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Thread: How to improvise on Mandolin?

  1. #51
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    My view of this is that nothing that you memorize will make you an improviser until you start to improvise with it. .
    There is some wisdom there. Really.

    Step one, which in the OPs case is covered, is to learn the tune and know its chords.

    But after that, its even kind of wierd to ask for a specific prescription as to how to do something that breaks from specific prescription.

    I find that one great motivator for me is to try and extend the drama that is part of the tune itself. So if it is a rising serious of notes back to the tonic, I will perhaps wonder a bit and create some anxiety that I will ever "get there", or if it is a repetitive section, I might alter each phrase as if the back and forth "call and response" were imperfect.
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  2. #52
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Tossing in my $0.02.

    I think licks are kinda like phrases in a language. We all use individual words to form and express thoughts, but perhaps we often do that by using a lot of stock phrases. Stock phrases, "How ya doing?", "Can you believe this weather", "Did you see the game last night" are often the start of a conversation. They aren't original in anyway, but we've heard them before, and I suspect most of us use them. Nothing wrong with stock phrases, or licks, but a whole conversation made up of only stock phrases would be kinda stilted and uninteresting.

    Maybe it's that way with licks- If you can play brilliantly without them, great, but for many people, stock phrases aren't a bad way to start. And sometimes, it helps the listener to understand what's happening. Not a bad thing.

    I've heard some killer jazz players soloing live, a lot of them do use at least some "stock" licks. If you listen to them long enough, you'll hear it. Some nights it's mostly stock phrases, arranged or re-imagined in different ways. But hey, visual artists have techniques they use repeatedly. A solo with no references to anything else is as hard to understand for most people.
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  4. #53
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Publisher Jamey Aebersold has many books on Jazz Improv , http://jazzbooks.com/
    writing about music
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  6. #54

    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by sheets View Post
    Tossing in my $0.02.

    I think licks are kinda like phrases in a language. We all use individual words to form and express thoughts, but perhaps we often do that by using a lot of stock phrases. Stock phrases, "How ya doing?", "Can you believe this weather", "Did you see the game last night" are often the start of a conversation. They aren't original in anyway, but we've heard them before, and I suspect most of us use them. Nothing wrong with stock phrases, or licks, but a whole conversation made up of only stock phrases would be kinda stilted and uninteresting.

    Maybe it's that way with licks- If you can play brilliantly without them, great, but for many people, stock phrases aren't a bad way to start. And sometimes, it helps the listener to understand what's happening. Not a bad thing.

    I've heard some killer jazz players soloing live, a lot of them do use at least some "stock" licks. If you listen to them long enough, you'll hear it. Some nights it's mostly stock phrases, arranged or re-imagined in different ways. But hey, visual artists have techniques they use repeatedly. A solo with no references to anything else is as hard to understand for most people.
    Right. And, I don't know how relevant it is mandolin specifically, but many improvisers are working without familiar references - just like in abstract visual art; creating personal languages, etc. Charles Gayle calls his "genre" or approach: personal music (as opposed "jazz" or something). A lot of it gets labeled "jazz" - as most folks don't know what else to say about it - but so much is outside of jazz tradition, and is despised by many jazz traditionalists. Descriptors as "improvisational, creative, aleatory, art, avant, personal, new"-music are probably better terms than "jazz" to describe the music.

    Joelle Leandre said: "let the sound be itself."

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  8. #55
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    A great deal of truth in both these statements.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    ... nothing that you memorize will make you an improviser until you start to improvise with it ... Spend as much time as you can improvising with whatever tools you choose.
    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    ... give yourself permission to NOT sound great while you are learning to improvise. If you are a person that hates hearing a "clam" then get over it, because to learn to improvise you will hit some bad notes along the way.
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  10. #56

    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Never lose the groove to find a note.
    —Victor Wooten

    This is a good one to remember, too. Spend some practice time playing at speed, and learn to keep the rhythm even as everything else falls apart.
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  12. #57

    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    There is an interesting podcast about a computer that can compose in the style of whatever music you feed into it.
    http://www.radiolab.org/story/91515-musical-dna/
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  13. #58
    its a very very long song Jim's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Play it like you mean it.
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  15. #59
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by sheets View Post

    I've heard some killer jazz players soloing live, a lot of them do use at least some "stock" licks. If you listen to them long enough, you'll hear it. Some nights it's mostly stock phrases, arranged or re-imagined in different ways.
    All improvisors need a grab bag of stock licks they can use:

    while looking for a new original idea in the moment

    on nights when it may not be happening - then at least the stock licks make you sound good, if not at your most creative

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    Publisher Jamey Aebersold has many books on Jazz Improv , http://jazzbooks.com/
    The whole Aebersold series is an excellent tool, nicely written charts with correct chord changes, and most with cool play-along recordings so you can practice as much as you want.

    The downside - the books teach the chord-scale method of jazz improv exclusively, they do not cover the older, and to my teachers' taste (which included Ellis Marsalis among other less well known teachers), better basic method of improvising off of the chord changes and chord arpeggios.

    The chord-scale method is a great tool AFTER you know how to improvise the way everyone from Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet through Parker, Dizzy and Trane played.

    Then the chord-scale method came into use.....but one needs to know the older way first for it to really make sense.

    Use the Aebersold books and play-alongs, but make sure you learn to play off of the chord arpeggios of the song in question first.

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  17. #60
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    First of all, it's kind of funny the way people respond to the TS by expressing their preferences rather than offering advice. Always "the melody". Long ago I played in a fourpiece Bluegrass band (of sorts) and we were praticsing "Will the Circle". After running through it once one of the members remarked "couldn't you play just a little more of the melody in your solo" (on guitar as I recall). And I answered, the are four verses and two choruses in this song, all using the same melody, do we really need more of that?

    I don't think here's any "how to" in improvising. It's an urge that you discover in yourself - all of a sudden you want to add a tag or a fill that you never played before and then you're possibly driven to explore the possibilities of that mode of expression. As for Bluegrass, among the first thing I did as a beginner on mandolin, was to learn some of the fiddle tunes on Howdy Forrester's Fancy Fiddlin' album - I had already transcribed them on guitar - they were actually my motive for the mandolin, because the guitar involved numerous awkward string crossings. Several of these tunes combine scales and arpeggios - the standard ways of playing through the chords (as opposed to the way jazzers often encircle chord notes). So I fooled around quite a bit with these two approaches.


    Then I transcribed things like Rawhide and heard a lot of notes that weren't really there, because I needed them - which of course inspired further ideas on variations. My next important step was transcribing the first four bars of Bluegrass Pt. 1, the basic idea of which is to combine the harmonic (playing through the chords) and modal (superimposing the blues scale) approaches. So I fooled around a bit with that idea, and was ready to apply what I'd practised in a real playing situation.

    So really, it's about building a vocabulary and training your readiness to apply it in conversation.

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  19. #61
    its a very very long song Jim's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    When I played country with some older guys back in my 20s I often heard " just play the melody son", this was because they had no idea when to come back in after an improvised break! It taught me a valuable lesson though and often I take a break out with a couple measures of the melody, it let's the rest of the players know I'm done.
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    Registered User mandocaster's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Jethro Burs said that there were three kinds of improvising, as I recall.
    1. Play around the melody. Listeners would hopefully recognize the tune.
    2. Stick to the chords and chord extensions. A lot of jazz lives here
    3. Outside.
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  22. #63

    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    All improvisors need a grab bag of stock licks they can use.
    Well, not *all* (see post #54)

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  24. #64
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    Well, not *all* (see post #54)
    I've played a lot of gigs over the decades; believe me, ALL working improvisors need their grab-bag of go-to stock licks to use when the real inspiration is running thin.

    on to #54....

  25. #65
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    Right. And, I don't know how relevant it is mandolin specifically, but many improvisers are working without familiar references - just like in abstract visual art; creating personal languages, etc. Charles Gayle calls his "genre" or approach: personal music (as opposed "jazz" or something). A lot of it gets labeled "jazz" - as most folks don't know what else to say about it - but so much is outside of jazz tradition, and is despised by many jazz traditionalists. Descriptors as "improvisational, creative, aleatory, art, avant, personal, new"-music are probably better terms than "jazz" to describe the music.

    Joelle Leandre said: "let the sound be itself."
    There is a lot of unfortunately real truth in this.

    First, I come from the jazz tradition, although I try not to despise improvisatory (aleatory, have not heard that word in a while!) music that is sui generis.

    Next, the "improvisational, creative, aleatory, art, avant, personal, new" musics have a hard time, in that they often are as you say lumped into other more easily definable genres with little regard for fit.

    Finally, as for "creating [a] personal language" in any art form, much less music, this is a difficult task.

    A "personal language" can be a wonderful new creation, the artistic path to the future, the way everyone else will play eventually - think Louis Armstrong or Bill Monroe, to name 2 examples.

    A "personal language" at its worst can just as easily be unlistenable - ar at least unintelligible - to many people, which happens all too often.

    "Charles Gayle calls his "genre" or approach: personal music (as opposed "jazz" or something)"

    Well this is honest and properly well intentioned; of course personal music can also be only of interest to the person making it. (see the "unlistenable" comment).

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  27. #66

    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post

    ... of course personal music can also be only of interest to the person making it. (see the "unlistenable" comment).
    I certainly understand yours and the vast majority of reactions to outre forms. It certainly is music challenging normal associations, referents, etc.

    Otoh, I have great affinity with the perspective offered by Suzanne Langer: All art is (necessarily) abstract (paraphr).

    *Btw, I dig that everyone even the free players have devices, habits, etc - just that as well there are intents to overcome them, and in a survey of *all players* etc you'd have to take this in too. Many methods in improv - from cage to zorn to tomorrow. And this pertains more to what you'd accurately mentioned about context, models and forms dictating or formalizing improvizational content, and here again is where my above examples are apt as the antithesis of these aspects.
    Last edited by catmandu2; Nov-09-2017 at 12:45am.

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    Post Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by yankees1 View Post
    Check with Pete Martin at Petimarpress.com as he should be able to give you some valuable advice and he may post here if he reads your thread.
    SO you all know, my husband Pete's web site is now: https://www.petemartin.info

  30. #68
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Welcome to the forum, Mrs. Martin!

    An fyi … long after this thread was posted, Pete made his own thread full of improv lessons here: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...v-From-Scratch
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  31. #69
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    I played guitar for 35 years (self taught) before I knew what a major scale was. I learned to improvise lead guitar by just grinding away in cover bands forever.

    Then, 5 years ago I finally did a music theory course, first on bass, then on guitar. I wish I'd done it when I was a kid. It would have made things much easier and I'd be far better than I am now.

    So my suggestion is do it the easy way ... theory, scales, structured practice. I'm learning theory, scales, etc again on Mandolin using every resource I can find. Mandolessons has been an awesome resource for learning songs. And now I'm going thru his other stuff to get the scales and mando concepts down. There are mando theory lessons all over YT and a few paid sites with structured lessons, as well.

    So I say learn to improvise the easy way. Unless you have 35 years to grind on mandolin and absorb it thru osmosis.
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    Default Re: How to improvise on Mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Howard View Post
    What is the best thing to keep in mind to improvise on the Mandolin ( bluegrass & older country) major scales, pentatonic scales, arpeggios, licks, etc. I play by Ear only, I play the melody and am trying find a way to vary the melody, any information would by appreciated. Jim
    Since you are a by-ear player I suggest you listen to players you like and ruthlessly copy their playing. Youíll get to recognize licks and the melody notes they are changing to make the tunes their own. Over time youíll adopt the bits that suit you.
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