Two Yaaaays and One Maaaay-be
In case you haven’t already heard, I wrote a book entitled Scarpology: a Mapping of the Fretboard and an Introductory Method for Improvisation on Mandolin or Other Instruments Tuned in Perfect Fifths. This is what has taken most of my writing time for the past year or longer. It was a huge amount of work and before I went public with it, I wanted to get some feedback from trusted sources and I am happy to report on some very helpful feedback.
Of the four professionals I sent copies to, three reported back, one did not. Of the three that reported back, two were highly complimentary and one had some reservations about the project. Here is a report on those three.
First to reply back was Ted Eschliman, the author of many published works for mandolin and creator of the well-known website, JazzMando.Com. In Ted’s initial, cursory write up, he describes the book as follows:
…this is another one of those “leap ahead” methods of study that can open up your fretboard in ways you never dreamed.
You can read more here.
The second to respond was noted performer and recording artist, Don Stiernberg. On his “first quick tour” of the book, Don writes:
It plugs several gaps in my thinking about where things are on the fretboard of the world’s greatest instrument, particularly as pertains to minor tonalities. Clear definitions, concise explanations and graphic representations of the ideas and sounds combine to give us rapid access to “the good notes”. Bravo!
It should be noted that both these reports were somewhat quick glances at the whole book and Mr. Eschliman or Mr. Stiernberg could change their viewpoint if they spend more time digging through the book. Time will tell.
The third response was from another highly regarded musician who asked to remain anonymous. He spoke with some reservation to the method and I want to report it here with respect to his anonymity and I also want to address his concerns. His concern that learning with graphic depictions of patterns as opposed to standard music notation could lead the player into the trap of memorizing licks or repetitive patterns that would inherently limit the player’s ability to improvise freely and creatively.
This is a point well taken and I agree that caution should be employed as this is a danger every musician should avoid. The book uses dozens of graphic depictions of fretboard patterns. It is geared to work with musicians who may or may not be able to read music. While the book also refers to terms of music theory and advises that a basic understanding of standard music notation is helpful, the student doesn’t have to be able to read music well or even at all if the student’s ear is good enough to suffice. If the student’s ear is lacking, he may benefit from a deeper understanding of music notation but even then, as far as this book goes, reading music notation is used as a point of reference rather than the method of teaching.
So that being said, learning patterns on any stringed instrument can be limiting if the musician stops there or if he finds a pattern that he can use over and over but doesn’t understand how to vary that pattern or how to link it with other patterns to broaden his choices when improvising. In regards to using this book, the more music theory a student knows and understands, the better he will be able to make use of the materials.
The patterns in this book start very simple using only two fingers (1 & 3 or index and ring fingers). The beginning patterns aren’t likely to satisfy the student’s hunger for variety in his playing. This leads him to the next level of patterns that incorporate use of the middle finger.
Mastering this may satisfy the student’s desire for choices as this level, when added with shifting positions, can offer most all notes of the entire fretboard. But we encourage moving forward, acknowledging that this much is a huge chunk of the entire picture and that adding the pinky (finger number four) can be difficult, even discouraging for the many musicians who have not yet developed strength in their little finger. We encourage the players at this stage to continue to play, to enjoy the work they have done so far, and to keep in mind that adding the pinky, even a little at a time, will produce bountiful results. My approach in the book is to bring the pinky into the mix with a gentle and welcoming approach.
But I have to revert now to the misgivings of our anonymous reviewer as this is the most likely place for our students to become complacent and perhaps stop before bringing in the pinky. I think for most, that this momentary stagnation will pass… some will stay here longer than others. As many styles of music don’t demand the use of the pinky, I felt it was important to offer this point of respite for those who would balk at the pain and agony of making the pinky do its calisthenics. It does hurt and many become discouraged at this juncture. For those who are lucky enough to have teachers to keep them at it, this aspect of the book won’t hinder them. For those who are complacent enough to sit on their laurels at this juncture, this will probably allow them to do so. For everyone at this juncture, it is certainly best to work towards bringing in the pinky and developing this potential.
Now, regarding the patterns used in this book. These patterns are building blocks that all link together, that build off each other, and that encompass the entire fretboard and the entire range of 12 keys, both major and minor. I don’t think the method is at fault for pushing quick licks that are historically known to give learners a limited range of improvising skills. However, human nature being what it is, all of us need to be wary and mindful of any method that serves as a quick launch into any achievement. Human nature will incline to become complacent. So it is noted and should be made clear that all musicians must be on the path of learning for the entirety of their lives. Anytime we rest from that endeavor, atrophy can set in and those around us who persist will surpass us. We must allow ourselves rest but also must resume the course when we have our strength regained. I must say that this is touched on in the book, but I want to reiterate it here as our anonymous review has forewarned that complacency is the killer of our musical growth. We must always continue to learn.