What music theory stuff is going on here?
July 23, 2011 8:16 PM   Subscribe

What music theory stuff is Yngwie Malmsteen having a hard time explaining about his composition "Arpeggios from Hell"?

Keep in mind that I know essentially nothing about music theory. Aside from the obvious tempo challenge here, does whatever he's referring to present any particular performance difficulties on the instrument?
posted by Trurl to Media & Arts (4 answers total)
Arpeggios are notes from chords played in successsion. So the most basic C Major arpeggio would go C-E-G-C and maybe back down again. Here Yngwie is playing a bunch of different arpeggios in succession.

The difficulty he's talking about comprises two things.

1. lots of different octaves -- the arpeggios go from pretty much the lowest note to the highest note of the instrument. This is challenging because you can't keep the fretting (left) hand in a fixed position but have to keep changing it. As a result you can't stick to one simple pattern of notes, and you need to be accurate as you move from fret to fret.

2. different modes. What this means is that he's changing the 'scale' he's playing so again you can't stick to one simple fingering pattern and repeat it up and down the neck.

Neither of these things are intrinsically technically difficult -- they just need a lot of practice and they are likely to stretch the bounds of your average pattern playing guitarist.
posted by unSane at 8:31 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: He's playing with a speed and style that most guitarists would use when playing a scale, but he's playing arpeggios instead.

That's strikingly difficult, because consecutive notes in a chord are, on average, farther apart than consecutive notes in a scale. I'll explain this with 3 examples.

Take a C major scale. To play it upwards, you'd play C D E F G A B, then go back to C an octave above where you started.

There are also "pentatonic" scales, which are similar to normal major or minor scales but with two notes removed. For instance, C major-pentatonic is C D E G A, then back to C (just like C major but without the F and B).

As unSane said, to play an ascending C major arpeggio (that is, notes of the chord C major played one at a time), you'd go C E G, then back to C.

Notice that all 3 of these spans the same distance: an octave, from one C to the next C above that. Since the arpeggio uses only 4 notes, it involves a larger average "interval" (distance) between any two consecutive notes than the major scale (8 notes) or major-pentatonic scale (6 notes). (In case you're wondering why a "pentatonic" scale would have 6 notes: "pent-," meaning "five," refers to the fact that it has five different notes, but I've included 2 C's in each example to emphasize that we're talking about the same distance — an octave — in each case.)

As unSane said, Malmsteen's arpeggios are not just the simple 4-note, 1-octave example of C E G C. They're more like C E G, C E G, C E G, C E G, C — where each comma represents going up another octave. As unSane also said, he's regularly spanning almost the whole range of the instrument — in a way that requires him to constantly make extremely fast leaps of larger distances than most guitarists would make if they wanted to cover such a broad expanse of the fretboard.
posted by John Cohen at 9:57 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

A chord is when you play three or more notes at the same time, the classic example being something like C Major, where you just play C, E and G.

An arpeggio is when you play all the notes of a chord sequentially. C, then E, then G.

A scale is usually a set of 7 notes that the majority of a song will be written in. C-major, for example is CDEFGAB (with C dominating the song). A-minor is ABCDEFG (with A dominating the song). Most other scales will use the black keys, for example B Major scale is B, C♯, D♯, E, F♯, G♯, and A♯

A mode is the subset of scales that only use the white keys -- for example, C major is also Ionian Mode, and a minor is also called Aeolian Mode.

So, the difficulty here is that he's playing a lot of fast arpeggios, and he's also changing modes, so instead of playing the same pattern of a few notes really quickly, he's also moving up and down the fret and having to constantly adjust his hands to new patterns.
posted by empath at 12:32 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

A similar but more musical example of arpegios (sorry Yngwie) is Jason Becker's Altitudes. (1:50 starts the arpeggio section.)
posted by mmoncur at 10:13 AM on July 26, 2011

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