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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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November 21, 2006 | Breathing through your eyes

There's a profound imagery Yoga Masters teach in relaxation and meditation techniques, "breathing through your eyes." One not need to dive into too much of the science of Chakras, Prana, and Energy Centers to uncover the powerful nature and potential within this concept, and we think this is one that translates well into playing mandolin.

Of course, the thought of exchanging oxygen through the eyes is a ridiculous impossibility (we can't recommend trying to survive this way...), but it's an intriguing mental picture. Imagine in a tense, high-stress situation what your body would do if you momentarily stopped to visualize breathing through your eyes. You'd undoubtedly slow down physically, focusing away from seemingly overwhelming negative and disruptive exterior distractions. Your facial muscles would relax, heart rate slow in tempo, and in general, you'd "regroup" mentally, physically, and emotionally. Your mind would be better equipped to deal with the situation without the panic.

Apply this similarly freeing technique in playing, only in its place, visualize "singing out the back of the mandolin." Equally impossible to the task of breathing out of your eyes, the instrument back certainly vibrates, but sound actually projects forward out the top and through the sound holes. However, if you were to fixate on forcing sound through the top as you play, it would be very easy to unnaturally tense your arms, torso, and fingers as you play.

If you relax enough to imagine the back of the mandolin as a "voice," you'll certainly have to physically free it up enough to vibrate effectively, but something else marvelous happens. Your arms and shoulders also relax. Residual tension goes to more productive functions. Blood flows to the extremities where it's best needed, effectively ending up where it ought to be, the fretting fingers gripping to maximize and milk the sweet spots between frets, and a firm picking grip as it draws robust tone out of the strings.

Like "Breathing through the eyes," you accomplish a positive result with a very liberating distraction. "Singing through the back" of the mandolin yields the comfort and positioning necessary for controlled but relaxed tone.

Try it. Move the instrument slightly away from your body and visualize it vibrating as you pluck long, sustained note with your pick. After some whole and half note scales, try speeding up slightly with quarter and eighth notes, but stay as relaxed. Then go back to your music you already know and see that this relaxed adjustment does to your sound.

If you get frustrated as you add complex passages, stop and take some time out.

Breathe with your eyes...

Read more Tips and Tricks.

Posted by Ted at November 21, 2006 8:16 PM

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