Zappa's Musical Styles

In the first Mothers´ albums, Zappa´s style is very near to his blues influences; and his solos were, essentially, pentatonic. The guitar is not the main "piece" yet, and his sound is more or less standard. His work as a guitarist and his composer side were walking in different roads. In the next years, Zappa started aplying his musical language in his guitar work. Finally, Zappa´s solos were defined by himself as "aerian sculptures".


Although we have established the presence of several different approaches to pitch in
Zappa’s instrumental output, most of his best-known titles are essentially diatonic. Bernard
applies the term “tonal” to much of this music, but only in response to its fundamental
diatonicism and “strongly articulated pitch centers.”2 In fact, reconciling Zappa’s diatonicism
with familiar theories of functional tonality is fraught with difficulties. Perhaps, then, we can
situate this repertoire alongside other post-tonal music that utilizes the diatonic scale towards
non-functional ends (e.g., music by Stravinsky, Copland, etc.)

A Lydian theory for Zappa’s diatonic music.

All five modes within a given Lydian system contain the same pitch
content; therefore, in the example given, C Ionian, G Mixolydian, D Dorian, and A Aeolian are all considered members of the F-Lydian system. Besides viewing the Lydian mode as the overall tonic of the system, . First, the three basic “chord families” cited by Russell are here manifest as Zappa’s most-commonly employed modes: namely Lydian, Mixolydian, and Dorian. The two remaining modes, Ionian and Aeolian, for which Russell found little use, also have tenuous status in Zappa’s music.


Zappa was first introduced to serial music (particularly that
of Webern) by his high-school music teacher Mr. Kavelman. An important consequence of this experience was Zappa’s own attempts at twelve-tone serial composition, which represent his first true forays into post-tonal composition. Zappa’s accounts vary as to when these early experiments were undertaken, but it can be deduced that they occurred sometime between the ages of 17 and 19 (between 1957–59). 3 Therefore, some of these works may have been composed while he was receiving his formal education in tonal harmony.

Pitch-class diversity

John Covach defines the “twelve-tone idea” as a “systematic circulation of all the twelve pitch classes in which no pc is repeated before all twelve have been sounded.”12 The concept of pitch-class circulation is also applicable to the works under discussion, albeit in a significantly
more limited way. In Zappa’s works, a twelve-tone row is never employed; additionally, the systematic circulation of all twelve pcs is not a consideration.

  Chromatic saturation

The completion of the twelve-tone aggregate is, of course, a trademark element of
twelve-tone composition. Though Zappa never employs a twelve-tone row, a degree of chromatic saturation is also a key characteristic of much of his chromatic works.13 However, the exhaustion of the entire twelve-pc aggregate is not always of central importance. Rather, one finds at the very least the completion of smaller chromatic segments (i.e., containing fewer than all twelve pcs): a technique often coupled with pc diversity.


While symmetry is certainly a less pervasive consideration in this repertoire than chromatic saturation, it
nevertheless remains significant insofar as symmetry does not appear to any substantial degree in
the diatonic works, and is therefore reserved for music in which all twelve pcs are available.
Therefore, we can assume that Zappa’s knowledge of inversion and/or symmetry came from his
studies of post-tonal music (perhaps especially the music of Webern), and not from any tonal
uses of inversion (e.g., Bach fugues).

Zappa's Musical Styles Zappa's Musical Styles Reviewed by frank zappa newspaper on 05:47 Rating: 5

1 comment :

  1. "In Zappa’s works, a twelve-tone row is never employed". I believe FZ stated that there is a strict twelve tone piece in Brown Shoes.


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