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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December 25, 2008 | Doo Wop and FFcP: 'I vi7 ii7 V7'

Speaking of Christmas, we just received an interesting obeservation from JazzMando Research Assistant, Tom Weisman who has been working on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." He observes"the first part of the song goes: C Am7 Dm7 G7), (I) realized this part of thesong is the same progression as that in your super FFcP exercise (i.e. I iv ii V7)."

Excerpted from the "Getting Into Jazz Mandolin FFcP Exercises:"
Excerpted from 'Getting Into Jazz Mandolin' FFcP Patterns
Click for better view

That beginning chord progression is a very common one; think 50's "Doo Wop" genre as in "Why do Fools Fall in Love?" or "Heart and Soul." It's a great progression that never leaves the key, and there is a very strategic reason for inserting it in the FFcP catechism.

First, we think it's a good one to get into your ears because it is so common, and spelling the chords out linearly is good for associating the music's harmonic structure with improvising. It's also very healthy voice leading; you don't want to arpeggiate your chords with the root note in the bass all the time. Jumping from CEGB to ACEG to DFAC to GBDF is far too disjunct melodically; much better to keep closely related chord tones in the same vicinity, and spelled above is CEGB, CEGA, DFAC, DFGB. Thinking theoretically the whole chord in an inversion like this takes years of experience, but this is a healthy way to get the sound of this progression into an "auto-pilot" proficiency in your fingers.

If you've been able to get proficient all 12 keys with the FFcP regimen, this pattern is now (literally) at your fingertips. You can do variations on this by just taking the last two measures and working the 'ii7 V7' cadence all over the fretboard. Try playing these last two measures in other inversions:


The simple 'ii7 V7' is such an important progression to be able to communicate melodically; it's very much worth the time to teach it to your fingers in all keys, and the FFcP approach can get you systematically down that road.

Posted by Ted at 08:44 AM

December 18, 2008 | Shelby Eicher; TAB and audio for "Christmas Time is Here"

We have a Christmas treat for you from JazzMando Oklahoma correspondent Shelby Eicher, a clever rendition of the Peanuts cartoon classic, "Christmas Time is Here." Serving as Director of Education for the National Fiddler Hall of Fame (NFHoF) whose mission is to "establish and maintain a permanent National Fiddler Hall of Fame, to develop and promote public interest in old time fiddling, and country and bluegrass music," semi-retired Eicher invests his time in school outreach programs with school assemblies and live demonstrations, along with organizing training programs, fiddle camps, fiddle tours, concert series, and fiddle competitions.

Obviously, Shelby's main background is fiddle, but as a rabid Western Swing aficionado, he's taking to the 4-string plectrum, and in this case a jazz Mandola, designed and built in Tulsa around 15 years ago when he was playing with Roy Clark. Shelby reports, "He completed the instrument in 2001. All of the pickups that I tried in it were inferior. I had Seymour Duncan make me custom humbuckers last year and they are great although I only have the neck pickup in at this time. I'm still undecided whether to put the bridge pickup in or not. My scale length is 16 3/4. The woods are spruce and maple and the binding is Tulip wood. The A D G C tuning is awesome for Jazz. The more I play it the more I like the way everything lays on the instrument."

Jazz Mandola of Shelby Eicher; click for close-up

We'll be bringing you more from this amazing musician in the future, but for now, put your instrument down and warm up the hot cocoa for this favorite seasonal tune. He's been gracious enough to include some TAB outlines for tips if you want to tackle it yourself, but understand it's performed in the CGDA mandola tuning when you listen. (Of course you can still play this on mando, it will just be a 5th higher.)

Enjoy audio: Shelby Eicher: Christmas Time is Here.

Christmas Time is Here TAB PDF.

Posted by Ted at 09:33 AM

December 11, 2008 | Under my thumb

We recently received an interesting observation from one of our JazzMando regulars, Tom Weisman in regards to thumb position on the pick. Tom writes, "For whatever reason, over the years of using the flatpick on the guitar and now mando, I micro-managed the pick by flexing/extending the distal interphalangeal joint of my thumb. My insight is that the joints of the thumb should be passive, and the up/down picking of individual notes should arise from the wrist (the major pivot point). By looking at videos, it seems like the thumb joints are usually left in extension, but even if held in some degree of flexion they remain stable and the motion (and hence control) is at the wrist. This increases accuracy/consistency/control. After 4 years mando/35 years guitar playing I have developed a habit that has significantly limited my sound. I am working on this change whenever I practice, but recognize when I approach a difficult passage, my tendency is to revert to my old habit."

There are many variables to pick grip, and not many are a "one-size-fits-all" proposition, but we feel quite strongly that a loosely extended thumb is not the best way to control the pick. Tom makes a good point. A slightly bent lock gives much better control as well as power. Think about a tennis arm swing; if you extended both upper and lower arm in the swing rather than locking the elbow cocked at contact, you'd lose exponential control over the ball during the swing.

The same could be said pushing a '72 El Camino out of a snowbank. Imagine leaning over the back bumper with your back and legs extended straight. You could never get the grip, traction, or power to really push if you weren't in some kind of locked, semi-crouch position. Your thumb plays the integral part of power in your pickstroke; a healthy downstroke depends on a healthy, vital grip on the pick.

More thoughts on pick grip.

Posted by Ted at 03:47 PM

December 04, 2008 | Forsaking the notes for the music.

A couple years ago, we wrote an article about taking drab exercises and drills and injecting higher aesthetics into them--as a matter of routine. Of course, that notion seems contradictory at first, if not oxymoronic. Planned spontaneity? Structured creativity?

Reread article: Real Swell...


Mike Marshall has an excellent DVD set out now. (We'll be posting a review later, by the way.) At the end of Disc One, in summary he discusses playing your scales with rich tone, and ALWAYS playing them musically. Don't just play a sequence of sterile notes, play them as music. The above graphic demonstrates a nice twist to the first measures of the very beginning FFcP pattern, an approach you can use through the entire duration of the exercise.

Notice this is not as easy as you might think it is, playing with controlled sustain, smooth even volume, no dynamic jerk or breaks between the notes. One day you can focus on playing all your FFcP (or any other repetitive scales) this way. Next day, try doing it in reverse; start loud and play soft in the middle of the two measures. Another variation is to start as soft as you can, end the measures as loud as you can. Follow up with the converse.

If you haven't developed the control necessary to pull this off, you're not likely to play your songs or literature with ANY semblence of dynamic finesse. By playing something you already have in your fingers, this sort of pattern, you really free up the brain to focus on tone and even execution.

Other variations? How about accenting every other note, the upbeat, working on your upstroke. If you really want to swing, this ability is critical. For many it's not all that intuitive, either. Teach your hands and pick this ability, it will show up in your music.

The beauty of all this is you aren't adding to the practice time, you're simply making it more efficient. If you're already doing the scales as warm-ups anyway, this just injects a little variety, let alone musicality in your routine. Enjoy yourself!

Swing and swell...

Extra Credit: MandolinSessions Archive

Posted by Ted at 11:11 AM

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