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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."



« August 2005 | Main | October 2005 »

September 27, 2005 | Holes

It's in the hole...
Oval or F?

Query: So just what IS the difference in sound between an F hole and an Oval hole mandolin?

Tonal characteristics aren't easy to pigeonhole (no pun intended) into text, but let's attempt a visual of this...

Place your index finger about three inches from your mouth. Pucker your mouth as if to say "FOOH," blow very fast and hard on your finger. Contemplate the sensation a moment.

Now do the same, except open your mouth to say "FAHH" blowing very slowly, as if to warm your finger.

Again compare this sensation to the first time. Repeat both these and not the difference in feel on you finger pad.

Cold air verses warm air--this is a good metaphor for comparing if not the sound, the effect of the air. Like the "F" hole, sound is forced out quickly, its projection and focus many feet from the player. (Often the player hears an entirely different tone character than audience.) The sound of the Oval hole washes out over the player, and is far more "personal," more intimate, but more prone to being buried in an ensemble sitiuation.

Which is better? If I've burned my finger on the toaster, I'm certainly going to blow fast air on, but if I've come in from a chilly walk on a February Nebraska morning, I'm aiming for slow warm air. It's not an issue of one being better than the other, it's a matter of context.

Question: Which should I own, an "F" or an "Oval" hole mandolin?
Answer: Both...

Posted by Ted at 10:52 AM


September 23, 2005 | Keep it clean

The effects of perspiration, rubbing, smudging though incremental, can be devastating over time. Oil from your skin (some of you are all two keenly aware of "acid sweat") is hard enough on eroding and oxidizing strings, but the finish of your instrument is something to be concerned about.

Of course, commercial polishes are out there for that occasional "spring cleaning," but the best preventative measure and protection for your instrument is a simple untreated soft cloth. Micro-fibre or chamois is great; you especially want to avoid Terry cloth (towel) or anything with harsh fibers. You may not notice immediately the long term destruction yielded of a bad cloth, but unfortunately once the damage is done, it's irreversible.

Wiping finger prints of the instrument daily is your best course. Make it a habit of wiping down your mandolin prior to putting the instrument in your case. This short term investment of time will prevent build up, keep your instrument looking nice, and preserve its overall value.

Posted by Ted at 8:50 AM


September 20, 2005 | Electric Five-Strings

Electric Five-String Mando Options: String Selection

If you've recently acquired a Five String Mandolin, it won't be long you're going to be thinking about replacement strings. We are a very small market, so there really isn't much choice out there outside of custom sets.

This isn't a huge problem in that there is not a lot of consensus what is "standard" in gauging, so you might end up purchasing single electric guitar strings (assuming ball end) and making your own set.

However, there is a cheaper option. Consider starting out with a six-string pack of electric strings, throw away the G-string, and your going to come pretty close. At the "economy of scale" of a larger market (electric guitar players) and it is well worth throwing away one of the strings out of the six to come up with a decent compromise. (Your unwound strings are the cheapest ones, anyway, or you could use it to slice cheese...)

For example, our favorite solution is a set of JS-110 Thomastik Electric Guitar Flatwound:
.010
.014

.018w (throw away...)
.023
.033
.044

Nice warm tone, dig the smooth flatwound feel. Good harmonic fundamental in the low side. Sounds great on our Mann Electric 5-string, but we tend to favor flatwounds on all our mandos, including the acoustics.

Head to the store and try your own. Want a beefier C string? No problem, move up in gauging on the whole set, or just buy a single. Either way, this will get you started toward the perfect string set-up for you!

Posted by Ted at 2:26 PM


September 16, 2005 | Fear of Flying

You may have already unraveled the often contentious issue of "Flying Fingers." The purists will dogmatize the significance of keeping the fingers close to the fretboard in readiness for subsequent notes. The hapless player will counter, "Yeah, but watch [insert name of favorite player], his/her fingers are all over the place. Why should I struggle to keep my Left Hand fingers down all the time."

Unless you're steeped in hammer-ons & pull-offs (which REQUIRE fingers that fly), you're much better off playing in stealth mode. Fingers "at the ready" and under the radar definitely will keep the connection between notes seamless and sustained, and this is an ability you deeply want in playing melodically, especially with closed fingering approach (less open strings).

The counter to this is you still need to avoid tension. If you are unnaturally forcing your fingers down, it defeats the whole purpose, restricting speed and flexibility. Balance this mindset by keeping your fingers at a 4-5 fret spread as often as possible, and as near to the fingerboard as comfortable. Think parallel (across) cover (not all bunched together in a ball), and not just down. If you do this in your scale drills, it will become natural in the rest of your playing.

Recommended exercise: Lydian DUDU

Posted by Ted at 9:28 AM


September 12, 2005 | Fear of Heights

Are you stuck in the lower frets because of an unnatural "fear of heights?"

Two things throw off novice mandolinists when attempting to leave "Home Base" of the lower 7 frets (AKA "1st Position"). First, it's the unfamiliarity of the note names and second, the frets are closer together and a bit disorienting.

The big advantage of approaching the fretboard with the FFcP strategy is note names are really secondary to scale degree function. Learning where your 5th, 3rd, root, etc are far more relevant in lightning quick improvisation, verses knowing the name of the note you are on. Weeks of FFcP practice will give you an almost intuitive sense of where you are in the key center, so let's address the real issue here, the challenge of acclimation in unfamiliar fret spacing.

Fingers that struggle to stretch in the lower frets will "overachieve" once moved into the higher. Once you get the FFcP comfortable, challenge yourself by putting mental orange cones below the 5th or 7th fret, and in addition to practicing the scale patterns there, try playing familiar tunes in the higher frets, exclusively (at least temporarily). Try an octave higher, too. If you're feeling bold and reckless, try improvising without allowing yourself the comfort and security of the lower 5 frets.

You'll be surprised at how easy this is, once you get the spacing down. It will be in your fingers, your ears, and THEN you can use the brain to figure out the names of the notes you're already playing.

Posted by Ted at 7:17 PM


September 9, 2005 | Stretching

Playing mandolin is just like any other athletic activity. Like tennis, golf, running, it's about the calculated discipline of muscle development. The issue of warming up or stretching is just as relevant to the fretboard as it is to the basketball court.

Smaller muscles take a different approach than larger group (thigh, shoulder, and pectorals), bearing a different kind of liability. Fingers and wrists aren't as apt to sprain or pull, but they are certainly prone to cramping, stress, or worse, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Us "Old Farts" have to really watch it, but you're never too young to start thinking about proper stretching or instrument acclimation. Attention here is critical long term, but quite beneficial short term, as well.

Not to dismiss them completely, but JazzMando staff is not terribly excited about those hand exercise gadgets or gimmicks. There is no substitute for good isometrics or better, just using the fretboard in slow scales and arpeggios.

We recommend a good discipline of 10-15 minutes of FFcP fretboard work at a moderately slow tempo, concentrating on precision and tone BEFORE jumping into any literature or other exercises. Play each finger position, starting on the "G" string, and follow up the same starting on the D course. Mix it up and start in different fret positions each day, so that over several weeks, you will have done this all up and down the fretboard.

Just 15 minutes; this small investment of time will pay you back many times over in control, dexterity, and accuracy!

Posted by Ted at 11:02 AM


September 6, 2005 | Focus

Focus
One Thing at a Time!...

If you're developing Right Hand picking technique, don't distract yourself with difficulties of the Left Hand. Students often try tackling too many aspects of playing at the same time.

In your daily drilling, if one of your goals is a solid "through" stroke with your pick, make your note selection in the Left Hand something familiar and subconscious. One octave scales, or even four note (tetra-chord) patterns are good for keeping the Left Hand simple so as to achieve that maximum "ping" out of your pick stroke.

Listen how well the pick makes the sound, how long the stroke is and the precision of its return. Here how smoothly the decay of each note blends seamlessly into the start of the next note. Nothing wrong with slow tempo, either! Get the Right Hand on "auto pilot," and then you can go about the business of working the Left Hand.

One thing at a time!

Posted by Ted at 4:20 PM


September 3, 2005 | Metronome Techniques Part 2

Subdivision

Many new metronomes come with a terrific subdivision feature. Beats can be divided audibly (sometimes visually) into eighth, triplet, or sixteenth notes.

The best players have a highly honed sense of timing that goes beyond keeping steady time. It's that innate sense of division at the smallest level. They don't think 1 , 2 , 3 , 4; they think (same tempo):

1 - ee - an - da, 2 - ee - an - da, 3 - ee - an - da, 4 - ee - an - da.

This is why their playing always lines up so well and the beat is never lost. Dare we say it isn't always natural; often it is trained...

We like the Boss TU-80 Chromatic Tuner/Metronome (hey, it's a tuner, too!). Dial in the sixteenths and go.

Develop your "Inner Drummer!"

Posted by Ted at 10:55 AM


September 1, 2005 | Metronome Techniques Part 1

Backbeat

There is no substitute for practicing with a metronome! Nobody has perfect timing; this is a skill that must be developed. You can't do this without a mechanical "referee," a good metronome. You don't have to spend a fortune to get a decent one either!

We like the Seiko SQ-50 for it's woodblock-like tone, although there are a number of other models of varying sophistication around the JazzMando Research Facilities. (We'll mention other options, later...)

A helpful metronome technique is to set the metronome at 60 beats per minute, and think of the click as a woodblock (or better, Hihat cymbal) and hear 1, 2, 3, 4, emphasizing beats 2 and 4 as the backbeat. In other words, the silence between clicks become beats 1 & 3, the metronome click is the audible 2 & 4. (Of course, you can vary the tempo faster or slower, but this is a good place to start.)

This space also gives you time to hear what your doing, and the metronome becomes the "reference point," rather than a proactive rhythmic drive, putting more pressure on you, the player to develop your own good sense of time.

Posted by Ted at 12:48 PM



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