by violins, flutes, guitars, string bass and the like than by trombones, trumpets, sax, Hammond B-3 - it's just in the nature of the timbre. I once sat in on a blues with a happening jazz group, played what I felt was a cooking solo, but when the tenor player came in with this big, rich tone out of the Coleman Hawkins school, I felt a bit silly. Not my context.
Secondly, I think if most large cities had 8-10 mandolin players who knew 200 standards off book, could read and transpose, solo convincingly in any key and lay out changes behind other soloists, the perception of jazz mandolin would be some different. We expect this of jazz guitarists, but it's the exception for a mandolin player.
Read entire interview: 10 Questions for Will Patton
Tips on improvising from the Pros; Will Patton
Looking back: What the Pros say about Good Tone
Will Patton on Amazon
Posted by Ted at 6:27 AM
November 14, 2013 | Animated Sheet Music; So What
There's nothing like reinforcing the sense of hearing with that of sight. Sometimes we can take advantage of the visual cue to prompt creativity, as long as we don't let ourselves get trapped by them. We don't want to be a slave to sheet music, but there is something to be said about the benefit of roadmaps.
We've enjoyed studying some of the Animated Sheet Music YouTube videos for their insights into some of the classic Bebop performances of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. We've embedded one below for you to sit back and enjoy. Sometimes seeing how Miles Davis worked around an Em7 chord is as helpful a just listening to it.
Video Link: Animated Sheet Music: "So What" by Miles Davis
Get sheet music: Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
Minor 7th chord streams. So What?
Minor 7th Chord Streams. Under the hood.
Vamps. Minor modal
The Muse Continuum. Improvisation and Inspiration.
Posted by Ted at 4:51 PM
November 7, 2013 | Best of JM: Octave Splicing
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From October 9, 2008 | Octave Splicing
The beauty of the 5ths tuned instruments is pattern movability. That's a constant theme in our frequent FFcP nuggets and offerings--learn a riff, scale segment, or arpeggio in one place, you can copy it to another string or fret in a different region of the fretboard.
There are two ways to do this. One is to completely move everything using the same exact fingering, the other is to start the pattern with a different finger, maintain the same note relationships but use a different incarnation of the four FFcP patterns. It's obvious in the A scale we've shown above, and could approach an A Maj7 arpeggio or A blues riff repeated in a second octave, as well.
After getting familiar with FFcP, you might start getting a little too comfortable staying in the same section of the fretboard. It's a good idea to move around though, taking the next step of adjusting known patterns above the 7th fret where the spacings are closer, and less familiar in feel. You'll also want to be able to connect these nuggets in a smooth way and start thinking how you can extend your playing across the fretboard, and not just across the strings. Starting a two octave riff on the 2nd fret and ending it on the 11th is not a natural skill, and something to nurture and develop over time.
The toughest thing to do in the transition is making the shift in hand position seamless. The simplest way to start is with major scales, but you can do this with pentatonics and 7th chord arpeggios too. Focus very hard on that shift, making it as natural as you can.
Two benefits you get from this, an even deeper mental and tactile understanding of how notes and their functions stack up all over the neck, and the ability to extend a solo phrase into a 2nd or even 3rd octave... Fearlessly!
Try splicing your own octave patterns into two octave patterns in your practice regimen.
Leading Off Third Base: The benefits of third position fingering.
Moving on up. And around.
Enjoy 2 Page PDF: Moving on Up
Posted by Ted at 6:15 PM
October 31, 2013 | Paul Glasse on composition and line
We enjoy picking the brains of the pros on how they go about creating good improvisation. In our December 2009 interview with Paul Glasse, the question came up, and as usual, Paul came up with some great answers. The following is an excerpt you'll find helpful on devising your own strategy.
Question: What note choices or avoidance thereof do you find helpful in designing hip sounding bebop lines? Are there particular "snippets" of note patterns that you find always seem to come up? Is there a method you use when first attacking a jazz standard? i.e. find all the 3rds and 7ths in the chords, etc... I'm looking for the fishing pole and net here so I can try and come up with my own fish.
Paul Glasse: I think when I first started trying to play swing, and bebop that I tended to err on the side of playing too many roots to the chords, spelling things out too literally and just naturally trying to neatly tie up all the melodic loose ends. As I've played and listened more I've become more familiar with jazz vocabulary and in the process become more comfortable with melodic ideas that unfold gradually and don't always resolve themselves neatly right off the bat. I think that it's OK to pose a melodic question.
When first attacking a jazz standard I really don't use one specific system. I try to learn the chords and melody. I look for how the two work together--that is be able to play the melody and understand how it relates to the chords and vice versa. I generally try to solo over the chords a few times and deal with things in a few different positions and or registers, making sure to hone in on any unique harmonic moments of the particular tune.
While I don't have a system for it, I guess I do, at any given moment of a song, want to be dialed in on what's going on harmonically--yes, 3rds and 7ths are really important. Idiomatically, the drop from a root to the 3rd below it crops up a lot in bop lines as does the overlaying of blues vocabulary with various other approaches, such as chord substitution or alteration of extension tones. If the original tune has lyrics it can be helpful to know those--just another route to really getting inside the song.
In an ideal world we could all just create endless, inventive, melodic variations on tunes without thinking through any kind of technical filter. I think, while we might have times that this actually works, in truth, most of us are aided by some technical stuff. The technical thinking may help us figure out some safe things to play, or might help us identify (and find on the instrument) what we're already hearing in our head. I find that I play best when I'm able to bring several of these levels to bear--either at the same time, or at least rapidly transition between approaches. Within a given tune there may be sections that I can approach very intuitively, without much conscious thought, and other points when I may have to play more deliberately to technically negotiate a harmonic hairpin turn in the tune. Invariably, the more any of us plays, the more we just hear "better" and can increasingly trust our ears and instincts.
Paul Glasse Interview
Thin-slicing and Music Theory
Building a solo
Going beyond "playing."
Visit: Paul Glasse Reverb Nation Page
Music on Amazon
Posted by Ted at 1:32 PM
October 24, 2013 | Best of JM: Sneaking Theory
Enjoy the popular archive material below.
From October 9, 2008 | Sneaking Theory
We frequently include in our weekly JazzMando Tip of the Week column, answers to very good questions we get from our Contact feature. We're serious about responding, and when we feel there will be benefit to a multitude of students, we'll share these with you. This one is about the initial FFcP exercises, from Marcus in Iowa. Note these are also available as a free download here on the website: FFcP lesson, and PDF. (Repeated in the Mandolin Cafe Lessons resource.)
I've started the book. My pinky is quite stout already, lucky me. So what are these designations vi7, ii7, and the like that I'm seeing for individual measures in the early exercises? (I might have typed these designations incorrectly since I'm doing this from work, but I think there are four of them).
These are chord designations, and we go into a little more detail on these page 53 of the book. You're basically spelling out chords, the six (vi7), the two (ii7), the five (V7). It's our way of "sneaking in" music theory through the physical. The intent is that after several weeks of working through these, getting them into the fingers, and ultimately the ears, an "Aha!" moment will happen. "Oh, I've been playing the "Doo wop" chords all along, and I didn't even know it!" (Think the chords to "Heart and Soul" or "Why do Fools Fall in Love?")
We didn't want to confuse people with too much theory early in the book, but it's important to at least give it a little lip service. Again, the important directive at this early stage is firmly establishing the "tactile." Through repetition, the fingerings become intuitive, so that eventually, the brain can start attacking the more cerebral aspects of harmonic/melodic construction.
Once these "labels" mean something, you'll have developed a higher brain concept that will enable you to repeat key improvisational discoveries, licks and nuggets from one tonal center to another, consciously and intuitively.
Hey. Buy the book!...
Getting Into Jazz Mandolin
Suspicion of Melodic Intent
The Jazz Brain; Improv
Posted by Ted at 8:26 AM
October 17, 2013 | Mandolin Family Specs
Once you get outside of the sizes of a standard mandolin body and its scale (generally within 1/4" of 14"), things can get confusing as to how big a mandola, octave, and mandocello should be. It can be most annoying when shopping for string sizes or determining tensions for a custom gauge set of strings.
It really gets dicey when you compare European and North American terminology for what a mandola and octave vs. a tenor or alto mandola might be. Throw in the individual cottage builder experimentation, and you'll find quite a variety of size variation, and sometimes even tuning. Many players even experiment with using octave pairs on the wound strings.
Nothing says you can't experiment, but we'd like to propose one source as a "go-to" standard for sizing. Because Bruce Weber and crew has done such a masterful, prolific job of delivering a wide range of mandolin family instruments domestically and around the world, we'll use his page as a good reference.
Click on the image below to get to the Weber Mandolin Measurements page for more detail.
Website: Mandolin Family Specs
As we mentioned, the variation gets broader the bigger the instrument. We tend toward the smaller body scales, 16" vs 17" on mandola, but this is all personal preference. Anything larger than that requires a different approach than the FFcP system for closed pattern scales and chords. Factor in hand size and music style as well. Plus you can sacrifice some volume with the smaller size variation.
Posted by Ted at 9:09 AM
October 10, 2013 | Tim O'Brien on mandolin warmup exercises
In the following D'Addario produced video, mandolin royalty Tim O'brien demonstrates a theoretically simple approach to a scale warm-up using the simple notes of the A scale. He plays the scale starting on different notes, and keeps the music theory simple by not mentioning what more advanced students will recognize as modes (dorian, mixolydian, lydian, etc.) because the intent is to get you to move the scale up the neck.
Sometimes labels only confuse...
Video Link: Tim O'Brien On Mandolin Warmup Exercises
He makes it look simple, but don't worry about speed right away. Aim for precision, and take advantage of his tip on using the A notes as reference points in the scale. He's in essence splicing a 1st FFcP scale in the bottom with a 4th FFcP in the second octave, so if you're fluent in the FFcP approach, this may very well come easy.
He also breaks it up into chords (AKA arpeggios), which can also be the basic building blocks of your improvisation. He breezes through them toward the end, but don't let that intimidate you. It might take a few days (or weeks) before you can get up to speed with them.
Another very good tip is his suggestion to start the exercise from the top note of the scale and work your way down. This would be an excellent way to run your FFcP exercises. We don't play our melodies down to up all the time, and it's good to develop your own mental reference points practicing this way.
Posted by Ted at 5:49 AM
October 3, 2013 | Best of JM: Guitar to Mandolin
Enjoy the popular archive material below.
From May 27, 2010 | Guitar to Mandolin
Many mandolinists have taken that path of branching out from months or years of playing guitar to our small 8-string wonder. Whether they are driven from (in the case of a frustrated guitarist) or drawn to, the mandolin offers a whole new world of sonority, expression, and challenges. We want to explore some important concepts for those pondering that move.
First thing to remember: It's not a little guitar.
Despite the similarities, strings, frets, pick, wood, etc, the mandolin is really an instrument of its own. The size and tuning are the most obvious difference, but there is a common misconception in how small hands have to be to play the mandolin. While a guitar player is used to chromatic one finger-one fret in most playing, the mandolinist (like the violinist) skips a 1/2 step and for the most part things of the instrument diatonically. In other words, one note per note of the scale, occasionally 1/2 steps but mostly two frets at a time per finger. Fingers spread from 1st to 4th fret will stretch 5-1/8", at the most on a guitar. On a mandolin that same index to pinky stretch at the most is 4-5/8", 1st fret to 7th.
It should make you chuckle when a guitar player bemoans, "I could never play the mandolin; my fingers are too big."
It's critical to understand the three things a mandolin does well in departing from the "little guitar" approach: tremolo, soprano melody, and cross picking. Yes, you can do the clacky, clacky accompaniment chord thing, but we'll explain in a moment the dangers in making this your only skill.
Tremolo. The double course and lighter gauge mandolin strings make a tremolo work far better than you could dream. Even Django Rheinhardt was teased about making his instrument sound mandolin-like. It's associated with it in Europe literally for centuries. This is an effect to exploit, so take the time to master it.
Soprano Melody. When the rest of the band plays lightly and the mandolin is exposed playing the melody, the angels sing. That lighter timbre is a welcome contrast from the heavier instruments. You need to master a smooth sense line, notes bleeding from one to the next. Connect, connect, connect, all the time. Shorter strings decay quicker so you need a good articulation with the pick and an even more secure left hand grip in between the frets.
Cross picking. You won't have the multiple finger pick attack of the banjo, but that piercing flow of notes isn't always what the audience wants to hear. The mandolin allows a subtle subdivision that lends the ensemble energy without being overbearing. Good cross-picking technique is well worth the investment of time.
What not to wear.
We mentioned the "clacky, clacky" chording thing. It's not horrible when the mandolin is solo, although without the lower tenor register, the mandolin makes for a tepid accompaniment instrument. It's okay for variety sake, but after several songs, the ear wants to hear some bass. Worse, when you have mandolin and guitar playing clacky chords together, they have to be impeccably in sync or it sounds awful. Bad news too--the mandolin gets blamed no matter who is off. The audience hears rhythmic irregularity, and ultimately, the higher instrument gets the blame. You are far better off lending the band the simplified back beat "chop" of a steady, metronomic pulse.
It's great if you can do mandolin and guitar. Not everyone can handle the multi-instrumentalist switching back and forth thing, and it's not uncommon to see a mandolinist completely give up the guitar. One direction you can go to avoid confusion is to pick up a tenor guitar which is tuned CGDA like a mandola, or sometimes like an octave mandolin GDAE. Same with a tenor banjo, but we'll leave that for another time.
Line, Please? The importance of sustain.
Complements of you...
Punctuation and percussion; what you can learn from a good drummer.
Plays Well With Others...
Posted by Ted at 1:23 PM
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