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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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December 25, 2014 | Chestnuts roasting on an open 5th.

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It's been posted before, but in honor of the day, we had to rerun this clever learning tool...

The catchy, clever reincarnation of a traditional Christmas favorite, "The Music Theory Song" is not only good for a few chuckles but an astounding insight into the nature of interval labels and some harmonic functions. Kudos to David Rakowski and Dave Swenson for this delight.

The Music Theory Song (Intervals Roasting)

Print PDF: The Music Theory Song

May all your supertonics be prolonged and bright.

Posted by Ted at 1:20 PM


December 18, 2014 | Snap, crackling, and/or pop. Cold weather shipping.

Winter has officially checked in at JazzMando Headquarters in the midwestern US and like every year, it's a sure thing to get worse. We hear of concerns of mandolin shippers and recipients (especially up through the great White North), and wish to extend a message of comfort and assurance. Music retailers and luthiers have been dealing with harsh inclement shipping weather for years. What do you think a music store does for income during the months of December, January, and February? They don't stop, but they certainly employ prudent procedure.

Understand, our admonition is for the geography of meteorological extremes. Those of you in San Diego or Hawaii who don't know what "real" weather is have little to be concerned about. Those in high elevations or parts of the country prone to occasional snow should still take note. There's no reason to not be careful. A few minutes of indiscretion can cause horrible damage to finish, and there's no sense in taking chances.

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If you are planning on shipping an instrument (or receiving) in a harsh winter climate, there are simple precautions you must take to assure a safe journey. Wood and strings are remarkably resilient to extremes of temperature, but not quickly. In other words, your mandolin can survive quite well in subzero, but it won't tolerate a rapid transition back to room temperature.

Generally, if your instrument is packed well enough to endure the harshness of a Yuletide UPS Brown or FedEx Home temporarily, it's probably already got the cushion to make temperature changes of the journey slowly, but only if you allow enough time for that change upon arrival. We recommend anything received in temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 C), allow 8 to 10 hours to acclimate before opening.. This means you let the package padding do the slow conversion for you. Don't unseal the box, certainly, don't cut a slit in the box to feel how cold it is. We've said 24 hours before and you'll hear that from music stores and builders for a very good reason. If they get their UPS by noon and close at 6:00 or 7:00, staff really should not unbox until the next day. Again, why not be safe?

You doctor may tell you not to stick anything in your ear smaller than your elbow. It's a bit of hyperbole, until you've met someone with Parkinson's Disease who punctured his ear drum with a Q-tip.

It's tough to not be cavalier about it, but if you do open the box, the finish and the wood acclimate at two different rates. That's where the infamous crackling or "checking" occurs. It's probably not so good on the joints either, but most of the irreparable damage will be the outside cosmetics. Do yourself a big favor and resist temptation to open a box prematurely.

Heads up, too. If you're shipping to someone in a cold region who has never received an instrument, it's on you to remind them about waiting. If you're offering a 48 hour right to return, we suggest extending that to 72. It's for your own protection, as well.

Suggestions for packing:

Never pack too tightly. Small air pockets allow not only a balance between moderate temperature "breathing" and stability, but act as shock absorbers during the rigors and stress of transport. Packing peanuts, bubble wrap, or loose newspaper balls will work, but find the balance between settling or nesting the instrument without complete stasis where all the box jarring is transferred from the outside to the instrument itself. Also, we suggest placing instrument and case in a tall kitchen trashbag prior of packing, partly because of sealing the air, but more because you'll keep the outside of the case lint and static free. It's a royal pain brushing off newspaper shreds or broken Styrofoam off of a mildly electrostatic-charged case exterior; this simple preventive measure introduces a simple cure.

Posted by Ted at 6:56 PM


December 11, 2014 | Top Picks reprise

We're revisiting one of our most popular articles on pick selection. From over five years ago, our entry "Top Picks" a spoken vocabulary to express the pick selection qualities for you to consider in the quest for the ultimate pick.


Picks are one of the least expensive ways you can change your sound. Every note you play starts with the pick, and your efforts to develop your own sound will always be contingent on its control and just how much you are "one with the pick."

If we were to recommend one pick (why, the JazzMando pick, of course!) we'd be as disingenuous as a shoe store clerk recommending everyone buy a size 7 wide Urban Moccasin in red suede (personal fave here at the JazzMando campus). Ridiculous to be so narrow because just like not everyone's feet are the same, neither are their hands, let along playing contexts. (Those Urban Moccasins aren't so cool at a Governor's Inauguration; speaking from experience.)

Let's articulate generalities, and yes, there will be exceptions to these, so take them with a grain of salt. The majority of mandolinists gravitate toward larger (1.5 mm and up), rounder picks (Fender 346) than guitarists. The Fender 351 shape is by far the most popular shape, but ironically, to get more sound out of our smaller instrument, we seem to need thicker and bigger to pull tone out of the double courses. Of course those more dependent on a fluid tremolo might prefer something thinner (Evan Marshall, Marilyn Mair, Don Stiernberg for example), but we'll leave it to you to experiment on what works best for your style of music.

Five areas of pick make-up for you to consider, and as we list them, we'll use a few nonsensical syllables to get the point across on how they affect tone. You'll probably come up with a few ideas yourself, and that's fine; it's all part of the exploration.

Mass (rigidity) Poh vs Doh
A flexible pick is great for the single courses of a guitar but mandolin really does better with something more rigid. Now pick flexibility CAN be good for tremolo, but there's something to be said for the control found in a stiff pick. You can probably accomplish better articulation if the suppleness is in your wrist rather than your pick. Stiffness yields "Doh" instead of "Poh."

Size (thickness) Dee vs Tee
Along the same lines (almost inseparable) as mass is pick thickness. A thicker pick creates volume with less stress on the hand and wrist. Guitar players struggle with this notion, but the majority who switch to mandolin find a hefty pick is actually less work than a weak, wimpy one. Like using a heavier bowling ball to knock more pins over, once you get a basic degree of control down, the pick works for you. Heavy yields a round "Dee" instead of a tepid, front-loaded "Tee."

Bevel (edge) (Szee vs Tzee)
You'll only notice these in a pick that's bigger than 1.14 mm, but if the pick has a more rounded bevel, you get more of the string fundamental, rather than the "snap" of articulation. Some pick hand-crafters spend a lot of time making these, as machining to produce these is not particularly effective. That means the price will be significantly higher, but don't underestimate the power of a polished pick bevel, which yields "Szee" over "Tzee," especially in a succession of rapid notes.

Point (contact surface) Dih vs Kih
Pointy picks or round tip? The rounded shoulders of an isosceles Fender 351 triangle are used by many a player, but why have two corners to wear when you can have three? The extra mass of a larger rounded (346) triangle can be useful for bigger sound, too. Some like a real pointy tip to the pick, arguably a much more one-dimensional sound, and one which we'd struggle to be fond of. More corner surface also yields more string fundamental, which means more string, less pick snap in your sound. Think "Dih" instead of "Kih."

Construction (material) Dee vs Dah vs Doh
Celluloid, Acetate, Delrin, Acrylic, bone, horn, tortoise, tin, there are a ton of materials out there to make a pick, and each of these will affect tone, playability, mass, rigidity, you name it. These are going to be as personal as what flavor ice cream you get for your next Baskin-Robbins trip. We won't give any recommendations here except to say you can alter stiffness and mass by using any variation of pick materials. We happen to like the middle-of-the-road Acetate picks of the D'andrea Pro-plec line because of the balance of weight and stiffness, and the ability to produce a hefty pick thin enough to still have a healthy bevel (1.5 mm).

Other variations, cat tongue grip, holes for lightness and/or grab, fin picks (we don't know what the heck good these do) are all out there, and we'd never discourage experimentation. You still want to find a pick to settle in to so you can achieve some degree of consistency in your pick control.

Posted by Ted at 2:26 PM


December 4, 2014 | Cafe Interviews--compelling reading!

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Looking for the opportunity to get into the heads of some of your favorite contemporary
mandolin authorities? We've had the privilege of personally interviewing some of the stars the last five years. You can harvest these insights and words of wisdom over at the Mandolin Cafe with the links listed below. Grab a mug of Java and sit down for some great reading.

An Interview with Don Julin, author of Mandolin Exercises For Dummies
Ted Eschliman interviews author Don Julin about his follow up book "Mandolin Exercises For Dummies."
April 17, 2014

Ted Eschliman Interview
Mandolin Cafe creator Scott Tichenor interviews the site author of JazzMando
September 29, 2013

An Interview with Don Julin, author of Mandolin For Dummies
Ted Eschliman interviews author Don Julin about his forthcoming book "Mandolin For Dummies."
September 9, 2012

10 Questions For Jason Anick
Ted Eschliman interviews Jason Anick, jazz mandolin and violin virtuoso and new faculty member at Boston's Berklee College of Music.
July 1, 2012

10 Questions For John McGann
Ted Eschliman interviews John McGann, the central figure behind the outstanding mandolin program at Boston's Berklee College of Music and his role as mentor to some of today's top upcoming stringed instrument stars.
July 24, 2011

10 Questions for Will Patton
Ted Eschliman catches up with Vermont based jazz and swing mandolinist Will Patton for another Mandolin Cafe exclusive interview.
April 24, 2011

10 Questions for Aaron Weinstein
Ted Eschliman catches up with jazz violinist and mandolinist Aaron Weinstein for another of our special feature interviews.
February 1, 2011

10 Questions For Don Julin
We catch up with Traverse City, Michigan-based Don Julin, one of the busiest working mandolinists in the country. You may be hearing his music on TV and Film.
November 7, 2010

The Don Stiernberg Interview
The Mandolin Cafe's message board members engage Chicago-based jazz mandolinist extraordinaire Don Stiernberg for another of our exclusive extended interviews.
March 17, 2010

The Paul Glasse Interview
The Mandolin Cafe's message board members engage Austin, Texas based jazz mandolinist Paul Glasse for an extended interview.
December 15, 2009

More Mandolin Cafe interviews.

Posted by Ted at 3:07 PM



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