Play it Right: The Theme from "The Twilight Zone"

Enter a musical Twilight Zone—literally!
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Picture if you will, a major second interval on the top two strings anywhere above the 15th fret, and then play it. Chances are, any musically minded listener within earshot (yourself included) will chime in and complete the rest of a classic TV theme. But what if I told you that “DO-do-do-do, DO-do-do-do” was actually “do DO-do-do-do, DO-do-do”?

Are you ready to enter a musical Twilight Zone—literally? Our penultimate “Where’s one?” puzzle comes from the instantly recognizable opening riff from the third season of one of television’s longest running series, and the story behind it comes from studio giant Tommy Tedesco, who, along with Howard Roberts, played on the original 1962 recording session. The now-iconic T.Z. Theme, which inspired numerous knockoffs and tributes, from The Marketts’ “Out of Limits” (which also featured Tedesco on guitar) to the Manhattan Transfer’s “Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone,” and was re-imagined by the Grateful Dead in 1985, came from the mind of French composer Marius Constant and was reportedly the very last submission to be auditioned before a next-day deadline.

Melodically speaking, this is one clever mofo of a motif. It’s fairly easy to figure out the correct notes—we’ve got a repetitive 3-4- 3-root lick in the key of E (G#-A-G#-E) topped with a b5 (Bb) pedal tone. But played together as steady eighth-notes, these combine to produce the three most dissonant intervals in the chromatic scale—a major second, a minor second (followed by another major second), and a flatted fifth—giving the intro its characteristic creepiness. Brilliant!

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Rhythmically speaking, well that’s a whole ’nother story. Everybody—and I mean everybody— who has heard this figure reckons that it starts on the downbeat—beat one— as shown in Ex. 1, which has been notated with hybrid picking for easier playability. The problem is…that’s completely bass-ackwards.

This is where Mr. Tedesco sets the record straight. At G.I.T. in 1978, Tommy recalled that on his chart, the guitar figure began with an eighth-note pickup on the and of beat four, and not on beat one, as notated—this time on the top two strings only—in Ex. 2 . (The tricky fingering also raises the possibility that Roberts and Tedesco split the lick into two parts.) This simple rhythmic displacement turns all of the downbeats into upbeats and vice versa—a revelation bound to blow many a mind.

Of course, this only matters in an ensemble context—played as a stand-alone line, it makes absolutely no difference how you hear it. It just is, and that’s exactly how it should be…in the Twilight Zone.