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"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 1, 2011 | Articulate Articulations

Getting down...

Conventional practice in picking the mandolin has the player articulating alternating in up and down strokes. In general, the downstroke is always on the beat (or prominent subdivisions) and up for the offbeats or syncopations. There's a pretty logical reason for this: the downstroke bears the strongest punch. You'll even find some Bluegrass soloists who will achieve maximum volume, simply by making nearly every stroke a down one.

Down down down down. Down down down down.

While this lends volume, it also lacks nuance. You gain acoustic edge in the ensemble, but at the risk of losing aesthetic subtlety and dynamic range. A good pick upstroke offers this, and of course, doubles picking efficiency. What goes down, must come up.

Think legendary crooner, Frank Sinatra. "Scooby doo be doo." Nonsense lyrics certainly, but the vowels are an aesthetic in themselves. Jazz educators use these vowels and consonances to communicate the phrases and tonguing of wind players, "DOO dah DOO dah DOO dah." Though the pick is not as adept at changing the attack, we still have at our disposal volume and subdivision to communicate similar dynamics.

This isn't to say the downstroke isn't important in jazz, you need force for volume. What's necessary though is to develop control and balance over both sides of the stroke. Here's an old (June 2005) exercise from a Mandolin Sessions article to help strengthen your upstroke. Don't just play it straight, try to swing the rhythms:

Click image for closeup

On the "Up and Up": Jazz Articulations
Blowing Through the Phrase
Developing Your Voice
It's a drag...
Stricken with pickin'

Posted by Ted at September 1, 2011 5:37 AM

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