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Thread: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up).

  1. #1

    Default Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up).

    I'm a nerd. I like knowing how things work. I'd also like my solos to get more sophisticated. I have a strong ear, yet it's uninformed. In other words, I get lucky a lot.

    So my approach to more nuanced/interesting soloing has been theory based thus far. I think I can "brute force" my way, with theory, into better soloing.

    But I have to concede that exemplars have their place. I've never learned someone's solo note-for-note but I'm think there may be value if learning it also illuminates their thinking/approach to the solo.

    I'm not real sure where to go. So I'm throwing my quandary out there for input, ideas, discussion.

    Thanks!
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  3. #2
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    Novelists learn from other writers, poets study poetry (Dylan knew lot of the canon), political speakers study successful speeches.

    It is not so much about being able to play another's solo, but about learning in your fingers (not just your head) the actual notes of cool riffs and interesting chords. Also, don't study only mandolin solos. I have learned the familiar figures and licks from lots of popular songs, as played by pianos, guitars, trumpets, violins, etc. All these figures are valuable building blocks of music.

    A successful solo might be a minor variation on the song melody, which I believe was Monroe's advice--start with the melody. But sometimes a busy, flashy note-rich solo is the ticket. You need options, which means you need a large stock of go-to figures and melody-modifying tricks. You won't learn this from one, or several solos by exemplars, because you won't yet know what's good about those solos. After long enough learning riffs and melodies, compositional tricks, and the experience to know when to do what, you'll understand why Grisman can play a couple of notes and make a statement with that alone.

    Not to be dismissed is working out some solos on your own for tunes you expect to play or want to. I've done lots of this, and it does not inhibit your chances of improvising, it helps it. Having a few arrows in your quiver, that you can reliably whip out, will serve as a foundation for adding new building blocks,and cool tricks.
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    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    Novelists learn from other writers, poets study poetry (Dylan knew lot of the canon), political speakers study successful speeches.

    It is not so much about being able to play another's solo, but about learning in your fingers (not just your head) the actual notes of cool riffs and interesting chords. Also, don't study only mandolin solos. I have learned the familiar figures and licks from lots of popular songs, as played by pianos, guitars, trumpets, violins, etc. All these figures are valuable building blocks of music.

    A successful solo might be a minor variation on the song melody, which I believe was Monroe's advice--start with the melody. But sometimes a busy, flashy note-rich solo is the ticket. You need options, which means you need a large stock of go-to figures and melody-modifying tricks. You won't learn this from one, or several solos by exemplars, because you won't yet know what's good about those solos. After long enough learning riffs and melodies, compositional tricks, and the experience to know when to do what, you'll understand why Grisman can play a couple of notes and make a statement with that alone.

    Not to be dismissed is working out some solos on your own for tunes you expect to play or want to. I've done lots of this, and it does not inhibit your chances of improvising, it helps it. Having a few arrows in your quiver, that you can reliably whip out, will serve as a foundation for adding new building blocks,and cool tricks.
    +1 a great response

    You'll notice a myriad of really good musicians and music teachers will advise you to transcribe other's solos - and often, from other instruments besides your target instrument. I remember hearing a Mike Marshall interview last year, for example, where he mentioned that as a young mandolin student he had transcribed and learned Grisman's stuff from a record, and later, when he turned up at the Dawg's house, he was able to play all that - and was welcomed to live in his home for awhile.

    There are a lot of similar stories, but Tom's post gives the reasoning for why you might want to work on transcribing solos of musicians you admire.
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    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    B.H.
    I'll take Lucky, any day. Don't down play your good ear.
    While I've heard of the transcribe other's solo method, I'm way too lazy. I just listen to them. And ditto the idea of not just mandolin. And not just any one style of music. I think I revealed to somebody once, I aim for Kenny Baker, knowing full well I'm going to miss. I love Steph Grapelli too, but it's just the way it is, that no matter what, you won't sound like him. I've heard arguments that playing transcriptions gets close. No. It turns you into a teletype. It sounds stilted. IMHO

    Just find folks to play/jam with. That way you don't know what's coming next, unless it's your turn. You'll feel accomplished just to grab the melody on-the-fly nice and clean. Then if it's something you know, tare it up if you want. But my point is simply picking up the melody of that unknown song/tune on-the-fly is as gratifying, and as impressive I might add, as any crazy gymnastics. Be the one that has that break in B or F. Just be solid, that's the guy I want to pick with.

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    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    I do ok at imitating melody and being musical if I keep in mind where the next change is so I can be in position to anchor on or pass thru those tones before heading off to the next one. Even a mistake sounds better when you hit the change. I use backing tracks a lot to practice doing it

  9. #6

    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    What you are talking about is actually a thing in cognitive research. It is usually called "rule v. example learning", and apparently people tend to favor one over the other. Even though these differences exist, it is generally good to learn anything by doing that thing, even if it is not in your preferred learning style.

    I like the path you are taking, because it has forced you to deal with what is essential to improvisation immediately.
    • Think of something interesting to say.
    • Say it on your instrument.


    When you start with rules, the onus is on you to figure out something to say with them, right from the beginning. When you start with examples, you are not generating an idea; you are only figuring out how to say what someone else thought was interesting. I think it is good to turn on your idea generating machine at the start, and get it going, before you start focusing on how others have said things.

    Since you have done that, you are well-prepared to benefit from working with other peoples' ideas. You have a theoretical foundation that will help you to understand what they are doing and how it can be applied in different ways, and you already have built a habit of creating, so you won't get bogged down in simply copying.
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  10. #7

    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    If you practice hard at learning to play anything you can hear/imagine in your head, then your playing will be exactly as sophisticated as you are musically capable of being at that particular time. THEN, you can work on improving your musical imagination.

    Honestly, every other approach, regardless of how enthusiastically it is presented, seems to me to be mechanical....... but I have come to realize that my thinking on this is very much a minority opinion--- particularly when chord-tone, pentatonic, arpeggio, chromatic, lick-based or other approaches all seem to hold out the promise of musical transformation.

    I came to this belief after realizing that I could hear blazing blindingly fancy solos that made me yawn, and 3-note solos that made me choke-up, and wondering how this could be, ad nauseam. It finally dawned on me that musicians that played what they heard/imagined in their head were plugged into their souls, and the others were... well, not... even if they could flawlessly produce notes on their instrument.

    Obviously practicing one's technique is important.... but not as important as producing actual music... and IMO that does not come from any mechanical approach.

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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    I'm confused about what would be considered mechanical. Learning the actual notes of other solos and melodies is like learning the words to a song. Imagination needs words, or notes, to be expressed. It's much easier to imagine what is possible if the notes you hear in your head are real notes, not vague hopes.

    An improvised, or composed solo, is like speech in that it will be more effective and satisfying if you choose the best words. That skill does not come from desire but from work. I used to imagine all sorts of soaring melodies, and heartbreaking simple tunes, but when the cloudy imagination met the fingerboard it was clear that all I had was hope.

    And if you think your imagination is sufficient on its own you must never allow other music to enter you ears, because that will compromise the purity of your imagination. True that improvising pianist Keith Jarrett said he did not listen to other players, that was after he had spent his youth doing just that.

    You don't have to learn every note someone played, but it's worth trying to grab a few, and keep them in your stock of nice melody figures. This is not learning by a rule, but learning the existing world of music. It's like learning where deer come to water by going hunting with an experienced hunter. Usually a good idea to pay attention to what works.

    ETA: I think I am arguing for the way I learned, which feels anti-rule---I never found theory on its own helped me learn music. I learned music by learning lots of music.
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    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Harris View Post
    I think I can "brute force" my way, with theory, into better soloing.
    Depends on how good you ears are and how complex the chord changes are.

    Applying theory will really help, though.

  14. #10

    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    I'm confused about what would be considered mechanical......

    And if you think your imagination is sufficient on its own you must never allow other music to enter you ears, because that will compromise the purity of your imagination. .....
    I never said that, nor is it what I meant. And I dont avoid theory-- I studied it for years. In fact, one of the things I do to improve my "playing what I hear" capacity is to "hear" solos by other people in my head and recreating them. Not by memorization, but by connecting the "play what I hear in my head" capacity with "hearing" a particular piece of music.

    Mechanical, to me, is playing notes that you either HOPE are going to sound ok because they intellectually OUGHT to sound good based on theory, or notes that you KNOW are going to sound ok because the theory they derive from dictates that they won't be dissonant (arpeggios or pentatonic approaches come to mind).

    Theory is great for understanding music-- the whys of it-- and also great for developing your capacity for expanding your "hearing" depth and breadth, but not, again in my opinion, for creating it via improvisation.

    Just an example--- would you rather spend your time memorizing 10 solos that you think are great, or spending that time developing the ability to play those 10 solos strictly because you can "hear" them in your head? May not matter which approach you take for those 10 solos..... but if you do the latter, you will also be able to play any OTHER solo you can hear, AND all the other music that resides inside yourself.

    To me there is no contest as to which approach is better.

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    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    Theory is great for coming up with ideas for solos, but if you want to play in a style then you have to learn and consciously ingrain the typical cliches of that style, which means listening carefully and imitating.

  16. #12

    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    Great thoughts, tips, and context. We're lucky to have a go-to place where you're guaranteed to get really good, thoughtful input.

    I think transcribing might be my best approach. I like the theory, I'll be inclined to transcribe them in closed positions (then you can modulate and turn them into exercises).

    Again... thanks all!
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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    A parting clarification. I've never bothered to learn someone's entire solo. I take the good parts, the cool riffs. This is easier and takes less time, and yields up the stock of figures, the vocabulary of improvisation. I usually never bothered to write anything down, either, just listened to and copied the cool thing I wanted to be able to do.

    Not every note played by a master is masterful, and many are only sensible in that context. It would not achieve much to perform a familiar tune and play some famous player's exact solo. But you could definitely cop lots of the cool moves and make them your own---he (or she) probably got them from another player.
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    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    Much of the above is great advice. I would only add the importance of listening. Listen as much as you can all the time to the kind of music you want to be part of, or the kind of mandolinning you want to excel at. Make it your background music when doing other things.

    Full emersion, like a teen aged girl following her pop music idols.

    Be listening all the time. Every time you are not playing ask yourself why you are not listening.

    Of course it is a very good skill to be able to play what is in your head, but first you have to put stuff into your head.
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    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    Excellent point about listening.

    I love playing along with the radio, especially a channel with a real dj that chooses songs, not just "other people liked what you liked". I've found plenty of new material, songs to learn, that way. And it also is like jamming with great players anytime you want. Most radio stations have internet streams, and better yet, archives of past shows with detailed playlists.

    Folk Alley is fine, of course, but I play along with rock music and jazz, too, mainly from KMUW out of Wichita (world music, rock, jazz and blues.). WPFW in DC has good jazz and blues, and WAMU has a side stream for the bluegrass folks.

    An interesting internet stream is Tom Coles's program on WPFW, called G strings (Sundays 9a-12noon Eastern). It is mainly jazz guitar, but you'll also hear violin and mandolin occasionally.
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  21. #16

    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    Re playing along with radios.. i have a thing with it - obsessive all my life and especially these days to all the new/experimental/free stuff (jazz, rock, art, tech, whatever) and frequently am inspired to play/learn with it. If it's not old trad - which is *much* harder to get on the band - it's wilder stuff. It requires deep/detailed listening so there's usually lots to learn. It's great to get away from songs and just explore/feel. Get thee instrument and create. There is so much sound to instruct/inspire us!

  22. #17

    Default Re: Brute Force vs. Exemplar Soloing (Yup, I made those terms up)

    Pardon for not addressing OP more here. Or i guess anyone - no doubt tom has mentioned it uthreads - hsvent read em all yet - remember reading from score, Bach for example is as all the rest - its all sound/predetermined that we emulate using our instruments.. in fact my first go at the cello suites was by "ear" from a john williams cassette tape. Use it all.

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