Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: A Day at the Beach

Almost exactly twenty years ago, a student showed up for a lesson with Joe Satriani's CD Flying in a Blue Dream and changed my direction with the classic guitar forever. On that CD was a little 2:03 two-hand tap piece called, A Day at the Beach (New Rays from an Ancient Sun). I was completely mesmerized by the thing, so I got the official transcription of it that Carl Culpepper did - which I still think is humorous, by the way: Culpepper/Pepper... OK, maybe you had to be there. Anyway...

The problem with the piece for the classic nylon string - besides two-hand tap being, like, really really hard on nylon - is that the piece doesn't fit within the 19 frets as Satch played it. Well, he plays it in A major, and the lowest note he hammers with the left hand is G-natural at the third fret, so I just moved the whole enchilada down a whole step to G major so the lowest note tapped is F-natural at the first fret. That was really the only change I had to make, but there was another problem, which is just "me": Carl put the sixteenth note figures within the bar lines, making the first left hand hammer-on be on the downbeat. I simply can't hear or feel it that way: for me, the first right hand tap is the downbeat, and the two preceding left hand hammer-ons are pickup notes. Seriously, I can't even play it with a metronome the way the official version is written. It's similar to a visual confusion phenomenon I sometimes encounter: If I'm looking at a 2D picture of, say, the surface of the moon, for instance, I'll sometimes get confused and see the craters as convex instead of concave. I had this happen to me last week, in fact, as I was examining a brand new map of Mercury that has been made. On some of the images, nothing could get me to see the craters right. I wonder if there is a word for that phenomenon?... but I digress.

As it sits in G major, the highest tap happens at the eighteenth fret, which is just shy of totally ridiculous - I guess that would make the 19th fret beyond the pale - so I also refused to go up there with a sixth at one point, but I do "go there" with a fourth at another. And then there were two measures I thought I had a more musical solution for, so I changed the pattern in the right hand there. So, there really aren't very many changes to the actual music.

Now for the real hard part. Music like this is always presented in the form of music + tablature (Or only TAB, I guess), which makes it really obvious what's going on. To render it in only standard notation, which is all snobby classical guys won't turn their noses up at, required me to come up with a completely new way of indicating the positions for the left and right hand. I kept as much familiar stuff as possible so as not to get confusing, but I simply had to create a way to indicate where the taps happen out of whole cloth. The solution I came up with is intuitive and logical, I think.

Since bold Roman numerals are used to basically keep track of where your left hand finger number 1 is, I just used bold Arabic numbers in the same font, except one size smaller, to indicate at what fret the taps happen. Since this piece is based on a completely unbroken ostinato hammer/tap pattern, it actually worked out quite well, IMO.

Here's the MIDI to MPEG4 version I made in iTunes, and it sounds pretty weird without being able to hear the difference between the taps and the hammers, but you'll at least be able to follow the score and get an idea with it (If you open two browser windows or tabs).

A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani

And here's the score:

First thing: What the left hand does are hammer-ons (Or, pull-offs, but there aren't any of those in this piece) and what the right hand does are taps. This needs to be kept straight, or confusion ensues. So, this entire piece is hammer, hammer, tap/repeat for the entire time, and everything is a sixteenth note except for the eighth on the last beat of every measure. For this reason, I just have the H, H, T pattern above the top system, and thats the only time you'll see it.

Secondly, you'll see the Arabic numerals above each T: These are almost always on the same fret, but there are a few instances where you have to angle the fingers to get m one fret lower than i. In those cases, the lowest fret gets the numeral.

The left hand fingerings are indicated in the traditional way, and I also use traditional i/m indications for the fingers that are tapping (i/m are all that is required for this piece). Since the right hand is only i/m for the entire piece, except for one measure where i alone is used, I put those indications only at the beginning of each page and in the one measure that is different. Then, since the left hand is so repetitive, those numbers only appear when something changes. Personally, I think this makes reading, memorizing, and practicing just a ton easier, and the scores look clean too.

I have used the Roman numerals to keep track of finger number 1 of the left hand, as is traditional, but I do have a slightly different logic for how I apply them, though it doesn't make a rat's patoot of difference in this piece: Roman numeral position indicators only get a continuation line if they apply beyond a bar line, otherwise they stand alone. So, I apply the same logic to them as accidentals get: Bar lines cancel them, unless another indicator changes them first. This makes most scores look MUCH cleaner.

So there you have it. Now for the rest:

For the right hand position indicators, they get continuation lines only if the same fret is tapped at more than once in succession, as you can see on the top system here. Otherwise they too stand alone, as is the case on the second system.

By the way, notice how the right and left hand position indicators appear above the first note that they apply to, and the continuation lines start above the next note they apply to, and end above the last note they apply to, when they are needed. many scores look junky and chaotic because no consistent logic is applied to these kinds of things. As usual, you can take consistency too far though: I'f you are worried about placement at the pixel level, for example, you're going to waste half of your life just setting up scores! I'm just not that retentive. For me, the score simply has to look, "cool."

I was also able to shorten this score compared to the original by putting in some internal repeats, a D.C., and making the whole second section a Coda.

I set this up with just one measure per system because Encore will only let you reformat down to two per system after the initial setup - I have no idea why - so if I did this again, I might reformat to two measures per. I just didn't know what I was going to do vis-a-vis the fingering indications when I entered the notation, so it is the way it is.

At the end of the top system is the D.S. and on the bottom system is where only the i is used to tap briefly.

I also "felt" the ending slightly differently, as you can see. Joe actually ends it on what would be the third sixteenth of the third beat by my notation, but I just like this better.

So, there you have it. If you decide to take up tap technique on the nylon string, be prepared for a long term commitment. I play two tap tech pieces in my set, this one and Eddie Van Halen's Spanish Fly, which will be the subject of a later post in this series. I play both of those five to seven times EACH every time I pick up the guitar to practice, which is more than any other pieces in my repertoire, by far. In order to get the taps to ring with lower tension, lower density, and lighter weight ratio nylon strings, you have to develop and maintain callouses on the tips of your right hand i and m fingers. This just takes the investment of a lot of sweat equity, especially with a standard classical guitar action, and if you don't tune down the guitar, like Eddie did. I don't detune, but I do use a "Flamenco-ish" action, which helps loads. Tap would be nearly impossible on some of the concert classical guitars out there, because their actions are just ridiculously high.

This will probably be my last post of the year and of the decade, so Happy New Year, everybody.

I have discovered a pluperfect redhead.

Mmmmmmm, YUMMY!


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Happy New Year (sooner or later as the case may be) May you fill it with more loving music.


2:47 AM  

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