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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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July 28, 2006 | Mandolin in Context

Culturally, we all tend to maintain a rather static concept of the role of an instrument. We think of a tin whistle in a Celtic dance group, but not in a Top 10 Pop Single. We think accordion at an Italian wedding, but not playing Taps at a funeral. We think electric mandolin in a Texas Swing ensemble, but not fronting a jazz big band.

What we forget is though sonic capabilities can limit instruments just because of acoustic properties (a xylophone doesn't have the sustain to convincingly blow the melodic line of a ballad), most of our limitations are more conceptual than physical.

Think guitar. It was more of a rhythm instrument until certain pioneers in the 20's & 30's exploited newer instrument designs, including (later) the electric guitar, to define it as a melodic instrument, too. The bandolim has been thought of as a melody instrument in a Choro setting; really only recently have some of the Brazilian greats started using it's percussive qualities for rhythmic accompaniment. Who would have thought the unlimited potential of the MIDI synthesizer technology, that evil symphony orchestra-killing instrument of the 80's would die a slow death in today's popular music. (When was the last time you heard a really current good synth solo?)

Don't let the limits of imagination pigeon-hole the capabilities of the mandolin. Two words: Bluegrass Trombone...

Seriously, we don't know about a tin-whistle in a top 40's group, but why not? Taps on the accordion would be highly appropriate for the funeral of a Polka Band member. Paul Glasse did an amazing job fronting a regionally successful big band on his signature five-string electric mandolin, recently. We're working on having Don Stiernberg featured in something similar, too.

Meantime, listen to what other mandolinists are doing. There are tons of styles already in play, and limitless amounts of untapped potential if we only stretch our imagination.

Good places to here a variety of mandolin:

Mandolin Cafe MP3 Music

Mandozine Radio

Posted by Ted at July 28, 2006 10:56 AM

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