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Mandolin Picker's Guide to Bluegrass Improvisation Perfect Paperback – February 18, 2010
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About the Author
Hi mandolin-pickers! I'm Jesper Rübner-Petersen and I was born on the 8th of July 1969 in Aarhus/Denmark, where I grew up with Bluegrass and Acoustic Music because of my banjo-playing father. At the age of 12 I started to play the guitar and as soon as I was ready to grab a couple of chords I luckily got the chance to play in different Oldtime and Bluegrass Bands. Besides playing bluegrass, I've always tried to be open about new influences and decided to follow the jazz program at the "American Institute of Music" in Vienna, Austria, which I completed in March 1993. Staying at the A.I.M. opened up my eyes to harmony and theory and the understanding of improvisation. Around 1994, after years of intensive guitar playing, I bought myself a mandolin in order to try out a second instrument - a purchase which changed my life. In July 2000 the destiny of love made me move to South Germany, where I also started my professional career as a guitar and mandolin teacher. At the same time, I started teaching at Beppe Gambetta's Summer-Workshop, the International Workshop Musique Acoustique in Belgium, the Mandolin-Workshop at the New Acoustic Gallery and other local workshops. Over the years, while traveling around doing concerts and workshops, I often was asked questions about improvising and how to do it. After some research, I figured out that the demand of improvisation knowledge seemed to be international and so came the idea about writing an improvisation book to my mind.
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Top Customer Reviews
Most books on bluegrass mandolin are slim volumes that focus more on playing licks, perhaps teaching you a few pentatonic scales and throwing in a bunch of songs, without actually making a serious effort to show you how to apply the scales. This 200-page book, on the other hand, is one of the few that actually desconstructs the art of improvisation and develops an entire pedagogical approach that includes multiple ways of building solos, ample musical examples and even assignments for practice. The early chapters contain an excellent approach to applying pentatonics, and the later chapters cover monroe style, double stops, cross picking, exotic scales, reharmonization, you name it.
The material is well-graded, so that you proceed in small manageable steps with plenty of advice about how and what to practice. It's obvious that Jesper Rubner-Petersen put a lot of effort into codifying his approach and creating incremental exercises, and the quality really shows. I imagine that if you really give the material the practice time it deserves, you could spend a year or two working through everything.
I've also never seen a book treat harmony in bluegrass in a serious way. There is plenty of discussion of passing tones, blues scales, and what to play over those minor and modal tunes.
The accompanying cd is in mp3 format (great decision) and contains 292 examples. It appears everything is in the key of A at a very reasonable ~76 bpm. I do wish they had stereo-separated the mandolin so that you could hear just the guitar while practicing, but they did include 4 tracks of just guitar chords at the end of the cd for practicing. I also would have appreciated some exploration of other keys, at least the most common ones.
I've only recently started working through this book, so I'll report back later once I've spent some more time with it. But my initial impression is that this book goes far beyond the quality and depth of material of your usual Mel Bay method book.
Note that there are two definitions of a "solo" when it comes to mandolin music:
DEFINITION #1: The "turn" the mandolin takes in bluegrass music. Bluegrass music is hard to define, but one thing that seems to characterize it is that all the instruments take a turn and playing a solo. This solo can be almost anything, as long as it's in keeping with the key, the rhythm, and the feel of the song.
DEFINITION #2. Most mandolin books are nothing more than cheat-sheets: i.e., single-note melodies. But to make them sound convincing when playing by oneself, you'll have to learn how to flesh out these bare melodies with double-stops, triple-stops, four note chords, etc., to "put some meat on the bones." In music theory this is known as "harmonizing."
Well, this book does a superb job of teaching you how to construct a solo as per definition #1. In fact, I've never seen better. It does make some progress toward getting you to make a solo as per definition #2, but not much. (It shows you how to harmonize using thirds, basically.) Overwhelmingly the book concerns itself with single-note solos.
Note that the book does not teach one how to read music, but all of the standard musical notation in the book has TAB below it.
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