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Musix and all things Dix Bruce

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Dix Bruce is a guitar and Mandolin instructor who has published for, “Mandolin World News,” as well as, “Flatpick Guitar Magazine,” and his own publishing company. I highly regard all of his material as well as his authentic playing across many genres. From old-time fiddle music, to hot club gypsy jazz and all across the spectrum.

I learned this tune from a book of his on Gypsy Jazz

His playing is always tasteful and to the point, not a wasted note. A lesson in melody, and that less is often more. The flashy tricks are overrated in music. Tone, clarity, and expression are first priority. I encourage players at all levels to check out his contribution to the acoustic music world. Dix is up there with Steve Kaufman and Happy Traum in his legacy of clear accurate instruction for the self motivated musician.

Dix own website

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Some notes are more important than others

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

My intention is to simply scratch the surface of Music Theory in this post. Explanations are in the context of a rhythm guitar player named Jerry and a mandolin player named David jamming. My goal is to simplify this idea of scale degrees, having said this, this post is not for the very beginner. This post is for players who have put time into playing the major scale and understand each note in the scale correlates to one “scale degree.”

I argue that the 3rd and 7th scale degrees of any given scale have more harmonic importance. Lets look at some examples, sound clips will be added later for better understanding.

Jerry starts a song by strumming a C major chord.
David in turn is improvising on mandolin. He knows how to play his C major scale in order from practice. He knows all seven of those notes will sound good. They are:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

David might choose to focus on the notes, E as well as B. Because they correlate to the 3rd and 7th scale degrees of the chord.

Now Jerry switches to playing a C7 chord on guitar.

David needs to change his seven scale degrees to choose from. Each correlating to one note. The C7 chord is also know as a dominant 7 chord. This chord has a flatted 7th scale degree instead of a natural 7th. David has a full scale containing 7 scale degrees to chose from. From the regular C major only one scale degree has changed, the 7th has to be flatted. David then gets these notes below to choose from.

C D E F G A Bb C

These notes will all sound good. David chooses to focus on the E as well as the one note that changed the Bb. Bb being the flatted 7th scale degree and the only scale degree that changed from the simple C major scale.

Now Jerry starts a new song he has learned, it starts with the strumming of a Cminor chord.

David is coming up with his set of scale degrees to chose from in terms of notes he can play on the mandolin. Only one scale degree changes from the original C major scale. The 3rd scale degree needs to flattened. Also known as a flat 3rd.

C D Eb F G A B C

On mandolin David is soloing…Since a C minor chord is the sound being heard he might focus on Eb the flatted 3rd scale degree. As well as the 7th scale degree which is a B note

Jerry is now playing you a Cmaj7 chord, which usually appear in jazzier songs.

The scale degrees David uses as a template does not change. What changed is the chord Jerry is playing, he is including the 7th scale degree in the chord. Instead of a C major which is simply 1st-3rd-and 5th scale degrees, Jerry is playing the 1st-3rd-5th-and 7th scale degrees.

David on mandolin has the exact same template of scale degrees he used for C major over a C major 7 chord

David plays the 3rd and 7th scales degrees. The E note and the B note. The B note being a defining part of Jerry’s major 7 chord sound.

In another jam session Cmin7 chord is being strummed by Jerry.

David knows a C minor 7 chord consists of a flatted 3rd scale degree, to make it minor, as well as the flatted 7th scale degree. David’s seven notes to choose from changes by only two scale degrees, the 3rd scale degree and the 7th scale degree.
C D Eb F G A Bb C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

I hope this helps, if it doesn’t I am sure I can find a link to an article written by someone much better at describing this dry music theory stuff. When I say focus on the 3rd and 7th I am not excluding other notes. Many other notes sound great, these two just have a big part in chord construction. Also the 1st scale degree as well as the 5th scale degree are often played by a bass player, or by Jerry’s rhythm playing, plucking bass notes.

For my example above, I am in a way working backwards based on the chord you are playing. Any and all chords can be deconstructed, hence Chords with names like E7b9 or G7#5, these altered Dominant chords are not common in bluegrass, but are common in jazz standards. This makes for the argument that this trick is more important in jazz than bluegrass.
In chord charts it is useful to know that

Comments and questions encouraged. Anyone who can expand on this, or has their own tricks involving focusing on certain scale degrees please speak up.

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Music without genre classifications

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Some of acoustic musics greatest contributors are often overlooked, usually from a lack of material that is easily marketed and turned into profit. This is no coincidence, this is a symptom in the nature of our times. Music is it’s own language, in and of itself. We must move past using names like, “Country, Bluegrass, Jazz and classical,” to define what is an art form with it’s very own vocabulary.

Players like Jordan Ramsey, Dave Peters, and Tim Connell often play multiple styles within a single song. In terms of genres this music must fall into, “all of the above.” What makes music hard to define is exactly what gives it more interest and intrigue. No more pigeon holed definitions are needed.

Chris Thile just released an album, which consists only pieces composed by the great J.S. Bach. Before the release of this album Thile was not considered a classical player, nor we he be in the future. But his classical mandolin playing is up there with the best I have ever heard. Do you see the problem here? I can same the same for Mike Marshall’s/strong> playing of classical music. Another player not considered in the classical genre.

Both have devoted lots of time and effort into this particular style. Naturally, after a certain amount of time a new style, or composer is needed freshen things up. An example of this would be Marshall’s change to playing Brazilian music. Another good example is Tony Rice’s movement towards Jazzier playing, and away from what we call bluegrass. Bluegrass is unique in that it is a genre created by a single man, the master Bill Monroe. There is one and only Bill Monroe. “So it goes,” as Kurt Vonnegut would say.

Jethro Burns called many names, but never a conformist, broke all the right rules. As a musical revolutionary, he lead the way for David Grisman’s Dawg music, as well as all that was labeled Newgrass, and jazzgrass, over the years. Well before that players like Dave Apollon played music beyond definition.

Dave Apollon a Russian mandolin player wrote and performed beautiful music, later called Gypsy Jazz. Django Reinhardt’s very own musical genre creation. Not bad company, but their music must speak for itself, two words do not do it justice. Don’t listen to me, or any other critic for that matter, listen to the emotional, and powerful music they played.

Every artist named is in bold print for a reason. The reason being so one can listen to these artists and draw his or her own conclusions. No one song, or name, can suffice in revealing the broad, yet strong foundations these men have built for future generations of musicians. With inspiration from the masters of the past, one’s own unique voice can be found and expressed.

We must adapt and continue building onto an art form that has luckily been built to last. The ones most willing to adapt, and change with the times, are in my opinion the most fit to be truly original and innovative.

“What is in a name?” Just that, nothing more. Do not mistake the name for the thing it represents. Be it a person, place, or thing, let your heart do the deciding. Your analytical rational mind will always be there to fall back on. Music is beyond names, it evokes emotion not logic, inspirational not instructive, feelings not answers.

We all could be a little less critical and more accepting in thoughts and actions. This is a ticket that can unleash creative prowess beyond imagination. Tapping into the true source, as many before us have.

Paying homage to the traditions of the past holds huge importance. The assumption that the builders wanted us to carry these traditions unchanged, like relics of the past, is inevitably impossible. Build off of traditional music in ways that feel good to you, and chances are it will have the same effect on others. Trust your gut, and play from your heart.

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Website changes, momentum felt that can be shared by all.

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Be it musically or otherwise, getting one’s collective message heard is a feeling of actualization and a step in the right direction in this massive information age. If you view “Notes From Jake,” and look at the left side. New Categorized links will appear organized and ready for your web pleasure. The harboring of my website to be a place for all people through the spectrum of musical interest to have quality time spent is a goal of mine.

Links to sites and ideas I research can help the quality of time and use of this page. Listening pleasure, as well as articles and books ranging from philosophy to technical reference books are passions of mine I share. Descriptions of the links will help one on his or her journey in finding the right stepping stones. And deciding which stones to connect to which, having each and every step along one’s way be part of the naturally unique path we each all must lead.

I will continue to share my path, opening up discussion with comments and posts, the paths can become a two-way street. Converging and Diverging towards a common goal of improving our here and now. For now, tread the ground ahead and keep your spirits high.

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Bob Brozman, traces of true greatness

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

What do music, anthropology, philosophy, electricity, emotionality, individuality, and humanity have in common. One man, Bob Brozman nourished all these fields of thought in his everyday life, as well as countless more. His recent passing is a great loss. He will be missed, but his impressions, interpretations, and flow of ideas will not be for they have long been beyond time. This interview gives one an idea.

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The music theorist in all of us

Friday, February 15th, 2013

In this entry I will be using terms and from intermediate music theory. But not to worry, I will explain in detail and you will not be quizzed on the material. With that behind me, the trick I am explaining today has many names, “The Axis of 3rds and 7ths,” as Jazzmando’s site likes to call it.

I prefer to call this idea, “the fact that all notes are not created equally.” This of course is only true if you believe me.


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One good day of music makes up for many without.

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

This past Tuesday I was fortune enough to play with my band, as well as attend a concert myself. My gig was in the afternoon so by nightfall I was able to catch a show on the other side of Atlanta. A phenomenal string band. MilkDrive out of Austin Texas played at Eddie’s Attic. They have been a favorite of mine for years, seeing them live is impressive to say the least. They have embraced the string band for all it’s worth, all members playing guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Music beyond genre classification. I had my mandolin with me so the guys were nice enough to play a few fiddle tunes with me after their show.

A humbling experience is almost always a good one, mandolin players are hard to find in Atlanta and all of a sudden I was surrounded by three. Not just any pickers, three master musicians with their own unique voice on any given instrument. I was way out of my league but, yet it sounded great. I also was taught some cool licks, and was reinvigorated to keep on practicing.

It seems, bluegrass musicians more than most tend to be inclusive not exclusive. A common understanding that music is not a pie eating contest, is an unspoken understanding in many circles. The allure of what I call, “contest thinking,” is done by all of us, and has it’s rewards, (serious concentrated practice.) The subtext understood is that even in contests subjective tastes dictate winners. Contests are judged by humans not computers or stop-watches.

Open jam sessions are a great way for someone to increase appreciation, and joy in music. It has numerous other benefits, including, forcing you to listen and make space in your playing. Play with others as much as possible!

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We all can use a little help along the way

Friday, May 11th, 2012

I gained many lessons and experiences from playing in a rock band in Athens, GA. In a town full of great musicians, most of whom I knew at the time, one in particular had a profound impression of my musicianship. In the video below you will see my friend and former band mate David Cardello. He now lives in Arizona but when we lived just a few houses away he gave me free lessons on music theory, playing styles, and beyond. No he just has to do it via the internet for he is busy in Arizona trying to solve our countries energy crisis.

If a friend offers to teach you a skill, don’t hesitate. The more skills we posses the better off we are. In this particular case it was a skill of music appreciation and healthy practice habits. Thanks Dave. Keep delving.

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First Things First

Monday, December 5th, 2011

I have recently recorded and uploaded short free mandolin lessons to youtube.

After rewatching and some contemplation I realized these “tricks” I have recorded work for the youtube medium, but not optimal in the realm of actually learning and understanding the mandolin or it’s music.

The “tricks,” you will find on my youtube page are for the intermediate player who has an understanding of the instrument and of chord changes in western music. This does not go without saying.

First things first, learn the correct chords to the song you want to play. Leads only exsist in context with the rhythm and chords behind it. Given, some players can imply harmonies or use baselines intertwined with lead playing to make themselves a “one man band.” This is no easy feat. Classical masters as well as some modern artists like Keith Jarrett, and Brad Mehldau have scratched this itch on Piano. On guitar Joe Pass is my personal favorite, on mandolin, Aaron Weinstein, and Evan Marshall come to mind. On stringed instruments this is often called, “chord soloing,” not the other way around.

Although not sexy, playing correct chord changes while using a metronome might be the surest way for players of any ability level to increase their enjoyment playing. Given some might choose a simple I-IV-V at a very slow bpm while others will play through Thelonious Monk compositions inserting chord substitutions and turn-arounds at will, at break neck speed. This practice routine enables one to improve in ways that are realized best while playing with other musicians.

Ones understanding of chord theory can be supercharged with understanding the circle of fifths as well as ear training. In the end “soloing,” is nothing less than arpeggiating chords that fit; they can be extremely simple, or they can be predeterminded theoritcal ideas ie. tritone substitutions with extended chord voiceings. Our ears will be the final judge, and the jury is still out.

Do not forget to practice rhythm playing and chord studies, when that happens the music suffers. Drums were my first instrument as a youngster. I spent countless hours trying to fall into time with Pearl Jam recordings…eventually I did. This is no excuse, I am no longer taking rhythm studies for granted.

Play with a metronome, listen to some of the greats and how their sense of timing often called phrasing, set their playing apart. Clarence White would be a good place to start for bluegrassers, while John Scofield sticks out in the world of jazz where syncopation is most prevelent. They posses one of a kind senses of time. The reality is we all do. Find yourown, don’t neglect it for it can trump all else.

My advice is to make rhythm studies the first thing you do when you pick up your instrument, even if for just three minutes. I will discuss later effective ways of using the metronome. You can start by playing along with a recording you know and like, making sure your in time. First things first.

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Instruction is Important!

Monday, November 21st, 2011

As the title of this entry suggests, as a musician I feel that having good instruction is key to imporvement and enjoyment of playing music. I have called myself a self-taught player, which is actually not true. I did not attend music lessons that I paid for…but my father is a great guitar player who has spent endless hours teaching me, “everything he knows.” Also, I have been lucky enough to play with a bunch of great musicians who gave me instruction along the way. If you add in all the musical instruction books I use it is becomes evident I am not self-taught. Nowadays technology, especially the internet is a great tool for instruction, good or bad, it’s easier than ever.

I am discussing this because I have recently decided to start uploading short videos sharing some of my mandolin tricks I have aquired over the years. They can be found on youtube and I will post some on my website as well. I did this because I realized I have learned a lot from a few great youtube mandolin teachers, while ignoring some I found to be less than great. Some of the greats include, Don Julin, Anthony Hannigan, Jim Richter, and Ted Eschliman who created a great resource I use often.

My videos will be more beneficial to beginner and intermediate players, also pickers not interested in bluegrass alone, but beyond as well. My model for “tricks,” videos will be to keep them short and informative. Some tricks will be simply riffs you can learn, while others will be delving into musical theory and physical technique. Here is my first. Questions and comments are encouraged as always.

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