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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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October 18, 2007 | E's & W's: Tone and transition while chording

One of our regulars posted a very interesting question worth sharing with anyone striving for clean, connecting tone while chording. T.L. writes: "In analyzing my own playing I'm finding my chords most times sound thin, and I get more buzz, even though I'm holding the strings down as normal. I just can't get the tone I can when playing single lines, thus I'm looking for the cause/cure for this. Any insights?"

He went on to explain he works very hard at smooth linear melodic tone in his practicing several hours a day. It's something he pays very close attention to, but feels frustrated the chord to chord movement can't be equally smooth. This is important in accompanying at slow tempos, just as much in chord melody. Not having the benefit of seeing the problem in person, we take an educated guess in describing what might be happening.

When we play chords, our focus is always across the fingerboard. If we think of our hands as a fork, we are holding the fork straight up and down, attempting to put maximum pressure between the frets, so as to secure the notes. This is similar to our thoughts on maximizing the "E" zone; the repressive nature of ulnar deviation.

When we play notes, we're used to moving across the fingerboard (headstock to bridge) with the string. Very often, this linear motion requires us to hold our fingers closer (but not completely) parallel to the strings. We extend and retract our fingers to move left to right, and we do this mostly subconsciously.

When we play chords, we jump the fork from fret to fret, and more often continue to hold our fingers perpendicular to the neck, and parallel to the frets. Maybe not 90 degrees, but we are definitely in a "vertical" mindset, conscious of the "across" the fingerboard, and not up and down.

Try turning the hand slightly inward so that your fingers move chord to chord as you extend or retract them. This should make motion more fluid; note changes are from fingers, rather than jumping the wrist. This might be a bit of an exaggertion, but it drives the point. It might also improve the grip.

We hope this make sense. Thinking of turning the fingers from a "W" slightly to an "E" shape on the neck might help.

Yup. Think playing with E's...

Posted by Ted at October 18, 2007 1:34 PM

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