Tension / Relese in Phish Jams

Tension / Relese in Phish Jams

Postby dleonard » Mon Dec 21, 2009 12:19 pm

I know it's not really Dead-related, but a theory question in general. This has had me stumped for a few weeks now. During a lot of Phish jams they'll be doing something usually Dorian sounding, but then they sort of get into a different sounding, tension building, period until it culminates back into the root. It's easiest for me to hear during the jams in Chalkdust Torture, Run Like an Antelope (that's all i can think of without their stuff in front of me). The dude in the attached video tries to explain it but I am still pretty confused. As far as I have gotten in trying to figure it out is that I think it's a minor scale of some sort over the V chord. There are some serious theory people on here so I was just wondering if you could shed some light on this

allegedartist.wordpress.com/.../lesson-7-the-style-of-trey-anastasio/
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Re: Tension / Relese in Phish Jams

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Mon Dec 21, 2009 1:39 pm

Tension is really quite simple IMHO, since there are thousands of good ways to create it, and just a few ways to release it.

It's all a matter of degrees. Assuming you're playing in a major or minor chord:

The root note of the chord is the least amount of tension that you can possibly create.
The 5th of the chord is the 2nd least amount of tension.
The 3rd is the next least.
All other notes within the current scale are the next least.
Notes in other scales create more tension than notes within the current scale.
Notes in clashing scales like ones built on the Tritone, 7ths, etc of the root of your current scale create the most tension.

To create more and more tension, just get farther and farther away from the scale. It doesn't even matter what you play as long as it's NOT related to the scale of the tune. For example you can play a diminished scale based on the tritone. Play lydian based on the II. Run random funky notes up the neck... it doesn't even matter as long as you get back to that root and hit it hard and together.

Don't discount rhythm as a way to create tension as well. Say you're playing quarter notes 1 2 3 4 like a jazz walking bass player - there's no rhythmic tension there, it's a very static pattern. But if you hit offbeats, hold them over major beats, etc, that creates tension as well.

Most Phish Chalkdust or similar jams start with a repeating pattern of four bars with a very solid and definite 1. The second time through, some of them will go out of the scale on the last two beats of the fourth measure then hit the root back on 1. The third time through they'll go out for the whole fourth measure and then hit it back on 1 again. And so on, until there's nothing left of the pattern exept that 1, and then when it's time they'll all hit 1 and go straight to the chorus. Hitting that root together is how they release all the tension they'd built up.
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Re: Tension / Relese in Phish Jams

Postby strumminsix » Mon Dec 21, 2009 2:34 pm

Secondary dominants (the V) usually stand as a fun launching point away from the I.
Also the playing a VII (blues 7th ) is another fun one too.

In C think of working around with more emphasis being on the G then warp on up to the Bb and F and you can whip up a shit storm of frenzy and tension before resolving back to the C.
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Re: Tension / Relese in Phish Jams

Postby dleonard » Tue Dec 22, 2009 10:16 am

Yeah Rusty it sounds to me like hearing for the exact right time to come in from the drums is probably the most important. So you're saying that the guitar, bass and keys don't even really have to be playing in the same key for that "tense" period?

Strummin are you talking about the whole band changing chords in a jam?
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Re: Tension / Relese in Phish Jams

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Tue Dec 22, 2009 10:44 am

dleonard wrote:Yeah Rusty it sounds to me like hearing for the exact right time to come in from the drums is probably the most important. So you're saying that the guitar, bass and keys don't even really have to be playing in the same key for that "tense" period?


Yep, I'm saying exactly that. In fact it's much better if they aren't. If everybody migrates to the same key it's not tension, it's just a key change. (Which can create tension as well... but not in the same way.)

Think of it like a balloon - when expanded there's tension, and when you let the air out the tension is released and the balloon just lays on the floor. The expansion represents the harmonic adventures that each of you take, away from the key of the song in all directions. To release that tension you can either gradually let the air out, or pop it suddenly on the drummer's cue. Phish tends to pop it, the Dead tend to let the air out gradually.
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Re: Tension / Relese in Phish Jams

Postby strumminsix » Tue Dec 22, 2009 11:21 am

dleonard wrote:Yeah Rusty it sounds to me like hearing for the exact right time to come in from the drums is probably the most important. So you're saying that the guitar, bass and keys don't even really have to be playing in the same key for that "tense" period?

Strummin are you talking about the whole band changing chords in a jam?


Depends on what you are looking to do. If you are going for BIG TENSION bordering mass-chaos, that Phish does so well, then no. If you are looking for that building up tension that is like a balloon ready to POP! then the whole band back on the 1 (think Hard to Handle jam) then yesish.

I think the key thing with these is having a destination and road-map in mind. Think of where you are and where you want to end up. Then how you will launch and how you will return. Then folks can take off from there.

IMO, the #1 thing with getting this right is that all players keep playing! Too often in these sort of jams you'll hear people feel the trepidation of getting lost of things sounding unhooked, etc, but pushing that aside and playing confidently and LISTENING is what it takes to get it moving!
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Re: Tension / Relese in Phish Jams

Postby dleonard » Tue Dec 22, 2009 11:44 am

thanks alot dudes...we're going to give chalkdust a try this week
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