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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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June 12, 2008 | Thinking in motion; chord combinations

There are a lot of analogies between learning language and internalizing new chord vocabulary to uncover. Consider how a toddler learns to speak, random syllables become words, which eventually become connected in strings to become sentences. In the very early stages, the emphasis is on the words themselves, "apple," "red," "blanket," just getting the mouth to form the vowels and consonants to match the oral with the aural is a challenge. Later, the child will make these sounds subconsciously and go to the next step of stringing them into thoughts, "red apple," and once an adequate collection is internalized, speed of progress in speaking and communicating is increased exponentially.

They can get tripped up on difficult words, hard to pronounce syllables, but the desire to communicate a context trumps the fear of making a mistake or physical frustration or not knowing more than they do. Learning chords on a mandolin is similar, except as adults, sometimes the irritation of our inabilities will thwart forward motion. The other bigger issue is context. Trying to learn a second language as an adult can be an exercise in futility when we do learn a laundry list of foreign words, when they aren't drilled in context; we can easily forget more new words than we learn if they aren't used over and over in time in real life.

We're big on learning chords two or three at a time, and in a context. Learning a ii7 AND a V7 in different combination affords the added experience of tactile motion, plus context. Just the feel of moving that one finger (out of three) to its next position gives both brain and hands a sense of purpose, a multidimensional and more profound sensory experience.

When you do encounter a new and unfamiliar chord, try to look at the one that follows in addition to the preceding chord. Think about what individual notes are the same, what are different. If you are trying to minimize motion for better voice leading, this also helps your brain digest the combination for future use in other songs. You'll learn the chord that much more deeply.

Looking for 'ii V7 I' combinations? Check out our Major and Minor stock chord patterns. Also relevant, the latest MandolinSessions article on Fresh Compin'.

Posted by Ted at June 12, 2008 6:44 AM

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