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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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March 22, 2012 | The Muse Continuum. Improvisation and Inspiration.

We're in the process of writing our final Mandolin Sessions article (see archives). Sad to see this great resource come to an end this year, but we are promised the archives will remain indefinitely, and of course there's plenty of material already there to explore and revisit. Get done? Go back and start all over again. It's that full of treasure.


We wanted to go out with a bang, so we enlisted the help of the current mandolin giants, big names youve come to know and cherish, asking where their Muse came from, based on this premise:

An artist has two sides in attacking a solo. One is objective, the intellectual, the analysis of chord structure, modes, arpeggios, riff repetition and regeneration of familiar motifs. The other is subjective, innate, intuitive--the spontaneous creation of "the Muse," material that's inspired or seems to come out of nowhere. The first is conscious and calculated, the second is subconscious, reactive, indefinable and illusively of the moment.
The question for you is where does your material come from? No doubt its a combination of both, but how would describe the sparks in your individual creative process? What are the elements, how do other great artists or other ensemble members impact your playing, what makes for a more satisfying solo for you, your bandmates, and your audience?

What's interesting is out of the eleven professionals we asked this, we received eleven astute but different answers. When it comes to improvisation, there really is more than one way to skin a cat. Certainly there was some commonality. Nobody wrote off knowing your theory. Nobody depended entirely on bare soul, either. It was all part of a continuum of sorts. Some had neat tricks, singing your lines, constructing a beginning and a thoughtful end, filling out the middle. Many emphasized playing off each other and being "in the moment." One offered melding left side brain with right, and one compared improvisation to madness.


We'll be looking forward to sharing these answers in the coming months. Meanwhile, check out some of our previous articles on the topic in our "Further" listings below.

Don Stiernberg: Axis of the 3rds & 7ths
More Appropriate
Major 7th Arpeggios
Improvisation Techniques
Lydian Tracks Pt. 1: A Path to Modal Improvising
Lydian Tracks Pt. 2: A Path to Modal Improvising

Posted by Ted at March 22, 2012 7:47 AM

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