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 29, 2009 | Playing musically: Part 3, play with direction

Last time we discussed playing with harmonic intent. Defining the vertical (harmonic) structure of the song, emphasizing corresponding chord tones tells the listener even on an intuitive level you know what you're doing. The next step is to think how these chord tones are connected melodically, or linearly.

In a very early Mandolin Sessions article, we described what we like to call "Gravity Notes" (see April 2004). These are also sometimes called "Approach Tones," but the concept is the same. It differs from "Passing Tones" in that it's one notch higher on the "intent" meter. In other words, passing tones are like child riding a bike in the park. "Gravity Notes" are like a professional courier riding a bike in urban traffic; there is an aesthetic purpose to get somewhere.

A purpose to get somewhere

When you look closer at the major scale as we did in the article mentioned, there are two relationships that are heavier on melodic "pull." Inarguably, the 7th scale degree longs for the 8th (or 1st) in the tonic key. The next pull is the 4th scale degree that wants to go done to the 3rd. Don't miss the fact that these are the only half step relationships in the scale. That's significant in your ear, and it will also be on your fretboard.

Outside of the major scale you can find other similar pulls. How about the flatted 9th? Play an A minor chord and then play a single note Bb. Some tension in need of resolution? How about playing the blues, the raised 4th (b5) has some arguably angry issues to deal with, too. Between that and the play between the Major 3rd and Minor 3rd, the blues vocabulary has quite a story to tell. (And it's not just about girlfriend leaving, boss firing you, or the Cubs losing the pennant.)

Tension/Resolution is the great drama and dialogue of Western music forms. Respect these in your improvisation and use them to weave in and out of implied chord backgrounds. You'll be writing your own musical script!

Some Minor issues: Seeking Resolutions
In the Mode: Easing into Modal Jazz
Three Four Pull: Foregoing the Fourth Finger Frack

Posted by Ted at January 29, 2009 12:13 PM

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