Composer : Sting
- Instrumental + Voice
- Matched Reciprocal
- Audio mp3
Released in 1987 on the album “Nothing Like The Sun” Fragile is one of Sting’s most beautiful songs, both in terms of lyrics and music. The song would be a tribute to Ben Linder, an American engineer working on a hydroelectric project in Nicaragua who was killed by the Contras in 1987. On the original version Sting plays acoustic guitar as well as the electric double bass part.
This track remains a must for the singer’s concerts. He started several special concerts with it, notably the one on September 11th 2001 in the evening of the World Trade Center (album “All This Time”) as well as the one on November 12th 2016 for the re-opening of the Bataclan one year after the Paris terrorist attacks.
For this Stick version I chose a version to accompany the sung melody. It offers a lot of rhythmic possibilities.
The piece begins with a rubato intro (without tempo) on 4 measures of voicing on E minor (m7 / m11 / m9) with a series of three notes to the melody right hand. To be played very free and lyrical.
Then the tempo arrives at bar 5 with the introductory guitar melody, based on a rhythmically very syncopated repetitive pattern. Practice already playing this motif alone and putting these sixteenth notes in precise syncope. Then linger on the bass. This is one of the secrets of the magic of this piece. A rather classical latin clave (dotted eighth note / sixteenth note/eighth note rest/eighth note) but moved to the 2nd beat. It is not written like that because the bass note on the 2nd beat will resound the whole measure but the whole motive will make you hear this clave. The first beat is not played on the bass. It enters on the 4th sixteenth note of the 1st beat and then plays the 2nd beat. It is a bass figure that we find several times in Sting’s pieces. The best example is Roxane’s riff where the bass plays this 4th sixteenth note and then the beat but again on the 2nd beat, which completely move the point of support of the rhythm. Especially in a rock aesthetic generally very square. And when the chorus of Roxanne purely rock and roll enters it creates a total surprise as if suddenly a beat was missing. Here it is played in a much more subtle way but if you listen to the double bass you will hear that it always plays the 2nd beat (except in the samba part where we find a “normal” rhythmic).
On the verse I wanted to air the arrangement by playing only whole note chords in the right hand. The bass takes again this groove on the moved clave. Even if it is very syncopated try to play the bass in a very smooth and fluid way without pressing the rhythm too much. Both hands are on the chorus on a samba clave. Here again, remember to press the second and the four beat in the “surdo” spirit (the Brazilian bass drum).
On the solo part measures 37 the left hand allows you to hear rhythm and harmony to free the right hand for a improvisation. Here again work the left hand alone and when you have enough of it, add the right hand and try to “forget” the left hand. That this one works like an autonomous motor. This is one of the secrets of improvisation with the Stick. It is very difficult to think with both hands at the same time all the time. One of the solutions is to work on these left hand motors or after a while the hand plays by itself and frees a part of our brain that can concentrate exclusively on the right hand phrases. You can of course play this cycle as many times as you want.
Then back to the samba chorus. And the song ends as it began with the four different chords of E minor rubato. The tempo gradually fades away.
Despite its relative ease, Fragile is for me a very difficult piece to play. Probably because of its rhythmic complexity, increased at the Stick by the fact that we play two different instrumental parts on the same instrument. Once again, work slowly with your hands apart and then use the score to see how each finger of each hand falls in relation to the others. When the hands play together when they play separately. It is a strength of this system to have this “in front of you”.
But when everything fits together perfectly it is such a pleasure to play this instrument with its incredible rhythmic possibilities.
As for “Fragile”, I repeat that for me it is one of Sting’s most beautiful compositions. And if you’ve never seen it, or if you want to have the pleasure to see it again, find on YouTube the duet version with Stevie Wonder. Now it’s not just beautiful, it’s totally magical (even Sting is ecstatic). With the addition of a harmonica solo touching the sublime and which proves once again that many musicians are excellent but that some are touched by grace. And that Stevie’s one of them…