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Tips & Tricks Mel Bay Mandolin Sessions








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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November 27, 2005 | Dynamic Results

Discriminate loudness; it's something everyone longs for at one time or another but have you ever stopped to analyze how you can achieve it with just your pick? Sure, a better cannon of an instrument might help you play louder, but what do you do when you want to play with dynamics? (Not just loud, loud, and louder...)

Look no farther than your Right Hand, the pick. For now, let's just focus on the downstroke and three different variables to a loud attack, assuming you have a stable set in your left hand finger:

Pick force: A strong downward thrust will yield a louder attack. Simply forcing faster, and not farther gives you volume and control.

Pick distance: Start the pick higher and you develop more force without necessarily demanding more strength. Note the trade-off here may well be less control, and because of a longer follow-through, less time to recover for the upstroke.

Pick angle: Tilt the right side of the pick inward and you'll notice a difference in tone and volume. Sometimes this simple twist can give you a richer sound.

There's a time and a place for attention to each one of these approaches to volume. For speed, you'll want more force, for definition, you'll want more stroke. Sometimes in slower passages, a simple inward twist of the pick will give you richer tone.

Posted by Ted at 11:41 AM

November 15, 2005 | It's in the Hole Pt. 2

More on the difference between Oval Hole and F Hole instruments from the always articulate Niles Hokkanen. This subject was first brought up in this archive of Tips and Tricks: "It's in the Hole."

"From my own experience, oval-hole instruments will give you a wider spectrum of tone quality. A lot of people prefer F-hole instruments because they are so tonally consistent. You play soft - you get a certain sound at low volume; you play harder - you get the same sound/tone at a higher volume.

On ovals, when you play with a hard attack, you end up getting a different tone quality (as well as increased volume) than you do when playing more softly. I find that I have to work a lot harder to pull the type of dynamics and sounds I want out of an F-hole instrument as opposed to an oval-hole. Plus there are the matters of sustain and having a more powerful bottom end. I can get closer to an electric guitar attack on a round-hole instrument. (And having a metal bridge saddle gives you and edge on this additionally.) And use steel strings instead of bronze - more bite."
Niles H

Niles is both master and innovator of all things Mando, a true Renaissance Man.
Check out his Mandocrucian Catalog, or better, take advantage of one of his many clinics.

Posted by Ted at 03:07 PM

November 12, 2005 | Need a chord?

If you've been playing mandolin a while, you're probably already doing this, but for efficient chord to chord motion, it's a good idea to have several chord variations immediately at your fingertips...

In general, you want to honor the 3 fret rule; try to keep shifts less than this where possible. This means not only quick, smart position changes for the hands, but smooth voice leading for the ears. Many times, it's an elementary matter of one or two notes that shift a half step (one fret!) from chord to chord; never underestimate the harmonic power of such simplicity!

You can go out and get a chord book (we recommend Mel Bay's Deluxe Encyclopedia of Mandolin Chords) if you want a hard copy, but there are some web and software resources that will do you well, too: Chord Library * FREE!
Groveland Software Labs Chord Catalog (MandoMode Explorer) * LISTEN to the chord!
Niles Hokkanen's Guide To Mandolin Chords (and how to use them) * Context is everything!

And check out our own article on Mandolin Chord Economics!

Posted by Ted at 03:58 PM

November 05, 2005 | John McGann

Jazz and Celtic virtuoso multi-instrumentalist John McGann, Associate Professor at the renown Berklee College of Music in Boston, is an artist and educator you'll want to follow. Author of several great columns, including Mandolin Magazine's "Octave Mandolin," John possesses a wide range of expertise in many styles, including Celtic, Jazz, Gypsy Jazz, and Roots music.

To start with, check out his insights on Improvisation. John gives you tips on how to "get under the hood" of basic chord structure, and exploit its potential in smart linear, melodic creation.

You'll also want to get your arms around his thoughts on chord construction, the importance of the placement of the 3rd & 7th in voicing concise but flexible chords.

Get to know John McGann!

And for a delcious treat, pickup both the two Wayfaring Strangers album. Just imagine Ralph Stanley and banjo, crooning over a modal jazz trio. Appalachia in Birdland.

Monroe meets Mingus...

Posted by Ted at 11:00 AM

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