Ted Eschliman's Four-Finger Closed Position (FFcP)

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Ted Eschliman is the owner of jazzmando.com, a former undergraduate music theory educator and long-time seasoned performer with several recordings under his belt. Since 1998 Ted has focused his creative energy in jazz mandolin, an instrument he thinks has broader appeal in the musical community that is yet to be tapped. He is a contributor to Mel Bay's Mandolin Sessions and author of Getting Into Jazz Mandolin from Mel Bay.


Jazz theory is based on tone relationships. Initially, how chords and scale tones interact, stray, resolve, move, can be overwhelming! We will attempt to debunk the notion that the "mystery" and complexity of jazz can only be unlocked by a privileged few. The virtually infinite combinations within 12 keys can easily be reduced and understood, by adopting the Four Finger Closed Position system (FFcP).

Let's look at the first position possibilities. We'll start with the first finger position in the key of A. Note that if you move it down one fret, you come up with the key of Ab. Tone relationships remain intact, as well as fingerings. Now move it up one string, you have the key of Eb, without learning a new pattern. All your scale degree FUNCTIONS are covered by the same fingers. And if you move this up a fret to, you get the key of E. You now have 4 of the 12 major scales, with only one fingering pattern.

We aren't going to completely drop open strings! But for the purpose of simplifying and reducing the unwieldy amount of options, at this time, we're going to build a tactile "home base", to aid in visualizing harmonic function on the fingerboard and "feel" the relationship of common "modes", to the frets.

First, we need to limit the fingering to just four possibilities. As you study these, understand we are building roadmaps, or better, "wagon trail ruts" of where to intuitively place your fingers during improvisation. Along the way, you'll enjoy the healthy by-product of a useful, limber 4th finger (pinky). And eventually abandon the fear of moving everything up the frets into the fertile potential of the mandolin's higher positions.

We'll also gain skill in identifying which notes are critical in defining tonality and creating tension and resolution.

The First FFcP - A, Ab, Eb, E

Major 1st - A Major 1st - Ab Major 1st - Eb Major 1st - E

Second FFcP - Bb, B, F, F#

Major 2nd

All the previous was started with the 1st finger. Now we'll start a Major scale with the 2nd finger, and learn the key of Bb. If you take the same method of shifting, go up a fret, you have B (natural) Major. Up a string, F# Major, and back down, F Major.

Third FFcP - C, C#, G, G#

Major 3rdWe'll designate the 3rd pattern, C Major by starting it with the 3rd finger. Up a fret gives you C#, up a string would give you the G#, which is the upper octave of the enharmonic equivalent , Ab. We've already learned that in the 1st position, but now you are set to continue with little intimidation, two octaves. Back a fret and it's G natural.

Many players will initially feel this is an awkward and unnatural way of playing. The reality is, almost all of us learned an inefficient way of playing once you leave the first position.

Fourth FFcP - D, Db, A, Ab

Major 4th

Perhaps a little more foreign but no less significant, would be your final pattern, starting with the pinky. Again, avoid the open string for now; we're discovering relationships in the closed position. Finger the D Major Scale starting with the 4th finger. Move it back a fret, you have an alternative fingering for the Db Major (enharmonic C#). Same with it's shift up a string, another alternative for Ab, and up an alternative for A.

As you get used to the way these feel (and it will be a stretch for that pinky at first!), notice the strength and flexibility you earn with your 4th finger; even your 3rd will become stronger. More importantly, this will allow you to intellectually and with tactile sense, discover important scale degree functions. The "color" defining note of the third degree, the leading tone "pull" of the seventh scale degree--it's all something you want to start to be conscious of, once these fingerings become familiar.

Don't worry about losing out on the open strings for now. Those are easy and they will come right back to you. Work with this system, and don't deny yourself the 25% MORE opportunity a viable pinky can offer your playing!

Review: Principles of FFcP

  • In this system, there are only four ways to play a major scale: starting with the first finger, the second, the third and the fourth. That's it!
  • All 12 keys can be covered in only four different positions, simply by transposing up or down the fretboard and across strings.
  • 4th Finger (Pinky) strength and coordination become part of daily development exercises.
  • Key Chord Tone relationships in improvising become tactile, visible, and intuitively real.
  • Position shifts to a second octave are easily bridged merely by starting the next octave with a different FFcP pattern.
  • Changes in tonal "micro-centers" by half steps easily transist either by moving the pattern by one fret, or using the next FFcP.
  • Open string "opportunities" will be explained and added later, but only after mastering the FFcP system.

See the next lesson on this subject.