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"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 26, 2008 | Playing with a drummer

We frequently get inquiries from mandolinists who are new to playing in Pop/Rock ensembles, newly exploring how best to fit into a band that has a drummer and perhaps other rhythm players like electric guitar and synth. The acoustic demands change, but our instrument stays the same so the challenge is to take what the mandolin does well and fit it within context. This concern is especially common playing mandolin in praise team band in church; the novelty is not only confounding to the individual, it often baffles what the rest of the team expects.

Mandolins pack significant percussive potential because of the high string frequency and pick articulation. This bodes well in a traditional drummerless bluegrass band, but a fresh approach is required when playing in a fuller, high decibel Pop/Rock band with drums. Here are some ideas to make your contributions relevant.

Backbeat. Listen to the snare. Though striking on beats 2 and 4 can be some of the most tedious accompanying, locking with this energy is effective, and sometimes a nice departure from the flash of solo playing. Occasionally it's nice to just lay back and support.

Kick it. Listen to the bass drum. Watch the foot pedal, and you may find a clue to some tastey alternate rhythms. The bass drives at a fundamentally low frequency, by adding your higher spectrum to this in sync, you can add a subliminal energy.

Band hits. Watch the crash cymbals. A good drummer will be wired to listen to the dramatic rhythmic "band hits" on key dramatic points. Follow this and you add to the theater.

Subdivision. Listen to the closed hi hat. Often you'll hear a subdivided, low-volume rhythm here, and you can double time with cross-picking patterns to inject energy into the music. Playing 16ths while everyone else is quarter or eighth notes, this high-speed arpeggiation is something band and audience won't be able to put their finger on, but subconsciously they will hear an energy if you are accurate.

Posted by Ted at June 26, 2008 9:22 AM

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