Dissertation Index

Author: Clement, Brett

Title: A Study of the Instrumental Music of Frank Zappa

Institution: University of Cincinnati

Begun: January 2007

Completed: July 2009


This dissertation offers the first large-scale analytical study of the instrumental music of Frank Zappa (1940—1993). Following initial commentary in Chapter 1 on the problems of categorization in the repertoire, Chapter 2 offers a preliminary discussion of style and form in Zappa’s music. Regarding style, I detail the repercussions of Zappa’s unique early musical education as well as the influence of his guitar playing on his compositional style. My investigation of form explores the formal implications of melodic repetition, examining non-repeating forms characteristic of the hybrid works and repeating forms utilizing variation procedures such as contour retention and isomelism.

Chapter 3 is devoted to rhythm and meter in Zappa’s music. The primary topics of this chapter are various types of rhythmic/metrical conflict, including polymeter, metrical dissonance, and rhythmic dissonance, which are explained in part as an attempted merging of advanced compositional techniques and rock/pop music norms. A theoretical discussion of rhythmic dissonance, which is Zappa’s trademark rhythmic device, comprises the bulk of the chapter.

Chapter 4 offers a Lydian theory for Zappa’s diatonic music, loosely adapted from George Russell’s seminal jazz theory The Lydian Chromatic Concept (1953). This theory views the Lydian scale as representing a tonic state in Zappa’s music due to its special static attributes. It introduces the concept of a Lydian system, containing a limited group of diatonic modes related to a common Lydian scale. Within, I demonstrate how the pitch structures of non-Lydian modes are related abstractly to those of the Lydian tonic, and follow by considering pedal substitutions and progressions within the Lydian system.

Chapter 5 is devoted to Zappa’s non-diatonic music. The first section of this chapter explores Zappa’s methods of chromatic pitch organization, including pitch-class diversity, chromatic saturation, and symmetry. The second section investigates a system of composition based on a Chord Bible of Zappa’s own devising. This section includes a preliminary recreation of certain aspects of Chord Bible and a discussion of the compositional employment of Chord-Bible harmony in the series of orchestral works composed circa 1977—1982.

Keywords: Frank Zappa, rhythmic dissonance, Lydian scale, Chord Bible



Date Listed: 08/09/2009

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