Michel Godard Blows the Serpent: Phrygian Mode

Michel Godard
Image via Wikipedia

This is an excellent musical performance, and interesting to boot! The frame drum solo at the beginning drew me right in, and when Michel Godard began to play the serpent I was entranced.  The serpent is an ancient low-voiced instrument similar to the Medieval cornetto, and  it produces a mesmerizing sound in the hands of a master like Godard (see the vid below or listen to the mp3).

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

Godard’s ear and lip control put him completely in tune with the singer. A haunting mix of sounds. Vocals are provided by Linda Bsiri, and the masterful tef playing is by Jarrod Cagwin . According to the comments it’s both a sephardic tune, La Rosa Enflorese and is also known as Los Biblicos, traditional. I don’t know how accurate those comments are. Facts on the Internet are like notes on a trombone: Infinite in number, but most of them are wrong.

What is most certainly a fact is that this piece uses the D Phrygian mode for most of it. Keep your ears open. There are at least two ways to think about the group of notes that is the Phrygian mode. When in a mode like this, it can be useful to use the root and fifth, as well as the notes resolving strongly to these notes. These are where you find the interesting half steps in this mode. Here’s the Phrygian used for most of this tune (these are concert pitches, so transpose it if you need to):

  • Easiest: It’s a scale from D to D, with the notes D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C-D. The half step comes between the 1st and 2nd degree- and 5th and 6th degree of the scale. The 2nd leads into the root; the sixth wants to resolve strongly to the 5th. Play with this relationship. Another easy way to get this in your ear is to play E to E using only the white keys of the piano. It’s the same relationships of whole and half steps.
  • If you know your major scales, start on the third degree of the major scale and play an octave using the key of the scale. You’ve just played a Phrygian mode. The concert Bscale from D to D works for this tune.

Play along w/the tune. If  you’re a brass player, buzz along with it, it’s in a great range. Figure out the melody. It has only two main phrases, each one repeated (AABB). The serpent voice states the full melody, and then is joined by the vocalist who also sings the full melody. Then a mad serpent solo by Michel Godard over the  rhythm pattern laid down on the tef by Jarrod Cagwin; the full form of the melody is sung again by Linda Bsiri (w/ Godard riffing in the background) and it’s over.

Masterful.

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

Find recordings by Michel Godard

All of the modes–including the Phrygian mode used here–are covered in Chapter 26, “Scales a la Mode” from Basic Music Theory: How to Read, Write and Understand Written Music as well as in the much shorter (and cheaper) Basic Jazz Theory, book 1

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. José says:

    This song is not on phrygian mode.
    regards
    JM

    1. Thanks for the feedback, José. yes, I mentioned in the post that there’s that one little section where it moves out of Phrygian, but for the rest of the tune, it works, and it appears Godard is using those notes when he improvises. Do you know what the actual mode/scale that is being used? I’d sure like to know….

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