Stick Stuff for Chapman Stick with Peter's Tuning

All of the included material has been developed on and for Chapman Stick. My instrument is tuned standard on the treble side (F#-D open strings low to high) and all fourths on the bass side (G-Eb open strings low to high).

When I started to explore the Stick I used standard tuning where the bass strings are tuned in fifths and range from low C. After a few years I found I had enormeous problems playing any linear stuff even - or especially - with simple things like scales and chords. Up to that point I had practiced some simple I-V based grooves and the fifth tuning on the bass side seemed to work fine as many bass lines use the I and V of a scale. However, as soon as I wanted to add a 3rd or a 4th the fingerings tended to get a little awkward. And for scale passages the jumps became too far for me. The fifth tuning tends to stretch fingerings out vertically and the fret wires on a Stick are pretty far apart from each other. My other practice material consisted of J. S. Bach’s Two Part Inventions. And while the treble parts always seemed to work well I just couldn’t finger the bass parts correctly without looking at the finger board - not good if you have to read music. At one point I started to memorize some of the Inventions and still had a hard time fingering the bass parts. That’s when I changed the tuning on the bass side. The way the tuning actually came out was fairly arbitrary. I had liked the low C of the Stanard Tuning but that lowest string never sounded quite right in balance with the other strings. So I decided to get rid of the low C string and the next string was G so that became my new lowest string. And instead of fifths the bass side was now tuned in fourths. Of course this would limit the range of the bass side tremendously but it would also enable me to recycle my guitar chords.The first time I tried the new tuning, with thrown together strings frombass and guitar string sets it felt right and I stuck with it.

Since then I have still been struggling with the huge distances between the lower bass frets. But at least now my brain can process the layout because it mirrors the shapes of the fingerings on the treble side.

The other big challenge playing Chapman Stick has been to find out what I actually wanted to do with it or in what musical context I could use it. In the beginning it looked as if most players using a Stick were playing bass parts on it. That wasn’t the way I wanted to go. The other way seemed to be solo performance. For a while for lack of a better idea I went that way. I kept playing the Inventions and some other Classical piano pieces - very, very slowly! And I started reading jazz tunes out of the Real Book where I just played the melody on the treble side and tried to play the root notes of the chord on the bass side. As simple as possible. Since I had changed my tuning my bass side hand started remembering triad shapes and intervals much better now and I found a set of working chord voicings based on the basic chord voicings I use on a guitar or bass.

As every Stick player can attest to one of the hardest tasks is to coordinate both hands. Whether you play two handed melodic tapping á la vanHalen or walk a bass line with chord stabs on the treble side. And of course like in Bach’s Two Part Inventions where there are two rather independent parts.

Realizing that the Stick is as much (or more so) a percussion instrument as it is a melodic instrument I pulled out some drum books I happened to have sitting around the house. Just picking a single note on the bass side with one hand and another single note on the treble side with the other hand and then doing what’s known to drummers as a ‘paradiddle’ sounded pretty good. I found that I didn’t need much of rhythmic development to play interesting little snippets.

Out of these early experiments came the first funk grooves which are really just two-chord progressions with the most rudimentary chord voicings. Taking the drum-approach these grooves usually became very syncopated and variations in rhythm were easily implemented. The next big obstacle was to come up with and play longer progressions. These grooves were relatively easy to sustain if the fingers stayed in one position. As soon as I wanted to change to a new key I needed to move both hands. One solution to bridge this problem was to develop snippets where only one of the two hands moves to a new position. Say, we start out in Dm7, then we keep the actual chord on the treble side and move the bass line to a G to get a G7sus.

By that time a friend and I had started to get together to practice music. Both fusion fans of the first hour we practiced Mahavishnu and Weather Report. Soon this became a quartet with bass and sax. At first I played everything on guitar but when the band sounded stable enough I felt that the time had come to just learn some of the tunes on the Stick. The first one I tried was Weather Report’s ‘Black Market’. Especially with the synth sound added via a Roland VG8 the Stick sounded very Zawinulesque - if only I could play that damn pentatonic melody fast and accurate enough. This tune made me explore the (obvious) possibility to use both hands on the treble side for the melody. Out of that developed some rhythmic repeating patterns.

At that point the Stick started sounding different from the guitar. It seemed as if I finally had hit on a direction I wanted to pursue further. Before I had been searching for ways to utilize the uniqueness of the instrument but couldn’t help trying to apply my guitar and bass knowledge. All of a sudden I felt I was coming up with ideas that didn’t sound like bad transfers from the guitar or bass.

This little collection reflects some of the ideas and arrangements I have been coming up with since then. You’ll notice that the majority of the presented material is in odd meters. Somehow the two-handed approach makes developing odd meters easier. Since most odd meters are groups oftwo or three eighth notes ‘paradiddling’ provides a great foundation. Simply put, you tap a stream of eighth notes, say LRR LRR LR. Usually starting a group on a lower note sounds more natural but is not necessary. The key is to combine these alternating tapping patterns with interesting notes that spell out some sort of chord or chord progression.

Usually all musical examples in this collection are written on two staves where the upper staff represents the treble side of the instrument and the lower staff the bass side. There are some exceptions to this rule but they are noted. You can get a lot of variation and inspiration milage by transferring parts from treble to bass side or vice versa, if necessary with octave displacement. While it might be of help to some players to have these examples in tablature I didn’t add it. I don’t want to go into depth as to why I think tab is really not very practical - let’s just say I am too lazy. One musical reason is that not having tab makes you experiment with fingerings and string sets to find your optimal way to play it. One logistical reason is that I am playing a left-handed instrument being right-handed and that my Stick is tuned differently, so having the tab won't do much good for anybody with another tuning.

The second part of the book are simply tunes. Some of them are literal bass/guitar parts of music we play with my Fusion band, others are originals which have partially or completely been written on Stick. One particular piece that sticks out is Most Excellent Weirdness which is a version of Hoagy Carmichael’s tune ‘The Nearness of You’. For a little project with my Fusion band I needed another Hoagy tune arrangement. As I was practicing some of ‘my’ licks it dawned on me that I could build an arrangement out of some of those. So, ‘Most excellent...’ contains some of the ideas presented earlier in the book.

A special place for me take the 3 Sonatas. Of all the ‘classical’ pieces I have written these are probably the best. Originally for guitar I made this Stick adaptation.

Finally, keep in mind that all these examples, exercises, etc. were developed on a Stick with unusual tuning. So they are of limited use at best for someone using a normal tuning.

Mostly I wrote (and am still writing) this material for myself. I find writing things down in notation makes better practice and things are not as easily forgotten.

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