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Tips & Tricks Mel Bay Mandolin Sessions








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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September 17, 2007 | Fleet of (Firm) Foot

"If you chose to pick hard with your right hand it doesn't mean you have to bear down hard with the fingers of your left hand--though that's more often the first instinct. Regardless of volume, try to keep the left hand fingering light. You'll sound more fluid."
Paul Glasse 1/07

"Real Musicians must 'squeeze some golf balls,' develop enough hard strength to make those strings fill the room."
David Grisman 11/06

Two seemingly contradictory statements on tone production by two of the greatest mandolinists alive; one emphasizes fluidity, the other emphasizing strength. So who's right?

We think they both are...

First of all, at slow speeds, there's little question that a firm grip is crucial to milking the sweetspot between the frets. A good, robust pick stroke will never develop maximum volume, let alone round tone without a secure fretting finger grip. When you pick up the tempo (pun intended), you still deliver with "security" in the left fingers; we never give that up if we want note definition and rich phrasing.

In Paul's way of mentally framing tone, the idea is "just enough" pressure to make the sound, but David's concept of squeezing through the fretboard is still the solution to many players' puny sound even at high speeds. Both hands need to be concerned with pressure, a confident, accurate pick stroke, and enough finger force to sing, but often we sacrifice way too much of the latter to play entire through the phrase. A wind instrumentalist or singer exposes poor technique immediately when the breath support goes down, and you have to understand it's no different with finger support on a fretboard.

How does one develop this? Definitely, we start with slow, well-connected long tone scales. If you can't do it slow, it's not going to get any better when you accelerate. Play long tones, half notes and think about how the notes connect, the aural "glue" between each pitch. Try to get that same feel as you get faster.

Certainly, you CAN squeeze too hard. If you're bending your courses so the string pairs are out of tune with each other, that's too hard, but it's probably more because you're squeezing laterally rather than downward. Don't think of pressure as being converse to fluidity, however.

Also, strength does not necessarily have to mean tension. You can be firm in the hands and fingers without locking up the wrist or forearms; this is probably why Paul's sound IS so fluid. He plays with very little observable larger muscle stress.

Finger strength is rarely natural; it's something you work up and nurture over time. Commit time in your practicing to develop this and the rewards to your mandolin tone will be bountiful. Master it slow first, and it will follow you into higher speeds as your playing develops over the months.

Posted by Ted at September 17, 2007 8:29 PM

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