As any of us climb the ranks of guitar-playing proficiency, many of us will self-teach. Others, may follow a more traditional educational path. One thing is for sure: there is no one, “true” way to get better at an instrument. Sometimes, however, we have the opportunity to get a point in the right direction from a mentor who is truly remarkable. This type of instruction and validation can be priceless.
This opportunity presents itself in three-time GRAMMY Award winner, Steve Vai’s TrueFire course, Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare. In this course, Steve Vai provides invaluable insights into how he manifested success for himself, and passes on technical advice for improving your skills on the guitar. Many of these teaching examples come directly from Steve’s record, Passion & Warfare, which is widely considered one of the best guitar-based instrumental albums of all time.
Here are 5 Steve Vai guitar lessons from the course. For the full course, check out Steve Vai’s Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare.
Steve Vai Guitar Lesson – Deeper Than Technique
I’d like to talk a little bit about technique, but just a little bit. The reason I don’t usually dive deeply into technique is that it might not be the thing for you, and I feel a little uncomfortable teaching a technique that might not be natural or organic. So what I prefer to teach in this realm is to actually find in yourself the technique that feels right. There isn’t one technique, as you can tell, with many different types of players, some people holding the pick one way, some vibrating notes other ways, etc.
Now there are certain bad habits to avoid that we can get into, but opening yourself up to your instincts is the best way to discover the best technique for you. I can show you my technique, and you might find some inspiration in it, but you’re going to be most comfortable playing in your own style. I’ll go through certain things that I went through when I was younger, but more importantly we’ll be going deeper than the technique.
Steve Vai Guitar Lesson – Bending Notes
Your intonation will also be very important when find yourself bending notes, which is a study unto itself. I’ve spent many hours just focusing on bending notes, and there’s a couple things I can point out here that you may want to be aware of. When you bend a note, when bending two frets, I always recommend coming down onto the strings in a way that gives you stability and leverage, as I demonstrate in the video. A lot of students I see use their fingers to bend the note, which is squirrelly and not consistent sounding. Using your fingers makes it very hard to get to the note, but using your wrist makes it much easier. The same goes with pulling.
Steve Vai Guitar Lesson – Erotic Nightmares
What was I thinking?: This was the first track that was recorded for this record. It started out as a demo for the David Lee Roth Band. It’s more of a guitar effects melody tapestry, than anything conventional. The sounds are all over the place, but there is melody under all the production. The object was to create a stream of melodic ideas that incorporated a lot of dimensional change in the tonality of the instrument (within small chunks of space). You really have to have your dancing shoes on to get around the pedal board at lightning speed on this one.
What could you be thinking?: This is a good opportunity to see how you can change up from one sound to another, in the period of a few bars, by using your arsenal of stomp boxes or whatever. If you don’t have stomp boxes to slam through, try changing the playing technique or approach in each section. Or you can combine both these concepts to create passages that focus more on tonal changes than anything else.
Steve Vai Guitar Lesson – For The Love of God
What was I thinking?: Just searching for melodic, spiritual redemption and liberation.
What could you be thinking?: See “What was I thinking?” section.
Steve Vai Guitar Lesson – Sisters
What was I thinking?: I have always been a fan of the way the guitar can create melody lines, chord changes, and bass motion all at the same time. Although this technique is mostly used in playing jazz, here it’s scaled down and simplified to create a sweet sentiment.
What could you be thinking?: This track is another study in dynamics. It’s about getting the notes to speak with the tone from the tips of your fingers, as well as, using dynamics to snap the strings hard and then play them as delicately as possible. Perhaps you would like to create your own melody part, something totally different than the original. I’m looking forward to hearing it.
Digging these free Steve Vai guitar lessons? Check out his full course, Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare.