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Naked Tracks

Volumes VI & VII (Naked)

Tracklisting:

01. Now We Run (Naked)
02. Angel Food (Naked)
03. Gary 7 (Naked)
04. Gentle Ways (Naked)
05. Answers (Naked)
06. The Murder (Naked)
07. The Attitude Song (Naked)
08. Salamanders in the Sun (Naked)
09. For the Love of God (Naked)
10. Without Me (Naked)
11. Speed (Naked)
12. Blues for Dust (Naked)

Tracklisting:

01. The Story of Light (Naked)
02. Velorum (Naked)
03. John The Revelator (Naked)
04. The Book of the Seven Seals (Naked)
05. Creamsicle Sunset (Naked)
06. Gravity Storm (Naked)
07. Mullach a’ tSi (Naked)
08. The Moon and I (Naked)
09. Weeping China Doll (Naked)
10. Racing the World (Naked)
11. Sunshine Electric Raindrops (Naked)

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Naked Tracks
Alive In An Ultra World

Record Rap

Where the Wild Things AreWas an enormously enjoyable project for me. I wanted to add a different dimension to the sound of my rock band ensemble so I hired two hot-shot electric violin players, Anne Marie Calhoune and Alex DePue. We worked for a month of 15 hour days to prepare for this relatively short tour, the tour that lasted a month in Europe and a month in the USA. When the band was at its peak we filmed at the State Theater in Minneapolis. The result was the DVD “Where The Wild Things Are” and the accompanying live CD. The DVD was very successful going gold in the USA and Platinum in Canada.

The first batch of songs represented here in their nakedness was culled from live CD that was released from this DVD. There may be some leakage of the main guitar on the parts but we did all we could to strip these tracks of the lead guitar and give you the backing track to mull over.

 

Song Rap

As heavy, as simple, or as complex as the performance of music can get, care should be taken that it is always performed as a piece of music. There are various processes that we go through when learning the skills to play an instrument. There’s the practice of technique, the study of music theory, the spontaneous improvisation we may have with others, or just sitting and playing something. It’s a process.

In learning a complete piece of music and performing it without any mistakes, the first stage is familiarizing ourselves with the piece, then getting it under our fingers, and then really getting it under our fingers, and then getting it so under our fingers that we know it by heart.

Once we are at the stage of almost knowing something by heart, I have found that it’s not uncommon to forget everything in a flash and wonder, ”Where the heck did my brain go?” That’s when you can’t give up. You just gotta keep pushing and eventually it all comes back (usually pretty quickly). At that point it’s usually there for good.

That’s the time when we must start to focus on making whatever we are performing sound like an actual piece of music. This is all in our head and is a direct reflection of how we perceive what we are playing compared to how we can imagine it sounding at it’s best. Try to hear it in your head better than the way you’re playing it and eventually it will come out that way.

At this point your confidence will increase and your emotional investment in the piece can be cultivated and elevated.

These naked tracks can assist in your technical, emotional ascent up the ladder of performance bliss.

I suggest that all musicians have at least one such piece of music under their command at all times, and revisit it now and then to keep it fresh while working on another. The more you do this, the easier it gets. That’s when the fun really starts––when you become the music you play.

 

1. Now We Run – WTWTA (Naked)

Form: The form of this track is all over the place. It differs from the original version that can be heard on “The Elusive Light and Sound”, but primarily there’s an intro, a few verses and then a long solo section.

It originally started out as a handful of small cues that I had written for a movie called “ PCU”. I used a similar chaotic aggressive groove for all the cues and then I glued them all together and created the version that you can hear on “The Elusive Light and Sound”. I always thought that version had a lot of fire to it so when I put the String Theories band together with the two violins I decided to do an arrangement for them. It’s intensely complex. I came to rehearsal with individual written parts for everyone. The parts stretched the length of a luxury car and a few of the guys in the band virtually withdrew into a full on panic attack when they saw it. There are extremely fast, very syncopated bars in odd time that could be considered obtuse.

But I knew the band would be able to play it. One of the things I’m excellent at is rehearsing a band and getting them to sound great. I had the right band because they were really eager and excited, if not a bit terrified, but I assured them that in my minds eye I saw them all playing this piece of music with an intensity that could level a skyscraper. We broke the piece down into tiny parts and rehearsed each section slowly until it was bullet proof, then glued the parts together.

Eventually, and at a slow tempo, the piece started to come together so we slowly brought the speed up until it felt natural. If you watch the DVD performance of this piece of music you will see 6 musicians tearing this thing up like a house on fire, all of them completely confident in their jobs. They truly make it look effortless and easy and at that time, it was easy for them, but it didn’t start that way. And this is the way I suggest you tackle this piece of music.

Key: Primarily E minor, dipping in and out of Phrygian, but use your ear and take it other places.

What was I thinking?: What would the soundtrack sound like if you were frantically running away from a fire breathing monster that was blowing flames down your back, and every time you thought you found a safe place to hide, there he was gnawing at your nads. You would probably be in a state of perpetual anxiety until you woke up from that dream. This would be your soundtrack for this song.

What could you be thinking?: The cool thing about playing over this track is the feeling you get when all the odd time signatures become natural and your not thinking of them. The solo section is especially good for this. The goal is to fall so in sync with the oddness of the rhythm that whatever you play seamlessly phrases itself over the top of the groove. If you listen and watch the solo I did on this track you will see that I am totally at one with the groove and everything I play is perfectly phrased in the meters of 13/16 and 12/16. The subdivision of the rhythm would be. 4/16 + 3/16 + 2/4 + 2/16 for the first bar of 13/16, and 4/16 + 3/16 + 2/16 + 3/16 for the second bar of 12/16. But you can’t really be thinking of these subdivisions consciously for it to groove naturally. You just need to float on top of it with a knowingness of what it is. And this will happen if you stick with it. That’s when unique phrasing will start to happen. There is one point in the solo where I make believe I’m floating in slow motion on top of the frenetic groove. You can see this as I sway from side to side. It’s like an altered state of mind that only a ferocious 25/16 can accomplish. I highly recommend it.

 

 

2. Angel Food – WTWTA (Naked)

Form: Compositionally altered

Key: E-Major for the most part

What was I thinking?: This piece of music was first written on an acoustic guitar and then I orchestrated the piano into it. It’s very compositional and composed with the two instruments integrated with each other. I basically improvised the guitar part and recorded it and built the piano part around it. This piece lends itself to various kinds of orchestration and at times has been arranged for the band that I had with Mike Keneally on keyboards, Phillip Bynoe on Bass, Mike Mangini on drums and Dave Weiner on guitar. Then I did a lovely orchestration for the string theories band which is what is being represented here. I recently (6/2013) orchestrated it for a full symphony.

What could you be thinking?: In this version there are extended moments of pure improvisational play that you can just move around wherever you like. With the low E note droning and not much harmonic support from other instruments, you can create all sorts of melodic atmospheres. But the majority of the piece is composed to really enjoy the experience of what it would be like to play in an ensemble where everyone knows what they are doing, you would need to learn the part.

 

 

3. Gary 7– WTWTA (Naked)

Form: AABC

Key: Mostly E Mixo-Lydian

What was I thinking?: Back when I first started working on odd time signatures, I was perhaps 15 years old, I developed this way of strumming by using short little down-stroke strums to set the rhythm off to get the right accents within an odd time signature subdivision. An example would be if you wanted to play in, let’s say 5/8 time and you wanted the accents to be subdivided 2/16 + 3/16. If you play a chord, strum it down and then up, that would make up the first part or the 2/16 sub-division. Then for the 3/16 subdivision you do a down-stroke strum then up-stroke then a quick down-stroke. That would make up the bar of 5/8. Then repeat the cycle and that would be the next bar of 5/8. So the strumming would end up being “down-up-down-up-down, down-up-down-up-down, down-up-down-up-down, etc. Another way to write it would be DUDUD, DUDUD, etc. If all of these strokes are completely even in time then you will have a 5/8 rhythmic figure that has accents that outline the subdivision of 2/8 + 3/8. You can use this technique to create all sorts of odd time signatures and accents. An example of a 7/8 bar with a subdivision of 2/8 +2/8 + 3/8 would be DUDUDUD, etc. When I discovered this technique I went mad with tons and tons of complex odd time signatures and variations within them. The song “Little Green Men” on Flex-Able was an exercise in odd time signatures. But “Gary 7” was a mother load.

What could you be thinking?: I would suggest trying to lock with the drums and try using this rhythmic wrist snapping idea to keep you in sync. Once you get a groove and a lock on it you can start to solo over it and once again find equilibrium within an odd time signature.

 

 

4. Gentle Ways - Sound Theories (Naked)

Form: Intro, A, A, B, A, repeat with solo

Key: Basically E-major but it moves around

What was I thinking?: This was a track that originally appeared on “Alive in an Ultra World” and was recorded in sound check in one take. It was never even rehearsed. I just explained it to the band and off we went. I liked the melody for this track and when it came time to choose a handful of songs to orchestrate for the “Sound Theories” Recordings with the Metropole Orchestra I picked this track as one of them. I transcribed the solo note for note and then orchestrated it. I was hearing myself play the solo as a melody while various orchestra instruments would come in and out on melodies that spoke to me in a blend of various timbres.

The melody has a very rubato feel, meaning it ebbs and flows very naturally and does not feel as though it’s in strict time, but to get an orchestra to move together in such a way the transcription involves a lot of very complex polyrhythmic notation. But the end results sound very romantic.

What could you be thinking?: It feels really nice to play the chords with the melody on top through the versus as I do on this track. When it comes time for the solo section you can learn the syncopated yet flowing notes of the original solo melody or as usual, just go for it with your own melody. One thing to focus on when just going for it might be the concept of rubato. Try playing melodies that do not necessarily have an even note feel such as 8th, triplets or 16ths. Create a word sentence in your head and then try to play it out on the instrument. Play as though you are speaking through the instrument.

 

 

5. Answers - Sound Theories(Naked)

Form: Intro, A, B, C, D, A, repeat with melody, solo over E-vamp.

Key: Basically E- Mixo-lydian

What was I thinking?: : Originally from the “Passion and Warfare” CD this track was one chosen for inclusion in the orchestration process for Sound Theories. I always heard it in my head with a brass section and the Metropole pumps it up on this track.

For the solo section I basically repeated the syncopated ostinato motif and soloed in E-mixo-lydian. It’s very open and liberating to solo over.

What could you be thinking?: Again, this is a fun melody to play, a lot of phrasing in there. The second time through the melody section where there are the steady 8th notes playing the “Gina-lo-lo-bri-gi-ta” section, can be a bit of a tongue twister for the fingers. I would suggest using this extended solo section as an opportunity to play various modal colors over the ostinato of an A note. All notes work and are fair game.

 

 

6. The Murder - Sound Theories (Naked)

Form: Intro, A, A, B, open solo.

Key: Basically G anything

What was I thinking?: Another track that goes back a ways but when I orchestrated it I re-arranged it completely. I remember during our first rehearsals for a G3 tour that had Joe, Robert Fripp and myself on the bill, when we were rehearsing this song and the slow quarter note melody section came in Robert Fripp said to me, “That melody was written by a very disturbed individual”, for which I replied, “I resemble that remark”.

The solo section in this track allows me to go to Venus. This is another one where anything goes. During the intro and empty sections I used the bed as an opportunity to color the landscape with as many odd guitar sounds as I could come up with one after another.

What could you be thinking?: Easy and odd melody with a very open solo section. I would recommend trying to find sounds by touching, scraping, pulling, plunging, caressing, and downright mauling the guitar in as many unique ways as you can. Imagine you are a sound sorcerer and that you’re evoking denizens from the abyss. With each original sound you can conjure and every new pose you can strike. Then check out the video I made for “Dancing in the Abyss” on YouTube (or “Where The Wild Things Are” DVD) to see if you hit any of the poses that I landed on.

 

 

7. The Attitude Song - Sound Theories (Naked)

Form: Intro, All over the place

Key: Basically A blues

What was I thinking?: The original studio recording appears on my first solo record “Flex-Able” and is recognized as containing innovative guitar acrobatics for its time. This was one of the first tracks I choose for orchestration and did the first orchestration years before the Sound Theories project. I just couldn’t wait to hear it chugging away with an orchestra.

When I originally recorded this song I had improvised a bass track to a drum machine and then built the guitars on it. It was originally called “The Night Before” and was written and recorded the first time in 1982 when I had heard that Alice Cooper was looking for a guitar player and was holding auditions the next day. I sent the track in but not surprisingly never heard back. I suspect it was a little over the top.

What’s interesting is that the guitar parts just flowed from me in a sort of stream of consciousness and by all standards is quite a tour de force of instrumental guitar music, but there is nothing else like it on the entire record. Sometimes I wonder how things would have been if I made an entire record of instrumental guitar music like that, but then again, in my mind at the time that would have been too conventional and predictable for me to do, plus, what would I have done with “Little Green Men”.

What could you be thinking?: Eh… Good luck with this one, it’s a real pain in the ass to play but once you get it under your fingers it’s like a wild roller coaster ride to play. You can off course create your own melody in place of what’s there but then you would be fooling with a time shift paradigm that could melt the past into a blur of what the future could be.

 

 

8. Salamanders in the Sun - Sound Theories (Naked)

Form: intro, A, A, B, repeat solo

Key: Basically D mixo-lydian but moves around.

What was I thinking?: First studio recording was on Flex-Able. When touring in the early 80’s I would usually always have manuscript paper with me to capture ideas. We didn’t even have portable cassette recorders back then. I loved just writing little songs. I would play chords on the guitar and sing melodies and then write them out. I have stacks of this stuff. This particular track was written on an airplane flying to a gig in Florida while with Frank Zappa. I completed when I got to the hotel. I really liked Florida when I was growing up and on this particular beautiful fall day there were these little newts frolicking around the hotel grounds, so I wrote a song about them.

This song, perhaps more than any of my others, captures a very young, innocent and internally happy Steve Vai. I was 20 years old and writing music like this was my favorite thing to do in life, and recording it was just as enjoyable. I remember when I finally had the chance to record this little piece in my new “Stucco Blue Studio” I Sylmar California. I had a real fretless bass player come and play and a real percussionist and flutist play the parts. I felt like a real composer… of sorts. It was a very special time with special people in a special place. Back then Sylmar, the town that the house and studio was in, was simple, rural, safe and chock-full of farms. It was raining out and you can feel and hear it to an extent on the backing track of the original recording. I remember reaching out the window and plucking a huge juicy brown turkey fig from my fig tree and devouring it with Peggy Foster the bass player.

This was one of the ones I was looking very forward to orchestrating some day and I’m delighted with how it came out. During the performance of this track with the orchestra I was not planning on doing a solo. That verse was actually reserved for a chord type solo but at the very last second… or half second, I just decided to break into a solo over the changes.

What could you be thinking?: If you can find half of the enjoyment I have when I play this melody it would be worth your time to learn it. Also good to do is loop the solo section and just play over it for hours. The chord changes are relatively simple to solo over. At first you may be thinking of the chords and appropriate scales to use but the thing to look for is to let your ear lead you without any conscious thought of what the proper scale is or any kind of pre conceived neck board fingerings. Just let your ears romp through the dew-laden wet-lands of your inner ear, just like the Salamanders do in the sun.

 

 

9. For the Love of God - Sound Theories (Naked)

Form: intro, A, A, B, A repeat solo

Key: Basically E Dorian to F Lydian.

What was I thinking?: This song was originally recorded in the studio for “Passion and Warfare” and has been performed at virtually every show I have played since. It’s one of those gifts of a melody that comes along through grace. The melody just sang out of me while playing the chords. I captured it on a little piece of demo tape and did my first rough demo of it back in the Sy Vy Studio days, (circa 1981) and then later revived it when recording PAW.

My idea was to create a piece of music that had a souring, beautifully building, passionate guitar melody that just kept evolving with one intensity after another. It was meant to display the feelings of freedom, joy, gratitude and humility just slightly beyond my emotional ability to handle such lofty emotions, but expressed effortlessly on the guitar in melodic form.

What could you be thinking?: I included this track not just because it’s a fan favorite but it sure is great to play it with an orchestra raging in the background. One could learn the melody as is or create your own melody, or use the track as a bed for improvising. I like to play this as it was recorded. When you play a piece of music over and over and over again, especially if there is an emotional tie to it, it enables you an opportunity to get closer and closer to the melody each time you play it.

Sometimes you may think you got it licked but it illusively hides from you. But then there are those magical moments when your attention can be held as if the tip of your finger is in your minds eye and you are playing with surrendered hands. When there is no thought of what to play, how to play it, what it sounds like or what anyone is thinking, there is only you and every note and the inability to tell yourself apart from the note. In other words, you become the notes.

 

 

10. Without Me - VaiTunes (Naked)

Form: intro, A, A, B, B, repeat solo

Key: Basically E Dorian.

What was I thinking?: This track was another Sound Check track that was written on the spot with no rehearsal. I had a melody in my head and some chord changes. I told the band the chord changes and gave them the form and what came out is what was recorded. This track was originally released as a VaiTunes.

What could you be thinking?: I would highly recommend just using this track as a bed to create your own melody on the spot and then improvise a solo. Every time you play through it improvise a new melody on the spot. Make it as if you have one chance to write a melody and it has to sound like a piece of music and not just finger patters. You can do this if you invest your attention in the present moment of the performance.

 

 

11. Speed - VaiTunes (Naked)

Form: intro, A, A, B, A, B, A, C, A, B, A, B, A, C, A, D, solo etc.

Key: Basically E Dorian but moves around.

What was I thinking?: You know… I can’t remember. I did this track when I was working on… I think The Ultra Zone, but it was a studio left over that hung around in the vault until I sent it to Munitaka, a drummer in Japan who put a crazy cool drum part on it and released it on a record called “Dream Castle”. Later I released a version with the original drum track and some different guitars as a VaiTunes. Soon after that it was licensed by a guitar video game and was well received.

What could you be thinking?: If you are looking for a challenge I might suggest trying to learn the Rhythm guitar part on this one. It’s a tongue twister for the fingers but actually falls into place nicely if you can get all the proper fingerings and pull-offs. Otherwise it’s a good bed for shredding over. Go for full force all out shred on this one.

 

 

12. Blues for Dust - VaiTunes (Naked)

Form: intro, A, A, B, A, solo etc.

Key: Basically E Dorian but moves around.

What was I thinking?: This was another one of those sound check creations that just rolled off the fingers. It’s lovely when that happens. It took all of 3-4 minutes to write and the band instinctively knew what to do and I just winged the melody. Totally in the moment of it’s creation. Much of the time I strive to get things technically perfect and also retain that “on the edge” feel, but this take has a few of those falling off the fence moments but that’s just the way it came out and I decided to keep it exactly as it rolled.

What could you be thinking?: This track affords a lot of improv. I might suggest taking a similar approach to what I did, just wing it and see what comes out. Import this track into some kind of multi track recording work station like Garage Band, or Pro Tools or just play it back and video tape yourself on your iphone or anything, and imrpov a melody as if you were exploring the universe with your fingertips and your eyes closed.

 

 

1. The Story of Light - The Story of Light

Form: intro, A, A, B, C, repeat with melody etc.

Key: Basically B Major but moves around.

What was I thinking?: I wanted to create a lustrous, clusterous gigantic wall of shimmering distorted audio glory. This called for the 7-string guitar to create chord voicings that would scratch that itch. Wave after wave of sonic pleasures create a bed for the sentiment of the spoken words to reside in. I chose the Russian language for the narration of the text because that language has some strong edges while retaining a soft romance. The text can be found written in English in the albums liner notes. The end melody is basically the chord structure of the entire first part repeated with a thoroughly constructed, and doubled, guitar melody. When I set to write the melody guitar part I did it one phrase at a time and before I composed each phrase I challenged myself to come up with at least one technique that I had never done before. Whatever I played needed to sound somewhat def-defying but melodically musical.

What could you be thinking?: Ewwww, That’s a tough one. If you have a 7 string guitar and the tab (See the Hal Leonard folio for this record) then you can consider learning these extremely difficult chord voicing’s. The challenge is to make every note in the chord speak in the midst of the consuming distortion of the guitars tone. It takes a certain touch but more than that you have to imagine that all the notes are coming out clearly when you play them. For the melody section I might suggest using it to either improvise over or create your own unique melody. If you can learn the melody as written and performed on the record, I will have a metal created in your honor. But every note has to be correct.

 

 

2. Velorum - The Story of Light

Form: intro, C ,C, B, A, A, etc.

Key: Basically B minor but moves around.

What was I thinking?: When I’m creating a record with great diversity to it I usually like to have at least one heavily arranged and orchestrated metal type song. I felt this song in my mind before I started writing it. I gave myself parameters and wrote down words like magnificent, melodious, dynamic, weighty, moody, compositional, etc. Then I started to build it. You might be surprised how much of an effect this technique can have on what creatively comes out of you. Give it a try. Wrote down a handful of words and then read them back many times and try to create a mood that they all fall in. It’s almost like creating a character then bringing it to life. What comes out of you can only be in alignment with what you are feeling. It’s a law of the Universe and is inexorable.

What could you be thinking?: I might recommend looping the chorus and playing the melody over and over and every time you play it get closer to it’s intensity until you feel like you are playing it as powerfully as you can without compromising the notes ability to scream out. Switching from that kind of intensity to the delicate touch that’s needed on the verse and solo is a lesson in emotional dynamics.

 

 

3. John The Revelator - The Story of Light

Form: intro, Chorus, C, Verse, V, C, C, V, V, C, Solo

Key: E blues. (Tuned down a whole step)

What was I thinking?: I had heard the original recording by Blind Willie Johnson and was pretty floored. I was hearing this epic version in my head that had all these heavy guitars, almost gospel like vocals and a wicked lead singer belting over it. Once the vision was secure it was just a matter of building it. I wouldn’t quite call it blues or gospel. Whenever it started to sound too much like anything I put a curve in it. The main guitar part is kind of bluesy.

What could you be thinking?: Tuning the guitar down and playing a visceral track like this always feels good. I would recommend doing your own take on the guitar part and open up with it. Feel the vocals as they go by and support them. Play in-between them and compliment them.

 

 

4. The Book of the Seven Seals - The Story of Light

Form: intro, A, A, solo, B, A, A, C, D etc.

Key: E blues. (Tuned down a whole step)

What was I thinking?: I was looking for a massive contrast to the first part of “John The Revelator” and I had heard this vocal arrangement and decided to use it and build off of it. It offered the perfect contrast to the gospel like choir on the first part. In This part we take it from the South and bring it… well, south but much cleaner, and straighter, almost hokey. The guitar part is more arranged here as it follows the left hand of the piano and breaks off into quick little blues riffs now and then.

What could you be thinking?: Racing the Devil? This rhythm guitar part has a wonderful counter chord part that goes against a walking bass line so you get this duel part happening. It can take some practice but it’s worth it to educate those kinds of muscles in both the fingers and the brain.

 

 

5. Creamsicle Sunset - The Story of Light

Form: A, A, A, B, C, B, D, A, A, A

Key: E Major for the most part

What was I thinking?: When I was a little boy growing up the ice cream man would come to my neighborhood and my favorite ice cream pop was called a creamsicle. It was orange sherbet on a stick with a creamy filling and had a taste unlike anything else. To this day whenever I taste it I’m sent back to those innocent summer days around 1970 when the balmy night air was shimmering with fire-flies and you can smell the freshly cut lawns. Conversely, if you have ever seen a sunset in Hawaii you know they are unlike any other place in the world. The sky explodes with a very vibrant orange and cream whipping on the backdrop of a deep blue sky. I remember watching one of these sunsets and thinking that it looked like a Creamsicle and if that sunset had a flavor might just taste like a creamsicle, and then I thought, what would the taste and visual of a Creamsicle Sunset would sound like? And that’s how I got this song.

Actually, it started out as some E major chord inversions and then the Creamsicle stuff started to take shape. When setting out to perform this song I used myriad plucking, strumming, picking, sliding, whammy baring etc. to make each inversion ascent have a different flavor. The important thing was to make sure every note had it’s own space, it’s own neighborhood with its own zip code. There was no slide used on this song. That’s all whammy bar and fret slides.

What could you be thinking?: If you take a similar approach to what I did you may want to see how many unique ways you can play these simple inversions so they each have a different personality. It’s important that whatever you do it sounds like beautiful music. Well, that could be important. I guess it doesn’t have to be. Really you can do what you like but the track allows for the opening up of some inner beauty.

 

 

6. Gravity Storm - The Story of Light

Form: Intro, A, A, A, B, C, repeat with melody, D solo C D.

Key: G minor (Guitar tuned down a whole step)

What was I thinking?: Gravity! I wanted to create the illusion that the notes were made of a heavy metal alloy and were either being pulled down to the earth by the Earths gravitational pull, or they were trying to escape by pulling themselves up. I created this illusion by constructing phrases that the notes are either bent up to, or dipped down from. I wanted it to have a particular organic pull so I decided not to use the whammy bar for any of the bends. As a matter of fact the guitar I used did not even have a whammy bar on it. By slightly bending up to the note first it helps create an undulating audio delusion. It takes time to get the push and pull and can hurt after a while. Awww, poor baby… did the big bad gravity storm hurt your little fingers?

What could you be thinking?: If you decide to tackle the concept and technique I used on this track you may find that by learning how to do this you can give your whole playing (especially improvisational) vocabulary a real boost because it’s a technique that can effect the way you may normally execute an old phrase.

 

 

7. Mullach a’ tSi - The Story of Light

Form: Intro, A, A, B, C, Repeat twice

Key: A Major

What was I thinking?: Sometimes I look for inspiration outside of conventional realms. I’m a big fan of cultural music. Music that captures the flavor or essence of an ethnicity seems to always inspire me. One cultural sound I’m particularly fond of is Celtic music, or traditional Irish folk music. There’s an uplifting quality to it’s simplicity. I have this one CD that I have worn out since 1998 called “Celtic Lullaby’s and there is this one traditional Irish folk song on there called “Mullach a’ tSi” that is sung by the popular Celtic singer Padraigin Ni_uallachain. I was always completely enamored with the way she sang this simple melody. There are inflections and dynamics in her voice that are just not in any other type of music and her tone is soothing and beautiful.

Her vocal style includes quick little glisses, slurs and vibratos delivered with a clarity of innocents that has left me in tears a multitude of times. I wanted to capture the essence of her singing style on the guitar so I studied it and imagined how I could recreate her beautiful vocal ornaments with my fingers. It was quite a challenge and I had to take the piece one phrase at a time. Usually I would loop record a phrase section and do it over and over until the perfect thing happened.

In some instances I had to slide to a note, bend it with my finger up, slide down, release the bend, dip with the bar, raise the volume, do a very quick series of half step (or whole step) slides and find the exact right flex on the wha wha to make it sound the way I wanted it to. At first each phrase is taken apart on an academic level, (how to mechanically perform it). Then I would slowly figure out the sequence of phrasing touches and techniques necessary. Then when I have it just about under my fingers and feet I start looping it in record mode. Repeating the phrase until it sounds right can take up to 20 minutes to an hour, but in a rare case can happen instantly.

The phrase has to be worked until it feels totally natural and there is no thinking involved in how to execute it. After that I can start giving my attention to an emotional investment in the part. At some point I become the observer with my attention having a totally encompassing overview of all that is happening in my awareness. This is the state of complete presents or oneness with the phrase. Sort of a hyper awareness, then it usually clicks and actually sounds like music and not just somebody trying to work out an impressive technique. The moment I get the first performance that has the right technique, the right feel and the intended emotional dynamic, I instinctively know I got it and that’s when that phrase is complete and it’s time to move onto the next one. The good news is the more you do it the easier it gets to hit the sweet spot.

Why not just improvise something you may ask??? Well, I could and sometimes do but doing what is outlined above gives me the opportunity to approach the evolution of my style on a forensic level by focusing on tiny nuances of performance. Once the piece is complete I will go back and learn the whole thing in it’s entirety until I can perform it technically perfectly, effortlessly with confidence and emotional conviction. Then those particular technique nuances become natural to various other things I might do in either songwriting or improvisational settings. It’s a wonderful way to expand the Universe of your musical vocabulary. But you have to have the vision and the patience for it. Frankly, when the vision is strong enough there is no discipline or patience involved. The whole process feels like a joyful blessing.

What could you be thinking?: You can try to copy the way I performed this piece which will surely have an effect on your style or you could find a particular phrasing style from either another form of music or just imagine something in your head and then take the simple melody that the song is and give it your own distinctive treatment. This naked track is ideal for focusing on every little phrase of this melody and playing it over and over until something comes out of you that you can identify as something that you never did before.

 

 

8. The Moon and I - The Story of Light

Form: A, A, B, C, Repeat twice

Key: G Lydian but moves around

What was I thinking?: Yup, another sound check song that happened instantly. This track came about during the Fire Garden tour while we were in Athens and had about 10 minutes left in the sound check. This was one that was never rehearsed. I just explained the chord changes to the band and our sound engineer hit record and we just went for it. We did stuff like this everyday and I have probably over 200 or so tracks just sitting on the shelf waiting to be tweaked. This was one of the tracks that I decided to dust off for a VaiTunes release. I edited the sections a bit, added sound FX, vocals and guitar solo and it turned into “The Moon and I”. For the solo I wanted to build a sort of call and response between the lower notes and higher notes on the guitar. I used dynamics to distinguish the sentiment of the two parts. They slowly merge together into one cascading riff. I employed a new whammy bar technique that I was working on at the time that I had never done before. I would play octaves and move them around while bending them up and down with the bar to create almost a slide like effect. This is one of those solos that I thought came out good enough to learn and when we play the song live I usually play something pretty close to this.

What could you be thinking?: This is a great track to just open up to on the guitar. Even doing the simple rhythm changes can be relaxing. The changes sort of float on top of the track and there are a lot of open chords that will work. Use the solo section to loop over and over and just look for new and interesting riffs.

 

 

9. Weeping China Doll - The Story of Light

Form: Intro A, A, B, Solo, A,A, B

Key: B minor

What was I thinking?: There is a classic Japanese folk song that has the similar 3 notes on the intro. I think I used to play that song with Alcatrazz so it may have been buried in my subconscious.

I wanted a beautiful brooding and heavy melody that was saturated in both sorrow and the joy of repentance. There is one part of the song, the odd triplet, sixteenth note melody before the last verse, where I came up with the melody in an oddly creative way. We were building a little fire pit area outside of The Harmony Hut and it’s surrounded by a short fence. My wife planted these beautiful little roses along the fence and when they grew and festooned the fence with their beauty, they looked like musical notes on a staff. So I snapped some photos of this natural phenomenon and transcribed it into music. That’s how I came up with that Melody. The name of the rose bushes that were planted along the fence??? “Weeping China Doll”.

What could you be thinking?: To play this intro melody properly you would need a 7 string guitar. It’s beautiful feeling under your fingers. It’s heavy and ominous and when the low end of the chords clash together with all that rich distortion it feels wonderful. It’s possible to create your own melody but for this one I might suggest learning the one that’s written as it sits so well in the track.

 

 

10. Racing the World - The Story of Light

Form: Intro C, C, A, B, C, C

Key: A minor

What was I thinking?: A lot of times when I’m almost finished with a record I’ll ask myself what it needs. Most of the time it needs a simple up-tempo instrumental track to balance out all the heavy handed compositional stuff. I had captured this main riff on my iphone in one of my night-time playing hours and decided that it fit the bill. It’s a simple melody, easy to play, no odd tunings or timings. The B section was from a piece I captured years ago while warming up backstage before a gig with Dave Roth. Ha, you never know what’s going to happen with a snippet of an idea.

What could you be thinking?: Very easy enjoyable track to just jam to. The melody has a lot of phrasing in it that may seem easy but can be tricky. Write your own melody if you like. Try to get your melody to speak in sentences. If you notice the melody I wrote it sounds as though it has commas, question marks and periods in it that close one paragraph and start another.

 

 

11. Sunshine Electric Raindrops - The Story of Light

Form: A, A, B, C, repeat, solo, A, A, B, C,C

Key: E Major

What was I thinking?: I had captured this riff a long time ago and every time I listened to it my ear would hear it as a simple trio type piece. I like to have at least one song on each record like this. Relatively trio (bass drums and guitar) with the exception of the horn punch samples that I just couldn't resist. I like to play these simple melodies with a big fat tone. Creating a big tone like this is obviously partly in the amp but mostly in the way you are hearing it in your head because that dictates the execution.

What could you be thinking?: If you decide to learn the part as is or write your own part, just think big fat tone. Keep playing one phrase over and over and keep your attention on making it sound bigger and fatter each time you play it. You have to imagine it sounding big and fat and the more you imagine it the more your fingers will gravitate to things that will make it sound blobulant.

 

 
 
   
     

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