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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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April 26, 2006 | Axis of the 3rd & 7ths

In previous articles we've pondered the significance of choosing meaningful melodic material. Scales and modes are one way to perceive and conceptualize the linear facets of creating melodies. It's a good approach, but one that often eludes the harmonic impact of good soloing.

Just as in choosing (comping) chord tones that bear the meat of harmonic progression, you can apply the same principles in what notes to emphasize, linger, or land on. In our Chord Economics page, we mention the 3rd and the 7th, plus any extended chord voicings (-9, +11, 13, etc.)

Don Stiernberg describes a user-friendly concept in highlighting the harmonic meat in his "Axis of the 3rd and 7th." It's as simple as notating the chord names of a song and writing down the 3rd and 7th of each (either staff notation, TAB, or note letters) for a chorus. If you're first two chords of a song are Cmaj7 and A7, you'd write E and B for the first chord and C# and G for the next.

Continue on throught the rest of the song this way and you get a roadmap or graph of where your soloing should take you, communicating effectively the inherent harmonic progression.

It's only two notes... But it's the BEST two!

Posted by Ted at 8:39 AM

April 21, 2006 | More Blues

Are you stuck in Three-chord Blues? There's certainly a great legacy of music in the I7, IV7, V7 approach to playing 12 bar blues, but if you're craving something a little more complex harmonically, how about some advanced vocabulary, and a little more complex alternative?

We have some graduate level coursework in our site section Blues 501.

Swing Blues (ala Jethro Burns), Bebop Blues, some Charlie Parker "Bird Blues," we even experiment with some minor blues. When you get these patterns down, check out the "Turnarounds" section toward the end to take the static last two bars of the pattern and give it some new life.

Turnarounds are something you can apply to other sections of music in your improvisation, so it's a good concept to be familiar with. We explore this in our last two MandolinSessions articles for Mel Bay, fodder for feeding new life into simpler folk music.

Reharm Part I

Reharm Part II

Read Blues 501

Posted by Ted at 2:29 AM

April 12, 2006 | Circle of Fifths

Equal time.

One thing that permeates our treatment of music theory and playing techniques is the emphasis on fluency in all keys. Folk/Bluegrass musicians are typically more comfortable in keys based on the open notes of their strings; mandolinists no exception, many fear wandering past the keys of G, D, A, E. Maybe a venture into F or C, but who would even think of Eb minor with its treacherous six flats. (How about ?Thelonius Monk's "Round Midnight")

Jazz music heeds no chromatic boundaries. Tonal Centers weave in and out of these foreign keys without batting an eye, and so should you. Our exercises are written intentionally with transposablity in mind, exploiting the beautiful symmetry of the mandolin's open fifths tuning. Remember, when you think the fretboard in scale degree relationships rather than just 12 notes, you are ready to embrace it's simplicity, 4 FFcP positions rather than 12. (Try that on a sax or piano--good luck!)

A good visual to start understanding key relationships is to internalize the Circle of Fifths. Memorizing these gives you immediate access to Dominant/Tonic relationships, and helps you get around all the keys, with a well-grounded confidence in the finite nature of keys.

Remember, there's ONLY twelve keys.

View: Circle of Fifths

Notice its similarity to a clock. If you start anywhere, your first key is the 5th of the next one clockwise. Also notice as you move clockwise, you add a flat; counter clockwise you either remove a flat or add a sharp.

Posted by Ted at 5:51 AM

April 6, 2006 | Wendy Anthony

Lists you can't live without...

Possibly one of the most comprehensive Mandolin "Link" pages on the internet, check out Canadian 8-string mando enthusiast & educator Wendy Anthony's link page for some great mandolinist websites, MP3 Downloads, educational materials, and our personal favorite, the Videos On-line Links toward the bottom of the page.

Wendy is also a regular contributor to Mel Bay's MandolinSessions bi-monthly webzine.

Posted by Ted at 10:18 AM

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