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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 19, 2007 | Moving Horizontally

In the July 2007 issue of Downbeat Magazine, guitar legend Frank Vignola has an interesting Master Class article, "Making the Fingerboard Horizontal." Though the brief 12 accompanying exercises are more relevant to the guitar (you guitarists might want to hunt this issue down) the gist of the article applies to the mandolin, as well.

In the column, Vignola maintains we restrict improvisational liberty when we stick with one area of the fretboard; we worry more about fingering than about sound. He maintains if we think about moving melodies up and down the string instead of across several strings, melodies can be experienced more intuitively. If we think our scale degrees and arpeggios on one string (or two) we nurture a more innate sense, feel, and ear for where these important notes are.

He also shows how you can do parallel 3rds and 6ths intervals in this way. You're probably already doing this; take two notes a 3rd or 6th away on consecutive strings and play them diatonically all the way up the fretboard. Your brain may already be recognizing physical patterns of these distances to be repeated later and in other keys, 2 fret span, 3 frets, 3 frets, 3 frets, etc as you move melody and diatonic 6th up the scale. (This can't be done as easily moving across strings as it is up the string.)

Another thought we'll add for you to ponder is some keys lend themselves better in different positions of the fingerboard. We like doing flat keys in 3rd and 5th position for a couple reasons. First, an Altered Scale (improvised on the dominant chord) fingers better this way, and second, chord melody options are much greater when you can inject chords both above and below the melody in the "horn keys" of Ab, Eb, and Bb.

If the music theory here is beyond your level, don't worry about that last paragraph. Just know that leaving the lower frets can open up some efficiencies you didn't know existed.

The FFcP approach tends to plant you in one fretboard zone early on. As you further develop, you should be thinking about moving your FFcP exercises around. Once you get comfort and familiarity in the higher frets, the next step is working on the transitions. In case you missed it, the second part of the FFcP exercises, "Moving on Up" is exactly that, an opportunity to get out of the basement, but start working on efficient movement from one zone of the fingerboard to the next.

Before you do that, you might experiment with doing scales on just one string, but if you're comfortable with the basic FFcP scales, it's only a matter of moving them around. Also, next time you have the chance to observe a great Gypsy Jazz guitarist (like Frank Vignola), watch the left hand closely; all the greats who follow in the path of Django move quite freely and effectively in maximum use of all regions of the fretboard.

Download PDF: Moving on Up

Posted by Ted at July 19, 2007 7:15 AM

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