I hadn’t been much of a Frank Zappa fan until a friend loaned me his “Zappa Plays Zappa” DVD. In this DVD Terry Bozzio plays “The Black Page Drum Solo” (aka The Black Page #1). The first few times I watched it I thought it was an improvised piece…but I wasn’t sure how two drummers and a percussionist could play these seemingly random figures in unison. I just figured they were watching each other for cues or, more likely, they had a telepathic connection.
In my quest to learn more about The Black Page, I discovered that it is, in fact, a written piece of music for drum set and percussion. I came across Tom Coyne’s excellent online lesson thread at http://www.unitedgrooveworkers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=1337 (a non-working link as of 3-4-18) where he dissects, explains, and transcribes the solo bar by bar. Finally, a written transcript to clarify what’s going on in this solo!
After studying the notation, I decided that, before tackling The Black Page on drum set, I would first need to learn the solo on a single drum – the full set orchestration would have to wait! Using Tom Coyne’s drum set notation, I created a “snare drum only” transcription and got to work.
If you’re unfamiliar with compound polyrhythms like those in measures 5 & 15, here’s how to learn them: First, study Tom Coyne’s online lesson thread where he explains playing quintuplets and sextuplets across a quarter note triplet (measure 5) and how to play a “whole note triplet spread out over the bar, with smaller, faster rhythms placed in between the individual notes of the slow, triplet pulse” (measure 15).
Next, I suggest using “Alan’s” compound polyrhythm exercises to help understand “two layers of time modulation.” Since the performance tempo of The Black Page is quarter note = 60 bpm, work on this exercise at that tempo (you may need to start slower)…and add left foot hi-hat on the quarter notes since that’s how The Black Page is performed. Here’s how that exercise looks, including the performance notes from Alan’s post and my “how to practice” tips:
CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT “ALAN’S COMPOUND POLYRHYTHM EXERCISES” (1 PAGE IN PDF FORMAT)
Coincidentally, I had already been working on an exercise from Gary Chaffee’s excellent book, Rhythm & Meter (#16 – Study Involving Alternate Rhythmic Placements). This is a perfect exercise to add to the mix because of the over-the-barline phrasing and unusual rhythmic placements. To simulate the execution of The Black Page, add left foot hi-hat on the quarter notes. This exercise, along with the compound polyrhythm exercises mentioned above, will help free up your left foot so you can concentrate on your hands. Here is a short video clip of me performing this exercise at quarter note = 100:
CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE ‘ALTERNATE RHYTHMIC PLACEMENTS’ EXERCISE (1 PAGE IN PDF FORMAT)
THE BLACK PAGE SNARE DRUM SOLO
After completing the ‘groundwork,’ begin working on the “snare drum only” version. For the measures containing compound polyrhythms, use the same “tricks” that I discuss in the individual exercises…i.e., accenting the 1st note of each grouping and “grunting” the 1/4 note triplet pulse. For measure 5, starting “grunting” during the two quarter note rests will help set up the correct pulse for the quintuplet/sextuplet phrase. Once you’re comfortable playing the snare drum part with the left foot hi-hat at the target tempo of quarter note = 60, add the hi-hat foot splashes and dynamics to the snare rolls. And, to make it more interesting for me to play, I added flams all over the place and double stroke rolls to measures 13 & 28. Here’s the result:
CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT ‘THE FLAMMED BLACK PAGE’ TRANSCRIPT (2 PAGES IN PDF FORMAT)
Now, it’s on to the drum set orchestration! Stay tuned for Part II!!
If you need help breaking down any of this material, I am available for in-person and online drum lessons.
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