Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Black Page

I have set a goal for myself, my New Year's Resolution. I am determined to learn Frank Zappa's "The Black Page #1". I got the Terry Bozzio / Chad Wackerman video Solos and Duets which contains a duet performance of BP1. As the two drummers play the piece, a complete transcription of the score runs across the bottom of the screen in sync with the performance, measure for measure. Using a pencil, manuscript, and my handy pause button, I was able to write myself a copy. Now, armed with the score and two master performers as guides, I am sailing forth to the realm of polyrhythmia.

I tried this once before and got bogged down at measure five. The first four measures were not that difficult for me. These consist of syncopated phrases with some thirty-second note subdivisions and the polyrhythms are relatively simple triplets, quintuplets, and septuplets. Measure five, however, was very difficult for me. The first note is a half note, okay, no big deal. The second half of the measure is broken up into a quarter note triplet. That's easy enough too. The problem is that the triplet is broken down even further with a quintuplet on the first beat, another quintuplet on the second beat, and a sextuplet on the third beat. Steve Vai refers to this as a "nested polyrhythm", a polyrhythm within a polyrhythm if you will. This same figure occurs four times in the score: at measures five, eight, twenty, and twenty-three. I figured if I could crack this nut, I could surely do the whole piece. Well, I am happy to say I finally worked this part out. Hooray! Hooray for Michael!

I did it by just tapping my foot on the down beat (with a metronome) and playing the quarter note triplet on the snare drum. Then I just played five, five, six on the snare drum and tried to land a beat on one of the next measure. Then I played the triplet a few times. Then I played five, five, six again. After a while (quite a while) it began to just fall into place. I have now worked all the way up to measure nine. This leads me to believe that my goal is attainable. There is another nested polyrhythm at measure fifteen but, I think I'm up to it.

If you have any experience with this piece and if you have any advice that might help me get through it, please let me know. Once I have nailed this thing, I will definitely post a video.

1 comment:

Aloof Schipperke said...

I used a similar technique when learning it on keyboards. Get each chunk to the point where its in muscle memory, then assemble them with a slow metronome rate. Speed it up as you get that assembled pieces in muscle memory.

The hardest part is staying patient enough during the process. It was very tempting to try to play it faster than my fingers could handle while I was getting it up to speed.

Good stuff - I definitely expect a video. :-)