Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Autoanalysis. Xiras. Non-melodic tension

I have decided that, if I want to write useful posts about jazz or music in general, there's no better point to start doing it than my own tunes. I might not know a lot about music, but I definitely know how I create my songs and what I feel when I do it, so from today I will try to write a few posts about my own songs, explaining them in detail and using them to analyze the particular characteristics of my own style.

Also, I have always liked to listen or read explanations about the songs I like, not only about their musical intrincacies, but also about how they were born, what they mean, or whatever the author might say about them (I guess that's why I like Cannonball Adderley so much). So, assuming that you all share this interest for everything that surrounds a song, I will try to explain them a bit, hoping that it helps you understand an appreciate them, and also to learn something new.

For this first "analysis", I have chosen Xiras, a song that I composed around 3 years ago, and that you can download here.

The story behind it:

I made a quick trip to Algeciras (for some reason known as Xiras among some of my friends) in a night train. The song evokes this trip, and what happened once we arrived, and is one of the most "visual" ones I have ever written.

The musical stuff:

Among all my songs, Xiras is the one that best demonstrates the kind of musical tension that I like the most for a solo: "non-melodic" tension. What is non-melodic tension? Well, let's see first what is melodic tension. Melodic tension is caused by the notes you play in the melody and their relation to the chords and the harmonic structure of the song. For example, playing C against a C Major chord does not cause tension, but a F# note against that same chord causes melodic tension.

Jazz is a music than contains a lot of melodic tension, which is, no doubt, essential to it, but that does not mean that other types of tension cannot be included. Most jazz tunes (and most jazz players) rely on their knowledge of music theory to create (and release) tension while playing, but it is interesting to add some other kinds of tension as well, other kinds that are not so "theoretical", but instead based on your particular perception of the song and the phrases you are improvising. This includes, for example, rhytmic tension and other similar concepts, such as using dynamics as I said in a previous post. Remember that ear training is not only about learning how to recognize intervals, but much more, it is about learning how to listen to music and understand it.

There are no exact rules about how to create this so-called non-melodic tension, or at least they are not so "mathematically" exact. For example, as I said, playing F# against a plain C Major chord creates melodic tension, but it is not so simple to give a rule-of-thumb about non-melodic one. Usually, higher notes add more tension than lower ones, an fast phrases more than slow ones, but that is not always true. And that is not the only way to create it!. For example, off-tempo phrases might add tension as well.

So, you might be wondering, how to learn more about non-melodic tension and include it in my solos? Well, you just have to feel it. For a first example, try listening to this song of mine. Listening to it you will surely spot the part in which there is a more "intense" tension. However, this is just a very simple example, and you will find better ones in other players. This time, I am not going to recommend you to listen to jazz players, but instead I will propose players from other very different genres, since I think they constitute better examples.
  • - The first one you should check is The Edge (U2), who is, without any kind of doubt, the master of non-melodic tension. Check even his rhythm parts...Of course, his unmistakable sound owes a lot to his trademark use of delay settings (you can read a brilliant article about it here), but leaving all those delays and effects aside, he is still a very accomplished player.
  • The second one should be Joe Perry (Aerosmith). His solos in the "Get a Grip" album are really interesting.
  • The guitarist playing lead guitar in Natalie Merchant's "Tigerlily" album. I do not know his name, since there are several ones listed in the credits, but he's got a great taste and definitely knows how to build great solos.
  • Paul rodgers. His early work with Free is a also brilliant example of how to create tension.
  • Neil Young. (when not playing acoustic). I do not really like him as a solo guitar player (I love him as a composer and singer-songwriter), but his style is interesting.
  • Neal Schon. Specially when not playing with Journey.
  • Steve Lukather.
  • ...and many more rock players.
To practice a bit, record a simple chord progression in C major and improvise some licks using only three or four notes from the C major scale. Since your harmonic and melodic posibilities are limited, you will have to look for some different ideas (not only tension, but other melodic "resources") to make your soloing interesting. Or just play along some U2 songs trying not to play more than what The Edge plays...

Technical notes:

There are three guitars in this recording. Two electric ones with exactly the same setting (my Strato, using the bridge pickup, with a light distortion and an Eric Johnson-like sound), one of them playing the rythm part and another one playing the lead one. A clean sound is used in the outro. Both of them are processed with my usual Rocktron Chameleon, and were recorded directly through line input, using Chamaleon's built-in amp simulator. The third guitar is an acoustic one, recorded with no effects at all, also through line input. Some reverb was added afterwards.


Anonymous said...

eres un puto friki, Olaya!
A ver si pones una seccĂ­o llamada friki russian boy!

Jazz girl said...

Vaya person...
¿es el primer comentario no?

How a person!
This is the first comment, isn't it?

jazzy said...

Yeeeah, the one I like the most is Jazzerehe, it sounds like a popular famous one. Isn't it?

Yupi! La unica que me gusta mas es Jazzerehe, suena como una popular y famosa no?