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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October 8, 2009 | Whole(some) notes

Plectrum instruments can be at a severe disadvantage competing against bowed or blown instruments. The inability to sustain after the attack, let alone crescendo in volume means we have to dedicate ourselves to not only impeccable articulation and pick precision, but firm, committed finger grip after the stroke.

The majority of players, even some professionals are preoccupied with speed and note velocity when playing, but we maintain if you really want good tone, being able to play with bell-like stamina on long tones is where an alluring sonority starts. When Babe Ruth smacked one out of the park in his baseball glory, it wasn't just about the crack of swamp ash on the stitches, it was where that ball was going to land outside the playing area. We need this sort of mindset in our own playing.

Practicing long, whole-note or half-note tones is a good check-up to how you fare in this ability. Many Folk/Bluegrass musicians cover this weakness with a sustaining motorboat propeller approach to picking, and outside of this genre, it can be at best unsatisfying, and at worst, annoying. The succeeding pick stroke masks this weakness. If you are ever called on to play a set of exposed whole notes in a piece of music, you will quickly regret not mastering this capability.

How do you achieve it? Quite simply, take a scale you are already working on in the lower frets (FFcP would be fine!) and slow the time down fourfold. If you've been playing quarter notes, convert to whole notes, eighth notes to half note. Focus mentally on the pick stroke (especially the downstroke) and the sustain of the fretting fingers, but most crucially, use your ear. Is the resulting sound crystal clear? Does it waiver from a weakening finger? Does it last to your instrument's full potential? This checklist should be employed on EVERY note.

Convert quarter notes to whole notes

Next, move this up to 3rd and 5th position, playing closed finger scales in the 3rd-9th fret range. Can you get the same sort of clarity? It becomes even harder up the fretboard, as you move to the narrower fret spacings, precision becomes more of a challenge. When you are ready for the next challenge, move it above the 12th fret and project those high octave "pings." Good players can do this, and don't think this just came naturally. They had to work at it, too. They started slow.

We can't stress enough, the importance of this skill in playing the mandolin well.

Put a little "whole-some" in your practice.

The Crack of the Bat
Forsaking the notes for the music
Starting with good tone
Using the picking hand to start Good Tone.
What makes a jazz mandolin?

Posted by Ted at October 8, 2009 1:08 PM

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