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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."



« Stricken with pickin' | Main | The Basics of Auditioning Instruments »

March 22, 2007 | Signature Tone

Is that you playing?

We've mentioned a few thoughts on tone in a recent "Tips and Tricks." It really can't be over-appreciated, the notion that our tone and approach to creating the sound out of the instrument is more than just a matter of playing a bunch of notes...

Site Author, Ted Eschliman observes, "The desk out of my office I share with three co-workers has me physically positioned so that my back is almost to the door. It could be a little unnerving blind to coming and going of traffic, not knowing who's 'sneaking up' behind me, but the office is on a mezzanine halfway between the 1st and 2nd floor of a 90 year-old building. The creaking stairsteps almost always yield enough aural clues to tell me not only that someone is coming but who is coming.

"Even without the benefit of sight, it's easy to get familiar with and detect certain footwear (hiking boots, dress shoes, squeaky sneakers) as well as the pattern or cadence of certain 'signature' walks. Heavier people generally clomp, lighter folk patter; the energetic prance purposefully up the steps, the more sedentary sort of sloth their way. It's amazing what your ears can tell you about the person, and not just body type, but personality and often, mood. The fast and deliberate 'stomp' betrays a businesslike efficiency, the slow lazy 'plod' proclaims 'I'll get there when I get there.'"

This is great insight into a mandolinist's playing style and personality. Have you ever analyzed a player's technique and approach to execution? Notice what traits in playing character identify aspects of the person as well as the playing mechanism.

Meticulousness, the concern for accuracy on all the notes, not just some. Sustain, the aim for long linear melody, well-phrased and controlled. How much do these effectively indict the expressiveness of the artist? In a truly great performance, is this not a glimpse into the player's soul?

How about expression and aggressiveness? Does heavy repetitive pounding tell you about the musician's deliberateness, sense of purpose, or that he/she is just a clod? The opposite, a light pecker who barely stabs at the strings with the pick; Is this the mark of someone timid or insecure?

None of the observations are intended to pass judgment, merely observe. After you've listened to others play, try analyzing your own sound. Once a musician has mastered the basics of playing, it's time to reveal the soul. Technique becomes aesthetic, and if you're far enough along in your playing, take time out for some self-analysis; listen to recordings of your own playing. Not just the notes, listen to your music. What aspects of your personality and character are being revealed; sloppy, neat? Aggressive, soothing? Purposeful or playful? Striking or sweet?

Nothing wrong with being a little of either at different times. Matter of fact your playing would be quite boring if you didn't possess some aesthetic variety, but the question remains, what aspects of you are there in the music when you play?

Ponder, is your goal to sound like "you," and if so, what practice techniques can you adopt to make this so?

Posted by Ted at March 22, 2007 1:02 PM


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