The next Set Work in AoS 3 is a song, Grace, from the 1994 album of the same name, by Jeff Buckley.
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Who was Jeff Buckley?
He is a cult figure in the world of rock music, who died tragically young in a drowning accident. Although he wasn't particularly significant in terms of record sales, he is often cited as a musical influence by other bands.
For a brief biography, plus links to other websites, and other listening opportunities, this BBC iPlayer radio page is a good starting point to explore his music. Chris Cornell, US rock star also makes a case for why Buckley should be included in Rolling Stone magazine's 'Top 100 singers of all-time', at 39th position, claiming that his music has influenced Chris Martin and Damien Rice at times during their career.
This album, recorded in 1994, was the only completed studio album that Buckley made. The sound of his voice, and guitar is unique (and this is often an overused word, but not here).
He had started work on a second album and recorded a few demo tracks, but never got around to finishing it.
So why this song?
What is it about this particular song that makes it worth being a Set Work? It's the only rock song in the list.
- It's a great song.
- The instrumental line-up is what you might describe as a 'standard rock line-up'.
- It has a standard rock song structure, based on a verse-chorus pattern.
- The vocal style is really interesting and varied.
- The harmonic language is also unusual.
Performance line-up and guitar playing techniques
Apart from Buckley, who sings, plays lead guitar, and also provides his own backing vocals, there is also rhythm guitar, bass guitar, keyboard strings, and drum kit.
What is the difference between rhythm and lead guitar? The rhythm guitar plays a chord sequence in a rhythmic, strummed or picked pattern, whereas the lead guitar plays a melodic line.
Also, the guitars are all tuned to drop D. This means that the lowest string, normally tuned to E has been retuned to a D. It allows the D major chord and Ds in the bass to be played with the lowest string open, creating a rich deep tone to the sound.
Finally, there are a number of studio effects used in the guitar playing (and occasionally in the vocal line too): delay, reverb, and flanger. If you need help defining these terms, there's a handy little guide here.
Task: Find examples of a strummed rhythm guitar idea, a picked lead guitar arpeggio, and a lead guitar melodic solo in the score, and mark them in. This is a straightforward task.
As mentioned above, this song uses a standard verse-chorus structure. The intensity of the song builds through the verse, into the pre-chorus and is heighten further in the chorus:
Intro - Verse 1 - Pre-chorus - Chorus
Link - Verse 2 - Pre-chorus - Chorus
Link - Verse 3 - Outro (based on chorus material)
Task: Find the different sections in your score and mark them in. Many are labelled, and double bar lines give you some guidance as well.
Buckley's melodic style is unique, and has a number of easily identifiable features:
- The general pitch level is low in the verse, higher in the pre-chorus and higher still in the chorus. This helps the building of intensity mentioned above. Overall it means that the range (from highest to lowest note) of the vocal line is very wide
- Phrase lengths vary quite widely, becoming longer particularly in the outro.
- There is a lot of ornamentation and chromaticism.
- There are lots of melismas too (lots of notes to one syllable).
- He uses scoops up to notes, uses vibrato throughout the song to alter the tone of his voice, and portamentos (vocal slides).
- He provides his own backing vocals, which are multi-tracked.
Harmony and Tonality
There are two distinct areas here:
- The link and intro (after bar 3) use a D major tonality, and the rest of the song is based on E minor, but with a modal feel.
- The chords have rich variety. Some are simple power chords - open chords which have no middle note of a triad, e.g. an E power chord has only the notes E and B in it, and no G in the middle.
- A drone is used, so the chords change over a sustained bass note. This occurs in the verse.
- Broken chords/arpeggio patterns are used, such as the opening of the intro.
Other Musical Features
The piece has a steady, lilting 12/8 time signature and is a moderately slow tempo, about 60 bpm. The sense of rhythmic drive is provided in the song by the strummed guitar, particularly through the link sections.
There are a variety of drum fills at the ends of phrases, and particularly at the end of sections.
The use of kit is rich and varied, provided by the use of toms and cymbals, which change throughout the different sections.
The texture is predominantly homophonic, with some polyphonic moments particularly when the backing vocals have a countermelody in the Middle 8.
As with all the pieces, there is a three-way process to learning everything you need to know about the piece:
- Know the basics (C) - title, composer, key, time signature, instrumentation etc. This needs learning to start with.
- Understand the detail (B/A) - the technical details of the piece, and how they relate to DR G SMITH. This needs you to have written up all the detail onto your score. Listening to the piece lots whilst following through the score is what is needed here.
- Hear the detail (A/A*) - being able to recognise the sound of all the technical language in the pieces, with no score in front of you. Listening to the piece without the score is what you need to do here.
This checklist document should help you with the process.