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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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March 18, 2006 | Start Stop

Starting, Stopping, and That Stuff in the Middle

Seems the human brain craves both adventure and comfort. We like to start new things, but almost everything needs to come to a conclusion, some kind of resting place. It's been the secret of great television soap operas for years; offer something invigorating and interesting, but occasionally (and systematicially) bring resolution to the dramatic conflict.

Music is like this in a microcosmic way. Great art is always about tension and release. We crave phrases that start, build, and end. Endless note meandering wearies the listener; we need to enlist attention to this concept in our playing, especially when improvising. Think of the advantage wind instrumentalists and vocalists have when working with line. They are limited by breath, but at the same time gifted with the ability to build in the middle with support from the diaphragm. Dynamics can come so naturally.

Plectrum instruments don't fare as well. We pluck a note, and though a good instrument offers sustain, outside of a tremolo, we have no way to build the note, once it's been started. This means we must exponentially increase our awareness of good phrasing when we play, if we want to build a line. It also means that without the limitation of breath, we can carry on picking until the cows come home.

That's not good.

We've got more to say abut this in our "Blowing Through the Phrase" page. Something a good mandolinist ought to ponder.

Posted by Ted at March 18, 2006 5:45 PM

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