"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."
Tremolo is inarguably the foremost recognizable character of mandolin technique. Even the non-musician can recognize the sound of the mandolin in a movie score or commercial when it's used. It's that unique to the instrument.
While we don't think it can ever replace the line propelling sustain of good grip and right hand/left hand coordination, it is important to be able to play a healthy smooth tremolo, and Mike Marshall demonstrates a few important tips to help make this happen for you.
Position the angle of the neck up so you aren't stroking perpendicular to the strings.
Don't grip the pick too firmly, don't dig deeply into the string with the stroke.
Sweep less distance on the thinner strings.
Learn to exploit a range of tremolo tones by focusing on each string.
It's all about smoothness.
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Hal Leonard has just released an intriguing collection of major artists' solo transcriptions from some of the world's most popular jazz recordings, "The Real Jazz Solos Book." Almost 450 pages, the book is written in the traditional "Real Book" format, with the jazz font notation and minimalist accepted chords, with style and tempo suggestions.
From the publisher's website: "This amazing collection transcribes nearly 150 of the best-known jazz solos (regardless of the instrument) exactly as recorded by icons of the trade, including: Autumn Leaves (Chet Baker) * Blue in Green (Toots Thielemans) * Blue Train (John Coltrane) * Bright Size Life (Jaco Pastorius) * Dolphin Dance (Herbie Hancock) * Footprints (Wayne Shorter) * I Do It for Your Love (Bill Evans) * I Mean You (Thelonius Monk) * Isreal (Bill Evans) * K.C. Blues (Charlie Parker) * Milestones (Miles Davis) * New Orleans (Wynton Marsalis) * Nuages (Django Reinhardt) * Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Oscar Peterson) * Spring Ain't Here (Pat Metheny) * Stella by Starlight (Ray Brown) * Waltz for Debby (Cannonball Adderley) * West End Blues (Louis Armstrong) * and many more. Some songs are presented multiple times featuring the unique solos by different artists who performed them."
It takes a little alteration of mindset, one usually expects the "Real Book" format in a live or stage setting, which is far from the intent of the book. It's not a performance tool, it's more pedagogical in nature. The idea is to listen to the greats (recordings can be purchased or sought on YouTube) and then glean some of their tricks to turning the vertical skeleton of a standard harmonic progression, and create a horizontal line. You get chord but also some of the stylistic personality of these legendary artists.
How great to get a visual sketch of some jazz audio repertoire, Chet Baker, Django Rheinhardt, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and even some more contemporary favorites like Tom Harrell, Pat Metheny, and Michael Brecker! The Larry Dunlap transcriptions are indexed by artist, and individual recordings are referenced by instrument.
Though it would take an advanced reading skill to breeze through the complexity of most of the solos, nothing says you can't slow them down mentally and map out the chord with the harmonic and melodic strategy of the soloist. For example, the Zoot Sims solo from "I'm Getting Sentimental Over you" starts out mirroring some of the contour of the original melody and later frolics in arpeggios, D7b9 G7 C7, connecting with passing tones and chromatic embellishments. You won't repeat his solo note for note, but you'll glean insight into the way he and other jazz geniuses create their individual art through understanding their process.
At $30 list price, it may seem a hefty investment, but you have to consider it an encyclopedia of lessons, 2-4 pages at a time from some of the best jazzers out there. It's also great to get into the mind of other instrumentalists--guitar, piano, bass, sax, and even vibes. This should create a wealth of new ideas for your own instrument. The author also encourages you to learn to transcribe on your own for even more gold.
February 13, 2014 | What is the key to being less robotic on stage?
Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus, Dr. Noa Kgeyama posed an interesting dilemma every musician face, the balance between musical precision and "soul." The full article is posted on the Bulletproof Musician website, here is the question:
You know those performances that can only be described as 'robotic'? Where there is nothing wrong with it per se, but for whatever reason you are neither engaged nor inspired, and ultimately leave the concert feeling kind of blah and a little empty inside? I have to admit that I have been accused of delivering such performances on more than a few occasions.
But I don't think it's just me. After all, we're sort of stuck between a rock and hard place. On one hand, we are supposed to be musical, communicative, and fully engaged in the music-making process. But on the other hand, it has to be flawless. Especially in auditions or competitions, where we learn pretty quickly that the slightest blemish can be grounds for a quick exit.
February 6, 2014 | Best of JM: Complexity leads to simplicity
Enjoy the popular archive material below. From May 24, 2012 | Complexity leads to simplicity
How do we make music simpler?
The interesting video we've embedded discusses a new path to embracing complexity. The counter-intuitive goal is to achieve simplicity. Speaker Eric Berlow shows how diagrams can map ecological, biological, and social problems visually in science. The irony is through colors, shapes, and graphs, we can make a complex set of elements much easier to understand by eliminating components, and not adding them.
Music can be approached similarly with our own mental "spaghetti" diagrams. We embrace theoretical elements that seem complex on their own, chord extensions, modes and boutique scales, sophisticated chord progressions and tonality shifts, but ultimately, the goal is to make music simpler. We learn modes to be able to internalize inherent harmonic (vertical/chord) structure to reproduce and communicate it melodically. We analyze chord patterns to reduce it to variations of tonic, dominant, and dominant preparation (simply, "ii V7 I"). We spot consistencies in form (verse, chorus, bridge) so we can wail away without having to think or organize in form.
Music theory should always be about making the music simpler, not more complex.