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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September 9, 2010 | The perfect swing

Must be something about the season, the pending race for the pennant, and ultimately the World Series next month that gets us thinking, and hearing swamp ash against thread and leather. We've used this metaphor many times before in describing what happens with the perfect pick strike, that moment in time when a perfect swing meets material, ball against bat, plectrum against string. It bears repeating.


Bow sustains violin string, breath sustains trumpet phrase, and electronically, a guitar sound can be pushed indefinitely, but we plectrum artists only get one shot to make a clear bell-like sound. Sure, you can argue for tremolo, but you still need a healthy pick stroke to hit that tone out of the park. Many try to make up for a lack of sustain by playing faster. You might as well wobble your index finger over blowing loose lips. You aren't going anywhere unless you start a sound premeditatedly with intent and definition.

The only way to master this is to slow everything down. If you can't do it at turtle tempo, you certainly can't at hare. We introduced an exercise not long ago "Wholesome Notes" that took four simple notes to get a crystal clear sound


If you've been playing awhile, don't be afraid to go back and check your attacks and articulations out. Maybe you've been mastering scales and arpeggios, or grinding out a healthy fret finger sustain. Super if you are, but we can't stress enough, none of this means anything if you aren't starting your sound with good tone.

If you don't think you're objective enough, record your sound. Imagine doing a jingle, and you're recording your four whole notes for a Superbowl commercial. Is your audience going to be impressed? Are your notes as full and resonant as they possibly could be? Have you unhinged every vibrating cell in your mandolin you could possibly stimulate? Thrown the sound of the string to the grandstands?

Next, review our exercise "Sweeping for Tone." Note this is also a good step into developing control for tremolo. Finding that magic, illusive intersection between confident pick grip and loose, relaxed hands starts here, too. There simply are no shortcuts.

Print PDF: Sweeping for Tone

The Crack of the Bat
Starting with good tone
The virtues of sustain
Using the picking hand to start Good Tone.

Posted by Ted at September 9, 2010 5:37 AM

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