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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 28, 2010 | Mobility--chord transit

Pocket chord books and chord encyclopedias are an excellent tool for the beginning mandolinist. The sooner you can expand your chord vocabulary, the sooner you can effectively perform a more lush function of harmonic variety to your music. Sure, professional music careers have been launched on three- and four-chord music, but if you're reading this, you're obviously interested in doing more.

The advanced beginner and intermediate player needs to embrace a more sophisticated way of looking at new chords. It's not just what finger goes where or the names of the notes, it's how it can be moved to other areas of the fretboard. This is especially in jazz and classical music. In folk/bluegrass, the music is geared around the fingers so you can get by on a very limited chord library. When you get to comping, though, you want to be able to add variety by not only playing the chord but inject multiple inversions and variations of them. You also want to develop good voice leading, no moving any of the fingers more than two or three frets at a time.

When you learn a new chord, immediately learn its name a fret or two below. You learn an Am7b5, thing what shifting it down one fret yields (G#m7b5). Do the same for two frets down (Gm7b5). Yes you may run out of fret real estate if it's in the lower positions, but you get the idea. Same with moving it up one fret (Bbm7b5) and two (Bm7b5).

Understand that if you take this approach to every new chord you learn, you've already effectively mastered it in 1/3 of the 12 keys. If you're mind is really nimble and can think more than 3 and 4 frets out, you've conquered 1/2 to 2/3 of all the keys.

Next step is a mental association with a chord that it might progress to. In the case of our Am7b5, a dominant chord will likely follow, a variation of E7 (E7b9, E9, E13, etc.). When you think chords in chunks like this, the contextual application make the chord more memorable. Adding motion allows your mental synapses to be reinforced by tactile motion. Your fingers literally teach your brain. This is why movement is used so much in elementary music education, moving the body makes the brain remember!

Another trick is immediately learning a chord's inversion. Repeat a set of them until they are comfortable and the next time they appear while you're comping, you'll be able to move fluidly and with little thought. Two or three different "reflexive" inversions of the Am7b5 will come in handy on the 29th chorus of comping "Autumn Leaves."

Live in an era of mobility...

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Posted by Ted at January 28, 2010 1:10 PM

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