View Full Version : Phrasing and aural imitation

Jim Garber
Aug-19-2004, 9:38am
I am not sure exactly what I am starting here, so bear with me.

I was listening last night to a Mozart piano concerto and was struck by the phrasing that the piano soloist used. I was trying to hear how that sort of attack, etc. could translate to playing the mandolin.

When I played a little more jazz and swing, I found myself drawing inspiration from saxaphones, trumpets, trombones, clarinets and other instruments more prominent in that genre. I know that some of the early jazz guitarists tried to imitate the phrasing of the horn players.

Of course when playing the pieces that we play I assume that if they were intended for mandolin that they would be played with mandolin-appropriate technique. On the other hand, incorporating the phrasings common to other instruments and (especially) the voice would seem to me to be a beneficial way to approach some pieces, regardless of whether they were intended for those instruments or not.


Aug-19-2004, 10:19am
Definitely a good idea. Try searching for posts by Niles Hokkanen, he often talks about it at length. Much Richard Thompson's lead guitar work is a good and very clear example of hornlike phrasing.

Aug-19-2004, 11:18am
On the other hand, incorporating the phrasings common to other instruments and (especially) the voice would seem to me to be a beneficial way to approach some pieces, regardless of whether they were intended for those instruments or not.

It's not about the (specific) instrument, it's what comes out of the instrument (or amplifier). #Emulation of other instruments will definitely cause you to stretch in terms of your mando playing, and it also makes you much more mentally aware of all the finesse and nuance because now you are focused on getting "that sound" rather than on just reading the sheet music.

Piano is good because it has a lot of similar tonal aspescts in common with mando - a percussive stringed instrument (multiple courses). Sometimes with a mando/piano recording, it can be difficult at times to determine what is the mando and which line is the right hand of the pianist.

(I don't really do a lot in the way of classical, though occasionally I'll use a piece like Mozart's Turkish Rondo or something like the Debussy "Reverie" as a fretboard puzzle to solve. More fun than doing the NY Times crossword.)

Take, for example, a piano tremolo between two pitchs - say a G (5th fret) and the B a 3rd above it. (I'm thinking more of blues or New Orleans style playing). #You can't get that sound by staying on one string; it has to be a broken doublestop. But if you start it on the G note, it won't sound right if you begin with a downstroke, which will mean your B (2nd fret) notes will then be on the up; this puts you on the outside of the pairs in both directions. #The pick has to stay in the inside gutter, up on the G, down on the B, if you want to get closer to the piano articulation. #....Or, you could pick the G with downstrokes but use the middle finger to pluck the B notes - alternating between pick and finger. The experimentation with the possibilites is what makes you aware of the particular attack/sonic differences; leading to more control of your phrasing and dynamics

Or, if there's any pedalling going on with the piano, you'll have to get away from single line (single string) playing of the notes and incorporate more across-the-strings playing of passages in order to have some of the overhanging sustaining of notes. #The sound is ultimately what it is all about, not the means by which you do it. #So, often, you won't use the "most logical" mandolin fingerings; you'll do it the hard way because that's the only way you can tap into the sonic nuance you are wanting to access. That's the reason really advanced players throw away the rulebook (i.e. guidelines) because of the sonic limitations the training mechanisms (rules) impose.

Emulation of the voice is a real challenge. And it's microtonal as well; if you are stuck to the fretted pitch scale, you can't really get there. #You'll have to bend enough to at least imply some of the things the singer is doing. One way to become much more aware of the tonal/textural aspects of the the voice is to listen to stuff in a foreign language that is undecipherable to you. You mind will listen to the singer in the same way it hears an instrumentalist. #When you hear lyrics in your own language, it's hard to really focus on it because the language processing program in your mind, just overides everything and takes over. #You end up focusing on the lyrically meaning rather than the mode of delivery. #If you listen to a lot of workd music, your mind can get used to listening to vocals in a non-language way, and when you go back to English language vocalists, the linguistic program isn't so automatically domineering.

Niles Hokkanen