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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April 30, 2009 | Life in the slow lane

We've recently received several inquiries about the tempos of the recorded exercises on the accompaniment CD in the Getting Into Jazz Mandolin" book. Concerned about the tempo being too fast, these poor souls have felt flush with inadequacy, and we want to explain why the tempos seem brisk and issue a license to NOT speed...

Tackle things at slower, comfortable tempos!

In crafting materials for publishing, we have to take into account the demographic of who will be purchasing the book, and what level(s) to aim for on the intensity dial. We really had the advance beginner folk mandolinist in mind, assuming someone with a degree of familiarity of the fretboard. That's not to say a beginner won't find value in its pages, but he/she will have to be a bit patient. There is a ton of fundamental groundwork here to build off of, and tackling things at slower, comfortable tempos is not only "permissible," it's encouraged!

Two schools of thought on audio support. One is to create a "play-along," a track to perform in synch with. This is great for starting, but once the concepts get into the fingers, the recorded tempo will be too slow. The other approach, and the one we've taken is for the track to be "this is what it will sound like eventually." Getting the "gestalt," the big-picture concept gives you a goal to strive for, but that's not to say you have to start at the recorded tempo. Offer tracks at both slow and fast tempos? Perhaps, but in this case we had over two hours of audio that had to be squeezed under 70 minutes. It was a judgment call.

The priority of tone supersedes speed. If you've been around JazzMando long, you've heard this pounded into you. It's got to be "pretty," it must be comfortable, too. Speed will come later, but there is nothing worse than bad tone at fast tempos.

Slow down!

Thinking Good Tone Part 1
Playing musically: Part 4, play with maximum tone
Starting with good tone
Putting on the Squeeze
Enemies of Sustain

Posted by Ted at 12:47 PM

April 23, 2009 | Intentional Improvisation

We've reflected recently on multi-Grammy winner Quincy Jones' notion of the "balance of science and soul," in the context of " The blur between intent and mistake," and the slightly tangential topic of instrument construction in the work of Physicist, "Dr. David Cohen. Two conflicting schools of thought on creativity pit each other. One says it's all science and numbers, manipulating known rules and concrete observations, the other says imagination just kind of spontaneously happens. We're sure you'll find most musicians agree the best kind of improvisation happens somewhere in between these worlds. The real question is how much is intentional and cognitive, how much is spontaneously inspired.

Hearing jazz mandolin mentor Don Stiernberg address this at a workshop, a participant insisted, "Admit it, some people like you just have it; the rest of us don't." His reply was that it's true it may well come easier for some, but that doesn't mean the others can't develop tricks that get them down the path of intentional improvisation. We want to review a few of these "tricks" and agree with Don that not everyone will approach this the same way. Some do all the construction seamlessly intuitively, the rare musician simply going by what sounds good and forsaking the "vocabulary" of theory. The rest of us take these theory nuggets and build improvisation off them.

Scales, Modes, Scale Patterns. These are great for getting a fretboard grip on the proper ingredients to a solo. What is missing is communicating the more important notes of the scale, the chord tones, the gravity notes. Still, you need these if nothing else to deliver the connecting tissue, the proper passing tones between the harmonic (chord) structure.

Arpeggios. The spelling out of chords linearly addresses the aforementioned harmonic structure. Equpping yourself with an arsenal of these patterns gives you something to build off of, but again, you also want to be able to connect them.

The Axis of the 3rds and 7ths. Similar to the arpeggio, this injects an additional linear drive to your music. The power of the (7th) leading tone, the aesthetic propulsion of the 4th to the 3rd is energy that makes your soloing dance. It's another arrow in your cerebral quiver.

Chromatic Passing Tones. This will be far more intuitive, but playing notes "outside" the chord as a draw back to the chord is another way to "freshen" your melody. Word of warning, overused these will also tell your audience you are lost. Use these judiciously.

Where are you with your "Muse" and your brain? In the long run it doesn't matter! However, don't be afraid to try these different techniques to your soloing. Your improvisation will mature; you and your audience will enjoy your playing more.

" Don Stiernberg: Axis of the 3rds & 7ths
" More Appropriate
" Major 7th Arpeggios
" Improvisation Techniques
" Lydian Tracks Pt. 1: A Path to Modal Improvising
" Lydian Tracks Pt. 2: A Path to Modal Improvising

Posted by Ted at 12:17 PM

April 16, 2009 | When requesting a song from the band

We'll take a break from seriousness this week and enjoy this humorous, tounge & cheek nugget brought to our attention by Chip Smith, Nashville's (official?) Second-best Jazz Whistler. The topic here is how audiences should to deal with performers, advice from the veteran entertainer perspective. Many of you may have already experienced these. Enjoy:

When requesting a song from the band, just say "play ... my song!" We have chips implanted in our heads with an unlimited database of the favorite tunes of every patron who ever walked into a bar and all songs ever recorded so feel free to be vague, we love the challenge.

If we say we really don't remember that tune you want, we're only kidding. Bands do know every song ever recorded, so keep humming. Hum harder if need be... it helps jog the memory, or just repeat your request over and over again.

If a band tells you they do not know a song you want to hear, they either forgot they know the tune or they are just putting you on. Try singing a few words for the band. Any words will do. It also helps to scream your request from across the room several times per set followed by the phrases, "AW COME ON!" and, "YOU SUCK!"

Exaggerated hand gestures expressing disapproval from the dance floor are a big help as well, such as the thumbs down or your middle finger up put-downs are the best way to jog a band's memory. This instantly promotes you to the status of "Personal Friend Of The Band." You can bet your request will be the next song we play.

Entertainers are notorious fakers and jokesters and never really prepare for their shows. They simply walk on stage with no prior thought to what they will do once they arrive. We don't actually make set lists or rehearse songs. We mostly just wait for you to yell something out, then fake it.

An entertainer's job is so easy, even a monkey could do it, so don't let them off the hook easily. Your request is all that matters. Once you've figured out what genre of music the band plays, please make your requests from a totally different genre. The more exaggerated the better. If it's a blues band playing, yell for some Metallica or Slayer or Pantera. Likewise, if its a death-speed metal band, be sure to request Brown-Eyed Girl or some Grateful Dead. Musicians need to constantly broaden their musical horizons, and it's your job to see that it happens.... immediately.

The best time to discuss anything with the band in any meaningful way is at the middle of a song when all band members are singing at the same time. Our hearing is so advanced that we can pick out your tiny voice from the megawatt wall of sound blasting all around us. And we can converse with you in sign language while singing the song, so don't worry that we're in the middle of the chorus.

Musicians are expert lip readers too. If a musician does not reply to your question or comment during a tune, it's because they didn't get a good look at your mouth in order to read your lips. Simply continue to scream your request and be sure to over emphasize the words with your lips. This helps immensely. Don't be fooled. Singers have the innate ability to answer questions and sing at the same time. If the singer doesn't answer your questions immediately, regardless of how stupid the question may seem, it's because they are purposely ignoring you. If this happens, immediately cop an attitude. We love this.

When an entertainer leans over to hear you better, grab his or her head in both hands and yell directly into their ear, while holding their head securely so they cannot pull away. This will be taken as an invitation to a friendly and playful game of tug of war between their head and your hands. Don't give up! Hang on until the singer or guitar player submits. Drummers are often safe from this fun game since they usually sit in the back, protected by the guitar players. Keyboard players are protected by their instrument, and only play the game when tricked into coming from behind their keyboards. Though difficult to get them to play, it's not impossible, so keep trying. They're especially vulnerable during the break between songs.

If you inform the band that you are a singer, the band will appreciate your help with the next few tunes, or however long you can remain standing on stage. If you're too drunk to stand unassisted, simply lean on one of the band members or the most expensive piece of equipment you see. Just pretend you're in a Karaoke bar. Simply feel free to walk up on stage and join in.By the way, the drunker you are, the better you sound, and the louder you should sing. If by chance you fall off the stage, be sure to crawl back up and attempt to sing harmony. Keep in mind that nothing assists the band more than outrageous dancing, fifth and sixth part harmonies, or a tambourine played on one and three and out of tempo. Try the cowbell; they love the challenge. The band always needs the help and will take this as a compliment.

Finally, the microphone and PA system are merely props, they don't really amplify your voice, so when you grab the mic out of the singers hand be sure to scream into it at the top of your lungs, otherwise no one will hear what a great singer you are. Hearing is over-rated anyhow. The crowd and the sound guy will love you for it.

As a last resort, wait until the band takes a break and then get on stage and start playing their instruments. They love this. Even if you are ejected from the club, you can rest assured in the fact you have successfully completed your audition. The band will call you the following day to offer you a position.

Approach the band while they are setting up their equipment. This is a very boring time for musicians and having you on stage will give them someone to talk to. Ask them if they are "playing tonight? What time do you start? What kind of music do you play? Where else do you play?" Plus, this is the only exercise they ever get and those extra steps it takes them to walk around you will make for a better workout. Go ahead and turn on their amps and play their instruments. It will give them the opportunity to hear what they will sound like. A good sound check is an important part of the gig. And don't forget the microphones! Give a good and loud, "Check, 1, 2," in each mic about 20 times. That'll also give you the chance to give a "shout out" to your buddies at the bar and tell that joke about the Jews.

Be sure to let the guitar player know that you have a guitar "exactly" like his. When he says, "Please, tell me more", you say, "It's brown, just like yours!" And don't forget to tell everyone in the band about your cousin who has a 1955 Martin and a 1959 Gibson guitar. Every band member is fascinated by the fact that there are people in the world who own vintage musical instruments. The fact that you are related to one of those people will absolutely blow them away! You'll be their new favorite fan and will have made life-long friends.

Nothing will boost a band's ego more than having you dance to their music. Wait until the dance floor is empty and hop up there by yourself and start getting down! That'll show the crowd what they're missing. Be sure to position yourself right in front of the singer's microphone stand. Every time your elbow bumps his stand, the mic will hit his teeth and the two of you will be moving in perfect sync. This looks great!

Buy a round of drinks for the band. A nice big shooter will get them rockin'& rollin'! Five shots of Triple Sec won't cost you much.

It's hard for a band to compete with a televised sporting event. They probably want to watch that soccer game as badly as you. Remind them that they can take a break any time so you all can catch up on the latest scores and highlights.

Don't forget to tip! A lot of musicians live on their tip money. Be sure to first wave the money in their face. You have to make sure they see you are tipping. It's a good deal for you both since that dollar you dropped in the tip jar is worth at least 6 or 7 requests.

When you request a song and the band says he does not know the song, don't you believe them. So, when told, "We don't know that song," reply, "Yes, you do!" This exchange will go on for a while:

"We don't know it."
Yes, you do!"
"No, we don't."
"Yes, you do."
"No, we don't."
"Yes, you do."
"No, we don't."

Now, hit them will the clincher:
"Yes, you do. I've heard you play it before."
"No, you haven't. It wasn't us."
"Yes, it was."
"No, it wasn't."
"Yes, it was."
"No, it wasn't."

Don't give up! Keep this up for 10-15 minutes until the band admits the are lying. It's a well known fact that bands spend hours memorizing and rehearsing songs that they never intend to play. Your perseverance will impress them and they will gladly play the song.

Posted by Ted at 3:41 PM

April 9, 2009 | New to JazzMando: Dorian/Minor FFcP!!!

We just added to our FFcP library something we hope you are very excited about. Since the release of "Getting Into Jazz Mandolin," we've come to the conclusion the mandolin world could use a supplementary FFcP studies book, and we'll register right now it's on a very short list of long term projects. Until then, take advantage of the exercises already in our FFcP section.

Today we introduce Dorian/Minor FFcP!

Why Dorian/Minor?...

The traditional study of the three minor scale modes (natural, harmonic, and melodic) betray contextual function in jazz. More often than not, you'll use some kind of Dorian, which offers the "minor-ness" of the lowered 3rd, but maintains a harmonic neutrality in the 6th and 7th scale degrees. We've inserted a taste of harmonic function in the 'i VI ii7b5 V7' patterns to lend your ear some familiarity within a chord context.

Reflect on some of the thoughts of Craig Schmoller, JazzMando mentor, genius software guru, and creator of the Mando ModeExplorer and recently released jazzCittern Explorer (see news release):

"Ah, Dorian. The Center of the Universe. Same intervals backwards and forwards. The D on the keyboard marks a mirror image of black and white keys in both directions. That symmetry manifests itself on the fifths-tuning as well... Seems like it should somehow be significant! Ooooo.... But it's not.

Not that way anyway. Nothing mystical, Dorian just seems to be one of the first two modes we learned as rock guitar players, born out of bluesy licks - The merge of Dorian and Mixolydian, raising and lowering the blue 3rd. Think that's one part of why folks ask about it so much? But like you said, it stands on its own in jazz as the minor with the raised 6th and the lowered 7th.

I studied the first page - Whoa, what a workout (on cittern). Especially the Fourths. Ouch. The contrary motion sounds cool, and does the 'approach tones'. (I could use a workout like this...)

What you did with the C harmonic minor move at measure 10 is nice. It's a familiar path to the ear leading to (possibly) a new place for the listener/player. Good stories are told that way, right? Familiar with a twist... A good way to demonstrate this 'other minor'.

Oh, and one more thing: While doing page 1, I fired up the jazzCittern ModeExplorer and plugged-in C harmonic minor just for fun. There are your C harmonic minor notes in 3rd FFcP, just like the tab would indicate, with those AbMa7/Dm7(b5)/G7 arpeggios nestled inside."

Click for Dorian/Minor FFcP PDF

Thanks for the thoughts, Craig. Readers, take the time to plow through this valuable exercise. You'll also want to make sure you're caught up on the other FFcP entries, some of them aren't in the GiJM book. If you haven't already, check out Craig's mandolin (Windows) software programs while you're at it.

Exercise PDF: Dorian/Minor FFcP
Explanation page: Dorian/Minor FFcP
More FFcP: FFcP Studies

Pentatonic FFcP
Some Minor Issues: 'Gravity' Notes in Minor
In the Mode: Easing into Modal Jazz.

Posted by Ted at 12:35 PM

April 2, 2009 | The blur between intent and mistake

"The beauty of jazz is the blur between intent and mistake."

This is an original JazzMando quote, and an observation similar to multi-Grammy winner Quincy Jones' notion of the "balance of science and soul." We addressed this recently our recent review of Dr. David Cohen's C# mandolin, the idea that art in architecture and building has a foundation in math, science, but frequently crosses into the realm of intuitive intangibility. Don Stiernberg touched on this in last week's Mindful Noodling, "organizing sounds into some repetitive structure--a tune, collection of phrases, whatever."

Organize. Structure.

We maintain rules are important to know. Understanding music theory can give you all kinds of benefits in music creation, but we can lose sight of the randomness and ambiguity of muse. It's not music "science." It's music "theory."

We learn the "rules" or better, established "procedures and practices," things like the 7th scale degree resolves to the 1st, the 4th resolves to the 3rd, and a dominant function chord resolves to tonic. Then we go about breaking these rules with our intuition, and allowing the creative force to bend the framework into something new. (Of course you can't effectively break a rule, unless you know what the rule is.)

Take Pentonic Scales, for example. These can be the "White Bread" of improvisation, dull, flavorless, but something for the peanut butter and jelly to stick to. Play a G pentatonic in a four measure pattern, and no matter how fast you can play those notes, eventually the ear gets tired. Playing an Ab pentonic in that G phrase might be "breaking the rule," but if you did it for one measure and came back to the G pentatonic just to demonstrate you were still in touch with the tonal center, you'd add something very interesting to the compositional frame of your solo.

Would it come across as a mistake? Hardly, if it were done with conviction and discretion. Look at structure in a Blues Scale, the b5th and the play between subjective interplay between minor and major 3rd. This is archetypical rule-breaking, and no denying the "soul" in the result.

Play a wrong note, you're either on the right note or only a fret away from resolving to the right one, if you use (and trust!) your ear.

Pentatonic FFcP
Improvisation: Pattern Based vs. Theory Based
Analysis: Macroscopes and Microscopes Part 1
Analysis: Macroscopes and Microscopes Part 2

Posted by Ted at 1:36 PM

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