GUITAR PLAYER MAGAZINE Interview
First Steps in Odd Meters
Guitarists are unaware of Frank Zappa, who for the past 16 years
has produced dozens of albums featuring sharp satire, full-scale
orchestrations, and powerful guitar solos. Last profiled as the
cover subject of the Jan. '77 issue of Guitar Player, Zappa has
since released several albums, including the three-record Shut Up
'N Play Yer Guitar series for his Barking-Pumpkin label: Shut Up
'N Play Yer Guitar [BPR 1111], Shut Up 'N Playe Yer Guitar Some
More [BPR 1112], and Return Of The Son Of Shut Up 'N Play yer
Guitar [BPR 1113]. Although all of Frank's albums have a sizeable
quantity of guitar work, this trio of LPs contains pieces that
are specifically guitar- oriented.
Month, we welcome Frank as a regular columnist, presenting the
first installment of a series in which he addresses specific
questions regarding his creation of the Shut Up 'N Play Yer
Guitar series. In this and subsequent columns, he will also
discuss his views on music and solo techniques beyond the range
of these three LPs. Transcriptions of Zappa's pieces are provided
by Steve Vai, who has been one of Frank's guitarists for the past
What made you decide to do the Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar series?
There were a lot of requests from a certain group of fans that we
have for an album that just had a lot of guitar solos on it. I
mean, it's not that they delivered a specific order as to how it
was going to be put together, but there was a demand for albums
with a lot of guitar playing. Although I play maybe anywhere from
five to eight extended solos during a concert, the basic style of
the show that we take on the road is not guitar-spectacular
oriented. There is SOME guitar playing, and some people really
like that stuff. And so to accomodate them, I put it together.
Why did you choose material recorded over a four-year period,
rather than taping new songs especially for this project?
Well, there's a good reason for that. First of all, I find it
very difficult to play in the studio; I don't think that I've
ever played a good solo of any description in the recording
studio. I just don't have the feeling for it. And up until the
time that I got my own studio, I was working in commercial ones
where you have to pay anywhere from a hundred to two hundred
dollars an hour for the time. There you don't have the luxury of
sitting and perfecting what it is that you're going to play,
whereas if you have a collection of tapes made over the period of
a few years - which I do - you can go through that stuff and find
musical examples that acheive some aesthetic goal that you're
interested in acheiving. Then you collect those together and make
the best possible performance out of that.
How did you determine which songs you wanted? Was there a scheme?
I tried to get different examples of different types of things
that I play. I have one basic style, but inside of that style
there are different things that I play. I wanted to have various
examples of those things. And most of the selections were made on
my own gut reaction to hearing the tapes and saying, "I like
this solo" or "I don't like that one" - just
trying to find things that would fit together.
Your music prominently features unusual rhythms and syncopations.
A good example is "Five Five Five" [Shut Up 'N Play Yer
Guitar]. What kind of metric scheme was used?
It's in 5/8, 5/8, 5/4. You count it like this: One two one two
three, one two one two three, one-and two-and three-and four-and
In a piece such as "Five Five Five", where you're in a
meter that would generally be considered odd for mainstream roack
or jazz, how would someone approach that without feeling as if
they had two left feet?
It's a very guitar-oriented piece because of the way it uses the
open string. So it's kind of an easy thing to pick up on the
guitar, in spite of the odd rhythm. As long as the numbers
involved tend to frighten you, though, then the odd rhythms are
not your meat. Don't worry about the numbers - you just have to
worry about what the FEEL is. When I wrote that particular song,
I never even stopped to figure out what the time signature was. I
don't worry about that if I'm playing it on the guitar. If I'm
writing it for an orchestra, then I do. But I don't calculate how
things that I make up on guitar are going to look on paper or how
it's ultimately going to be. I just play it, and then figure out
what it is later, after I've recorded it.
words, my theory is that written music in no way assures the
pedigree of the musical quality of what's being played. Just
because it's on paper doesn't make it any better or any worse
than any other kind of music. Music on paper is just a convenient
way of showing musical ideas from one person to another without
having to hum it to him. And when you get things that are
complicated, it's really time- consuming to hum them.
So you view writing as a shortcut.
It's a shortcut; it's a storage method. And in the case of the
transcriptions that are coming from the guitar albums, they're no
longer shortcuts because they don't need to shortcut it anymore -
they're all done. [Ed. Note: Transcriptions from the Shut Up 'N
Play Yer Guitar series are scheduled to be available in the next
few months.] But it's the way to show people who are interested
in that kind of rhythm what it looks like on paper and how it
works. Also, in a couple of examples it gives you a kind of
positive proff that ESP does exist: The guitar parts and the drum
parts for some of the things are transcribed and notated together
on two staves, and you can see that the drummer - in this case
Vinnie Colaiuta - and myself were playing exactly the same thing
in a number of places where it would have been impossible to
guess what was going on. It's the frequent little turns that are
exactly ON, and then coming out on the downbeat in the next bar,
and over to the next bar after that.
On the inner sleeve of your Shut Up albums is music from
"The Black Page." There are figures such as a triplet
with groupings of three, five, and seven contained within. How do
you count such an intricate part?
Well, unbless you're really skilled at sight-reading that type of
material, you have to start by reading it slowly. So I think
you're referring to bar 15 of "The Black Page". And
that's a tricky bar to play. But it CAN be played and it has been
played over and over again by a lot of different musicians in and
out of the band. And it's a good place to start if you want to
come into a direct confrontation . . . . .
ale jest to tylko fragment tego wywiadu skopiowany ze strony "St.
Alphonzo's Pancake Homepage"