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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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June 30, 2006 | Course Corrections

Playing mandolin in Pop/Rock/Jazz/Folk environments can be so liberating yet challenging. Since there are so few of us, we get to write our own "rules;" on the other hand, there's so few role models out there to tell us how to behave or fit in with the group, unlike a guitar player or drummer.

We have an old article on this in our Mel Bay webzine MandolinSessions article "Plays Well with Others" (see back issue), but let's look at a few specific examples of what-not-to-do situations.

The acoustic guitar player slaps a capo on the 5th fret (or worse, higher). This is a sure sign you're going to clash (or at least crowd) in a good share of your fingerboard. You'll want to avoid heavy chords especially in the upper register, as the tonal "presence" in this range is percussive and punchy. Be sensitive to your own rhythmically complex playing.

The electric guitar player is constantly "noodling." One of our personal peeves, a little noodling goes a long way. You have the double edge of fighting for timbre space AND threaten to step all over each other in rhythms. Besides, you lose; his/her amp can go to "11."

The drummer that thinks his/her mission in life is to fill music at EVERY empty spot at the end of each phrase. If you can't talk this out ahead of time, the drummer wins. Get out of the way.

The drummer has a heavy backbeat. Note, this is actually not a bad situation. You can't have too much backbeat as long as you are together. You can get a crowd dancing or at least clapping along if you nail it in synch.

The jazz guitarist with every chord extension known to man (and more...) You can't mix your #9 with his/her b9. Sometimes it's best to just stick to straight major or minor chords so you don't clash; or just lay off comping all together.

The Geddy Lee "wannabee" bass player. If you're working with a bassist that would rather vomit melodies than do God's work in the background, the laying down of harmonic and rhythmic foundation, you must back off on your own harmonic creativity. This can be frustrating, but don't torture your audience in addition to your own playing sensibility by competing for complexity.

Let us know your ensemble challenges. Contact

Posted by Ted at June 30, 2006 11:32 AM

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