Arrangement analysis: “MasterBuilder”

Thanks for all the kind comments on my MasterBuilder video. I transcribed what I played over the weekend and you can now purchase the sheet music with the performance track on my sheet music page. Assuming you learn the sheet music, your performance should sound pretty much the same as the one on the video.

In case you have not figured it out by now, I do not play enormously complicated music. I am not a virtuoso that can hammer pianos into submission with technical fireworks. Sometimes I get more technical and while MasterBuilder is definitely a fairly technical piece, it is not as technical as you might think when you listen carefully. I am going to demystify it a bit here for the many of you that already have the sheet music and those that will have it in the future.

Contrary to my normal leanings, MasterBuilder is not a complex harmonic piece. It actually is quite harmonically simple. However, there are other elements that I am using that are important to the effect. Here they are:

Clearly, there are rhythmic complexities in the piece and they can be intimidating especially with the speed of the piece. Here is a sample line:

Let me tell you two big things that will help you. First of all, rather than trying to figure this out mathematically, just listen to me playing it on the video and imitate. You will learn it much faster that way. Second, feel free to approximate. No one is going to throw rocks at you if you change this rhythm a bit. Those chord symbols are given to you so you can take some liberties with the writing if you want. If you just play similar rhythm with the right chords, everything will work just fine.

Quartal voicing
While the harmony is not complex, I use a lot of perfect fourths in this piece because they are very versatile. Let’s look at an example:

Pay attention to the right hand in bars 89 to 92. Note that I am playing exactly the same voicing all the way through those four bars even though the underlying chord is changing a lot of times. This is what I mean when I say that quartal voicing is versatile. If you look carefully, you will see that that voicing does in fact work with all of those chords. It is almost magic.

Cross-beat patterns (cross rhythms)
This is another of my favorite tricks that I have talked about in the past. I like patterns that do not line up with the underlying rhythm because they create interest in the sound. There are dozens of examples of this that I could pull from this arrangement but here is one section that has several:

In bar 74, I am playing a 3 note pattern (G, C, B) and it is offset so that the first note of the pattern (G) is not on a strong beat. Also, while you might be tempted to assume that a 3 note pattern is following the underlying rhythmic feel of 6/8 time, it is not. In 6/8 time, there are really two beats but each beat is subdivided into 3 sections that are each an eighth note long. If I play a 3-note pattern as 16th notes, I am crossing those subdivision boundaries. In other words, each 3-note pattern is 1.5 subdivisions long. That makes the pattern a cross rhythm.

Look at bar 76 for a clearer example of what I was just saying. You see four 3-note patterns in this bar which would feel natural and mundane in 4/4 time but feels out of the norm and a bit exciting in 6/8 time where the natural bent is toward six subdivisions.

Bar 75 is also basically a three-note pattern. Note how the pattern naturally staggers the notes that are on the strong beats and the subdivisions.

I know that is a very technical and dry explanation but suffice it to say that when you are listening and hear runs that sound a bit fancy and random, that is because of cross rhythm.

If you get the sheet music, it is probably going to feel intimidating the first time you play it because it is really moving. Take some time and just get the basic chords down (just play block chords) and then try to add in the complex stuff. If you want, throw away my runs completely and do your own. That is just fine, too.

Once again, here is the video in case you want to listen to these spots: