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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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July 31, 2008 | Three-Pronged Education

Ten year-old Coco is blessed with an excellent violin teacher, Nissa de la Torre. Though she's only been taking a year, she's flourished with a well-balanced approach to her instrument, rewarded instantly and developmentally with lifelong musical skills through a three-pronged philosophical approach we adult students could benefit from. Let's look at Nissa's three elements of pedagogy:

Classic/Traditional. The understanding of musical notation is an inarguably important skill. The ability to plow through centuries of literature as well as exchange ideas with other musicians efficiently and effectively has served public and private education since the invention of the printing press. Unfortunately, there are many adult players who skipped this skill in becoming a musician, and while they've been able to get by (some perhaps thrive), there are often times they feel they are missing out on a world of musical opportunity. Best to learn early, but it's never too late to start. Sightreading sessions can be an adventure unto themselves.

Aural/Suzuki. The Suzuki School has decades of success getting students to play well, and listen effectively. Children learn literature and elementary bowing by rote, completely outside of graphical representation. After all, it is about the music not "the notes," and while internalizing music doesn't happen for some as quickly as visually, there is something to be argued about sight being a distraction.

Question: How do you get an electric guitar player to play quietly?
Answer: Put a piece of sheet music in front of him.

Early on, the concept of rich and full tone supersedes reading ability. Posture and physical awareness of the instrument is not impeded by the intense focus of the eye on the printed page. You can go to YouTube and find excellent examples of young artists performing quite successfully.

Folk/Fiddle Tunes. Many of us who tried to leap from the printed pages were verbally abused by our teachers for daring to deviate or reinterpret music in our early education. This is a shame, because so much great folk literature has been handed done solely through oral tradition. A basic tune is introduced and embellished; the performer has a connection with the past and an organic experience reworking it in the present.

Each of these elements are legitimate in themselves, but the best kind of training will enlist all three. One who can read, hear, and be free to embellish will find perpetual enjoyment in life making music.

CocoViolin.jpg

Posted by Ted at 01:39 PM


July 24, 2008 | Bringing it home

Physical conditioning can be sterile and academic. Military calisthenics, push-ups, pull-ups, squats are great for the body, but do very little for the mind, other than a freshly oxygenated bloodstream to the brain. (Still not bad to have, though...)

Your practice routine can be this way, too. Running through the FFcP drills can be terrific for your fingers, but there comes a point where you want to "bring it home," make it applicable to the songs and literature you enjoy performing. When you start to get these into your fingers, the next step in greater understanding is to apply them to the Tonal Centers of the music you love to play.

Let's say you're developing your improvisational skills for a song like "Green Dolphin Street." If you've interpreted the Tonal Centers in the B section, you've got two key centers, C major and Eb major. You can stop in the middle of exercising the 4th FFcP fingering of the key of Eb, and just play through the Eb tonal center in "Green Dolphin." Play through the 'I vi ii7 V7' patterns and internalize the Eb, Cm7, Fm7, Bb7 as you internally hear this section of the music. Break the FFcP in further chunks, skipping around in 3rds and 4ths, just like the exercise. Play through the Gravity Notes and get a sense for how the Ab pulls to the G, the D pulls to the Eb.

Do the same with the key of C, which is the majority of the song. 2nd FFcP position C is a great place to start, getting your C, Am7, Dm7, G7 bearings internalized (and of course continuing on with the 3rds, 4ths, and Gravity Notes), but don't stop there. Try the key of C in a different FFcP, say 3rd FFcP starting on the 10th fret of the D string.

The idea is to make these exercises as much mental as physical. You can use the same sort of strategy with other FFcP studies, including the Pentatonic FFcP or others in our Free Downloads Page. Don't think each of these as an end to itself. You don't always have to play the whole thing through; try dividing them into portions that apply to sections of your music.

Back to "Green Dolphin Street," Db is not the most friendly key to play in but there is a Db Tonal Center in the A section (some might argue D Mixolydian or G Alt, but we'll leave that academic discussion for another day). Since it's only a brief measure, it's easy to be lazy and not really tap into the rich potential of 1/2 step (C to Db) Tonal Center macro-relationships, but don't let this go by! Work the Db studies into your practice, and when you're faced with it here (or any other tune), you'll sound like a master improviser.

Bring it home!

Posted by Ted at 11:45 AM


July 17, 2008 | Good Vibrations

Our recent epiphany into the many benefits of a mandolin armrest (we are so sold on these!) brought us to the topic of wood vibration. The concept of a resonant back and top needs some clarification if one is to understand how best to not inhibit the natural reverberation of the body.

Best to examine a drum head. If you haven't had this experience yourself, the next time you have the opportunity to tap on a drum (timpani, conga, snare or tom, as smaller bongo won't be as obvious), listen how the sound is different from striking the center as it is to the edge. Actually off-center is more appropriate, as directly in the middle is another nodal dead spot.

Midway between center and edge, there is a richness, a range of "sweet spot" you lose the closer you move taping toward the edge of the drum. You start losing the lower harmonics, let alone volume. This is not unlike what happens on the back of your mandolin. So what you have to keep in mind is the closer to the sides of the instrument your abdomen touches, the least amount of physical interference.

You can achieve this with a wider angled position (touching only the edge), but of course, the instrument has to still rest securely and comfortably as you play. A tone-gard can be miraculous here, but even the minor posture shift can go miles to letting a resonant back sing. The point here is if you are touching the back near the sides, the muting is not all that detrimental.

This brings up the issue of armrests. Concern about dampening is completely unfounded, as these pretty much attach to the sides of the mandolin--very little contact with the top. This plus the benefit of lifting your arm up higher with little to no top interference makes them almost a must-have.

Click for closeup of McClung Armrest

Read about the McClung Armrest.

Posted by Ted at 01:55 PM


July 10, 2008 | More on Tetrachords

Last week, we had the good fortune of passing along an invaluable session on the concept of 4-note patterns, or "Tetrachords," from Mark Wilson. If you haven't seen it, by all means take the time to get caught up now!

Read: A Tetrachord Approach

We'd also to pass on a beneficial audio lesson to accompany this: Mark does a great job of walking you through the concept aurally in this audio bit:

Listen: Tetrachord Approach MP3

Notice the strategy uses the 1st FFcP in a masterful way to get you fearlessly up the fretboard. Indeed, you could go the next step and apply the other finger FFcP (start on 2, 3, & 4) for an exponentially deeper dimension of fretboard familiarity. There is another consideration here, the mental benefits of chopping up an 8-note pattern (scale, mode) into 4-notes. Instead of thinking scale degrees, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, the brain can handle 1, 2, 3, 4 and in a separate sweep, 5, 6, 7, 8.

It's like memorizing the number " 57,008,267." Repeat that back, maybe you'd go "fifty-seven million, eight thousand, two hundred sixty-seven." Or maybe your brain can fire back " five seven zero zero eight two six seven." That’s a lot of numbers to keep straight.

A better way is in sequence nuggets:

5700 (mental space) 8267

Fifty-seven hundred, eight-thousand two-hundred sixty-seven. You probably have memorized you US social security number this way, three digits, two digits, four digits, and not as a 9 digit number.

Tetrachords give us these digestible bite-size 4-note quantities. Beginning improvisers using scales or modes will like inject the scale stepwise all at a time, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, without a lot of contrary motion. That's not terribly musical. If you break it down into 4-notes, you can begin to vary the motion:
1, 2, 3, 4 (mental space) 8, 7, 6, 5
1, 3, 2, 4
(mental space) 5, 7, 6, 8
1, 4, 3, 2
(mental space) 5, 8, 7, 6
1, 2, 4, 3
(mental space) 5, 6, 8, 7

This is a far more musical approach. Your listeners will here the harmonic implications of the scales, and not just a bunch of scales. Notice we use this in our approach to learning the Altered Scale in our Bebop Mandology lesson.

Extra Credit: play through as many scales and modes as you know, but rather than
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,
try
1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 7, 6, 5.


We also like to inject a handy chart Mark submitted to help bring these modes home. Just so you don't say, "It's all Greek to me," here's some help:

TETRACHORD SIMILARITIES

Major (1)

=

Mixolydian (5)

Dorian (2)

=

Aeolian (6)

Phrygian (3)

=

Locrian (7)

Lydian (4)

=

Lydian (4)


Posted by Ted at 12:08 PM


July 03, 2008 | Tetrachordal Approach to Major Scale Modes

Special thanks to Mark Wilson for this week's Tip:
A TETRACHORDAL APPROACH TO THE MODES OF THE MAJOR SCALE
© 2008 Mark Loren Wilson

Using a tetrachordal approach to learning and using the modes of the major scale is amazing. Thinking in tetrachords has a host of advantages and benefits:

  • Solo sound. Reduces the complexity of learning scales and modes

  • Speeds up the whole process of learning the fingerboard in every key

  • Aids in having musical places to go in any direction from any starting note

  • Lets the scales and modes simply fall from your fingertips

  • Enables the proverbial "long line" when soloing

  • Makes your lines more jazz-like by helping you get away from licks and employing a more scalar

WHAT ARE THE DEGREES OF A SCALE?
Notes of the scale are often called degrees of the scale. The first note in a scale is termed the first degree of the scale; the second note is termed the second degree of the scale, and so on. Major and minor scales have seven degrees.

WHAT IS AN INTERVAL?
In musical theory, the term interval describes the difference in pitch between two notes. The difference between any note and its next adjacent note (two adjacent frets on the mandolin) is the interval of a half step. The difference between any one note and the note two half steps away is called a whole step. For now, that is all we need to know, but you will find a chart of all the intervals on the accompanying PDF file.

HOW IS THE MAJOR SCALE CONSTRUCTED?
The major scale is constructed using a series of whole steps and half steps. Let's examine the A Major Scale.

intervals_of_major.jpg

The above example shows the A Major scale as played all on the G-string. You can see that the melodic intervallic structure of the major scale is a series of whole steps and half steps: W-W-H-W-W-W-H.

WHAT IS A MODE OF THE MAJOR SCALE?
The major scale has seven modes, one mode starting on each of the seven degrees of the scale. For example, the first mode of the major scale starts on the first degree of the scale. In A Major, the first mode would be to play A Major from A to A (A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A). The second mode of the A Major scale starts on the second degree of the scale, and consists of the notes of A Major from B to B (B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A-B). The third mode of A Major starts on the third degree of the scale and consists of the notes of A Major from C# to C# (C#-D-E-F#-G#-A-B-C#). The fourth, fifth sixth and seventh modes are, well, you have already figured it out.

WHY USE MODES?
Thinking in modes is handy for several reasons.
Reason #1: For me, it's a lot faster. Let's take the example of playing the II-V progression Bm7 to E7. You know it's a m7 chord resolving to a 7 chord, but what scale do you play for soloing?
1.Using Modes: Play 2nd mode, then 5th mode.
2.Without Using Modes: Figure out the parent scale these two chords are in, and then play that scale. For instance, Bm7 functions as a "2" chord in A Major, and the E7 functions as the "5" chord in A Major. In this way you have figured out the parent scale of these two chords is A Major. So, you play out of the A Major scale for soloing over this II-V progression.
Reason #2: I get to use the tetrachordal approach, and that makes it EVEN MUCH easier to select notes for solos.

WHAT IS A TETRACHORD?
A "tetrachord" is a four-note scale fragment. Any major or minor scale easily divides into two tetrachords. The first tetrachord consists of the first four notes of the scale, and the second tetrachord consists of the second four notes of the scale. For instance, the first tetrachord of the A Major scale is A-B-C#-D, and the second tetrachord of the A Major scale is E-F#-G#-A.

MODES HAVE TETRACHORDS, TOO.
Modes are scales of a kind, so they have tetrachords, too. Lets use the fourth mode of the A Major scale for an example. The fourth mode of A Major starts on the fourth degree of the scale, which is a D. The mode consists of A Major from D to D (D-E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D). The first tetrachord of this mode is D-E-F#-G#, and the second tetrachord is A-B-C#-D.

ISN'T THIS MAKING IT MORE COMPLICATED?
Greater simplicity is the beauty of a tetrachordal approach to modes. How? Well, get this: There are 7 modes in any major scale, but there are only four different tetrachords! This is the part I love. The following examples are all going to be in the key of A Major.

IONIAN: FIRST MODE OF THE MAJOR SCALE
Everybody probably knows this fingering of A Major. It is used when playing over an A-Maj7 chord functioning as a "1" chord. You can play the following mode/shape from the 1st degree of any major scale. (The numbers below denote the fingering, not the scale degree.)

Ionian.jpg

With your 1st finger starting on the 2nd-fret A on the G string:
♦the first tetrachord (A-B-C#-D) is played on the G string, and
♦the second tetrachord (E-F#-G#-A) is played on the D string.

See how this fingering of the first mode of the major scale is divided into two tetrachords? The coolest thing is that the two tetrachords are "shaped" exactly the same! I think of this as the major tetrachord because this tetrachord is used twice in the Ionian mode. (Very few people bother calling it the Ionian mode, they just call it "the major scale." Seems like a good idea to me).

DORIAN: SECOND MODE OF THE MAJOR SCALE
The second mode of a major scale is called the Dorian mode. Since we are in the key of A, and B is the second degree of the A Major scale, this is the fingerboard fingering for "B Dorian." It is used when playing over a Bm7 chord in the key of A. In fact, you can play this mode/shape from the 2nd degree of any major scale.

Dorian.jpg

With your 1st finger starting on B on the G string:
♦the first tetrachord is played on the G string, and
♦the second tetrachord is played on the D string

See anything similar? They are again exactly the same tetrachord! The intervallic structure of the tetrachord that makes up the Dorian mode is W-H-W. Regardless of the key, or whether you want to play ascending or descending over a m7 chord functioning as a "2" chord in a major key, this is the fingering. I think of this as the minor tetrachord.

PHRYGIAN: THIRD MODE OF THE MAJOR SCALE
The third mode of a major scale is called the Phrygian mode. Since we are in the key of A Major and C# is the third degree of the scale, this is the fingerboard fingering for "C# Phrygian." Starting on C#, it is used when playing over a C#m7 chord in the key of A Major. You can play this mode/shape from the 3rd degree of any major scale.

Phrygian.jpg

With your 1st finger starting on C# on the G string:
♦the first tetrachord is played on the G string, and
♦the second tetrachord is played on the D string.

See anything similar? They are again exactly the same tetrachord! The intervallic structure of the tetrachord that makes up the Phrygian mode is H-W-W. Regardless of the key, or whether you want to play ascending or descending over a "3" in major chord, that is your fingering. I think of this as the Phrygian tetrachord.

HOW MANY TETRACHORDS ARE THERE IN MAJOR?
There are four tetrachords in major. We have already seen three of them and we have been only through three of the seven modes. There is one more tetrachord shape we have not seen yet. The fourth tetrachord is the Lydian tetrachord.

LYDIAN: FOURTH MODE OF THE MAJOR SCALE
The fourth mode of a major scale is called the Lydian mode. Since we are in the key of A Major and D is the fourth degree of the scale, here is the fingerboard fingering for "D Lydian." It is used when playing over a D-Maj7 chord in the key of A. You can play this mode/shape from the 4th degree of any major scale. The cool thing about the Lydian note is that it naturally (without alteration) contains a #11; it is called the Lydian note.

Lydian.jpg

With your 1st finger starting on D on the G string:
♦the first tetrachord is played on the G string, and
♦the second tetrachord is played on the D string.

It sounds like a whole tone tetrachord, and it is! That is why I like to call it the whole tone tetrachord. The intervallic structure of the Lydian tetrachord is W-W-W.
Look at the other tetrachord. Does it look familiar? It is the major tetrachord. So, the words "Lydian mode" sounds like it should be some weird sound or hard, but it is simply made up of the whole tone tetrachord and the major tetrachord. Regardless of the key, or whether you want to play ascending or descending over a "4" chord in major, that is your fingering.

MIXOLYDIAN: FIFTH MODE OF THE MAJOR SCALE
The fifth mode of a major scale is called the Mixolydian mode. Since we are in the key of A Major and E is the fifth degree of the scale, here is the fingerboard fingering for "E Mixolydian." It is used when playing over an E7 chord in the key of A. But you can play this mode/shape from the 5th degree of any major scale.

Mixolydian.jpg

With your 1st finger starting on E on the D string:
♦the first tetrachord is played on the D string, and
♦the second tetrachord is played on the A string.

Again, does anything look familiar? The first tetrachord is the major tetrachord, and the second tetrachord is the Dorian tetrachord. So, Mixolydian mode is simply the major tetrachord and the minor tetrachord. Regardless of the key, or whether you want to play ascending or descending over a "5" chord in major, that is your fingeriomg.

AEOLIAN: SIXTH MODE OF THE MAJOR SCALE (THE NATURAL MINOR)
The sixth mode of a major scale is called. Since we are in the key of A Major and F# is the sixth degree of the scale, here is the fingerboard fingering for "F# Aeolian." It is used when playing over an F#m7 chord in the key of A. But you can play this mode/shape from the 6th degree of any major scale. (This is the sound of Bill Monroe's tune Jerusalem Ridge.)

Aeolian.jpg

With your 1st finger starting on F# on the D string:
♦the first tetrachord is played on the D string, and
♦the second tetrachord is played on the A string.

See how the first tetrachord is the minor sound, and the second tetrachord is the Phrygian sound? So, Aeolian mode is simply the minor tetrachord and the Phrygian tetrachord. Regardless of the key, or whether you want to play ascending or descending over a "6" chord in major, that is your fingering.

LOCRIAN: SEVENTH MODE OF THE MAJOR SCALE
The seventh mode of a major scale is called Locrian. Since we are in the key of A Major and G# is the seventh degree of the scale, here is the fingerboard fingering for "G# Locrian." It is used when playing over a G#m7b5 chord in the key of A. But you can play this mode/shape from the 7th degree of any major scale (especially as a substitute for a "5" chord).

Locrian.jpg

Download PDF: Modes of Major Scale

Extra Credit PDF: TETRACHORDS: STUDY ON A "G" STRING

Read Mark Wilson's previous article: Grip #1.

Posted by Ted at 06:10 AM



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