Saturday, January 02, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Spanish Fly

Since my first post in this series was A Day at the Beach, a tap tech piece by Joe Satriani, I thought I'd get all the tap pieces out of the way up front, since I only play two of those in my set so far. So today we'll look at my version of Eddie Van Halen's very strange little ditty, Spanish Fly, from the Van Halen II album.

When I was rebuilding my set and adding as many of the cool crowd pleaser type pieces I liked and could find, Spanish Fly was a natural, since I already played A Day at the Beach, and I wanted another tap technique piece. Back in my rock guitarist days, I played Eruption, and this is a very similar kind of thing, but done on a nylon string, so there aren't any string bends. The opening section with all of the fast alternate picking was monumentally problematic for me, so I eventually ditched the whole thing and replaced it with legato technique linear licks, which I can actually do comfortably with i/m alternation. I have gotten much faster now using p/i alternation, which is gobs easier - it's like alternate picking without a pick in your hand - so there may yet be a third version in the future with Eddie's licks played p/i, but for this second version, I just wanted to get all of the final section's tap licks correct. My v1 was highly bastardized there, because I learned it quickly and from an ASCII TAB.

This time I got the authorized transcription, but the transcriber is not named, so I don't know who did it. I greatly simplified the formatting, which I'll point out as I go through it, and since it's a quasi-improvisatory piece, I really did change quite a few details not always to make it easier to play, but just so that it made more sense to me musically. Remember, these are all for my own personal use, so this is how I perform it.

The MIDI to AAC version of this sounds positively hysterical to me, because none of the idiomatic tap, hammer, and pull/push-off, or harmonics are rendered in a MIDI file, but you'll get an idea from it, at least.

Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen

The first of many changes I made was to notate the tapped harmonics on the first two systems as sixteenth notes versus eighth notes and then a tempo change. This particular official transcription was just WAY to freaking busy and complicated. And, in most instances, needlessly so. I also tap a high E at the end of measure 5, because that makes the introduction more like an antecedent/consequent phrase. Eddie just plays the top system twice. As in the Satriani piece, the bold Arabic numerals indicate at what fret the taps happen.

Then, the tap licks that start in measure 7 are played by Eddie as quintuplets, but this seemed totally unnatural to me, so I made them sextuplets. If you want to play this section like Eddie does, just eliminate the final note of every figure. One of the things I like about doing it this way is that on the final note of measures 7 and 8, I'm able to tap on the next lower string and get my finger into position for the next lick.

Measures 9-11 are as Eddie plays them, and measure 11 had an obvious error in the official version. It had the first E harmonic indicated as a repeated note chimed at the seventh fret. I can guarantee you this is an error, because the chimes at five and seven are theoretical unisons, but they are second and third harmonics respectively, so they sound different to a sensitive ear. Not only could I hear this, but the unison continues to ring (I live to serve). The last open E is where my own legato technique licks begin and completely replace what Eddie plays.

Measures 12 and 13 are the very same lick an octave apart, which is a very common legato trick I learned from Allan Holdsworth. So, it's i H H, m H H, i H H, m H H Slide, and you're up an octave. Then it's i H H, m H H H P P P as you put the ergonomic and idiomatic chromatic lick in, and then i P P m to prepare for the repeat an octave higher. The rhythms here are simplified and smoothed out. In actual execution, there is a rhythmic hiccup at that final 32nd note, but with the groupings this obvious, I thought it was worth making it simpler to learn. That last 32nd is executed more like a 16th note, but I didn't want to get into ridiculousness like a 33/32 time signature. LOL!

You'll notice that I never slur notes in my guitar music. I fraking hate those darned things. They are always getting in the way of the left hand finger numbers, so I simply never, ever use them in guitar music. I detail the right hand fingerings, so what's going on is obvious.

like I said, 13 is a repeat of 12 an octave higher, but there's a somewhat tricky position shift from VI to VII there because of the major third between the G and B strings.

At 14 my licks smoothly synch up with what Eddie plays, and I actually like what I do better in some ways. I was massively influenced by Eddie's tap technique licks, but not his linear style, which always seemed cool, but like Fractured Fairy Tales to me. For a hilarious musical send-up of Eddie's guitar soloing style, I simply must post Weird Al's Eat It in which Rick Derringer totally skewers Eddie (Am I the only one who knows that was Rick Derringer?). I still find that hysterical after all these years... but I digress.

The harmonics in measure 18 are my idea. Eddie doesn't play those at all, but I just did it one day because it felt right, and I think it thematically answers the earlier harmonics very well. Hey, it's hard for a traditional composer to ignore ideas like that. ;^)

Measure 19 is as Eddie played it, but then in 20 my chromatic legato licks begin again, but this time in a descending run pattern. Again, the rhythm is smoothed out and simplified for the sake of making the groupings clear and avoiding a ludicrous time signature. From 21 to the end, though, it's as close to exactly as Eddie plays it as I was able to notate.

I really love the final section that starts in 23. From a traditional musical viewpoint, it's completely bizarre, but for guitar music, it's really very idiomatic and organic. Eddie made a great contribution to guitar technique with this style, and I'm hoping more classical cats will take it up (Which is one reason I'm posting this). It seems ridiculous to me that so many classical guys are frozen in time with Segovia's technique and repertoire. He was born in the 1800's for crying out loud, and lived to be nearly a hundred years old. The guitar occupies a completely different space in the musical universe now.

Notice again that in repetitive sections like this, I only put fingering indications in when something changes. Seriously, this is the way it should always be done, because it makes reading and memorizing so much easier, which is only logical (and polite!).

Oh, and the official transcription has the right hand taps as anticipations, which I think is grossly weird, so I put the taps on the downbeat, which is the only way I can feel them, and the only way that seems to make sense.

And so, there it is.

These two pieces, A Day at the Beach and Spanish Fly, influenced me greatly. So much so, that I used the techniques in them for the Tocatta of my first guitar sonata. In fact, that's one of the main reasons I learned these pieces: So I could compose in these styles, but with the added possibilities of classical right hand technique and with a traditional composer's thematic and formal organizational abilities.

Hope everybody had a good New Year's celebration. I did way too many tequila shots... which was, after all, the point. LOL!


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