Transcribing the Gipsy Kings with SlowGold
By Warren Sirota
One day last March, I was working in my studio when
the phone rang. A womans voice said, "Hi, Im Pam, and I loved the
nylon-string guitar that you played at the party last month. Im putting together a
salsa/rock dance band called Pachanga! for a couple of Cinqo de Mayo gigs, and I wonder if
youd like to play in that, and also do a few of the same tunes in a smaller group at
a benefit in two weeks."
A little background on the local music scene: I
live in the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, a gorgeous area with a total population of
about 160,000. Its main urban center is Medford, while Ashland is the cultural
center, with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, cute shops, a few music clubs, and
most of the hippies, musicians, and other, shall we say, "non-mainstream" types.
(please dont anyone get offended. I would never dare to suggest that musicians are
"non-mainstream" types. Not in public, anyway). I live in Jacksonville,
population 2000, a National Historic Landmark town because of all the surviving 1860s Gold
Rush buildings, cemeteries, etc.
Anyway, there are a number of bands in the Rogue
Valley, but theres also this amorphous "cloud" of musicians ready for
pickup gigs. Theres a group of about 15 or so players a couple each of
drummers, guitarists, bass players, piano players, etc. who can be counted on to
play any gig at the drop of a hat. Most of us have jazz chops, so you can pretty much call
up from one to four people and say, "Gig at Mulligans Friday the 22nd.
$70 apiece, from 6-9. Show up with your Real Book." And everyone shows up, no one
rehearses, and the music sounds great.
But when I listened to Pams tape, I was
deeply relieved that we had actually scheduled a couple of rehearsals. Among others, we
were doing a Hispanic-Reggae tune called Eschuchame from the Gipsy Kings, a
contemporary Brazilian fusion tune called Flerte from Joao Bosco, and a hot salsa
number with lots of highly syncopated unison band breaks and a furious jam over a repeated
piano part (the montuno) called No Sientas Miedo by Irene Farrera.
When I first listened to Eschuchame, I tried
to follow along with the chart that another of the musicians had made. It basically made
sense, but there were a couple of places where it seemed to be off. So I decided to put it
into SlowGold for analysis. I did this by recording
the song from the cassette onto my hard disk. It wasnt hard to do; I simply took the
outputs from the cassette deck and used an appropriate Y-connector cable to bring them to
my sound cards Line Input jack. I then recorded the song using the Windows Sound
Then I opened SlowGold and opened
Eschuchame.wav from my File menu. Because something was weird with the chart, I decided to
play the song and click on the "Make Loop Point" button every two beats (there
were often chord changes in the middle of measures).
What I discovered, to my surprise, was that the
song was essentially in 4/4 (4 beats per measure), but there were measures of 2/4 (two
beats per measure) added at several points, apparently to complement or accent the vocal
line (since Im not a Spanish speaker, I can only appreciate the results from a
purely musical viewpoint). I discovered, through similar analysis, that the second verse
did not have the same structure as the first the extra 2/4 measures were inserted
at different points in the verse.
We ultimately simplified the chart for band
performance, but I found it fascinating to discover how uniquely the song was structured.
The other two songs presented different challenges.
In Flerte, the challenge was to play all the chords in the intro riff on the
anticipation beats (the "and" of 2 and 4), as on the recording. In order to get
the feel of this into my bones, it was necessary to play along with the riff repeatedly at
slow speed. So I marked the section by creating loop points a measure before its beginning
(for the lead-in) and at its end, and I hit SlowGolds "SlowPlay"
button. I then practiced playing the chords at half speed, counting out loud, until I had
it nailed. Then I went up to 60%, which was easy, and then to 80, which was a challenge.
So I slowed it down to 70% and played it about 20 or 30 times, and then was about to move
it up. Eventually, I was comfortable playing it at 110% and 120% - 10 to 20% faster than
the original speed (you know how the tempo of songs tends be a bit faster when youre
playing live than when youre rehearsing).
I ended up using the same technique practicing the
tricky syncopated unison lines in No Sientas Miedo. I also transcribed the montuno
part, at one point using the "Divide Loop" control to listen to a single piano
chord repeated over and over. It was easy tto pick out the top note, but I wanted to know
exactly what notes the piano was playing so that I could duplicate the part as closely as
possible. So, while this chord was playing over and over, I played every plausible harmony
note on my guitar along with the chord. Many obviously didnt fit, and many would
have harmonized but werent actually being played by the piano. In short order (well,
okay, it was a little painstaking), I was able to figure out exactly which notes were
being played in every chord of the montuno part. And, actually, they werent that
hard to put onto the fingerboard (minus the octave doubling).
One thing that this story illustrates, I think, is
that even those of us who dont have "monster ears" can use the ears that
we do have to good effect if we just chop up the work into really small pieces and
exercise a little persistence. As a not-insignificant side benefit, our ears get some
exercise and get better (plus, of course, we can have fun making them better in other
ways, such as by using programs like Halves/Not Halves and EarMaster, reviewed elsewhere
in this issue).
Anyway, the coda to the story is this: the other
guitarist (no slouch himself, believe me) came up to me after the 2 Cinco de Mayo gigs and
said, "It blows me away how well you know those songs. I'm still groping around with
most of that material." It felt pretty good to hear that, coming from him.