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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."



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October 29, 2006 | Drilling for tone

Good players practice until they get every note right...
Great players practice until they can't get it wrong.

Think about what it is that makes great players sound good. It's not just about precision and tone. It's an unconscious consistency of precision and good tone. Most anybody who's played for a while can sound as good as Mike Marshall for about four notes, but only Mike Marshall can sound like Mike Marshall for more than 90 minutes straight. Flawless, musical, creative, one can go an entire concert without experiencing a wrong or unintentionally half-baked note out of this marvelous musician.

Mandolin tone-masters like Marshall, David Grisman, Don Stiernberg, Chris Thile, John Reischman, all offer unsurpassed smoothness between well-articulated notes. You don't hear that annoying fret buzz, the "frack" of a quasi-depressed note or errant pick that has struck the string weakly or prematurely to position. For one to sound like them, one must be committed to making EVERY note sound righteous and pure. This can only come from disciplined practice and attention to sound. Never relenting, always concentrating on maximum tone with each note, a measure played wrong must be repeated, not just for accuracy but utmost sonic potential.

How do they do it?

Discipline and ear are the keys here. (Don't for a moment think these boys haven't paid their dues woodshedding in the practice room!) Always play slowly enough to be clean, never allow yourself to pick up the tempo until your playing is right and perfect. It starts with scales and arpeggios--the fundamentals worked on during your warm-ups. Set the bar high for yourself here. If even these aren't done properly, you can't expect your soloing or literature to be correct later, either.

We suggest (at least) ten minutes of warm-ups every day where ALL you do is listen for good tone. Set (seemingly) impossible high standards for each and every note these ten minutes. Expect nothing less and continue to take this high standard into the rest of your practice session.

Drill this approach, this mindset into your playing; make perfection an unconscious choice.



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Posted by Ted at 07:42 AM


October 25, 2006 | Outsideshore.com

From Outsideshore.com, some helpful instruction by Marc Sabatella, jazz pianist, educator and impressionist painter. In particular, we enjoyed his thoughts and suggestions on ensemble playing, "Playing With Others."

Here he discusses ensemble dynamics, starting songs, what to do in the middle, how to end, and isues to think about and accomplish as the song is developing. Keen insights in "telling a story" with the music, he gives some thoughts on trading fours (exchanging soloing duties in shorter four bar chunks), and the importance of building climax and release.

You'll also appreciate his tips on dealing with things that can go wrong, like if members are lost in the song, and what one can do to get back on track.

Take some time to read the article, and browse around the rest of his website!

Playing With Others

Outside Shore Website

Posted by Ted at 08:01 PM


October 19, 2006 | How do you think?

In our contact section we received the following question, and it's a good one:

"I have been playing the mandolin for a little over a year and I know just enough theory to understand the technical (scales, modes) but not the practical. I would like to know how a musician thinks in regard to modes. For example if you want to play a phrase in D Dorian, do you see the fretboard as a C major scale but concentrate on the D to D or it or do you think of a D min with a raised 6th, or do you see a Dorian pattern as you do a major pattern with the FFcP?"


Understand, there is no single consensus on this. We'll discuss what works around the JazzMando laboratory, but we'll also tell you there are musicians far superior that might conceive it differently. This is just one answer to the question, among many...

We don't teach a Dorian in D is just a C major scale that starts on D. It makes sense to think of its "D-ness" by thinking it a D major scale with a lowered 3rd and lowered 7th; in the same vein, try to conceive of a Dorian as it's own entity, which is more like thinking in "words," rather than "letters." It's a more advanced use that eventually comes with heavy use and experience.

In regards to using the FFcP for music theory, FFcP pedagogy is more of a tactile approach than cerebral. Like driving home from work or school, you don't think of each street name or intersection as you pass by, though maybe you did the first couple days on the job. Your directions are subconscious, allowing you to enjoy the scenery along the way. The benefits of FFcP diligence should provide a similar benefit.

Again, everybody is different. If you have a pretty heavy theory background, long before picking up the mandolin, you may very well approach our little 8-string wonder in an entirely different manor than someone who started music just playing Folk/Bluegrass guitar or mandolin. If you are classically trained and dependent on notation, your brain will also be wired differently than someone who plays strictly by ear.


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Posted by Ted at 08:51 PM


October 16, 2006 | Thoughts on Speed

This just in from master multi-instrumentalist & Berklee faculty member, John McGann, "Really good advice on "speed" from a clarinetist- worth reading!!!" Boston Clarinetist, Sherman Friedland addresses the question, "How do increase my fingerwork speed?"

Read article.

Many think it's innate ability that allows speed, but even the masters owe their performing skills to diligence and discipline. Virtuoso Mandolinist Evan Marshall weighs in on speed and control, "Speed is a by-product of control. Control is never a by-product of speed."

Further thoughts on developing control: The Regressive Method.


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Posted by Ted at 05:53 AM


October 13, 2006 | Back to the Wall?

The perpetual search for rich, resonant tone can be a daunting one. Sometimes it's the simple things we change, not just in string gauges or construction, pick shape, or adjusting the action and frets on the instrument, but in the way we hold the instrument.

Some instruments with vibrant backs can be opened up merely by being aware of how much they are touched as we play. If you've ever tapped on a drum head, you've discovered that vibrations are strongest in a circle between dead center and the edge of the drum. Middle of the drum isn't particularly hot, and the closer you get to the edge isn't live either, but inches away from either can be affected by putting your finger on the head.

Drummers have all kinds of ways of addressing this. Usually, they WANT to deaden some ring, some of the high, obnoxious overtones. They will used anything from expensive high-tech accessories to duct tape and newspapers, but its usually a science that is inexact and personal.

Mandolinists, however, want maximum vibration and need to be conscious of contact with the abdomen while playing. Bear in mind we are all different in size and shape, and this will vary with the degree of resonance of the wood in the back, where (and if) contact is made, and how close to the edge the instrument rests. There is no single, one-size-fits-all solution, simply an awareness that the one of the two biggest hunks of wood on your ax needs space to breathe.

Adjustments you can make include how far from the side the instrument rests and the angle from which it juts from your chest or stomach. You can rest this on the deader outer circle of the back and move the mandolin at a greater angle, headstock forward. This may not be comfortable to you. Strap height is another variable, but you also want your hands and wrists to remain unrestricted.

Lap playing works, too. Some of us still need the strap to assist in monitoring the distance, but many classical players will rest the instrument on a tacky cloth on their leg while they play. Again, you'll want to experiment, as the solutions out there are as individual and different as the variety of player sizes and instruments.

There's always the Tone-gard. We use this on several of our more resonant back instruments, and it not only breathes a new dimension of no-fuss richness, it keeps the back from getting scratched or marked. In our opinion, these are not expensive when you consider they preserve the value of your instrument AND open up your tone.

Check out the website: Tone-gard

Posted by Ted at 06:28 AM


October 05, 2006 | Moving on Up

Perhaps you've already discovered this, but we have the 2nd Part of our FFcP lessons in the Mandolin Cafe Lessons section. If you've unraveled to logic of this approach to attacking scales, you may already be comfortable in the lower frets with these exercises. If you've gone the next step, you've moved them up the fingerboard, but how about combining them into multiple octave drills?

We've done this in an exercise called "Moving on Up," and it does just that, gives you several opportunities for transition between areas of the fingerboard. The key here is not just mastering them in the different positions, but being able to move smoothly, shifting seamlessly.

Check it out: FFcP Lesson 2

Print off the exercise, Moving on Up PDF

While you're there, check out the treasures of mandolin pedagogy in the Cafe Lessons section.

Posted by Ted at 07:36 PM



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