Frank Zappa's musical language
Frank Zappa's musical language
A study of the music of Frank Zappa

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Official site:

The Real Frank Zappa page
The Zappa Family trust site, including facilities to order scores.

Reference pages:

"Information is not knowledge"
An interesting site for fact finding, maintained by Román García Albertos. Also known as the site, its former address.
Maintained by Vladimir Sovetov. Contains an extensive bibliography.

Special subjects:

For giglists: see the Live recordings section.

Louie Louie
About Zappa's covers of and references to Richard Berry's Louie Louie.
Ed Seeman's Zappa site
Ed filmed the Mothers in the sixties and offers some clips in his site.
Zappa site by Elmar Luksch
A college graduation study in German, originally written in 1983. It remained unpublished, till Elmar made it available to the public via his site in 2013.


Rock artists
Zappa photo collection by Jorgen Angel.

Forums and opinions:

Kill ugly radio
The forum on the ZFT site
Mark Prindle's estimations per CD

Ensembles and former band members:

The Ensemble Modern
Contains some information about "The yellow shark" and "Everything is healing nicely".
Steve Vai
Vai began working for Zappa as a transcriber, doing the Guitar book, and later contributed with "impossible" guitar parts.
George Duke
This keyboard player of the famous Roxy and elsewhere band has made a successful career of his own. George died in 2013, but his site remains maintained.
Their upcoming fall tour from 2018 includes Napoleon Murphy Brock and Denny Walley.
Ensemble Ambrosius
Today the ensemble is on Facebook only. Their former site contained a study in Finnish about playing Zappa on baroque instruments. The black dots in it are universal.


At this stage the literature section below is not bibliographical. I've spent most time transcribing, the search for literature has been of secondary importance.


- Frank Zappa/Peter Occhiogrosso. The real Frank Zappa book. Poseidon press, 1989.
The official biography, spoken on tape and finally edited by Zappa, written out by Peter Occhiogrosso. It's subdivided into subjects, as "Brittania drools" and "A family as a dada concept". Added all up it deals with about all aspects of Zappa's life. It's not restricted to his musical career and also covers his family life and political opinions. It's written in Zappa's personal style, humoristic, unpredictable, always arguing against things, using a lot of capitals and exclamation marks.

- Neil Slaven. Zappa, electric Don Quixote. Omnibus press, 1997.
A biography as it should be. Elaborate, informative, factual, not spoiled by a wish to publish personal opinions. Neil Slaven has done a good deal of literature research, resulting in a 350 pages work. A lot of journalist response to Zappa's albums gets quoted. In general journalists write positive about Zappa, but if you look at the reviews of individual albums they appear rather arbitrary to me regarding content. Someone as saying this or that, but you might as well say the opposite, often it doesn't even relate to the specific content of an album.

- Julian Colbeck. Zappa, a biography. Virgin books, 1987.
Written ten years before Neil Slaven's book, this one is less comprehensive. In representing the facts it's plain good. The tone of the book is a bit negative, Julian likes to point at things that didn't work out. Occasionally this works refreshing, but since Zappa is not the type to cover up failures, this tone is also somewhat superfluous.

- Michael Gray. Mother! is the story of Frank Zappa. Poseidon press, 1984 (1st edition) and 1997 (2nd edition).
Michael Gray's book has appeared in two phases. The first edition was written more than halfway Zappa's career. The second one was has been published recently and now covers Zappa's whole career.

- Dominique Chevalier. Viva! Zappa. Omnibus press, 1986.
This one is a lot more interesting for its photos than for its text. It contains a fine picture collection, many are high quality publicity photos. Much is in colour.

- Kevin Courrier. The dangerous kitchen, the subversive world of Frank Zappa. Toronto, 2002.

- Greg Russo. Cosmic debris, the collected history and improvisations of Frank Zappa. Crossfire publications, 2006 (3rd edition).
A biography loaded with factual information. Two third is chronologically written, one third is about specific subjects. The Zappa history continues from 1993 onwards with some 20 pages with activities by tribute bands, the ZFT etc.

- Barry Miles. Frank Zappa. Atlantic books, 2004.
About a dozen biographical works have appeared till now, the last ones getting more and more of a copyist nature. But this one is original and a good one. It's built around many quotes from people who worked with Zappa including his family. Half of the book is about Zappa as a person, at some points you even get the idea of intimacy, like during Zappa's last days. Flaw in the book is that it is thus persistent in portraying Zappa's character negatively that it tends to get inconsistent with other facts. Exactly the same character trait Zappa has in his criticizing others.

Academic studies and articles:

- Wolfgang Ludwig. Untersuchungen zum musikalischen Schaffen von Frank Zappa. Verlag Peter Lang, 1992.
This academic publication hasn't received the attention it deserves. The general public doesn't read scores, nor do much rock journalists, and it's difficult to commercialize material as this. Wolfgang's study is only available in university libraries. Apart from the black dots, it also deals with sound and recording techniques, subjects that aren't included in my study. I'm giving a summary of it in a separate section.

- William Morris Price. An analysis of the evolution of Frank Zappa's Be-bop Tango.
A detailed study of the construction of the Be-bop tango. See the Roxy and Elsewhere section for a quote.

- Jonathan Bernard. The musical world(s?) of Frank Zappa. In: Expression in pop-rock music, pp. 157-210, ed. Walter Everett. New York, 2003. Examination of the different appearances of Dog Breath, A pound for a brown, Dupree's paradise and Sinister footwear in Zappa's oeuvre.

- Jonathan Bernard. Listening to Zappa. In interesting look at Zappa's music from various angles, introduced by a personal reflexion. In: Contemporary Music Review 2000, Vol. 18, part IV, pp. 63-103.

- James Borders. Frank Zappa's "The black page". In: Expression in pop-rock music, pp. 137-155, ed. Walter Everett. New York, 2003. Analysis of the various appearances of The black page throughout Zappa's career.

- Arved Ashby. Frank Zappa and the anti-fetishist orchestra. The Musical Quarterly, winter 1999.
An academic article about Zappa's orchestration. See the Them or us section for a reference.

- Ulrik Volgsten. Music, mind and the serious Zappa: the passions of a virtual listener. Stockholm, 1999.
The Burnt weeny sandwich in my study shortly mentions what his main thesis is about.

- Martin Herraiz. O estranho perfeito, a musica orquestral de Frank Zappa. São Paulo, 2010. A study in Portuguese about Zappa's orchestral works.

- Brett Clement. A study of the instrumental music of Frank Zappa. Cincinnati, 2009. In my opinion his Lydian theory doesn't represent Zappa's diatonic instrumental music properly (see pages 554-563 of the 4th pdf version of my study or the Lydian theory item in the left menu of this site).

- Brett Clement. A new Lydian Theory for Frank Zappa's Modal Music. Music Theory Spectrum, Spring 2014, pages 146-166. In this article a refence to my study is made, saying that I found only 28 examples of Lydian. This is an incorrect formulation. The number 28 is a relative number from a random selection. It should not be confused with an attempt to estimate the total number of occurrences of Lydian. Besides, the pieces I identify as multi-scale can contain smaller sections as well. The point is the following order of scales: Lydian is not the central scale in Zappa's instrumental music.

- Brett Clement. Response to Kasper Sloots, 2015.

- Vu Nguyen. A historical overview, analysis, and wind transcription of Frank Zappa's "Sad Jane". Washington, 2012.

- Christopher J. Smith. Broadway the hard way: techniques of allusion in the music of Frank Zappa. On line publication (, 1995).

- Jeffrey Daniel Jones. Frank Zappa and his conception of Civilization phaze III. University of Kentucky, 2018.

Various subjects:

- Frank Zappa. Them or us.
The 1984 book by Zappa, shining another light upon the topics that occupied his mind over the past twenty years. Originally available by mail order, today distributed by Pinter & Martin Ltd., London.

- Zappa! Special issue from the publishers of Keyboard and Guitar player, edited by Don Menn, 1992.
This is a tribute issue, published shortly before Zappa's death. It's made up of a dozen interviews. It contains a large one of 40 pages with Zappa himself. Other persons who get interviewed are among others Kent Nagano and Gail Zappa.

- Guitar Player. Issues of February 1983 and October 1995.
The 1983 issue has an interview with Zappa about his recent "Drowning witch" album and much more. Also interviewed is Steve Vai, telling about guitar playing and his transcribing work for Zappa. The 1995 publication is about Zappa the guitar player.

- Charles Ulrich. The big note. New star books, 2018.
Background information about every recording Zappa ever did, landing on an official album. Of specific interest are the many quotes of people who worked with Zappa, that Charles has collected over a period of 15 years.

- Geoff Wills. Zappa and jazz. Troubadour Publishing, 2015.
This book focuses on the jazz factor in Zappa's music and his relationship with the jazz world.

- Patrice Zappa. My brother was a mother. California classic books, 2003.
A combination of a photo album and personal recollections of Patrice "Candy" Zappa about her brother Frank.

- Nigey Lennon. Being Frank: my time with Frank Zappa. California classic books, 2003.
An autobiographic book of a woman, who had a relation with Frank Zappa for some years and travelled with the Mothers as a trainee. An interesting angle. Though much of what she describes can't be corroborated, it's consistent with everything else. When you're looking for between the sheets gossip, it ain't there.

- Ben Watson. The negative dialectics of poodle play. Quartet books, 1993.
This is a series of personal interpretations and lyric explanations, meant to put Zappa into a larger social framework. Ben is also the self-appointed judge in the "Best companion to...". Maybe too much personal. Zappa himself however seems to have liked it, so that's a pro.

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