Review: “Truefire Steve Vai – Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare”

Steve Vai has a new instructional video out with Truefire called Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare. Unlike most of the guitar instructional videos out there where the videos typically show note-for-note ideas and specific techniques, this series of videos here consist mostly of Vai talking about his philosophies and approaches in both his playing and compositions.

Many of his things he talked about could be found in his interviews online, his Alien Guitar Secrets seminar, (which I also attended several years ago,) especially the philosophical-type of talk. That content were to be found in mostly the first half of the video series. But the videos were done really well in that they are well organized and focused without going off too much to a tangent. While the philosophical topics were interesting, I found the videos in the latter half with him breaking down his songs from his record “Passion and Warfare” to be fantastic. That record, of course was an iconic record, not just in guitar playing, but the compositions, the compositions/arrangements of the songs, the engineering and mixing part of it were all so perfect. For him to go over the songs, pointing out his compositional and arrangement methods for each was unbelievable.

Here are a couple of things that I remembered, off the top of my head.

  • All the different sound effects he used, such as:
    • Slapping strings
    • Blowing into the guitar on the side against the strings and pickups to get a flute sound
    • Sounds created by tapping his finger on the unplugged end of a patch cable going into an amp.
    • Hitting the strings with the whammy bar
    • Scraping sounds
    • Sound coming from detaching a whammy bar
    • Strumming the strings from behind the nut
  • Reverse technique:
    • Writing a composed part
    • Transcribing each note of each instrument backwards
    • Playing and recording through the backward transcription along with a click for each instrument
    • Flipping the tape backwards to there’s a recorded effect but with notes of the original un-reversed composition

He would use these sounds or reverse effects and sometimes they would appear in just really small sections of songs, sometimes even as a backdrop, and sometimes as the main parts.

Other things:

  • Consciously writing a song that don’t have a melody as part of his vision
  • Chord substitutions
  • Call and response
  • Duplets, Triplets, Quintuplets, Septuplet (which he had also gone in depth in the past)
  • Getting familiar with time signatures that are in 13 (based on the Frank Zappa song “Thirteen”) and the phrasing of the time signature.
  • Getting familiar with Septupets (it’s actually quite tricky when the tempo’s fast, getting that picking/strumming technique down and locked in)
  • Taking a groove off a song he loved, tweaked it to his liking, changed the tempo and used it in his own song.
  • Using sampled instruments (back when samples just started to sound good)
  • Not using vibrato (very minimal) in the first verse’s melody of the song, and then playing with exaggerating vibrato in the 2nd verse’s melody for contrast.

Still a lot of material for me left to watch, but it’s been quite fun and inspiring watching all this thus-far.

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