What you are about to see includes some of the most brain-frying, finger-twisting, and generally aggravating musical passages known to man. You have been warned. :biggrin:
That's right people, we're about to tackle (or fumble
) Frank Zappa's legendary piece, "The Black Page #1."
N.B. - This is the studio version - there have been countless live versions with countless amounts of rhythmic variation.) I pride myself on being the author of the only complete, correct transcription of the studio version of this song on the whole Internet!
I'll approach this lesson just like my mini-lesson of Brahms' Lullaby. The music notation is simply assembled screenshots of my Powertab file, and the performance notes (in this case, a nearly measure-by-measure explanation) are in this post. Also note that the measure numbers are in the left margin of the notation, to make it easier to match the measures up with the analysis.
Another final note regarding the tempo of the piece: The actual tempo of this version of the Black Page is very slow - q=60. It's not like you would be able to tell from listening, so I doubled the tempo to h=60 (q=120). I did this so I could raise the note values - otherwise several bars would be crammed with foreboding amounts of thirty-second notes!
The transcription is here
, for your viewing, playing, and printing pleasure. A MIDI file is available here
. If requested, I'll record a version of me playing it.
- Section "A" (meas. 1-6)
From a technical standpoint, this section is the easiest section of all five.
- Measure 1: The first measure opens with a B (although this piece is slightly atonal) and features some unusual intervals. Beat 3 features a fourth (2 1/2 steps), which is Zappa's favorite interval. You'll see it many times through the rest of this piece. The interval between the B and A in beat 4 is also a little odd-sounding.
- Measure 2: Not any more or less irregular than the first. There are two more fourths in this measure (C-G, E-A).
- Measure 3: Simple polyrhythms- triplets. The "3" means you play the group of bracketed notes evenly in the space of 2; i.e., in this case, 3 eighth notes in the space of 2 eighth notes. The notes in beat 3 are identical to a swing feel (i.e. there is no note between the two).
- Measure 4: More complex polyrhythms- the "5" in this measure means, play 5 quarter notes in the time of four (which is the whole measure). The C is tied, so you have to be careful with the 5/4 rhythm.
- Measures 5-6: Interesting intervals. Notice the fourth in beat 2 (D-G).
- Section "B" (meas. 7-1
Now we're treading on more difficult territory. Odd polyrhythms and rhythmic juxtapositions are the name of the game here.
- Measure 7: The first two beats are regular in rhythm, but it may take some practice. Of course, this is nothing compared to the rest of the piece. Beat 3 is simply another 8th note triplet, but beat 4 is a 16th note quintuplet - play 5 notes in the time of 4 evenly. As the picking notation shows, I sweep-pick the last three notes. You may have trouble getting the 5 notes exactly evenly spaced out, but just work at it.
- Measures 8-9: The septuplets (7 over 4) here are slightly tricky to get perfect. If you're struggling with the rhythm, count out half notes (not quarter notes) and the Bb and A notes will fall on the counts. The fingering may seem a bit awkward too but I found it to be the easiest. Pinky reaches over for 22, then for the rest of the measure, the index leads downwards. Middle on the G in the next measure.
- Measure 10: The fingerings and picking here may feel weird at first, but like many other measures, it's the easiest way. I sweep-pick the last half of the measure. The rhythm accelerates toward the end as well, making sweep picking the only viable method. Notice the stacked fourths in beat 4.
- Measures 11-15: A reprieve from all that technical junk! Yeah, right. :sarcasm: Although it's not at all difficult, notice how the notes are all held for five eight-notes (rather than four), resulting in some awkard-looking ties.
- Measure 16-18: 16- same deal as 10, only with different notes. The string skip in beat 4 is a little weird at first too.
- Section "C" (meas. 19-23)
Getting ever more complex....
- Measure 19: Oddly enough, it doesn't actually start at the beginning of the measure. Here is where the fingerings get trickier. Pinky on 16, ring on 15, middle on 14, index on 13.
- Measure 20: Same fingerings as previous measure, as awkward as they may be. The picking isn't too difficult. The rhythms, however, can be hard to follow, although they're nothing new.
- Measure 21: Double quintuplets fill the bar. It's not too fast so picking shouldn't pose a problem. The fingering is pretty simple too.
- Section "D" (meas. 24-30)
If you've made it this far, brace yourself. These measures are some of the most challenging yet.
- Measure 24: Thus begins the tradeoff- for a few more measures to come, the rhythms are very regular, although Zappa makes up for it in technically challenging note choices. I notated the picking to make it easier. Fingering for the first 3 beats- index on 16, middle on 17, pinky on 19. beat 4- index barre 14, pinky on 19.
- Measure 25: Throughout the challenging parts of the piece I usually adhere to strict alternate picking. This makes some of the first half of the measure slightly awkward, but with a little practice it becomes much easier. The single-string picking that fills out the rest of the bar is easy.
- Measure 26: The hardest of these three measures. You can't afford to be the least bit sloppy here! For the slide in beat one, make sure you "roll" your index finger, i.e., as you pick the A note, arch your finger so the C# doesn't sound. Alternate picking makes the wide jump between the G# and F# in beat 2 difficult; simply work through it. Even after some practice it won't be particularly easy. Also be wary of the "inside" (which is awkward) string skip in beat 4.
- Measures 27-28: Sparse sprinklings of notes here, though oddly placed. No challenge.
- Measure 29: Weird rhythms again! This was difficult to notate. I think of this measure as 4/4 subdivided into three beats (but still 4/4). Meaning that three of these subdivisions would be half-note triplet in the measure. The last four notes are like eighth notes of those half notes. Confused yet? Just listen to the MIDI.
- Measure 30: Another measure that is virtually impossible without hearing the MIDI first (although it is slightly wrong). These rhythms are as close as I could get, considering Powertab's limitation - it can't do nested polyrthyhms. (By the way, 5:3 means 5 in the space of 3 evenly. Doubly odd polyrhythm!) If I was able to, this is how I would have notate the measure- Imagine this measure is like the previous, broken into 3, instead of 4, (but still in 4/4). The first three notes are an eighth-note triplet over the first "1/3;" the next four are sixteenth notes in the second "1/3;" and the last five are a sixteenth-note quintuplet over the final "1/3." Whew! :loco: This measure was one of the hardest to transcribe!
- Section "E" (meas. 31-36)
Like the first section, this is a reprieve from technical indulgence. Enjoy it while you can!
- Measure 31: These six measures, in their rhythm, are identical to the first six measures. Only the notes are different. Nothing too special in this measure; notice the fourth in beat 3.
- Measures 32-36: Nothing especially challenging. There is a fourth in each measure; measures 33 and 34 both feature stacked fourths.
- Section "F" (meas. 37-4
Almost a direct repeat of section B. There are a couple of notes changed, and I raised a couple notes by an octave, just to make it more exciting. I don't think there is a real need to completely analyze this section.
- Measure 43: ...just watch out for the thirty-second notes!
- Section "G" (meas. 49-5
The final measures - clearly the most challenging part of the piece. It starts off like section C, but the fun doesn't start till measure 53. Oh boy!
- Measures 49-52: Identical to measures 19-22, except transposed down a whole step.
- Measure 53: This is the beginning of the end, but this measure isn't particularly impossible. I suggest index on 15 & 16, middle on 17, and pinky on 19.
- Measure 54: The whole measure is simply two 11:8 groupings. 11 sixteenth notes in the space of 8 (half a measure). the MIDI is essential if you want to nail this. Good luck! This was the best fingering I could come up with, obviously you're free to use your own. Zappa stuck some double notes in there to throw things off a bit- and trust me, it definitely makes things difficult!
- Measures 55-56: A one measure break to catch your breath! :laugh: Remember when I was talking about 4/4 being subdivided into three? This is what it sounds like. Measure 56 clearly isn't difficult at all, enjoy the whole note while you can!
- Measure 57: More fun polyrthyms! "7" in the first half means 7 eighth notes over 4; this grouping is almost as fast as 16th notes but not quite. The sixteenth notes fill out the rest of the bar. Not the hardest part but certainly not the easiest.
- Measure 58: Home stretch, ladies and gentlemen! More 11:8 groupings come back to haunt you. I wish you the best of luck tackling this single measure.. you'll definitely need it (unless your name is Steve Vai or Mike Keneally)! There are some fourths in this measure too- Frank just never gives up- :laugh:
- Measure 59: Pat yourself on the back if you made it this far, and PLEASE post a recording! :biggrin: Seriously, you've got my respect if you can blaze through the Black Page's 59 quality-not-quantity measures!
Hope you enjoy this. I put a massive amount of work into this.