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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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December 29, 2011 | Your local Chord Transit Authority.

This week's Tips and Tricks column is brought to you by Groveland Software developer and founder Craig Schmoller. The creator of Mando ModeExplorer and Jazz CitternExplorer continues to bring clarity and insight into the handy world of 5ths tuning.


There's really nothing new under the sun.
Craig Schmoller

Electric automobiles are here today. Yet, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were producing them in the late 19th century, and even Ford's wife personally drove one. The sophistication of the mysterious Antikythera Mechanism rivals that of modern geared machines, yet it is dated at 2100 years old! For decades, jazz guitarists employ drop-3-voicing inversion techniques, and guitar educator Mel Bay introduces his Rhythm Chord System for guitar in 1973, distilling it all down to a simple recipe.

Really, there's really nothing new under the sun, now is there?

Just like guitarists, players of fifths-tuned instruments might be overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite combinations of notes that make up chord inversions. Libraries of chord encyclopedias have been developed based on the premise that, "Holy smokes, how can a human being possibly learn all these things in a lifetime?" Well, fret not, my friend. You may not have been aware of this bit of ancient alchemy: It turns out that on all stringed instruments, we can apply a simple set of steps to any chord "shape" to get the next inversion of that shape.

Of course, each tuning will have its own set of rules. For example, I will leave the set of steps for standard guitar tuning to be worked out by the reader. But it's there, a simple recipe, and certainly worth the effort to discover.

As for the fifths-tuned instruments we love, here's the wisdom of the ages. To get the next inversion of any chord shape:

1. Take the fourth course fret, add 3, and find it on the first course.
2. Take the third course fret, add 5, and find it on the second course.
3. Take the second course fret, add 2, and find it on the fourth course.
4. Take the first course fret, add 2, and find it on the third course.

That is the key to inverting any chord shape, anywhere, on mandolin. You can witness this marvel in action at ModeExplorer Inversion Horizons.

Socrates reported that Plato didn't like this new-fangled invention they called "writing." People would begin to rely on it, he thought, get lazy, and cease to work things out in their heads. Perhaps, but now Plato would be pleased: You possess the key to becoming a veritable Living Mandolin Chord Encyclopedia!


Hello Mac ModeExplorers everywhere
Exploring Diatonic Chord Progressions
Mobility--chord transit
Two-chord jam; feed the beast.

Posted by Ted at December 29, 2011 6:35 AM

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