"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."
The beauty of the 5ths tuned instruments is pattern movability. That's a constant theme in our frequent FFcP nuggets and offerings--learn a riff, scale segment, or arpeggio in one place, you can copy it to another string or fret in a different region of the fretboard.
There are two ways to do this. One is to completely move everything using the same exact fingering, the other is to start the pattern with a different finger, maintain the same note relationships but use a different incarnation of the four FFcP patterns. It's obvious in the A scale we've shown above, and could approach an A Maj7 arpeggio or A blues riff repeated in a second octave, as well.
After getting familiar with FFcP, you might start getting a little too comfortable staying in the same section of the fretboard. It's a good idea to move around though, taking the next step of adjusting known patterns above the 7th fret where the spacings are closer, and less familiar in feel. You'll also want to be able to connect these nuggets in a smooth way and start thinking how you can extend your playing across the fretboard, and not just across the strings. Starting a two octave riff on the 2nd fret and ending it on the 11th is not a natural skill, and something to nurture and develop over time.
The toughest thing to do in the transition is making the shift in hand position seamless. The simplest way to start is with major scales, but you can do this with pentatonics and 7th chord arpeggios too. Focus very hard on that shift, making it as natural as you can.
Two benefits you get from this, an even deeper mental and tactile understanding of how notes and their functions stack up all over the neck, and the ability to extend a solo phrase into a 2nd or even 3rd octave... Fearlessly!
Try splicing your own octave patterns into two octave patterns in your practice regimen.
We started the website back in 2003 with the charter of shepherding the mandolin world into the jazz world. We could never compete with the popularity of the trumpet or saxophone in this arena, but we had every intention of broadening the barriers of inclusiveness, with the contemporary role models the likes of Jethro Burns, David Grisman, Don Stiernberg, Paul Glasse, Will Patton, and a handful of others who have accomplished jazz mandolin notoriety.
Since then, we've kind of changed our tune, no pun intended, as we maintain a strong jazz vocabulary is beneficial in tackling other genres, as well, like choro, broadway pop, classical, and even hybridized versions of folk music, like "newgrass" or the blues. Traditional (European/Americana) folk music stays within a simple harmonic vocabulary, triad chords that rarely stray extend outside of a dominant 7th (let alone a 9th or 13th), 'IV V I' progressions, and stick within relatively few key centers. Let alone the technical advantages of playing within the FFcP-based closed fingerings, there are many advantages of paying attention to what we're bringing you regularly here in the weekly Tips, news, and accumulated Mandolin Sessions archives.
Improvisation. Even a dedicated bluegrass musician knows the importance of being able to improvise. Granted, the harmonic field in jazz is infinitely wider and more fertile, the ability to just blow within the context of an established song is a skill every mandolinist can enjoy and benefit from. We hope you're getting some of these helps and hints to grow your non-jazz improvising prowess as well.
Harmonic Analysis Skills. The confident ability to instantly spot an arpeggiated chord, a set of 'I IV V' or 'ii V7 I' chords as a tonal/harmonic center, even a mastery of interval recognition, all these are tools that help you get the gist of any literature you are tackling. Just like words become recognizable phrases, writing styles become author "personalities," grasping the ingredients of music, both written and heard, you get an instant insight into where the song is and where it may be going. Hearing a 'ii7 or vi7' chord lets you know you're preparing for something. Hearing a form of V7 clues you are about to arrive. Follow it up with a I chord, and you know you're at least temporarily home.
Jazz. Pop. Classical. The aforementioned skill sets are invaluable cognitive tools to doing more with the music.
Extended Harmonic Vocabulary The limited language of folk music allows instant, rudimentary access to create and repeat. Breaking those walls and including 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths lends a whole new color to the pallet. Listen to the rolling arpeggios of a Debussy prelude and hear for yourself what breaking and building new extensions can do injecting a technicolor vibrance. Contrast the quirky extended chords of a choro (or Bossa Nova) standard with a simple folk or bluegrass tune. The jazz extensions are a whole new planet, a gateway to a new sonic frontier.
Ensemble Honing. Playing with others is something we like to explore here. How we listen and play off others in a jazz group is crucial to our job as musical citizens in that environment. No less important anywhere else. Too many unessential note, interrupting others, failing to play in a way that makes someone else sound good is the only way to achieve a premium aesthetic experience.
We hope as you cruise through JazzMando.com, you're able to develop and exploit tools you can use in every other kind of music.
October 13, 2011 | Best of JM: Cool sounds with a simple new scale
Enjoy the popular archive material below. From July 29, 2010: "Cool sounds with a simple new scale"
Scale degrees can be like characters in a drama. Some you feel an affinity with and like, some you'd rather avoid. Some propel the action in the story, and still others will bring a sense of familiarity--completeness and belonging. What's interesting is how they can have a different subjective impact on the audience and our scale degrees have varying personal effects on your ear.
We've mentioned the power of the 4th and 7th, the notion that in a major scale, these lead to the defining notes of the scale, the lead of the 7th to the tonic (1) and the gravitational force of the 4th pulling to the 3rd. The remaining "supporting characters" of the scale can lead you to other notes, especially the chord tones of 1, 3, and 5.
We also mentioned a delicious little scale we call the Augmented 11th, sometimes referred to as the Lydian Dominant. Varying from a Major Scale you get: 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7, and 1. Let's look what this does "psychologically" to the music when we play solos based on it.
First of all consider what the lowered 7th (F) does in the key of G. In the key of C, the F would lead to the 3rd scale degree. You could almost say varying the note pushes the sound from the key of G to the key of C.
The raised 4th (C#) could be a leading tone (7) in the key of D. So now combined, you have a G tonal center with a sort of split personality, one that can't decide if it wants to be a C tonal center because of the F natural, or a D tonal center because of the C#.
In the end, the theory really doesn't matter. What's happening is a tense, but fun little sound you can build off of, especially in long passages of dominant chord. Sometimes restlessness and instability is a good thing. Keeps things interesting.
For now, let the personality of the sequence of notes tell its own story. But first, get to know it on your fretboard.
Ever been to a dreary government office building? A few years ago, a trip to the bowels of the US Post Office building for a passport application was a real eye-opener into how drab a work place could be. Cold, grey painted concrete walls, faded stock federal posters, flickering dim fluorescent lighting (remember Tom Hanks office in "Joe Versus the Volcano?"), the environment threatened to suck the life out of everyone in the room. Not a place you want to visit unless you have to, let alone work to retirement.
Playing accompaniment chords can be like this. You're on your 39th chorus of "Lady Be Good" (not a bad tune in itself, though), and droning on the same four-to-a-bar V7 chord, chord, chord, chord--it's enough to make you scream. You don't want to deviate too much from the harmonic vocabulary of the rest of the ensemble, but there has to be something to make this interesting.
We have your solution. You owe it to yourself (let alone your audience) to inject some variety, and our latest Mandolin Sessions four part series (three now posted) can give you some potent combinations to add to your comping vocabulary. 3-note 7th chords are an incredible tool on our 5ths tuned instrument, harmonically complete and easy to transpose up and down the fretboard.
The other dirty little secret? Only four inversions. Then you just repeat them in another place or transpose to another key. We give you V7, Major 7, and some clever non-intrusive connecting chords to smooth the motion.