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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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February 14, 2008 | Putting on the Squeeze

Fretboard finger pressure is an interesting thing. Too little can cause your sound to be muddy or worse, buzzy. Too much can cost you fluidity and in extreme cases, muscle fatigue to the point of permanent injury. Stress is NEVER good, but like any athletic activity, performing is all about using strength correctly and effectively. Golfers, bowlers, dart throwers, and anyone who uses their hands for a living spend an entire lifetime honing the fine line between control and too much pressure.

We advocate paying a lot of attention to clear tone brought on by applying only enough pressure in the left hand to not only start the note, but finish it into the next. One of the other dangers in going overboard with pushing hard enough is that you lose vertical thrust and start to bend the strings out of line and ultimately, out of tune.

This is especially a concern in instrument set up with low action, light strings (which we strongly advocate!); this vulnerability is even more compounded in closed position playing of the upper frets. What cause this is not only excessive downward pressure on the strings, it's fingers forcing the string sideways. While this can be an interesting "novelty" effect, it's not very pleasant when it causes the double course of unison strings to play intermittently out of tune with each other.

That's the impression on the listener--"this mandolinist doesn't know how to play in tune."

This is not insurmountable, however; when this happens, you need to slow things down and pay special attention to your finger control. Slow it down and watch for side-to-side finger motion perpendicular to the strings. If you're bending pitches (and don't mean too), you need to concentrate on keeping the proper mount of pressure to force downward, not squeezing the whole neck.

Don't let the "pressure of the moment" get you so excited that you lose good intonation

Posted by Ted at February 14, 2008 7:06 PM

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