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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."



« October 2008 | Main | December 2008 »

November 27, 2008 | Choosing a mandolin

We enjoyed viewing the online tour at the SmokeMusic Archives with the accompanying Bob Moses print article, How to Buy a Mandolin. Live commentary and insights from our friend Brad Einhorn (Kings County Strings) and retail legend Stan Jay of Mandolin Brothers make you feel your right there midst a world class collection of mandolins to poke and pick. This is a short video and worth a few minutes to watch.

Click for redirect

We tackled this subject in an archived article, The Basics of Auditioning Instruments with some important considerations. Getting over the initial fascination of a new or foreign instrument, one needs to take into account the proper amount of time needed to adapt and assess, allow for the mandolin's adjustable variables, and the environment of the audition itself.

If you've got a few minutes, go back and review this article. Note it is now the holiday season; you harbor a responsibility in single-handedly reviving the disastrous global economy with a purchase in a new instrument.

At least it makes a good excuse for the spouse...

How about buying one of these? First one to contact Jeff gets another $200 knocked of the price by mentioning this article.

Posted by Ted at 08:39 AM


November 20, 2008 | A common mistake. Clacky, clacky...

Question: How do you get two piccolo players to play in unison and in tune?

Shoot one of them...


It's an old band director joke, and it illustrates an important acoustic principle. Two tubas playing slightly out of tune or rhythm will not be nearly as offensive to the ear as the higher pitch instruments, and this all has to do with register. High pitches are more directional, distinguished easier; microphones designed for speaking rely on presence and highs simply because the ear can distinguish words and enunciation in the upper timbres. This phenomenon is just important to recognize for mandolinists.

In general, when integrating a mandolin into a group of folk/pop music musicians or church praise band, most newbies tend to approach the mandolin as they would a guitar. Certainly, the tiny mandolin can be played quietly, but because of its relatively higher register, it can also be brutally percussive in impact when struck hard. A heavy picking style in the right instrument can penetrate the ensemble like a cowbell, and even at medium volumes, muddy the sound of a guitar playing the same "clacky, clacky" rhythm accompaniment.

If mandolin and guitar are playing the same rhythmic pattern, they have to be exactly synchronized, or the resulting sloppy, conflicting clash will be blamed on the mandolin. High sounds are more easily identified, and the deeper timbre of the lower strings can cover up bad technique much easier on a guitar. This is compounded when you have multiple strumming instruments pounding out a simultaneous subdivided background drone.

You will greatly free up your playing (let alone open up the sound of the ensemble) when you put space in your accompanying. This is why the "chop" sound is so closely associated with the mandolin; it functions so well as a the accent of the band, imitating a hi-hat in jazz, or a cowbell in rock and roll (not a pair of maracas or shaker). You are also well-served listening to the drummer (if you don't have one, you ARE the drummer!), accenting the same band hits, not just on the backbeats, but critical accents in the music.

You don't have to do this all the time, best when you can trade off rhythmic support duties with other members of the band. It will be more enriching for your mental state, and it freshens its sound when going from verse to chorus to bridge, and back.

Posted by Ted at 06:08 AM


November 13, 2008 | Lydian Tricks

We're excited to see students of our recent release, Getting Into Jazz Mandolin digging in deep enough to start making their own interpretations of the book's five concept tunes. In particular, our Alaska-based research assistant, Ken Olmstead had documented his own impressive rendition of "Lydia O'Lydia ."

Ken takes a little different tack than the others already posted by Don Stiernberg, Will Patton, and Don Julin, abandoning the Latin feel for a more laid back swing. He also exposes a great tip in improvising over a #11 or Lydian pattern, using the Major 7 chord arpeggio based on the 5th scale degree. In this song, the two key centers G and Bb would use a D Maj7, and an F Maj7 arpeggio respectively. Outlining these two chord in inversions up and down the fretboard gives you a tremendous roadmap, and unlocks the Lydian Mode's fertile mood. From there, it's just a matter of filling the notes in between.

Enjoy Ken's video

Weigh in with comments: Mandolin Cafe Discussion Board
Listen to other instructional entries in the PROFESSIONAL'S SOUND LAB .


Have a video or audio recording of your own? We'd love to post it and give other's the opportunity to look under the hood of the process of other musician's creativities. Let us know...

Posted by Ted at 08:20 PM


November 06, 2008 | 'Stealing' Into Third Base

We recently received feedback from J. Spaulding that prompted us to dig up an archived Feb 2007 Mandolin Sessions article, Leading Off Third Base: The benefits of third position fingering. J writes, "This weekend, I transposed "Take Five" from Ebm to Am to allow full use of my "first position" skills - then tried to play FCCP in the original Ebm--well, my "up the neck" skills are in desperate need of attention. This confrontation with reality prompted me to order your book, which will certainly lead me in colorful and helpful directions!"

He's absolutely right about two things in particular, one the book will lead him in "colorful and helpful directions," and two, the FFcP will be crucial in starting him down that path...

As far as the "up the neck" frontier, one tip that can ease you to the next step after spending quality time with the FFcP Exercises, even though one might try to play more in the 5th and 7th position (1st finger on 5th or 7th fret), first spend time reading through lots of Jazz Standards (or even Folk/Fiddle Tunes you know) in 3rd position. As the aforementioned article explores, think of your first finger on the 3rd fret as home base, and allow yourself the occasional 'trick' open string. Plus, if you run across a tonal shift down a half step in literature, you have built-in occasional wiggle room in the 1st & 2nd frets.

For many players, this can evolve into a healthy fingering "Ground Zero" for the hands. Notice a lot of jazz guitarists do this in the 5th or 7th frets, too. Not that they stay there, they often move vertically up and down the fretboard. Still, this is where they seemed to land, and that's not only centers your playing, it makes the upper frets less intimidating when it makes sense to go there, putting you 3 or 4 frets closer.

Not to get the cart too far ahead of the horse; this will also set you up for better chord melody playing in the future, too!

Read Article

Posted by Ted at 12:24 PM



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