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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 8, 2010 | More on sustain

We started this last week in our Tips article "The Virtues of Sustain," the concept of the components in achieving great sustain on the mandolin. Everybody understands the notion of starting the sound (picking), and that eventually the sound dies a natural death, or decay. Really, it's more dimensional than that, and a good fretted string musician needs to understand and mentally distinguish the difference between decay and release in creating rich, robust tone.

Visualize the Attack, Sustain, Decay, & Release of each note at slower tempos, known as the ASDR. After the invariable speed of the Attack, you fight the natural decay of the strings tone by keeping the pressure as close to the next Attack as possible. Strike, HOOOLLLLD, (quick shift), Strike next note, HOOOLLLLD, (quick shift), etc. This is easier when the next note is only putting the finger down on a higher fret.

This pressure is what minimizes the harsh division between sustain and decay in this picture. Mandolin virtuoso, David Grisman refers to this as "squeezing golf balls," and if you're an aural student of his playing, especially his slower tempo ballads, you hear just how strong his technique is. Note, we aren't talking about playing with tension, just a firm grip on the string with attention to the length of its vibration.

Two big challenges to consider: 1.) crossing strings, and 2.) going lower, when you "lengthen" the string (higher fret to lower fret). That momentary release of pressure produces a gap in the tone, descending the fretboard or moving from string to string. The key is to make your movements quickly, whether a whole position shift or just the next finger.

Keep this in mind as you practice slow tempo scales, modes, and arpeggios, and it will pay off big time in your regular playing!

Blowing through the phrase
Using the picking hand to start Good Tone.
Three Four Pull: Foregoing the Fourth Finger Frack.
What the Pros say about Good Tone.
The Virtues of Sustain

Posted by Ted at April 8, 2010 12:35 PM

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