Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
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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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January 17, 2008 | The tape does not lie...

"My first recording experience was a real awakening one. Many years ago, as a trombone major just out of college, I had the privilege of recording for a radio jingle instrumental background. We paced through a couple dry runs with the rest of the brass over an already recorded rhythm section, and started the tape rolling. Of course the first two times we played, we knew it wasn't perfect so there was no need to review ourselves. The third time, confident we'd nailed it, we listened through the headphones.

"'Ted, you're hanging on to the whole note in the 4th measure too long.' No way, I mentally argued, so we went back and listened again. There I was, stuck out like a sore thumb, and you would never convince me otherwise. The tape did not lie, however. I was astounded. In my overzealous confidence, I would have bet anyone 100 bucks otherwise.

"We went back and after several more attempts, got it right. Along the way, I listened more carefully to some of the other cut-offs, and my bubble was burst. Notes I would have sworn were perfect, started and stopped precisely, unwavering intonation, just weren't as executed on tape as well as in my mind."


We are easily fooled about our self-perception of flawlessness. Premier players like Mike Marshall or Chris Thile make "flawless" sound so easy, but it just isn't so. Pretend you're recording a major jingle production, say a Super Bowl commercial and you only have four notes to record. Can you do them with premium tone, perfect cut-offs, immaculate intonation, smoothly connected? How about 20 notes, with the same professional standards? (Let alone an entire Bach Violin Partita).

Imagine that recording played over and over again (as good jingles always are) for millions of people. That annoying frack on the 7th note preserved for all posterity, to be repeated for all succeeding generations; is it something you can tolerate?

Recording can be a terrific educational experience. Once you get the critical self-evaluation process down, you can take the standard into your "live" playing, too. Were those last four notes perfect? No? Then you should go back a play them until you can executed them flawlessly and automatically.

We suggest devoting a portion of your practicing to just simple music, but performing with the same level of quality as a major recording artist; imagine a Super Bowl audience is listening. Recording yourself is best, but even if you don't mess with a microphone or recorder, at least take on the attitude.

Raise the bar for a few minutes of playing each day, that level of self-expectation. You'll be amazed at how the rest of your playing becomes.

Posted by Ted at January 17, 2008 7:47 AM

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