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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 12, 2012 | Tenor banjo and chord melody

Chord melody orchestrating on a solo mandolin is an approach that can be both entertaining and vexing at the same time. We marvel at the pros who do it so well, Don Stiernberg, Jethro Burns, Aaron Weinstein, Pete Martin, and scratch our heads at how they can be so adept at communicating vertical (chord) structure in addition to horizontal (melody) simulatenously.

We've attempted to unravel this a few times, and recently stumbled across a great resource over at the Deering Banjo website. Chord melody is an important facet of a good tenor banjoist which of course, is tuned in 5ths like the mandolin, and exactly the same as a mandola (North American version), CGDA. This makes for an easy comparison. (Hint: Check for vintage tenor banjo method books for some great instruction...)

We don't need to repeat the details here, David Bandrowski does an excellent job of dumbing it down for us with some great video excerpts, on a tune you probably already know. The trick? Three simple steps:

1. Learn a melody on one string, the highest, and horizontally up the fretboard.
2. Learn inversions of common chords. As we've mentioned before, 3-note chords are enough, and this frees you for a 4th voice to express melody
3. Put them all together

Simple? It can be when you break it down this way.

Check it out: Tenor Banjo Lesson - How To Build A Chord Melody


By the way--if you've ever considered purchasing an entry level 4-string tenor banjo, we highly recommend Deering's Goodtime Tenor Banjo for tone and value.

Building blocks for mandolin chord melody
More Three-note chords to supercharge your comping
More mandolin chord melody virtuosity from Aaron Weinstein
Bridging Chord Melody
Scratching the Surface of Chord Melody Playing on the Mandolin
Tips and Tricks--Chords up our sleeves

Posted by Ted at April 12, 2012 8:51 AM

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