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 30, 2010 | 2010 JazzMando best stories

Last week, we took a look at some of the "Best Of" in our weekly Tips and Tricks column, and we thought we'd also take a crack at some of the 2010 JazzMando News Highlights this week. You probably already know we update this every other day, and of course, with your RSS reader, you can get a direct feed of these. We also post them on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.


We started off January with our first ever Winter NAMM Mandolin Cafe gathering. It's always great to associate faces with forum handles. We even had the site administrator Scott Tichenor there to meet and greet, as well for the first time in the flesh, guest JazzMando staff writer, Mark Wilson. Many of us were especially happy to escape a rather harsh midwestern winter in exchange for the milder southern California climate.

lizard.jpg MandologyLogo.jpg

Not too long after that, we introduced another James Condino "One-Off" in a review of third stunningly good example of his terrific creations. In our semi-monthly Mandolin Sessions we kicked of one of our most popular series, "Chord Combinations for the Lizard Ear," a twist on the "Lizard Brain" concept of thinking. We had some fun throughout the series with chord contributions from some mando royalty, including John McGann, Evan Marshall, Jamie Masefield, Paul Glasse, Will Patton, and others.

Jobs.jpg2010 was the year of the iPad, and of course we were immediately smitten by the portable wonder. We remain enthusiastic about the potential for the musician, not only as a practice tool but for performance. We've been able to go virtually paperless ever since. Fellow staff writer Charlie Jones continues to dig deeper, and bring us more developments as the IOS evolve. Who knows what the iPad2 will bring this year.

We also consider '10 the Year of the 10-string, with a review of a Lawrence Smart fanned fret A-body and later the Gypsy's Music nylon. We also presented a personal dream machine, our Rigel R-200 fanned fret mandola conversion from pioneer builder Pete Langdell later in the year.

Thirty-thumb .jpg
Thirty strings

It was a great year for new mandolin CD releases, including JazzMando mentor, Chicago-based mandolinist, Don Stiernberg with his June release Swing 220 JazzMando field reporter, Levy Lettvay, weighed in with a personal visit and pictorial Weber factory tour, which eventually opened some doors for a close working relationship with Bruce and Mary Weber, founders of the internationally sought line of instruments. It's been interesting to see how in the age of diminishing US builders, Weber continues to grow and import into the heart of the very countries that threaten to dominate our own American industrial base.


Also encouraging on the domestic front, Kenny Bohling of successful Lakota Leathers hooked up with us at Summer NAMM in July, with his quality quality elk and bison hide straps. These are a premier product hand-crafted in the hands of the "orignal" Americans in the South Dakota Lakota reservations. Soon after, we introduced New Mexico builder Brain Lock and with a review of one of his delicious signature two-point mandolins.


Thumbnail image for DonJulin.jpgLate in the fall we added the knowledge and street smart expertise of mandolin veteran, Don Julin to the JazzMando writing staff. With his assistance along with theory guru Craig Schmoller, our team focused on fretboard geometry in November with a series of articles on the spatial consistencies of the 5ths tuning.

We finished the year with the introduction of a couple intriguingly adept and upcoming young artists, Chris Acquavella and Jason Anick We hope 2011 brings us more excellent mandolin recordings, including a couple in the oven we know of from Vermont fret-specialist Will Patton, and Texas swingmeister, Paul Glasse.

Looking forward to another good year!

We trust yours will be happy too...

Posted by Ted at 10:04 AM

December 23, 2010 | 2010 JazzMando Tips and Tricks Highlights

JM_Pick.jpgWe recently had a reader inquire about finding the JazzMando "blog." He had seen some of our articles on the internet but could not find where everything had been centralized or archived. We weren't quite sure where he was getting the feeds, but we do have links at Facebook, tweet on Twitter regularly, picked up at the Mandolin Cafe Discussion Forum, and of course, offer an RSS feed.

We try to run news articles every two days, but once a week, we put up the laptop in the local Panera Bread and dive a little deeper with a more detailed pedagogical concept. We also share duties with some of the other staff writers like Don Julin, Mark Wilson, Charlie Jones, and occasionally, James Condino. Let's review some of the best of 2010 "Tips and Tricks."


In the first quarter, we looked at the concept of chord "mobility," the importance of approaching the fretboard as chords and scales that could be moved all up, down, and across the strings. Really, this is a common theme here, and we take this seriously. We'd argue this is even more important than learning the names of the notes. W also looked at tone, and the importance of string fundamental over brilliance in the jazz genre.

We checked in with staff writer Charlie Jones on the latest in music apps for iPad/iPhone. This is becoming a much larger tool not only in practice but performance. We pondered the nature of stagnancy and inspiration. A primer on enharmonic spellings and proper use of chord suffixes from our theory Guru Craig Schmoller put to bed a lot of misconceptions about conventional chord spellings.


Second quarter we reviewed melodic "direction," scale degree pulls and resting points. We later took a close look at the virtues of sustain and returned to a previous lesson on building "deliberate" tone through effective picking. For pondering the move from guitar to mandolin, we explored how despite the similarity, the mandolin can be given new roles in an ensemble. Parallel to the notion of gravity notes, we looked at the sister concept of "hover tones," the chromatic counterparts. . Columnist Schmoller reined it in with his submission on the "Theory of Available Tensions." We finished the month of June with a fascinating study of the senses beyond the traditional "Five Senses" and how this might impact our playing.


We began the second half of the year with exercises in what we consider the 2nd most important scale, the Augmented 11th scale. We also reintroduced our take on "shifting," moving familiar patterns seamlessly into the upper frets. Spent several weeks on our "Compose Yourself" looked at insights on improvisation, Antecedent/Consequence, Story Arcs,

Professor Schmoller presented a concise summary of Chord Naming Rules to help us clear up conventional chord label standards. We explored the evil twin to the Augmented 11th Scale, the Altered Scale, which is in essence the same sequence of notes, just with two different starting points.


More tricks third quarter from the author of Mando ModeExplorer as he introduced the concept of Perceptual Economy, again the theme of recurring spatial and aural relationships in the fretboard and ear. Each individual player has a different approach to understanding their production of music in the blend of intellect, touch, space, and sound, and we checked out the notion of spatial recurrence in the fourth quarter with Fretboard Geometry.


One of our crown jewell accomplishments was the market introduction of the new D'Addario flatwound FW74 strings. We described in detail the story behind these and our hopes for future expansion into SKUs for mandola and octave mandolin.

We were privileged to take on the wisdom of mandolin master Don Julin with his video presentation on the 'ii V7 I' progression. We look forward to more contributions from him in 2011.

The links to over five years of articles (almost 300 of them!) can be found at the bottom of our Tips Archive page. We encourage you to plug the column into your RSS reader too with the RSS feed.

We're also set up with a Twitter account. Follow us at

Posted by Ted at 7:18 AM

December 16, 2010 | Flatwound for octave mandolin and mandola

In a reprise of an article we released last summer, we want to update you on our diligent, behind-the-scenes developments creating acoustic flatwound strings for longer scale mandolin family instruments. Hardly a week goes by without someone requesting information on octave mandolin or bouzouki flatwounds.

Our proprietary JD13 JazzDola mandola strings were made specifically for 16-17" scale instruments. Not only are the confines of the total string length an issue, the silk windings Labella insists are necessary to connect the string windings with its core can affect what instruments will work with these. We've found for example, some of the 17" Weber mandolas with their proprietary tailpieces that attach nearly to the end of the face of the instrument won't fit.

We've been asked to make these available for the octave scale (20-22"), but the problem is not only the discrepancy in length (some will have to complete cut off the silk wrapping at the headstock), but the cost. These are extremely labor intensive, and we don't feel the market will pay the $40-60 street price for a set.

This brought us to D'Addario three years ago. Their strings don't require the silk winding, and generally offer enough slack to fit the longest scale instruments. The recent introduction of the FW74 mandolin strings were what we hope to be the first step in introducing an entire family of D'Addario flatwound acoustic. We've been experimenting with some alternate materials for future incarnations, and test-marketing has also been inclusive of some of the European circles, so progress has been slow. Success of the FW74 would assure market credibility.

Meantime, if you want to build singles sets, we've outlined the steps to converting D'Addario Chrome Electric Guitar string individuals, and are repeating this below. We suggest buying them in the five-packs, as you are almost assured breaking a few in the process of removing the ball. Make no mistake, these will work on acoustic instruments, even though they were designed for optimal magnetic draw on an electric. They also yield a rich, warm string fundamental.

Another interesting development for the 10-string player, we're working on a custom order of single .044 gauge strings that could be added to a standard FW74, giving 11, 15, 26, 36, 44. More on this later.

Click for purchase information for JazzMando Family strings

The solution is really quite simple; D'addario is already making this string in their Electric "Chrome" Series for guitar. We've had great success personally making the strings work for acoustic instruments, but it does involve a little minor surgery removing the balls and leaving the loop.

The CG series can be purchased singly; the plain strings come in packs of 10 and the wound in packs of 5. It doesn't hurt to get spares, as it takes a little skill learning how to snip the balls and still leave the loop intact:

Build your own flatwound string sets

Use a high quality set of wire cutters Balls generally break clean and leave the loop intact

The trick is to use a high quality set of wire cutters, or better, if you have access to a set of shop end knippers, the job is pretty easy. The brass in the D'addario ball is pretty soft, so with a little careful pressure, they generally break clean and leave the loop intact.

These are the gauges the flatwound Chrome singles come in. This is great if you want to customize your own, and since they are guitar scale, you should be able to use these in longer mandolin family instruments like mandola, octave mandolin, bouzouki, and mandocello.

Item # Product
CG020 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 020
CG022 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 022
CG024 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 024
CG026 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 026
CG028 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 028
CG030 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 030
CG032 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 032
CG035 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 035
CG038 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 038
CG040 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 040
CG042 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 042
CG045 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 045
CG048 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 048
CG050 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 050
CG052 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 052
CG056 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 056
CG065 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 065
CG075 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 075
CG080 Single XL Chromes Flat Wound 080

You can read about availability and pricing here: D'addario Chrome Singles

This is the target set for mandolin (similar to the Labella JM11) with the following gauges:
CG024 (loop) or CG026
CG036 (loop)

A set that could function as both mandola and shorter scale octave mandolin sets. (Gauging between these is not all that different among existing mass market offerings.)
CG024 (loop)
CG035 (loop)
CG045 (loop) (possibly CG048)


Build your own flatwound string sets
The origin of a new string: D'addario FW74
JM11 Flatwound Strings
About Flatwound Strings

Posted by Ted at 10:17 AM

December 9, 2010 | Jazz Primer: Harmonic Function

Last week, Don Julin introduced us to the concept of the 'ii V I' chord. Let's step back and review this cadence within the context of harmonic function. Some of the following material is in deeper detail in the Getting into Jazz Mandolin book, but this article can be a useful summary introduction. We'll review some of the vocabulary music theorists, especially jazz musicians banter about. This should help you understand what they are talking about, and more importantly, but the symbols within the context of "function."


Basic notation conventions to help you understand:
Roman Numerals used in Scale Degrees (I through VII)
Upper Case designate Major chord; I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII
Lower Case designate Minor chord; i, ii, iii, iv, v (theoretical), vi, vii

Seven three-note chords (triads) based on scale degrees:
Major: I ii iii IV V vi viiº I
Minor: i iib5 III iv V VI viiº i

Example Key of A:
Major: A Bm C#m D E F#m G#dim A
Minor (Harmonic): Am Bdim C Dm E F G#dim
(Note: no Alpha-numeric suffix implies major)

Key of A, diatonic 7th chords:
Major: AMaj7 Bm7 C#m7 DMaj7 E7 F#m7 G#m7b5 AMaj7
Minor (Harmonic): Am7 Bm7b5 CMaj7 Dm7 E7 FMaj7 G#m7b5

This introduces us to the concept of Tonic and Dominant Function. The I chord is your Tonic, the V (V7) is your Dominant. Try playing through the following familiar chords, and use your ears to hear how they progress into each other:

E to A (E7 to A)
A to D (A7 to D)
G to C (G7 to C)
B to E (B7 to E)

These are all Dominant chords proceeding to Tonic chords. The second of the pair is the Tonic or home key. Let's also point out here that your key signature can help you in establishing the basic home key, but in jazz, you are not limited to one key. In most cases, you will flow through anywhere from 2 to 6 different keys or "tonal centers" in one song, so it's important to not necessarily think in terms of key signatures.


Dominant Alternative:
Notice the voicing of the triad in the 7th degree of the A Major scale, compared to the V7 chord:

viidim = G# B D (G#dim)
V7 = E G# B D (E7)

They are identical, except for the E. This points out a strong alternative for the V, by merely dropping the root of the chord. The V is a fairly benign tone anyway, except when it's used in the bass, so you can use the diminished vii and V7 (or vii7b5 and V9) interchangeably.

Dominant Preparation:
This concept allows a little more "liberty" in interpretation. Chords may set up or prepare the Dominant which ultimately resolves to a Tonic. While the Dominant is more limiting and arbitrary, the choices in chords that prepare for the Dominant are more abundant.

In A Major, the chords could be Bm (Bm7), D (DMaj7), or chords like C#m and F#m, all of which are chords based on the diatonic scale. Preceding or preparing for the Dominant to Tonic "statement" possibilities would be:

Bm E A
Bm7 E7 AMaj7
F#m7 E7 AMaj7
F#m7 Bm7 E7 AMaj6
(two preparation chords)

Notice it's the last two chords that define the key center aurally. No matter what you do to prepare, it's that E7 to A that really brings us home.

'ii V7 I' Cadence
Now we have the most common jazz "sentence." Take a listen to Bm7 E7 A, and you have all three ingredients, the Dominant Preparation, Dominant, and Tonic, in about as succinct a progression as you can make. State it, then get out of the way and listen. You ought to be able to clearly sing back the I or tonic, even without knowing what notes you just played. It's where the rubber meets the road.

Understand that working in this context allows you to freely define tonal centers and use the appropriate scales to base your improvisation on. Once you identify within the song where these tonal centers of Prep, Dominant, and Tonic are, you can implement the full diatonic scale of the progression.

Hybrid chords are relatively new, and we don't need to explore them too much other than to say sometimes the function can be blurred. In the case of suspended or (Sus4) chords, they can be categorized as both Preparation and Dominant.

The ii-V-I chord progression
Middle ground; reading jazz fake books
'ii V7 I' Home Positions
Secondary Dominants

Posted by Ted at 7:02 AM

December 2, 2010 | The ii-V-I chord progression

This week's Tips and Tricks entry is our first from newly hired JazzMando staff writer and Traverse City, Michigan mandolin master, Don Julin.

A lot has been written about the ii-V7-I chord progression and how it is in many ways the foundation of jazz harmony. Let's take a closer look at this vehicle in hopes of simplifying it. Let's first look at any western music and the V7-I cadence. Imagine we are playing a tune in the key of G. The chord with the most tension or unresolved would be the D7. Try it for yourself. Make up a chord progression using diatonic chords in the key of G. (G, C, D7, Am, Bm, Em,) Try stopping the progression on the D7 chord. It sounds like a question doesn't it? Now play the same progression and continue from the D7 to the G chord. Ah.... resolve or answer. Now try G, D7, G. Hear how the sound goes from resolve to tension and back to resolve.

One of the compositional elements of jazz music is the fact that keys change quite often. For this experiment we will pick 3 keys that seem to be unrelated. G major, B major, and Eb Major. Just for fun let's make up an eight bar chord progression by playing 2 bars of each key using only the I chord of each key. G/G/B/B/Eb/Eb/G/G/. Sounds a bit strange and does not have much direction. Now substitute the V7 chord for bar one of each key. D7/G/F#7/B/Bb7/Eb/D7/G/. This sounds better but more like Bach than Coltrane. The dominant (V7) chord supplies some tension and pull to the next key. Now try splitting the first measure of each new key with a iim7 chord. Am7 D7/G/C#m7 F#7/B/Fm7 Bb7/Eb/. Now we are getting closer to a jazz sound. Next we will make the I chord into Major 7th chords. Am7 D7/Gmaj7/C#m7 F#7/Bmaj7/Fm7 Bb7/Ebmaj7/Am7 D7/Gmaj7/. This is only the tip of the iceberg but you can see one common way that jazz composers modulate from one key to another by using the ii-V-I chord progression.

View video demonstration link: ii/V7/I pt.1

Check out the other sample YouTube lessons. Don also offers Individual private instruction globally through the miracle of modern technology via skype.

Contact Don at
Don Julin's free lessons on YouTube


World Dominants
Middle ground; reading jazz fake books
'ii V7 I' Home Positions
Secondary Dominants

Posted by Ted at 5:46 AM

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