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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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April 2, 2009 | The blur between intent and mistake

"The beauty of jazz is the blur between intent and mistake."

This is an original JazzMando quote, and an observation similar to multi-Grammy winner Quincy Jones' notion of the "balance of science and soul." We addressed this recently our recent review of Dr. David Cohen's C# mandolin, the idea that art in architecture and building has a foundation in math, science, but frequently crosses into the realm of intuitive intangibility. Don Stiernberg touched on this in last week's Mindful Noodling, "organizing sounds into some repetitive structure--a tune, collection of phrases, whatever."

Organize. Structure.

We maintain rules are important to know. Understanding music theory can give you all kinds of benefits in music creation, but we can lose sight of the randomness and ambiguity of muse. It's not music "science." It's music "theory."

We learn the "rules" or better, established "procedures and practices," things like the 7th scale degree resolves to the 1st, the 4th resolves to the 3rd, and a dominant function chord resolves to tonic. Then we go about breaking these rules with our intuition, and allowing the creative force to bend the framework into something new. (Of course you can't effectively break a rule, unless you know what the rule is.)

Take Pentonic Scales, for example. These can be the "White Bread" of improvisation, dull, flavorless, but something for the peanut butter and jelly to stick to. Play a G pentatonic in a four measure pattern, and no matter how fast you can play those notes, eventually the ear gets tired. Playing an Ab pentonic in that G phrase might be "breaking the rule," but if you did it for one measure and came back to the G pentatonic just to demonstrate you were still in touch with the tonal center, you'd add something very interesting to the compositional frame of your solo.

Would it come across as a mistake? Hardly, if it were done with conviction and discretion. Look at structure in a Blues Scale, the b5th and the play between subjective interplay between minor and major 3rd. This is archetypical rule-breaking, and no denying the "soul" in the result.

Play a wrong note, you're either on the right note or only a fret away from resolving to the right one, if you use (and trust!) your ear.

Pentatonic FFcP
Improvisation: Pattern Based vs. Theory Based
Analysis: Macroscopes and Microscopes Part 1
Analysis: Macroscopes and Microscopes Part 2

Posted by Ted at April 2, 2009 1:36 PM

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