You don’t have to be a genius to take full ownership of your fretboard… but you do need a method!
What do we mean by “Ownership”?
Surely, you bought your mandolin, and it came with a fretboard, but are you really taking ownership, making full use of all this little treasure can offer? Are there places on your fretboard that you avoid or never go to? How do you feel about the areas that you do use; are you taking full advantage of those? Do you feel like you really own your fretboard -OR- are there places right between your two hands that are outside your comfort zone?
These are questions and concerns that musicians of any skill level can come across.
We Become Comfortable with What We Know
As musicians, we learn and develop our skills. When we find something we really like, we do it again…..and again. We gain familiarity, begin to feel comfortable, and find enjoyment in what we do. If we hear someone play some music that we don’t know or fully understand, we generally go back to what we do well. In some ways, that’s a good thing; it’s the comfort of home.
The Wake-Up Call
Then we hear something that rocks our boat — something that makes us question the comfort zone we live in and say, “Is this really enough– for me?”
Our wake-up call might come in the form of inspiration from a recording that was just released OR from a visiting player at a jam circle or festival.
The Turning Point
For me, it was both. I admit that I loved hearing the barriers pushed by iconic virtuosos, new genres emerging such as New Grass, and established styles entering my listening arena as jazz influences crept into view. But at the same time, I had mixed feelings. On one hand there was fresh energy and excitement, but I never liked the feeling of being left in the dust. The level of musicianship was on the rise. Superb players were popping up all over the place, AND THEN one comes and sits in with our afternoon get-together, a youngster half my age and with no claim to fame….just sheer prowess that set me in a position of utmost humility. This was a key turning point; it is what prompted what I am about to share with you.
Introducing a book for mandolinists of all skill levels: “Scarpology: A Mapping the Fretboard and an Introductory Method of Improvisation for Mandolin and Other Instruments Tuned in Perfect Fifths“
I spent a couple of years working on this project, researching, taking notes, testing ideas. The result was a method that would help me get closer to that point of inspiration, a method that I could continue to work with, expanding my reach across my entire fretboard while understanding it better, continuing to develop into a better mandolinist and a better musician.
I organized it, put it in writing, and the end result was a book entitled, Scarpology: A Mapping of the Fretboard and an Introductory Method of Improvisation for Mandolin and Other Instruments Tuned in Perfect Fifths available in electronic format and in print.
The book presents a system that is broken down into pieces, a series of patterns that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. These patterns start off very simple. Simplicity is key in creating a framework, a skeleton on which the music is built.
Four Key Aspects of This Simple Framework:
- It is easy to learn
- It is easy to hear
- It is flexible and easy to shift around
- It serves as a container to be filled with all the complexity you can learn over time
Now about the name, “Scarpology”. Scarpology is the study of scarps, and a scarp is the pattern, the puzzle piece I just mentioned.
What it is – a scarp is a cross between a scale and an arpeggio. Many have studied and practiced, often dreaded playing their scales and arpeggios. While scales and arpeggios do indeed have immense value for those who have done the hard work of learning them, Scarps have their own character and serve a somewhat different function than the other two. So let’s get back to the Four Key Aspects of Scarps.
Easy to learn – so easy to learn that I can teach a student an outline that covers the entire fretboard in about 15 minutes. Scarps are easy to learn, easy to see and remember. Scarps form the framework on which to expand and learn more.
Easy to hear – our musical ear can actually hear the relationships of these puzzle pieces. Each scarp has a harmonic identity that gives the ear equal footing with visual learning of these patterns. Therefore, scarps can be easily called upon when jamming or improvising.
Flexible – there is a series of seven scarps, seven graphic patterns in a line joining at both ends to make a circle. You can start at any point on that circle and go either direction, moving up or down the fretboard until you run out of frets. These scarps, these patterns, these dot matrixes can be repositioned up or down the fretboard, even across the strings.
Serves as a container – each scarp uses only two fingers, two notes per string with varied spacing. Once you learn them and can hear their character, you will be able to fill in the gaps with all sorts of musical goodness. This is done incrementally, in stages, step by step.
The Why of How It Works
An Encouraging Process with Early Signs of Progress
15 Minute Video Demonstration
Beginning musicians and improvisors can make audible progress right away, beginning with only two fingers. The scarp framework alone produces music. In progressive stages, we add the other fingers to complete a full diatonic layout that can be applied to any musical key. When ready, we move on to more complex harmonic structures used in jazz and can even build exotic scales like those found in Eastern European, Arabic, or Persian cultures.
Easy on the Pinky
There are many players who have not yet developed strength in the little finger and we take this into account. We start with two fingers, then add the middle finger to make three. At this stage, the player has access to at least 75%, perhaps up to 95%, of all possible notes to play. When the player is ready, the pinky can be added with gentle encouragement. Once the pinky is there and working for you, you’ll get to enjoy more powerful options in your playing.
This Works Particularly Well on Mandolin, Violin, Cello….
So much of our traditional, folk, pop, rock, blues music was written on guitar in a way that works with the guitar’s tuning and fits the hand. When mandolinists, violinists, and the like try to repeat this, they often feel awkward on the very tunes that other instruments seem to glide through effortlessly.
The scarps outlined in this book work with our tuning (in perfect fifths) and fit the hand very easily. We can make use of the expansive nature of our tuning, the wide melodic reach that other tunings fail to offer. Scarpology turns any awkwardness into an advantage, one that the others don’t get to enjoy.
Do I Need to Know How to Read Music?
No. That’s the quick answer. If your ear works well enough for you, your ear can do all the navigating. However, if you can read music, even if just a little, you’ll understand this all better. In fact, the more you know about music and music theory, the better you’ll understand the process and thus be able to communicate using words. But to use this system, you do not need to know how to read music.
The Ancients Had the Secret Ingredient
What makes this all fit together? What makes the connection, what is the key to this mystery, the secret ingredient? The system that links our scarps together comes from before the internet, before jazz, before blues, bluegrass, old time, celtic…..before Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
Scarpology uses a system built on the Seven Diatonic Modes (sometimes referred to as the “Church Modes”) which come from Medieval times. These seven modes are actually seven scales, each with their own characteristic sound. The modes have survived the centuries through folk traditions and are found in today’s modern music. They serve as a big part of modern jazz theory and are prevalent in pop, rock, bluegrass, and many styles. They are the binding element of Scarpology and serve as the basis for expansion into more complex harmonies later in the course.