Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
Tips & Tricks Mel Bay Mandolin Sessions








Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

Four Finger Closed Position FFcP
Jazz theory is based on tone relationships. Initially, how chords and scale tones interact, stray, resolve, move, can be overwhelming! We will attempt to debunk the notion that the "mystery" and complexity of jazz can only be unlocked by a privileged few. The virtually infinite combinations within 12 keys can easily be reduced and understood, by adopting the Four Finger Closed Position system (FFcP).

Give this a try - at first it will work some muscles you never knew existed. But they are important for a complete musician. Try it for a month - then keep on doing it.

Let's look at the first position possibilities. We'll start with the first finger position in the key of A. Note that if you move it down one fret, you come up with the key of Ab. Tone relationships remain intact, as well as fingerings. Now move it up one string, you have the key of Eb, without learning a new pattern. All your scale degree FUNCTIONS are covered by the same fingers. And if you move this up a fret to, you get the key of E. You now have 4 of the 12 major scales, with only one fingering pattern.

We aren't going to completely drop open strings! But for the purpose of simplifying and reducing the unwieldy amount of options, at this time, we're going to build a tactile "home base," to aid in visualizing harmonic function on the fingerboard and "feel" the relationship of common "modes", to the frets.

First, we need to limit the fingering to just four possibilities. As you study these, understand we are building roadmaps, or better, "wagon trail ruts" of where to intuitively place your fingers during improvisation. Along the way, you'll enjoy the healthy by-product of a useful, limber 4th finger (pinky). And eventually abandon the fear of moving everything up the frets into the fertile potential of the mandolin's higher positions.

We'll also gain skill in identifying which notes are critical in defining tonality and creating tension and resolution.

1st FFcP
A, Ab, E, Eb
Starting point...Down one fretUp one string!Up one fret.

2nd FFcP
Bb, B, F, F# All the previous was started with the 1st finger. Now we'll start a Major scale with the 2nd finger, and learn the key of Bb. If you take the same method of shifting, go up a fret, you have B (natural) Major. Up a string, F# Major, and back down, F Major.

3rd FFcP

C, C#, G, G#

We'll designate the 3rd pattern, C Major by starting it with the 3rd finger. Up a fret gives you C#, up a string would give you the G#, which is the upper octave of the enharmonic equivalent, Ab. We've already learned that in the 1st position, but now you are set to continue with little intimidation, two octaves. Back a fret and it's G natural.

Many players will initially feel this is an awkward and unnatural way of playing. The reality is - almost all of us learned an inefficient way of playing - once you leave the first position.
4th FFcP
D, Db, A, Ab Perhaps a little more foreign but no less significant, would be your final pattern, starting with the pinky. Again, avoid the open string for now; we're discovering relationships in the closed position. Finger the D Major Scale starting with the 4th finger. Move it back a fret, you have an alternative fingering for the Db Major (enharmonic C#). Same with it's shift up a string, another alternative for Ab, and up an alternative for A.

Here's an FFcP exercise: FFcP

Hear it played (mp3) in the key of C: 3rd FFcP Demo

As you get used to the way these feel (and it will be a stretch for that pinky at first!), notice the strength and flexibility you earn with your 4th finger; even your 3rd will become stronger. More importantly, this will allow you to intellectually and with tactile sense, discover important scale degree functions. The "color" defining note of the third degree, the leading tone "pull" of the seventh scale degree - it's all something you want to start to be conscious of, once these fingerings become familiar.

Don't worry about losing out on the open strings for now. Those are easy and they will come right back to you. Work with this system, and don't deny yourself the 25% MORE opportunity a viable pinky can offer your playing!

Here's a PDF chart that shows you how you can position the FFcP patterns up the fret board in the possible wrist "stations."

Review: Principles of FFcP

In this system, there are only four ways to play a major scale: starting with the first finger, the second, the third and the fourth. That's it!

All 12 keys can be covered in only four different positions, simply by transposing up or down the fretboard and across strings.

4th Finger (Pinky) strength and coordination become part of daily development exercises.

Key Chord Tone relationships in improvising become tactile, visible, and intuitively real.

Position shifts to a second octave are easily bridged merely by starting the next octave with a different FFcP pattern.

Changes in tonal "micro-centers" by half steps easily transist either by moving the pattern by one fret, or using the next FFcP.

Open string "opportunities" will be explained and added later, but only after mastering the FFcP system.

A personal testimony for the FFcP approach:

"Ted this works, I've been applying a lot to Mandola and tenor guitar and - even doing some of the more awkward Eb and A tunes on a CGDA, it works." - Dion del Piombo

"FFcP is the coolest thing in the world! My brain is going crazy thinking about the patterns! Did you make that up?" - Eric

I have been working on Ted's stuff and my theory of the day is that the pinky is the key opening up the mandolin. With your pinky working well you can play in closed positions and then the logic of the tuning, and the relatively short scale length gives you all of the keys and easy transposing. -G. Woods

Take it with you: Check out our Free Downloads Page! Get a printable version of this and other helpful exercises.

Download Tabledit Files:
1st FFcP A
2nd FFcP B
3rd FFcP C
4th FFcP D

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