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Mandolin Lessons: Making Simple Tunes Difficult

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talk about making easy tunes difficult.
This is kind of fun.
Basically it's just variations on a simple
fiddle tune.
A lot of us play a lot of the same tunes,
and I'd like to
help unlock that mystery for some of you,
how do you think of these variations?
What kinda things can you do to sorta
doctor up a tune?
And, I've got quite a list.
So, we'll start with Turkey in the Straw,
and I'll just take it through a few
different changes, and then I'll attempt
to break it down for you.
Why, my thought process.
One, two, one
All right, so
what in the world am I doing?
We talked earlier about, i think it was in
the intermediate section,
about target notes on simple tunes like
You know, how can you break this tune down
to it's like absolute skeletal essence,
you know, what are these notes that I'm
talking about when I say target notes.
In a tune like Turkey In The Straw, it's
in the G, and it starts on this B note.
So obviously that's a target note being
the first note of the melody, and
you're heading to the G note
You know, so I would say that those two
You know, what would the ice-cream truck
play if it were playing this song?
[LAUGH] [LAUGH] It's little bells when it
comes around.
And you could argue that even the B note
is a pick up.
The G is really a target note.
A, G, D, D, D, D, A, A, G, and
that's kind of like stripping everything
So those are the notes we're trying to get
to, and
there are million ways to get to them.
instead of playing
We turn it into a little triplet
From the B to the B flat to the A.
One little simple way of thinking about
we approach the D note now from below
With a chromatic.
You know,
so there's two chromatics in a row.
I mean, you could practice just doing
triplets as much as possible.
How many ways can you fit triplets into
this tune,
just as kind of a goofy exercise?
Really slow.
You know, you could.
I mean, I can't even do it.
But you can see what I'm getting at.
That there are many places to put these.
So that's just dealing with the,
the idea of triplets, you know, where can
you put those in.
Then you've got pull offs.
That's a nice spot for one.
Or if you come from the C to the G, you
can make a pull off to the B.
That's an idea of where to use pull offs.
Chromatic variations, [LAUGH], okay.
Pretty much any note will work, right?
If you have the right kind of trajectory
and you're heading somewhere,
you can get away with any note on the
as long as you're heading someplace that's
logical and
harmonically has a sense of, of, of, of
tension and release.
Okay, let's break some of those down.
So I'm not doing trip,
trying to get away from triplets, just to,
just to zero in one simple concept here.
So, I started on the B note,
and I needed, the, the whole point was
that I needed to get to this D note.
At that rhythmic moment in the piece in
order for
it to sound like it was still Turkey in
the Straw.
you give just enough melody after hitting
the target note to keep
the listener still engaged that this is
still the same tune.
So I use the F sharp.
See how, where all that stuff comes from?
It's all chromaticism.
it's all coming from this skeletal melody.
It's still in existence.
Don't have a lot of,
you know, I, I need
Like two full beats to get there so
I'm bouncing off of
Bouncing off the G,
as a way of taking my time to get there.
Otherwise I'd end up with
Which is not so bad.
You end up creating syncopation by getting
someplace early.
I mean that's kind of another trick you
can use as a way of developing
syncopation, go someplace early.
Let me give you an example.
I'm handling it, I'm landing there like
a eighth note before each of those down
beats, that we're use to it.
Another way or another place of using it.
Of creating variation.
Now again if we keep doing the same thing
over and over it can get boring.
So the trick is to create, is to keep
changing this.
These, these thought patterns so that it
doesn't have just a constant,
oh my god, he's beating me over the head
with this concept.
But just enough, bookend kind of repeated
material to have it,
have some musical balance logic to it, and
not too much to where it becomes
So I hope some of these things help you
discover your own ways of finding your
ways through these tunes and coming up
with your own variations.
The ideas just never stop, folks.
Just as they shut the camera off I thought
of some other things that would be really
cool too.
So, [LAUGH] in an attempt to keep the
ideas flowing
play the tune up by an octave.
Have you learned Turkey in the Straw up an
by doing that and having to not use any
open strings.
It's kinda automatically, you're gonna
start hearing things because you are going
to be playing out of a closed position.
And you're just gonna naturally
have a whole bunch of other ways of
thinking about the mandolin up the neck.
The first thing I would do is find the
melody notes.
Now this riff is hard.
[MUSIC] You know? So I might find
a way to not even use the high E.
I mean, that's an example of,
instead of that.
It still has enough of the melody
to give the listener that flavor.
But again, here we are up the neck now, so
it introduces a whole another potential of
If I was for
instance playing this solo, without any
backing, or maybe just for the fiddle,
I would try to find a way to let the low
strings drone.
Being careful with the right hand.
It's a G chord,
so you can hit that low G and D.
But when you get here, it's a D chord.
Or a D7.
The other
thing we can do is go from the high octave
down to the low octave.
Just as a little variation, okay?
That's a couple of things.
The other thing that always works is
arpeggios, you know,
just outlining the chord.
And that's exactly my thought pattern.
I'll attempt to jump up and play something
and I have good intentions, but
I haven't worked out the right hand yet.
And so, if I make a mistake like that,
rather than going oh,
you dodo bird, I'll work it out, you know,
and say oh, God, why was that so hard?
I was just trying to play.
But, of course,
it was something in the right hand.
The other
thing you can do is abandon the melody for
a brief period,
and just play a scale pattern to get
yourself to a new area, and
then continue with the melody at the new
So, you are playing the melody, playing
the melody, playing the melody, and
then you diverse and descend into some
pattern that takes you to a new part
of the instrument and then you pick the
melody again.
And that would be something like a.
Let me do that again.
Melody, scale pattern.
Scale pattern.
Or riff,
turnaround riff, could be anything.
Let's go to the bridge.
Now riff.
I re-rift all the way down.
Could have been half the length.
And then start the riff here.
Makes sense, huh?
Good luck with Turkey in the Straw.
Well, I've just given you a whole lot of
information there.
Just tons and tons of little ideas that
you can incorporate.
Don't be sad if it takes you, could take
you months and
months to work some of that stuff in.
It's something I've been working on my
whole life.
But I'd love to see a video now from from
all of you.
Just give me some variations of some tunes
you're working on.
And if you have any questions about how to
negotiate through some of that,
those thoughts, I'm happy to help.
I'll end with playing Liberty, another
really simple tune, and I'll do a couple
of little variations on it for you to keep
on this train of thought.
Well, I'd love to see what you can do with
Pick another tune, and we did Turkey in
the Straw, and you just heard me
playing around with Liberty a little bit,
you know, Gold Slippers.
I would choose a really simple tune as a
real structured basic melody,
Nine Pound Hammer or something like that.
I'd love to hear what you can do with some
of these ideas.