Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
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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May 27, 2006 | About our relationship

It's not just about notes; it's about note relationships...

The baby steps of learning the notes on the fretboard can get you into elementary playing. However, if you want to venture into the next level, on into musical maturity, you have to understand how the notes work with each other. Knowing the way the 5th of the scale relates to the 1st, how the 3rd defines the major-ness or minor-ness of the key, what the 7th or 4th likes to pull to; this is taking your playing from rote learning into creative construction.

Our FFcP approach is based on this. As we've mentioned before, we slip a little music theory into what could just be a little physical conditioning. Hopefully not only your fingers and ears are experiencing this, but your subconscious brain has picked it up, too. Many have weighed in after several months of drilling these and claimed a new dimension to their improvising. The notes just seem to come out of nowhere!

(Mission accomplished!)

Think of cross country driving. You head off in the car with a full tank of gas and you stop to refill based on the capacity of your tank. You don't necessarily care about the individual destinations, your pit stops are generally based on distance, regardless of geographic notoriety. You probably won't even care or remember the name of the towns, even if it has the Shrine of the Holy Tortilla for a tourist attraction. Your concern is the interval, not the stop.

Another example of relationships is in our 'ii V7 I' stock chord positions. These are fun to play just as written, but if you've taken the time to get them into your fingers, and on in to the next step of moving them up and down the fretboard, you've discovered a whole new tactile world of comping.

For you aspiring Mandola players, we've transposed these, basically just rewritten the names of the chords over the top of the template. Simple as that, in the world of relationships, you're not learning new chords, you're just taking what you already know physically in your fingers and placing them into new harmonic contexts.

Download 'ii V7 I' Stock Chord Progressions for Mandola

Pick up a Circle of Fifths Polish Cloth

Posted by Ted at 10:45 AM

May 24, 2006 | Affirmative Action

Accomplishing Chromatic Equality and Justice for All (Keys).

It gets preached ad nauseam around here; in jazz, you must get over the fear and apprehension of those gnarly enharmonics and learn all 12 keys! A recurring strategy in our own quest manifests in the way we've construct many of the Jazz Mandology exercises. Rather than ascending or descending in steps, we like to move around the Circle of Fifths. You can follow this trek yourself even outside of the exercises by taking your own freshly discovered passages or great licks and transposing them in all keys moving them through the Circle of Fifths.

If you're not that creative yet, here's a jump-start; some of the exercise around here that implement the Circle of Fifths:

Guides and Gravity (4-3, 7-1 pulls)

Bebop Mandology (Altered Scale study)

Three Four Pull (more stretching)

Minor Pull (minor 4-3, 7-1 pulls)

Of course, it's best if you can memorize as many of these as possible, and a great visual aid and memory jog is to throw one of our Circle of Fifths Polish Cloths over your music stand (or case) and cycle on through. Clean up your playing, and your mandolin.

It's all part of our 12-step program.

Posted by Ted at 09:23 PM

May 21, 2006 | RSS Feeds

JazzMando announces RSS Feeds. What the heck is that?

If you already know and this is old hat, and all you have to do is go to the bottom of the Page and click on one of the Quick Nav Links. If you're not familiar with RSS, this is a way of gathering our frequently updated (3 to 5 days) "What's New" and "Tips and Tricks" articles, without having to come to the site in between. Not that we don't want you to visit frequently, there are plenty more articles here! This just gives you the chance to get conveniently caught up between submissions, and drag a number of different news items to your door.

This has become a widely popular way of gathering and filtering your favorite news, and it's no longer limited to the pocket-protector-bearing geek crowd.

About RSS: Really Simple Syndication is a lightweight XML format designed for sharing headlines and other Web content. Think of it as a distributable "Wassup?" for your site. Originated by UserLand in 1997 and subsequently used by Netscape to fill channels for Netcenter, RSS has evolved into a popular means of sharing content between sites (including the BBC, CNET, CNN, Disney, Forbes, Motley Fool, Wired, Red Herring, Salon, Slashdot, ZDNet, and more). RSS solves myriad problems webmasters commonly face, such as increasing traffic, and gathering and distributing news. RSS can also be the basis for additional content distribution services.

If you are an AOL or Yahoo subscriber, you already have this service on MyAOL and Google also has a page for a free reader, and you can find a number of alternatives here:
Stand alone RSS Readers

You can pick up the JazzMando feeds here by entering the following URL links to your own RSS Reader:
What's New:
Tips and Tricks:

Some other cool ones:
Mandolin Cafe News
Mandolin Cafe Classifieds
Elderly New Instruments, latest
Elderly Used Instruments, latest

Let us know your favorite mandolin feeds: Contact

Feed me...

Posted by Ted at 06:30 AM

May 19, 2006 | Chord Extension: Context

Printed chord notation in almost every musical genre is generally vague and incomplete. It's impossible to be specific for two reasons. One, complexity, in that chord symbols are merely shorthand for a much deeper description of chord content that can change too rapidly to keep up with, and two, the subtleties of context.

Take a straight C Major chord as an example. If you were playing Texas Swing style jazz, it's inferred that you have the license and liberty of adding a Maj 6 or 6/9 extension, and you'd be right in style. If you were playing more progressive Modal Jazz, this sound would be quite corny and out of place; you're more likely to add an Augmented 11th and improvise around a Lydian Scale (Major Scale with raised 4th scale degree.)

You really can't know these nuances without extensive listening. It's a complex thing not easily expressed on paper. Jazz is such an oral tradition, anyway. If you're going to be speaking the language, it's crucial to know the terrain and something about its indigenous natives.

We suggest listening to 3 hours of music to every 1 hour of practicing.

There's also the issue of conflicting extensions. A +9 or b9 might be completely appropriate in a song, but not if another player has made a choice different than yours. Again, it's the art of listening, and the beautiful way musicians intuitively interact, anticipate, and communicate at split-second speed.

Playing well together...

Posted by Ted at 05:28 AM

May 15, 2006 | Mind the Gap

Riding the London Tube (Subway) on our European vacation this last month, we chuckled every time we exited the car, admonished by the strident recorded public announcement "Mind the Gap!" (The wife was moved enough to bring home a souvenir mug with the phrase...) The reference is to the critical space between car and landing when you first step off onto the platform, a potential dangerous thing, getting caught between moving train and solid concrete. It's easy to mentally coast so the warning is one to be taken seriously.

The sonic playing space playing note to note on the mandolin requires attention, too. Good tone is all about what goes on between the notes--that magical intersection of the release of one note and the attack of the second. It's just as easy taking this for granted, "coughing" or hacking notes, verses "breathing" a continuous sequence of notes or phrase. How can you make this a conscious thing, and then integrate into your subconscious playing and concept of line?

We suggest the following (PDF) exercise from our Free Downloads Page:

Lydian DUDU

This is an excellent warm-up for RH wrist and LH fingers. Focus on creating maximum, full tone with crisp, bell-like snap of the pick, a full stroke of the wrist, and a sustained duration connecting every note. Work on an even, smooth tone, especially between string crossings. Keep the left hand fingers close to the fingerboard so as to connect each note.

And always, Mind the Gap!

Posted by Ted at 10:45 AM

May 13, 2006 | Octave pulses

Put your 1st finger on one of any of your lower three strings G, D, A. Now place your 4th (or 3rd in the higher frets) an octave up on the next highest string 5 frets up and you have at your disposal a powerful chordal or melodic trick.

Melodically, you can "mirror" anything you do with your 1st finger moving it up and down the fretboard making it your melody note and the next string higher and octave higher. It lends an energy, boosting the fundamental sound of the lower string.

It can also yield a powerful and pure percussive sound for textural chord variety as well, moving in and out of standard three and four-note chord voicing.

This is standard vocabulary from any good R & B rhythm guitarist, but also commonly used by mandolinists John Reischman and Sam Bush.

Posted by Ted at 06:12 AM

May 08, 2006 | Rhythm Guitar/Mandolin

We like to think the mandolin wields untapped potential outside of its conventional ensemble settings. You've heard of the Bluegrass/Folk G-chop chord, a powerful rhythmic pulse or throbbing cue in acoustic environments that provides a subdivision backbeat. Listen to a good R & B rhythm guitarist, especially complex but repetitive background rhythm. It's that same choked, treble-ish sound that can drive the rest of the band, much like a good hihat beat in jazz...

Why not use this approach occasionally to drive a pop or rock band? The mandolin is quite adept at a percussive drive, so by all means, exploit this feature. The trick is in right (and sometimes left) hand muting or choking. A solid downstroke with a series of syncopated muting upstrokes can offer an ensemble a subliminal energy as good as any rhythm guitar.

Get funky...

Posted by Ted at 05:27 AM

May 06, 2006 | A String Primer

Forgive us for being a bit remedial on this but if you're an inexperienced player, or just never have been into the technical side of equipment, this might be some insight into acquiring the kind of strings you need to achieve the sound you want.

We're unabashedly fond of Flatwound strings for reasons we'll go into shortly but first, let's explore the tonal difference between Roundwound and Flatwound, as well as bronze vs. nickel or steel. Roundwound strings are predominantly popular in Folk/Bluegrass and any environment where projection is needed. They have what we call "BRZ," or Bright, Ringy, Zingy tone, very much emphasizing the higher partials of a string's overtone series. Flatwound strings focus more on the fundamental and lower partials, yielding a less complex and some would argue "duller" sound.

Flatwound are wrapped tighter and offer the residual by-product of longer shelf life and playing-time simply because they resist oxidation and corrosion brought on by perspiration, age, and vibration. The smooth feel is desired by some who long for the quiet moving across or up and down the fingerboard. Roundwound offer "grip" and many happily sacrifice string life for the more "present" tone.

String construction is a factor. Bronze strings are generally brighter, Phosphor Bronze brighter yet. Strings can also be Nickel or Steel, which won't be as brilliant. In the last few years, string manufacturers have offered a "coated" string which can also slow deterioration, albeit at a significantly higher cost. There are different approaches to coating the string. Elixir coats the string after it's wrapped, D'addario coats the winding itself before being wrapped over the string core. The way it's wrapped will also affect string feel; some like the "smoothness" while others are critical of the lack of finger traction.

Gauging and thickness can be an issue. Heavier gauges allow you to play harder and give more resistance while Medium or lighter strings yield more facility and player sensitivity. Results will depend on the set-up of your instrument, how high the action is or how well-dressed the frets are. A good repair tech can breathe an amazing amount of life into your instrument with some professional attention. If you have never had this done, you are probably missing out on the best potential of your instrument. Understand most instruments don't come set-up well, let alone adjusted to your unique playing style.

Lastly, don't forget the factors of playing environment. What sounds good to you on your lap playing alone on the front porch can have an entirely different result playing with others. Larger groups (or louder competing instruments) may force you into somewhat of a compromise.

Don't be afraid to experiment with string brands. Just because something works for someone else doesn't mean it will work for your instrument or playing style. Many players with multiple instruments will use a different brand or gauge depending on the individual instrument's tonal characteristics.

Posted by Ted at 11:22 AM

May 02, 2006 | The Ab Position

Stealing (okay, borrowing) from the reigning king of jazz mandolin, let's look at another trick from the playbook of Don Stiernberg.

We approach fingering positions as four distinct moveable closed positions in our FFcP strategy. Don reduces this with a concept even simpler than this with his Ab System . Finger a two-octave scale pattern on the lowest string G, and in essence, you have our 1st FFcP on the lower octave and a 4th FFcP on the second octave (starts with Ab on the 4th finger). Two octaves without moving your hand at all. Do the same thing on an A natural scale, one fret up.

Now, you can play a two-octave Bb Scale this same way shifting everything up one fret. Note you aren't starting on a 2nd finger. Progress your scales up the frets in this manner and you have a whole new and efficient way to conceptualize the fingerboard.

Which tactic is better? We like the versatility of the FFcP, staying in one position, but the drawback is just that, you tend to trap yourself into one position or area of the fingerboard. However, Don's Ab System is not as fluid if you have complex and multiple tonal center changes within a song. You can find yourself jumping mechanically and disjointly from one position to the next.

Try to incorporate both ways!

Posted by Ted at 07:09 PM

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