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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February 12, 2009 | Swing Hard. Pick Well.

We received a great question last week about the accompaniment CD to "Getting Into Jazz Mandolin." The reader asked "Why are some of the demos performed with straight rhythms and some with dotted or "swing?" Very good question and the answer is quite arbitrary. We suggest mixing up rhythmic division and styles playing all the exercises, no particular schedule, just make sure you do a variety over a period of time.

Swing interpretation is a recurring topic in the website (see the "Further" at the bottom), and it can be a hard one to grasp if you've not engaged in a proper amount of listening to jazz. Not to pick on mandolin orchestras (love them!), but those from a more classical background can really struggle to get an authentic swing feel in that environment without the proper rhythm section background (let alone jazz immersion). It can really be painful listening to someone try to swing that really has no concept. (Especially when they're wearing a tux.)

This unfamiliarity is NOT insurmountable though. Listening, and lots of it is the first place to start, digging up classic jazz CDs, or even the bountiful free resources on YouTube, but then you have to get the physical mechanics of it into your fingers, as well. There is certainly a cerebral understanding of swing, but ultimately it's going to be an aesthetic, a "feel" thing. That isn't to say you can't practice it, and we highly recommend incorporating it into the "drill" part of your practice routine.

We mentioned in a March2005 Tips article It don't mean a thing, if it ain't..., about three somewhat measurable components of swing shuffle, articulation, and drag, and if you missed it these are good to understand. If this really is a struggle for you, start basically by just tapping along with some music to get the swing feel. The next step is to inject this rhythm into your FFcP and scale exercises by alternating between double and triple divisions. Play it in eighths for a while, play it in triplets for a while. After that you'll want to experiment with the "in-between" divisions, various shuffle feels.

Practice (always) with a metronome. When this gets comfortable, try dragging the notes. In other words, play a tad behind the beat, but consistently attack the notes at the same metric distance. Try setting your metronome to click on beats 2 and 4. If you have a metronome that can do measures, try setting it so that it does offbeats AND the 1st measure downbeat. This is a good exercise for working without the benefit of a rhythm section, and like all metronomes do, keeps you honest.

It don't mean a thing, if it ain't...
It's a drag...
"On the Up and Up: Jazz articulations.
Hipsters, flipsters, and finger-poppin' daddies

Posted by Ted at February 12, 2009 1:04 PM

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