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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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September 25, 2007 | Connectivity, Basic & Advanced

At JazzMando, we stress smoothness and attention to full "linear" technique for the mandolin. We've mentioned this isn't as natural to a plectrum as it is a wind or bowed instrument, so a player really has to be conscious of the precondition.

Admittedly, Celtic and Bluegrass players can get away with murder when it comes to sustain; with drone strings, crosspicking, and the "motorboat" picking styling, the listener doesn't always aurally register the fragmenting gaps in the melody. In Jazz and Classical though, you don't have these to mask bad phrasing.

It's relatively elementary for intermediate mandolinists to keep the tone going on melodic fragments lingering on one string, playing notes and just adding a finger up and down the fretboard for different pitches requires modest Right Hand/Left Hand coordination. As long as you start with the pitch before the fretting finger pressure is released, you've got the rudimentary sustain.

There are two areas we can be vulnerable in, and we need attention in our practice regimen to overcome this; string crossings and what we'll call 3rd and 4th Finger Virtual Double Stops.

The first, string crossing, can be a challenge when alternating strokes. The "rules" of Gypsy Guitiar picking actually call for downstrokes on EVERY string crossing for maximum melodic projection. This may be a little extreme for basic jazz, so we're just going to say watch that you hold the last note as long as you can before starting the next. (Don't worry about deviating from alternating strokes.) This means having the next finger already set, and not lifting off too soon on the preceding finger.

The toughest crossings, however, are when we cross from 3rd finger to 3rd or 4th finger to 4th on adjacent strings. You really need a Virtual Doublestop to maintain the sound between the notes, not lifting off prematurely so as to yield maximum note connectivity.

We ran into this problem wih an exercise a couple of years ago in an article written for Mel Bay's Mandolin Sessions, "Three Four Pull:Foregoing the Fourth Finger Frack." We were barraged with protest emails howling "Do you really expect us to hold the pinky and crossover to the next string if its also played with the pinky?"

Answer: "Yes, of course."

No it's not easy but it is something you can work to develop, and over time, it will come. The trick is a comfortable hand position, a kind of re-centering your grip, again anticipating the crossing by having your 3rd or 4th finger already set for the second note of the pair while you play the first.

It's not a complete, static doublestop, but the "roll' of your palm into the next note is pretty darn close. Go back and review the exercise and spend a few minutes on it every day for a month or two. You'll be surprised at what your hands and fingers will be capable of.

Print Exercise PDF: Three, Four, Pull

Posted by Ted at September 25, 2007 5:37 AM

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