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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 29, 2009 | Limiting your voicing. Three's company.

When mandolinists start playing chords for the first time, they often seek the easier 2- and 3-note chords. Makes sense because you can use the open strings and get a full chord sound with less effort initially. As playing matures, many seek 3- and 4-note chords, especially when they want to use closed fingering chords and move up the fretboard. The guitarist convert especially gravitates toward the full 4-note chord, longing for the thick texture and sonic power of all four courses on the mandolin, especially coming from a well-developed barre chord facility.

There remains a common misconception harmonically, however. Many players feel compelled to use four voices of a chord to communicate a chord's full harmonic make-up, often at the risk of mobility, and even effective voice leading. We've addressed this in several past articles (see reference below) and even have a page on Chord Economics explaining the chord member hierarchy. We explain that as a soprano register instrument, the bass voice is almost always in another instrument in the ensemble (guitar or bass), and the most important voices are the 3rd and 7th, along with any "color tone" chord extensions (b5, 7, 9, 11, 13). You can "get away" with this chord economy, but we would even go so far as to say often the mandolin sounds better with just the 3-note chords.

We also mentioned in last week's Tips article on chord/melody playing, the use of parallel 3rds and 6ths , basically 2-note chords, is also both effective leading and satisfactory in chord definition. It doesn't hurt to incorporate these in your chord language; often this helps you move smoothly from one fuller chord to the next. We have a wealth of voicings and strategies in our archives, including a great 3-note Chord Library PDF offered for free by Staff Research Coordinator, Charlie Jones.

Keep in mind good chord voice leading rarely moves a note more than 2 frets. If you aren't able to do this regularly, your own internal chord inversion catalog is probably not extensive enough. Time to look up more or start making up a few more of your own.

Conventional wisdom says two's company, three's a crowd. In chord voicing on a mandolin, three's company.

Grip #1

The benefits of third position fingering
Take three
3-note Chord Library
Need a chord?
Fretboard iPhone App

Posted by Ted at October 29, 2009 12:25 PM

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