Frank Zappa's musical language
Frank Zappa's musical language
A study of the music of Frank Zappa

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GUITAR: SOLO TYPES AND MINGLING OF CLOSELY RELATED SCALES

Zappa in 1984 In 1987 Zappa released a second guitar solo collection, named "Guitar". It differs a bit in climate compared to the first "Shut up 'n play yer guitar" box of 1981. This 1981 collection shows more unity. The majority of the solos were recorded during a shorter time-span (1979-1980), the sound of the guitar in the various solos is more alike and the Lydian mode with a I and II chord alternation is often used.
Then in "Guitar" there's more variety. The pedal note and vamp solos prevail. This is part of the reason why "Guitar" is a more demanding guitar album to listen to. With the chord alternations, when you drop out following what the guitar wants, you at least have the certainty that you can follow the chord change every one or two bars. It's sort of a comfortable basis. The other part is that Zappa in his search for rhythmic and melodic variation here repeatedly turns to sections that are less fluid, sometimes to the extent of being aggressive (I noted that some Zappa fans don't appreciate the album, finding it too much and all "sounding alike"; personally it took me a while to get accustomed to the CD, but after I did I enjoy it a lot). The C Lydian chord alternation here returns once in a 1979 solo, called "Systems of edges", as a reminiscence of "Shut up 'n play yer guitar". To the right an outtake from one of the photos by Sergio Albonico from the CD booklet.

In this section we'll look some more at the different accompanying types Zappa is using in his solos. They can be divided into four categories. The subject already has come by in the previous sections. The following is a summary of the guitar solo bars in this study, subdivided this way, with several new examples from "Guitar". The Shut up 'n play yer guitar sections contains tables of all solos with their scales and types. The latter table is a consequence of my discussion with B. Clement about Zappa's use of scales. So some redundance between these two sections of my study grew out of this, but I prefer not to re-shuffle the content of my study through time.

1.1 Sexual harassment in the workplace

1) Solos over a chord progression or being a chord progression.

This is the most common way of doing a solo in rock music. Mostly there's an instrumental in a song where the accompaniment keeps following the main chord progression and someone is doing a solo over it. Because you already know the chords the solo sounds as a logical in-between without surprises. In other instances the soloist is filling in the chords of the accompaniment that are agreed upon in advance. Zappa rarely does solos this way. The solo from "Dirty love" from "Overnite sensation" is a clear example of him playing in this manner. The most exceptional ones are the "Zoot allures" and the "Five-five-FIVE" solo openings, that are chord progressions by themselves. Another one is the title track from "Sleep dirt" where the accompaniment is doing broken chords. It ends with joking about the repetitiveness of playing broken chords: "Damn! What? Your fingers got stuck?". Solos of this kind in this study are:

- "Lost in a whirlpool" opening: playing over the blues scheme in 1958.
- "Walking out" section.
- "Hungry freaks, daddy" (follows the progression from the song).
- "Call any vegetable" solo section from a 1971 bootleg. Here the keyboard is basically doing a vamp, the same one as on the original version on "Absolutely free", but in the transcribed bars it's making a movement.
- "Another whole melodic section" section.
- "Fifty-fifty" section. A solo following a modulation scheme.
- "Phyniox". A solo following a modulation scheme, combined with the use of vamps.
- "Zoot allures" main theme, as mentioned.
- "Sleep dirt" opening, idem.
- "Bowling on Charen" third example.
- "Five-five-FIVE" opening, idem.
- "Stevie's spanking" opening.
- "For Giuseppe Franco" section. A pedal note solo with a section with a chord progression in it, that is transcribed in this study.
- "Sexual harassment in the workplace" intro.

Sexual harassment in the workplace, intro (midi file).

Sexual harassment in the workplace, intro (transcription).

Zappa kept playing the blues throughout his career. "Suicide chump" and "In France" are two of his eighties blues pieces. "Guitar" opens friendly with Zappa playing over the blues scheme in "Sexual harassment in the garage". Blues is a highly standardized style, there's little more possible than to play around the scheme (see also the Bongo fury section). Here Zappa is adding in extra chords in C sharp minor. The I of the blues I-IV-I-IV-V progression is augmented as I 7th followed by V and the IV becomes IV 7th plus I. Then of course there is the solo itself.
In his response to me Brett Clement disagrees (?) with calling it minor/Aeolian, writing: "blues minor pentatonic, neither melody or accompaniment is purely Aeolian: melody (minor pentatonic), accompaniment (minor, but includes V7#9)". Of course one can listen to a melody and the accompaniment individually, but for the identification of the scale a piece is in, one has to listen to all parts combined. One does this for orchestral scores and the harmonizations of Zappa's music can be crucial for verifying scales. After relistening I agree that there's a dissonant note to be added to the V chord. It's indeed V7#9 (G#7#9) and not just G#m7, as I first had. I consider the presence of altered notes normal. Pure (100%) Aeolian is unrealistic, as pure minor pentatonic would be for the melody only (e.g. Zappa is playing a D# too between 1:30-1:32). It's minor with pentatonic passages. And yes, there are altered notes. See my citation of Zappa at the "Them or us" solo: "it's like the difference between eating oatmeal and eating salsa."

1.2 Which one is it?

With the second solo on "Guitar", "Which one is it?", we get to one of the many solos where Zappa is playing over a pedal note. With the leaving of the familiar blues scheme the tension immediately rises. "Which one is it?" is in Bb Lydian. It's a rare example where you can hear both the solo and the song it was taken from on an official CD. When you listen to "Which one is it?" by itself, there's no way you can connect it to "The black page" (see also below at "Sinister footwear III"). "The black page #2", as included on "YCDTOSA Vol. V", was recorded at Munich, June 1982. It begins with soloing over the vamp from the "Them or us" solo (see the corresponding section), thus another rare example of knowing when a certain type of vamp was used by listening to an official CD. Halfway it becomes more like a regular Bb pedal figure, the part "Which one is it?" was taken from. During the first half you can also hear the riff from "Ya Hozna" being played through it.

1.3 Republicans

2) Solos over pedal notes.

The next solo, "Republicans", is in 4/4 with a steady beat all through. This piece has a shifting pedal note and the soloing moves on chromatically. It doesn't use a diatonic scale, but you can't call it atonal neither. In the transcribed section Zappa mostly follows E-F#-G-A-Bb-C#-D#. The pedal notes start with E at 0:00, subsequently B Flat at 2:19, D sharp at 3:17 and then back to E at 4:29.

Republicans, opening (midi file).

Republicans, opening (transcription).

The handling of the pedal notes in Zappa's solos can take various directions. In "Ship ahoy" the pedal note is buzzing in the background. In "Republicans" it's a pedestrian beat. In most solos the bass is playing around the pedal note, as in the transcribed section from "GOA" below.

Sections from the following titles are present in this study as examples of pedal note solos:

"Breaktime"/"Waltz" (these two have a jazz type walking bass, rather than pedal notes; there's only a tendency for one note to be the pedal note), "Invocation & ritual dance of the young pumpkin", "The Orange County lumber truck", "Baked bean boogie", "The Nancy and Mary music", "Twinkle tits", "The subcutaneous peril", "Brixton still life", "Waka/Jawaka" solo, "Think it over", "D.C. Boogie", "Apostrophe (')" (rather a duet than a pedal note solo, but the B can be taken as pedal note/tonic), "Pygmy twylyte" (1st example), "Rollo" opening, Rhythm guitar solo from "Chunga's revenge" (1975), "Friendly little finger", "Ship ahoy" section, "Sheik yerbouti tango", "Mo' mama", "Heidelberg", "Paroxysmal splendor", "Ancient armaments", "While you were out", "Soup 'n old clothes", "The deathless horsie", "Why Johnny can't read", "Canard du jour", "The torture never stops (1980, first solo)", "Sinister footwear III", "Republicans", "Do not pass go", "In-a-gadda-Stravinsky" (2nd example), "That's not really reggae", "Once again, without the net", "Were we ever really save in San Antonio?", "That's not really a shuffle", "For Duane", "GOA", "Swans? What swans?", "Too ugly for show business", "Canadian customs", "The torture never stops part two" (1987), "Improvisation in A", Budapest solo, "Good Lobna", "Butter or cannons", "Bavarian sunset", "Dance me this".

1.4-5 Do not pass go - Chalk pie

Zappa band in 1982 Two more examples of pedal note solos. "Do not pass go" is in B Dorian. It's a relatively relaxed solo, with Zappa playing sustained and glissando notes as in bars 2-3 of the next example. At such points the accompaniment is getting closer into the picture. Keyboards and rhythm guitars are represented in the example in a somewhat reduced form in staves 2-3. Throughout the piece one of the two rhythm guitars tends to alternate between the III and IV chords, as during beat 3 of bar 1 from the example.

Do not pass go, 0:33-0:48 (midi file).

Do not pass go, 0:33-0:48 (transcription).

"Chalk pie" is in A Mixolydian. "Chalk pie" is also the title of a live double album from his 1982 tour, that Zappa once considered releasing. See the Cosmic Debris book by Greg Russo, the 2002 "son of revised" edition, page 268. "Chalk pie" would have been the title track. All listed songs have subsequently been released elsewhere, spread out over a number of CDs. To the right Zappa's band in 1982 (photo downloaded from the Steve Vai site).

1.6 In-a-gadda-Stravinsky

From the perspective of mingling related scales (see below), "In-a-gadda-Stravinsky" is an interesting solo because it's using a number of scales simultaneously. It's a bizarre solo. First the rhythm. The bass plays a figure in 4/4 for the first half of this solo. It's on beat during beats 1-2 and continues syncopically during beats 3-4. The strange thing about it is the behaviour of the two rhythm guitars: they ignore the 4/4 meter by the bass and drums and follow their own tempo. It causes some notational difficulties. In the first example the beats of rhythm guitar #1 happen to coincide with a 9-tuplet for bars 1-2, but at the transition from bar 6 to 7 it starts to shift. Rhythm guitar #2 coincides with the pattern of staff 3 - an eight note followed by a pause of a half note - but that also only lasts neatly for the example here. During the second example rhythm guitar #1 has left and the tempo is a bit slower. But rhythm guitar #2 is still present, following the same tempo from the first example. It's like xenochrony, but in the opposite direction.

In-a-gadda-Stravinsky, opening (midi file).
In-a-gadda-Stravinsky, section (midi file).

In-a-gadda-Stravinsky, opening (transcription).
In-a-gadda-Stravinsky, section (transcription).

For the first half the bass guitar plays a vamp in D Dorian (all notes natural), while rhythm guitar #2 implies D Lydian (with an F#, C# and G#). Zappa can use either of these scales or get between them via D Mixolydian (F#, others natural) or D major (F# and C#, others natural). At several points his soloing becomes chromatic. During bars 1 till 7 (beats 1-2) Zappa follows D major. At beat 3 of bar 7 the F# gets altered to F natural and Zappa continues in D Dorian for a while on the CD. For the second half of the solo the bass vamp disappears to make place for, basically, D pedal. At the point of the second example Zappa is playing in D Mixolydian. For bars 7-8 the bass plays an A pedal and it looks like Zappa might want to continue in A, but at the end of bar 8 things are getting chromatic. This continues more explicitly in bars 9-10.

1.7-8 That's not really reggae - When no one was no one

These titles are yet two more examples of pedal note solos. "That's not really reggae" is in A Dorian and "When no one was no one" is in A Mixolydian. The example below contains bars 1-3 of the first solo. There's a rhythm guitar present, scratching notes with only faintly audible pitches in bar 3, but indeed not like reggae.

That's not really reggae, 0:00-0:10 (midi file).

That's not really reggae, 0:00-0:10 (transcription).

The bass during this track isn't fixed as a pedal note. At various spots is sounds as if the bass is playing progressions of broken chords, mostly using I, III and IV. At 2:26 Zappa introduces something you might call a theme with fast notes, being varied upon a couple of times. At 2:50 he begins playing chord progressions around III and IV himself, with the bass and especially the keyboards mostly following him. It coincides with the often used I-II alternation in C Lydian from "Shut up 'n play yer guitar", which is why it sounds familiar. See also below at "Systems of edges".

1.9 Once again, without the net

The accompaniment of "Once again, without the net" is relatively simple: a D pedal by the bass with a pulsing chord around the notes from the Dsus2 chord. This chord, played by keyboards and rhythm guitars, isn't constant. The volume fluctuates and you've got notes coming up and fading out. The transcription is only by approximation regarding this aspect. The B and E can be part of the chord too at several instances. It's the combined harmonies of the solo and the accompaniment that are responsible for the intensity of this solo:
- The solo guitar frequently plays the F# and G#, so all diatonic harmonic combinations can be heard.
- The solo guitar follows the D Lydian scale, while the accompaniment uses the D Mixolydian scale. This creates a presence of conspicuous chromatic notes within the sound of the whole. It's almost like the bass and the guitar are competing about the G being natural or sharp, both in the example below (bars 1-6) and several other sections from the solo.
- The guitar part by itself is frequently applying altered notes too, like a C natural during 0:58-1:04, a D# at 1:14 and an A# at 1:33.

Once again, without the net, 0:00-0:23 (midi file).

Once again, without the net, 0:00-0:23 (transcription).

While Zappa liked to boast about his achievements, he opens "Guitar" with an understatement: "These solos were recorded live between 1979 and 1984. None of them are perfect, but I hope you can enjoy them anyway."
"Shut up 'n play yer guitar" centered aroud the 1979-1980 tours. This collection around the 1982 and 1984 tours (touring in 1983 was skipped). The 32 included solos can be subdivided over the touring years as:
- 1979: 2.
- 1981: 5.
- 1982: 11.
- 1984: 14.
The later "Trance-fusion" collection would focus on the 1988 tour. Zappa's various other live albums and quite some ZFT recordings cover the other years reasonably well too. Recording conditions could be less in earlier years. Still one might wonder about the possibilities the tape archive could offer.

1.10-11 Outside now (original solo) - Jim and Tammy's upper room

"Outside now" has a characteristic vamp, which is why Zappa didn't re-title the four versions, that are available in his catalogue:
- The first release can be found on "Joe's garage". It has an intro with lyrics, using the same vamp as the solo.
- "Outside now again" from "The perfect stranger" is a synclavier execution. It suggests an improvisation, but has been written out entirely. Some bars are present in this study. The piece has been performed by human ensembles as well, like the Asko ensemble.
- "Guitar" offers an entirely live recording from 1979, that Zappa calls the "original solo".
- Another live recording from the 1988 tour can be found on "Broadway, the hard way". On this occasion a brass section was added to the instrumentation. The main theme from this version of "Outside now" is included in the Joe's garage section of this study.

Outside now

Above are the opening bars of this solo in the "Joe's garage" execution, as transcribed by Steve Vai (including the drum part). The meter is 11/8 as 6/8+5/8, using dashed lines to indicate this. It is known that Zappa used xenochrony to transfer live solos to the "Joe's garage" album. See the Halloween section at "Occam's razor" to see how this worked. Probably there are blocks from original live solos of "Outside now" too, that Zappa superimposed on a studio accompaniment for getting at the album version.

Jim and Tammy's upper room, 0:00-0:17 (midi file).

Jim and Tammy's upper room, 0:00-0:17 (transcription).

"Jim and Tammy's upper room" is a pedal note solo in G Dorian. The accompaniment in this case is rather simple, just the G as the bass pedal note and some harmony notes. The opposite of the "Swans? What swans?" example at track 2.7 further below. Every now and then, the bass guitar player breaks this pattern with some motifs of its own as in bar 8. Zappa can be using chromatic notes (bars 2, 5 and 6).

1.12 Were we ever really save in San Antonio?

In music literature scales often get associated with moods. The major scale is explained as bright or merry, the minor scale as dark or sad. In the Clement study (see the left menu) you can find a table with the modal scales listed in this way. From brightest to darkest, the sequence is: Lydian-Ionian-Mixolydian-Dorian-Aeolian-Phrygian-Locrian (page 317). Some attempts are made to interpret Zappa's music in this manner:
Page 141: "Hence, Lydian is judged the brightest of all the modes and, of the five modes of the Lydian system, [...]. Of his four most often employed modes (Lydian, Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian) only one is a “minor” mode, and that mode, Dorian, is the “brightest” of the minor modes. The general brightness of Zappa’s modal choices highlights the lack of “tragedy” expressed by his music."
Pages 134-5: "That is, Lydian and Dorian are, in a sense, polar opposites within the modal system. One manifestation of this binary relationship can be seen by hearkening back to our discussion of the Lydian mode, particularly the concert-opening guitar-solo vamp used by Zappa circa 1978-79: a sustained E pedal that was customarily accompanied by an E-Lydian solo. On Halloween night 1978, Zappa modified the opening solo by substituting an A pedal for the standard pedal on E and accompanying this A pedal with a Dorian improvisation. Given the occasion of Halloween, therefore, the characteristic minor tonality of Dorian was deemed a more appropriate concert introduction than the typical major tonality of Lydian."

Were we ever really save in San Antonio?, opening (midi file).

Were we ever really save in San Antonio?, opening (transcription).

As it comes to emotions in music you're getting at an area where you can't prove things. Ultimately only your own experience counts. There are common denominators however. When you're playing these scales up and down or when you're playing standard progressions in these scales as I-IV-V-I, most people will indeed experience major as joyful and minor as lamenting. This whole thing gets different as soon as you're getting at a composer as Zappa, using any chord in any position. In that case the above evaporates into a bigger universe. Just play a number of sus2- and and sus4-chords in these keys instead of triads and sevenths. According to Clement Lydian is Zappa's mostly used scale in his instrumental music and according to my findings Dorian. In his response to me you can read that it would only be a matter of definition for Clement to agree with that: should pieces with pentatonic passages be called pentatonic (and not Dorian) or Dorian with pentatonic passages. In Zappa's music pentatonic passages are about always taking place in a Dorian or Mixolydian environment, so I think it should be the second. Just that would lead to a different accent regarding the moods according the mentioned table/sequence from above. Moreover Clement calls examples in Ionian in his study rare, so the inclusion of Ionian above at this specific point seems to be done to strengthen the argument. But that's not really the point I would like to make. In my opinion something else is going on: this table mostly doesn't apply at all in case of Zappa.
- In case of "Joe's garage", acts II and III, Zappa is both in his lyrics and music looking for tragedy in a classical sense. You've got Joe being deprived of his music, being able to play guitar solos only in his head. "Outside now" is in Bb Lydian and "Watermelon in Easter hay" is in E major. So Zappa is using major type of scales for his best known wailing solos. This doesn't mean that there's also "tragic" music by Zappa in minor type of scales. It does mean that Zappa could resort to any kind of scale for doing so.
- You can check the many examples in this study yourself to find if there is a relationship between moods and scales. "Were we ever really save in San Antonio?" from above is in B Dorian, "St. Etienne" from "Jazz from hell" is another one in B Dorian. Such solos don't sound "dark" to me.
As said, the main reason why the moods-table doesn't fit well, is Zappa's attitude towards harmony. In bar 1 of the example from above, Zappa is playing along II 7th, while the keyboard part improvises along I 7th and III 9th. The bass is giving a B pedal and you've got a second guitar maintaining an E. All combined you've got the whole B Dorian scale sounding as a 13th chord. When you continue with looking at how Zappa's guitar notes can be grouped into chords, you'll find he just does anything that pleases him. I find Zappa's solos very expressive and CDs as "Guitar" offer an ongoing stream of two hours of quality music. It's not just Zappa doing this, other composers can get at a more abstract emotional level as well:
- C. Debussy remained a diatonic composer (apart from a few whole-tone compositions), widening his use of chords from triads and sevenths to any combination within a scale. The effect of his non-standard progressions is both that they sound very refreshing till today and that it's difficult to describe the emotions they evoke with a regular vocabulary.
- A. Schoenberg willingly sought for complete atonality, leaving behind all standard patterns regarding emotional expression in music. You're getting in a different world, abstract, but expressive just the same when you're able to handle it well (as Schoenberg did).

Zappa in 1991

Still from Zappa being interviewed by Ivo Niehe (TROS television, 1991). They are sitting in the studio area of his house with some guitars positioned along the wall. The second one from the left is the burnt Hendrix strat, that Hendrix himself had given to Zappa in the sixties.

1.13 That ol' G-minor thing again

With the title of track 13, Zappa is referring to the "Variations on the Carlos Santana secret chord progression" solo from "Shut up 'n play yer guitar". Here he is re-using the vamp from this piece, a clear reference to the type of accompaniment Carlos Santana frequently used. This vamp can be found in The FZ Guitar Book, page 108:

Variations on the Carlos Santana secret chord progression

It's a vamp of two bars in 4/4, alternating the Gm7 and C chords. It gets it specific character by its rhythm (both off beat and on beat) and the inclusion of Bm (no third) add E as a passing chord. "Minor" in this context stands for minor type. More specifically, the key is G Dorian.

1.14 Hotel Atlanta incidentals

"Hotel Atlanta incidentals" is yet again another pedal note/vamp solo, this time in E Dorian. You might call the bass figure, lasting one bar, a vamp playing around E-G-E-A. The E is strongly present as pedal note.

Hotel Atlanta incidentals, 0:00-0:27 (midi file).

Hotel Atlanta incidentals, 0:00-0:27 (transcription).

A number of note values are used to give the opening of the solo the idea of accelerandos and ritenutos:
- Bar 1, beats 1-3: eighth notes.
- Bar 1, beat 4: double-dotted eighth notes in triplet time.
- Bar 2, beats 1-2: eighth notes in triplet time.
- Bar 2, beats 3-4 and bar 3, beat 1: dotted 16th notes.
- Bar 3, beats 2-4 and bar 4: standard variation.
- Bar 5: mainly fast notes.
- Bar 6-8: mainly sustained notes.
- Bar 9, beats 1-2: standard variation.
- Bar 9, beats 3-4: pausing.

1.15-16 That's not really a shuffle - Move it or park it

"Move it or park it" is one of two solos on "Guitar", where the accompaniment goes similar to the "Them or us" solo from the CD with the same title. See the corresponding section for an outtake of that particular solo. All three solos are in Bb Lydian.

That's not really a shuffle, opening (midi file).

That's not really a shuffle, opening (transcription).

"That's not really a shuffle" is neither normally diatonic, nor atonal. The overall sound tends towards Eb Dorian, which is why I notated this piece as if in Eb Dorian. More precisely, what you are hearing is:
- The guitar and keyboard accompaniment is using the progression Eb-Fm-Gb-Fm. With the Eb chord, this figure starts implying Eb Mixolydian, but continues as if in Eb Dorian.
- Zappa is applying many chromatic notes during his solo, but mostly is following the Eb Dorian scale.
- The bass follows the largely descending line E-C-A-E, thus with the E and A being natural instead of sharp. There's a distance of one or two octaves between the bass and the other parts, so the created dissonance remains mild. There aren't enough bass notes to say this part is positively in a certain scale, but you could call this a form of bitonality with the bass playing notes from E Dorian.
So the whole stays indeterminate. There's no musical term covering this accurately.

1.17 Sunrise redeemer

"Sunrise redeemer" at the end of disc one is one of the solos on this album that are using a vamp, nicely varied upon by Scott Tunes. Halfway the vamp switches to being played an octave lower than in the following opening bars.

Sunrise redeemer, opening (midi file).

Sunrise redeemer, opening (transcription).

It's an E Mixolydian vamp of two bars. This vamp is characterised by alternating moving downwards from B to E and from E to E. Again you've got a steady chord for the rhythm guitar. This time it's a major third on D, played before beat.

2.1 Variations on Sinister #3

Zappa in 1984 Zappa's solos are mostly outtakes from songs, where these sections are played as instrumental interludes. The fact that this is known is largely by circumstantial evidence. The many bootlegs contain these pieces in their entirety. The solos themselves seldom relate to the material from the song that they were part of. Neither the accompaniment, nor Zappa is referring to themes or progressions from a song. No solo from "Guitar" can be attributed to a song when you're only listening to the solo itself. When taken separately, they become individual compositions in every meaning of the word. In fact, as it comes to what song they can be part of, they can be interpreted as interchangeable. Only the tempo and the key have to be in line with the song. More importantly, as it comes to the improvising, Zappa started anew each time. When you're looking at the opening bars from "Yo' mama" and "Mo' mama" (both present in this study), you can see that this concerns different compositions. So quite correctly Zappa's solos carry individual titles, instead of calling a solo "Solo from Inca roads #3" or something like that. Their quality is such that releasing three guitar solo collections is justified.
Sometimes however, there is a relationship with other solos:
- A solo includes a returning melodic section, that you can call pre-arranged or "written". This is the case in for instance "Black napkins", "Zoot allures" and "Watermelon in Easter hay". This is also the case in "Variations on Sinister #3", where you can indeed recognize variations upon thematic material from the "Sinister footwear III" solo, as released earlier on "You are what you is".
- A solo has a characteristic vamp. This is the case in for instance "Outside now".
In both of such instances, Zappa is consistent in not giving these solos new titles.
To the right Zappa playing guitar during his 1984 tour. Further below one from 1982 (photos downloaded, photographers didn't get mentioned).

2.2-3 Orrin Hatch on skis - But who was Fulcanelli?

"But who was Fulcanelli?" is a pedal note solo in E Lydian. "Orrin Hatch on skis" is another solo using a vamp. This one has a reggae beat and a bass figure with a syncope in it during the second beat.

Orrin Hatch on skis, opening (midi file).

Orrin Hatch on skis, opening (transcription).

Regarding scales it's an example where Zappa is alternating or mingling two closely related scales while using the same keynote, two scales that only differ by one note. C major and C Lydian are for instance very close: you only have to vary between F and F#. For modulating from C major to minor (Aeolian) you would have to change three notes. There are other diatonic scale combinations, that behave the same like minor-Dorian, major-Mixolydian and Dorian-Mixolydian. It's a subtle manner of modulating, that Zappa sometimes applied both for his solos and written compositions. As already mentioned Zappa normally doesn't use drastic key changes in his solos. He preferred to stay in one key. When the key does change he could effect it by changing the pedal note (leaving the set of notes the same) or changing a note as in the list below. Solos that are using unrelated scales are rare. Examples mentioned in this study are the "Black napkins" ending and the solo from the Hammersmith Odeon version of "King Kong".
In "Orrin Hatch on skis" D Mixolydian tends to have the upper hand. The keyboard and rhythm guitar are in D Mixolydian all through. The bass starts chromatically (bars 1-3) and then continues in D Dorian. The guitar opens with an accentuated F in bar 1, bar 2 has an F# and bar three an F natural again. Next the guitar continues in D Mixolydian with only one more time the Dorian F on beat three from bar 6.

MINGLING OF CLOSELY RELATED SCALES

Below are a number of examples with two closely related scales with a common keynote, that have come by in this study:
- "The Gumbo variations": G Mixolydian and G Dorian (B versus Bb).
- "My guitar wants to kill your mama": idem.
- "Fifty-fifty": a couple of combinations, see the Overnite sensation section.
- "Echidna's arf of you": E major and E Lydian (A versus A#), B minor and B Dorian (G versus G#).
- "Dickie's such an asshole": F# minor and F# Dorian (D versus D#).
- "All skate": A major, A Mixolydian and A Dorian (G# versus G and C# versus C).
- "Inca roads (1975)": C major and C Lydian (F versus F#).
- "Can't afford no shoes" guitar solo: E Mixolydian and E Dorian (G# versus G; sample bars are included in this study, see the One size fits all guitar book for the complete solo).
- "Carolina hard-core ecstasy (1984)": C major and C Lydian (F versus F#).
- "RDNZL" solo: A major and A Lydian (D versus D#).
- "Phyniox": Ab major and Ab Lydian (Db versus D).
- "Black napkins", the C# pedal bars: C# minor and C# Dorian (A versus A#; see my remarks below the "Pink napkins" example).
- "Wind up working in a gas station", solo: D Dorian and D Mixolydian (F versus F#).
- "Filthy habits": F minor/C minor and F Phrygian/C Phrygian (G/Gb versus D/Db).
- "Ship ahoy": D Dorian and D Mixolydian (F versus F#).
- "Paroxysmal splendor (Ten years after)": A Dorian and Mixolydian (C versus C#).
- "Stink-foot" (1974-78): C Mixolydian and C Dorian (E versus Eb).
- "While you were out": D Dorian and D Mixolydian (F versus F#; only mentioned in the Shut up 'n play yer guitar section; see the Guitar book for the transcription of this solo).
- "The deathless horsie": C# minor and C# Dorian (A versus A#).
- "Stevie's spanking" solo bars: A Dorian and A Mixolydian (C versus C#).
- "Theme from Sinister footwear III": F Lydian and F major (B versus Bb).
- "In-a-gadda-Stravinsky": see above.
- "Orrin Hatch on skis": D Dorian and D Mixolydian (F versus F#).
- "Ride my face to Chicago": idem (only mentioned in my YCDTOSA section).
- "Strictly genteel": D Lydian and D major (G# versus G).
- "Ask dr. Stupid": F# Dorian and F# Mixolydian (A versus A#).
- "Dance me this": F Mixolydian and F major (Eb versus E).

In his discussion with me you can read that Brett Clement doesn't approve of this approach saying: "In sum, I would say that Sloots is overstating the importance of some of these scalar discrepancies. In most of these examples, there is indeed a primary scale, and the other note is simply chromatic or a blues coloration".
It's not possible to name a rule for when you're seeing a note as an altered note and when you can say it becomes using a different scale. When a note appears altered a couple of times it doesn't have consequences for identifying a scale. But when the numbers of appearances of a note as natural or as flat/sharp tend to approach each other, I'm inclined to call it a mingling of scales. The difference isn't sharp, but I noticed this tendency enough times to take it into account as one of the characteristics of Zappa's music. In case of for instance the opening from "Echidna's arf of you" you can clearly see that the A and A# are being used as equal. In case of the "Think it over" guitar solo the Dorian B happens twice as much as the Aeolian Bb, but also in situations like this one might consider calling it a mingling of closely related scales. A probable secundary reason why Brett doesn't like this idea, is that it doesn't suit his theory well. He's giving musicological reasons why Zappa would prefer and avoid some scales. When Zappa can be switching between scales as easily as I'm suggesting here, examples could also easily switch between being in favour or against Brett's claims. From my perspective it only underscores Zappa's flexibility.
Peculiar is Brett's remark about my inclusion of Can't afford no shoes (solo) in my Mixolydian list, saying "standard blues playing; not clearly Dorian or Mixolydian". While he himself lists it as Dorian only. Something similar he says about "The Gumbo variations" in my Dorian list: "this is simply the blues scale in G, not clearly Dorian or Mixolydian". Apparently Brett does at least sometimes recognize the below. It's human nature to mostly pick the key that suits your theory best.

My transcribed bars from:My interpretationBrett
- The Gumbo variationsG Mixolydian and DorianG Dorian (Blues)
- Fifty-fifty (interlude)C Mixolydian and DorianDominant ninth chords
- idemDb Mixolydian, major and Lydianidem
- Echidna's arf of you (opening)E major and LydianE Lydian
- idemB minor and DorianB minor
- All skateA major, Mixolydian and DorianA Dorian (Blues)
- Inca roads (opening)C major and LydianC Lydian
- Can't afford no shoes (solo)E Mixolydian and DorianE Dorian
- Carolina hard-core ecstasy (1984 opening)C major and LydianC Lydian
- RDNZL (solo)A major and LydianA Lydian
- PhynioxAb major and LydianAmbiguous
- Black napkinsC# minor and DorianC# Dorian
- Wind up working in a gas station (solo)D Dorian and MixolydianPentatonic
- Filthy habitsF/C minor and PhrygianF/C Dorian and Phrygian
- Ship ahoyD Dorian and MixolydianD Dorian
- Stink-footC Mixolydian and DorianC Dorian
- While you were outD Dorian and MixolydianD Dorian
- The deathless horsieC# minor and DorianC# minor and Dorian
- Stevie's spanking (solo)A Dorian and MixolydianA Mixolydian
- Theme from Sinister footwear III (section)F Lydian and majorF Lydian
- In-a-gadda-StravinskyD major, Dorian, Mixolydian and LydianPolyscalar
- Orrin Hatch on skisD Dorian and MixolydianD Mixolydian
- Strictly genteelD Lydian and majorD Lydian and major
- Ask dr. StupidF# Dorian and MixolydianF# Mixolydian
- Dance me thisF Mixolydian and F majorF Mixolydian


Mostly I'm concentrating on the transcribed bars/note examples in my study. Sometimes a Guitar book is available with a complete song. In case of Sinister footwear III and Orrin Hatch on skis I'm saying this in relation to my example. In these solos as a whole Lydian, respectivily Mixolydian, indeed dominate. Somewhat related to this are situations where one of the 7 diatonic notes is missing, like the Overture from "200 Motels". For lack of anything better I'm calling this piece C Ionian or Lydian. It's better than saying undecided or hexatonic, which could mean anything.

2.4-5 For Duane - GOA

Goa "For Duane" and "GOA" are both pedal note solos. The first one is in A Dorian. It's accompaniment is elementary, applying a traditional figure from blues songs, as is also done at the beginning of "200 years old". Here it goes as A-D-C-A. It gets repeated without much variation and at various instances with some faint keyboard harmony notes. Pretty much in the manner of "I'm a man" or "Mannish boy" by London, McDaniel and McKinley Morgenfield. Zappa is playing over it rather fast, making the overall character of this solo kind of rough. The example below contains the opening bars with two times the complete accompanying figure. I've notated this figure as two times 12/16, but other meter choices are possible too. Staff two contains some vaguely audible scratched and feedback notes.

For Duane, opening bars (midi file).
GOA, 1:13-1:41 (midi file).

For Duane, opening bars (transcription).
GOA, 1:13-1:41 (transcription).

"GOA" is in D Mixolydian, though the guitar solo part itself is at various points chromatic. "Republicans" (above), "Canadian customs" (below) and "GOA" have as a common characteristic that they are accompanied by a steady chord by the rhythm guitar. Sequently they are D#, Em-5 and Asus4. Their rhythms vary. On "Republicans" it becomes a reggae beat, on "Canadian customs" it's an ongoing stream of eighth notes. In "GOA" it gets more complicated. Whereas the bass and drum are playing in regular 4/4, the rhythm guitar plays a constant figure in an odd rhythm. By itself it gets counted as "One-two-three-four-and" with the "and" standing for the addition of a 16th note to the four eighth notes. Zappa is reported to have said that "GOA" isn't an abbreviation, but the provence of Goa in India. If so then the capitals caused some confusion (photo to the right by KS). The solo has no Indian flavour to it, but "Strat Vindaloo" does. See the documentaries section for the latter solo and Eastern influences upon Zappa's music.

2.6-7 Winos do not march - Swans? What swans?

3) Solos over two alternating chords.

"Winos do not march" is in G Mixolydian, using two alternating chords (I-VII). At any given point it's identical to I-II in F Lydian. In this case the solo begins with G, so I agree with the comment by Brett Clement in his response to me it should be identified as G Mixolydian. "Swans? What swans?" is a solo in Lydian, this time Bb Lydian over a Bb pedal note. Other than "For Duane" from above, this one is pacific, especially in passages as the one transcribed below. The piece begins brightly in 4/4. Below it's going in a syncopic way at various points. It's mostly the drummer, who's maintaining the downbeat. Zappa is playing gently and slowly, sometimes simply pausing, while the band is forming some sort of harmonic field with different chords. Because everybody is improvising all kinds of combinations can come up. The band got trained to get accustomed to Zappa's attitude towards harmonies and, in situations like this, this is paying off. At the beginning of bar 6 the bass is for instance playing a stacked fourth downwards. At the beginning of bar 7 it's a standard triad.

Swans? What swans?, 0:36-0:53 (midi file).

Swans? What swans?, 0:36-0:53 (transcription).

As mentioned above, there are few examples of solos over two alternating chords on "Guitar". "Winos do not march" and "Systems of edges" are in fact the only two. But you can check the dozen of examples from other CDs in this study:

"Holiday in Berlin" solo (1970), "Orange County" solo from "Roxy and elsewhere", "Inca roads" solo from "YCDTOSA II", "Black napkins", "RDNZL", "Any downers? (1975)", "Bowling on Charen" second example, "King Kong" solo from "Odeon Hammersmith", "Yo' mama" second half, "Pink napkins", "Shut up 'n play yer guitar", "Return of the son of Shut up 'n play yer guitar", "Pick me, I'm clean" (Buffalo version), "Occam's razor".

2.8-9 Too ugly for show business - Systems of edges

"Too ugly for show business" begins as a solo with a little vamp by the bass player, but once Zappa starts soloing, this vamp flattens and evolves more like a pedal note, being played around a bit. The example below contains bars 9-12 from this piece with the start of the guitar part. It's in D Mixolydian. Because the band has already been playing for eight bars, the pattern is known by everybody. For this reason it can happen that everybody is avoiding the downbeat at the beginning of bar 10. This also involves the drummer (not included in the transcription).

Too ugly for show business, bars 9-12 (midi file).

Too ugly for show business, bars 9-12 (transcription).

In Guitar Player, October 1995, Zappa commented:
- GP: "There are three or four bars at the very beginning [of Heavy duty Judy] before you hear a downbeat."
- FZ: "Right. And if you're oriented to 4/4 music, that's going to disturb you. But music doesn't always have to land on the downbeat of every bar. It's just totally unnecessary - there's no gold-plated rule anyplace in the universe saying that must occur. You can tap your foot to it and hear the harmonic rhythm - the harmonic line that keeps coming back - but the rhythmic line doesn't have to match it. There is such a thing as a hemiola, where you play across the bar. And you've got hemiolas to death, for days, in those three [Shut up 'n play yer guitar] albums."

Systems of edges, 0:00-0:20 (midi file).

Systems of edges, 0:00-0:20 (transcription).

As already mentioned, "Systems of edges", is the second solo from "Guitar" with a chord alternation. The first bar in 2/4 instead of 4/4 isn't an intentional different meter or a pick-up bar. It comes from Zappa starting the tape half-way a bar. The solo begins unusually relaxed. The fun part of this solo is that Zappa is gradually playing faster and faster, while the bass maintains its calm I-II alternation in C Lydian. Between 2:35 and 3:09 this combination almost becomes a form of insanity with Zappa playing as fast as he can. The bass, keyboards and drums are staying calm as if nothing special is going on. See the "Budapest" solo from the documentaries section for how that looks on paper.

2.10-11 Do not try this at home - Things that look like meat

4) Solos that are using a vamp.

"Do not try this at home" is the second solo on "Guitar" with the "Them or us" flavour to it. "Things that look like meat" has a vamp in G Dorian. Musical vamps are constantly repeated accompanying figures. In this study I'm calling something a vamp when there's a melodic and/or rhythmic element to it. Alternating chords might also be called vamps, but in Zappa's music they can better be seen as a category by themselves.

Things that look like meat, end (midi file).

Things that look like meat, end (transcription).

Zappa in 1982 This vamp is a bass figure of two bars, appearing in a couple of rhythmical shapes. During the first bar the G gets followed by a C, towards the end in the manner of bars 1 and 3 from the example from above. The second bar in this example moves more freely from E to G, with the transition from the first bar to the second often being syncopic. "Things that look like meat" is a solo having a composed coda, uncommon in Zappa's output. So I've transcribed the end in this case, 6:24 through 6:46, after which the CD continues with the audience applauding till 6:57. In the example the coda comprises bars 5-13. It remains in G Dorian till the very end, when a chromatic line ends with evading to an F7 chord. On top of Eb it implies a modulation to Eb Lydian, but it simply ends with this chord as such. Zappa liked to end songs with deceptive cadences like that during the eighties. See also the my comment upon "Outrage at Valdez" in the documentaries section. During the coda the shape of the vamp is returning to the form it had at the beginning of the solo.

Solos using a vamp in this study are:

"Speed-freak boogie", "Bossa Nova pervertamento", "Mondo Hollywood", "No waiting for the peanuts to dissolve", "Chunga's basement", "The grand wazoo" solo section, "Imaginary diseases" solo (the vamp starts in the third bar), "Pygmy twylyte", examples 2-3 (bass pattern), Guitar solo bars from "Duke of prunes" (1975), "Phyniox" (a solo following a modulation scheme, combined with the use of vamps), "Reeny ra", "Keep it greasy", "Muffin man", "Filthy habits", "Conehead instrumental" (1977), "Conehead" (1978), "On the bus", "Watermelon in Easter hay", "Canarsie", "Treacherous cretins", "The deathless horsie" first example, "In-a-gadda-Stravinsky" first example, "Sunrise redeemer", "Orrin Hatch on skis", "Things that look like meat", "Heavy duty Judy (1988)", "Zomby woof" (1988), "Strat Vindaloo", "Ask dr. Stupid", "Trance-fusion", "Soul polka", "Diplodocus", "Light is all that matters".

2.12 Watermelon in Easter hay

"Watermelon in Easter hay" is probably Zappa's most famous solo, using a vamp. It's available in three versions:
- "Joe's garage": this version of "Watermelon in Easter hay" has been transcribed in full in The FZ Guitar book. The coda is included in the Joe's garage section.
- "Guitar": the theme of this execution from the 1984 tour is included in the Joe's garage section as well. It goes a little different from the first release on "Joe's garage".
- "Hammersmith Odeon": this ZFT release contains a much different version, presented as "Watermelon in Easter hay (prequel)". A section from this "prequel" is presented in the Sheik Yerbouti section from this study.

2.13-14 Canadian customs - Is that all there is?

"Canadian customs" starts off as a pedal note solo upon F sharp, but after a minute the bass player has worked towards a riff, that will keep vamping for the remainder of the solo. Right at the beginning there's no meter yet. As you can see in the transcription it takes a couple of seconds before the bass sets the meter to 4/4.

Canadian customs, opening (midi file).

Canadian customs, opening (transcription).

"Canadian customs" is chromatic in a way comparable to "Republicans". There are no diatonic scales used, but both the bass and the solo guitar tend to use sets of notes over longer periods. See above also above at "GOA" for steady accompanying chords. "Is that all there is?" is a pedal note solo in C Lydian.

2.15 It ain't necessarily the Saint James infirmary

"Guitar" ends with a cover, with Zappa beginning a solo with citing music from two American classic songs, one written by George and Ira Gershwin, the other by Jim Pimrose. The vamp, that's being used here, is also present in what I'm calling block V of the 1982 "King Kong" execution, that you can hear on "YCDTOSA Vol. III". See the corresponding section from this study for a short description and some transcribed bars. At this point it's not a cover, but directly attributable to Zappa.

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