Surfing With The Alien lesson
You want to play the legendary song « Surfing With The Alien »? Challenge accepted!
We start up with the cover, which is obviously an example of possible interpretation and is serving the lesson. The cover is based on the Satch playing but you have to keep your interpretation and your improvisation style, that’s the challenge…
Then we have the video lesson where everything is played without any playback and with slowded down parts, a little novelty is the bars numbers we put in the video which gave the ability to follow the tablature, that you can download at the bottom as Guitar Pro & PDF files.
The cover plays an important role because the video lesson is based on it. Some parts of « Surfing With The Alien » are faithful to the original and other ones are changed a little bit or improvised.
It also gives an idea of what it looks like when you’ve worked enough! After that, you can can play this song exaclty how you want it to be, it’s the most important issue…
Video lesson & explanations
Watch the lesson and keep an eye on the tablature to see the fingerings.
1 | Riff
The trick for making the riff sounds great is to understand where are the dynamic accents and the ghost notes. The downward attacks are extremly important because they are emphasizes the accents.
The rhythm guitar pattern is a kind of spicy Blues riff, this sort of riff implies this special manner that the bluesmen have to attack donwnwards the strings, you have to feel it when you play that riff.
2 | Theme
Playing a theme that inspired generations of guitar players… That’s the dream!
Take a quick look at the Gp5 tab , it is full of inflexions, bends or vibratos, and the slides are an important part of the playing. No panic we’re going slowly, bars by bars…
About the left hand it’s possible to attack almost every note downwards as Joe does, it makes the theme having more personality.
On the B part of the theme, sarting at the 27 bar, you can observ that I play something a little bit different that what is written on the tab, that’s because I play some open strings. The idea is to play an open string just after the melody note by doing a pull-off, no pick attack, and the last thing is to slighlty bend the melody note. That’s really the thing that make the difference when you play it so take care of that!
The theme layout is AABB, and the second B is played at the upper octave, you have to apply the same open string idea than for the previous B for make it sound. Between the two B you have a great example of the famous “Satch scream”, call it as you want to, to summarise briefly it’s about playing an harmonic with your right thumb when you attack the string and the tremolo bar does the rest of the effect, I will release in january 2015 a special video where I will taught you that technic in greater detail.
Please note that I didn’t made a Gp5 tab for doing something beautiful, we obviously can’t make music with Guitar Pro but it’s a useful visual support that shows what you have to play, so if you think that it’s ugly when you press the space bar you’re right, stop it and play it on guitar. And for those who still think that’s ugly hum…
3 | Solo
Here comes the funny part!
I will begin by telling you about some Musical Theory, they are a lot of modulations in several keys, first in C#- where Joe plays Phrygian, then he modulates in D#- and plays Phrygian dominant this time (the V degree of the minor melodic scale harmonisation) then he goes to F- where he plays Phrygian dominant and we’re back again in G. Here Joe just shows up the modal approach he have adopted.
He just took the G minor natural scale, added the bluenote and he defined notes from this scale as keys, to make a long story short he started with C# (the augmented fourth, or the G’s bluenote) and then he incrased the key tone by tone, so next we have D# (it’s rather Eb, the ♭VI of G) then F (♭VII of G) and a tone upper is G again.
Why has Satch chosen to play Phrygian or Phrigian dominant? It is just a matter of personal taste, the song is getting more and more complex as the key progression carries on, the intensity incrases and we naturally come back the most naturally and in the same dynamic to the starting point, what a masterpiece!
That was for the theoric part, now let’s go back on the most important part which is how to play that?
Here we have a very specific trick that sounds straightaway like Satch. It consists in tapping with the edge of the pick, to sum up it’s a kind of tapping with no finger but with the pick.
The pick keep on tapping on the 22th fret meanwhile the left is descending the scale on the E string, for the last position the pick goes down to the 21th fret for playing the same note that the left hand plays one octave down.
About the legato improvisation that follows, the tapping part I proposed is an exemple but they are thousand possibilites, you just have to respect the fact that there is a starting note, an ending note and a downward motion, and then you can do whatever you want to do. The last important thing is the flow, he has to be regular from the begining to the end of the phrase.
Here it’s not very complicated, you just have to play the melody I wrote (beware of the ghost-notes) and to finish you have to do and huge slide the higher you can and bend the higher you can too, that’s not very academic but it still works.
That’s the part of the song that looks the most like a bunch of bullshit on the original songbook, the guy who wrote this obviously didn’t care about the fingering, seriously it’s worth to take a look because it’s a good example of impossible-to-play-if-you’re-not-an-alien thing that you might encounter into songbooks and drives you crazy.
On the technic side, you have at the bar 59 some notes which are lied and some that just don’t.
For the lied note, the 5th, 6th and 7th in the bar, you can make it easier by playing the 5th and the 6th with two downwards attacks, then it’s a pattern that repeats.
You have the same thing at the bar 61 where you have the 3th, 4th and 5th notes in the bar that are attacked, the 3th and the 4th can be attacked both downwards and the next note of course upwards. This last pattern is used a lot by Allen Collins from Lynyrd Skynyrd in his legendary song « Freebird ».
Freedom! After this hard time spent on the darkside of the Harmony we’re coming back on our feets by resolving on G, and that’s how the solo ends.
At this moment, In order to calm down the situation and play softer notes, I grab the pick in my hand and play the notes with my fingers. It’s just a personal choice, sometimes I play the notes (still with my fingers) harder and make the tremolo crunching, That’s a stylish effect that I love, try it now!
4 | 2nd theme
The second theme is almost the same than the first one except for some details, some parts are allowed to contain some improvisation, like for the bars 85-86 where the most important rule is phrasing on the G pentatonic scale and ending up with the same bend, or at the bars 97-98 where we shall imagine different phrases on the E pentatonic scale that will lead to the final note B.
An important thing that Joe does everytime for making the difference between the two themes is the direction of his “ Satch’s scream ”, for the first theme it was descending and here it’s rising, for that you just have to change that the direction tremolo takes, instead of pull up the bar and then make it lower, first you have to start down and rising it up, easy as pie!
5 | End solo
« Surfing With The Alien » is today a reference in the electric guitar world, including the first and the second solos.
This time it’s not about crazy modulations anoymore, we keep playing in G scales uppon the main riff and there we go!
…And we start this solo after the dive bombing that reminds us a battleshit take-off, the Silver Surfer gushs out as hell and the Satch’s fingers do the same! Once again we can hear the Blues influence of Joe Satriani in the composition, the pattern is based on a I-IV-I chords changes, it looks like the begining of a Blues changes and make us feel the Major/minor duality the Blues surfs on.
You have to stretch your left hand fingers right at the begining, it get worst at the bar 110 when your index got to be at the 3rd bar meanwhile your little finger got to reach the 8th bar. Again there’s no secret, you have to work very slow if you want it to play it proper at the right tempo, so don’t hurry up, take your time and play the notes distinctively. I recomand a clean sound for that. In order to ending this part of the solo you have to note that the bars 110-111 can be improvised, on the G dorian scale. In the video lesson I showed you in detail two patterns that Joe Satriani uses most of the time and I developped a little bit in the tab. For example you can play 3 times the first one et 2 times the other one, or 4 times one and 1 for the other, and vice versa… do whatever you want!
A floyd tremolo (Floyd Rose original or Floyd from Ibanez) is really necessary to have enough amplitude for the very characteristic crunch effect at the bars 114-121 and 150-157, if you use a classic tremolo the effet will be reduced. But if you don’t have a Floyd tremolo it’s alright, we totally can play this part without this effect, it’s just a bonus.
It’s a very difficult part to transcribe if you consider the huge part of time interpretation that Satch has when he plays it, but I think it’s the closest thing I can write, then the way you play it will make the difference so listen to Joe, that’s all I can taught you!
The hardest thing in this part is the small slide at the bars 132-133, you have to do a small barre with the ring finger and then we have to hear the two notes, that’s not that easy.
At the end, at the bars 136-137 the idea is to descending the G pentatonic scale to go to the lowest G note, I made a proposition in thevideo, and once again you can do whatever you want, be creative!
You shall need stamina and determination if you want to play properly this part! The challenge is that the position changes have to be as quick as possible, this his obviously harder when the string you are playing on changes, keep on practicing and you will get it.
It gets harder here, in particular at the bars 145-146: huge slide on the lowest E string at the end of the bar 145 and you finish by a G pentatonic rising scale. Satriani usually rise this scale by doing triplets and attacking in alternante picking every single note.
For those who are very lazy persons when it’s about fast picking (as I am), I can propose you this pattern, it consists in attacking twice downwards in order to reduce your right hand effort . We alternate 3 pick attacks and 1 pull-off. The not-so-easy-part in there is the rhythm precision.
This is a carbon copy of the bars 114-121, except for the end of the phrase you have to do a dive bombing, that means that you have to heavily lower your tremolo and the note pitch will decrease. Once again the effet will be better with a floyd than a classic tremolo.
On the CD, « Surfing With The Alien » ends in fade out. Played live, Satch ends this song by using the main riff. The little more thing added is the bend you have to do with your ring finger barre, at the bars 159, 161 and 163, but nothing that can’t be overcome.
You may asking me « why have you written in 3/4 and not 4/4 at the end? » the answer is that transcribes the best what the rhythm section has to do, I could wrote the same thing in 4/4 bars and the would play the same, but with the 3/4 bars it is abundantly clear.
Enjoy the tab, you can ask me your questions if you have some and post your your work posted in the comments! Keep on rockin’!