How can studying the guitar playing of Steve Vai improve your own guitar playing? If you think learning his guitar solos or looking up transcriptions of Steve Vai songs is going to make you a great guitarist, then you are wrong. These things may help you in small, insignificant ways but they will never help you greatly improve your guitar playing and create your own unique style that will make YOU a great guitar player.

Instead, we need to look at the reasons behind Steve Vai's guitar ability. Once you do that, you will immediately start to see your own guitar playing improve. Here are the REAL reasons why Steve Vai is an incredible guitar player and how you can improve your own guitar playing through these reasons:

Reason Steve Vai Is Great #1: Incredibly Fluent Guitar Playing

It is easy to focus on each of the individual elements of Steve Vai's guitar playing (because he has mastered so many) instead of looking at his guitar playing as a whole. However, if you do this you won't understand how he makes all of these musical techniques work together to create his trademark style. Vai's ability to combine all of the different aspects of his playing FLUENTLY, is the reason he has achieved mastery of the guitar. The next time you are listening to Vai play, focus on how he:

  • Uses a wide variety of scales to give his music different tonal flavors
  • Creatively combines all of his guitar techniques (sweep picking and scales for example) so his guitar playing becomes absolutely fluent
  • Easily shifts between his rhythm guitar playing and lead guitar playing without missing a beat or a note
  • Pays special attention to the details in his guitar playing so that the result is both dynamic and highly musical

The skill sets that all guitar players use are actually very common. This means that you (or anyone) can learn all of the same techniques that Steve Vai knows, easily. It is the process of fluently integrating these skills and techniques that makes a guitar player's individual style so unique. This is the main reason that guitarists like John Petrucci and Yngwie Malmsteen are so great, yet so different from each other in their styles.

How to improve your own guitar playing:

Improve your guitar fluency by doing the following:

1. Practice integrating your individual guitar techniques, not merely mastering them in isolation. Obviously when you just begin learning a new skill, some isolated practice of this technique will occur, but you must NOT continue to practice in isolation forever. So many guitar players never reach someone like Steve Vai's level because they never integrate their guitar techniques. You are not on the right track to achieve fluent guitar playing if you are:

  • You spend a great deal of time online, learning from many different resources that are not connected in any way
  • You spend lots of time working on each of your guitar techniques individually and you don't ever work on combining these techniques together
  • You rely on DVDs and method books to teach you. These types of materials will never allow you to reach a high level of guitar playing because they never teach you how to integrate all of your guitar skills fluently
  • You can't focus on one guitar technique for more than a small amount of time and spend a great deal of practice time moving from one technique to the next. In this article I explain how to become a great guitar player

2. Set aside a certain part of your guitar practice to work specifically on fluency and integration by:

  • Combining many different guitar techniques to further develop your guitar playing fluency. Here is a good example of how to do this with your sweep picking technique
  • Applying music theory to your guitar skillset. This will help you to not just understand music theory but actively use it to make your guitar playing better
  • Not using the same scale all the time. You overcome this bad habit by learning many different guitar scales. When learning these scales, be sure that you learn them all across the fretboard, NOT just in one position

Reason Steve Vai Is Great #2: Extremely Emotional Guitar Playing And Performing

When you watch Steve Vai play guitar live, you can really see how passionate he is about his own music. He expresses this in every note he plays. However, he is not faking this just to make the audience think he is better than he is…he channels real emotions through his guitar so that the entire audience actually feels his performances.

How to improve your own guitar playing:

To experience this level of emotional control in your guitar playing you must be able to:

1. Understand exactly how every note you play will feel BEFORE you play it. Without doing this, you will only be able to imitate emotion while performing, rather than actually creating it and feeling it yourself. Study this to learn how to create emotions in your guitar solos

2. Make your guitar playing more expressive by mastering all of the different phrasing techniques (bends, legato, vibrato, etc.). This will make your guitar playing more expressive and will help you create your own musical style

3. Think of all of your different guitar techniques as simple tools that will enhance your ability to express yourself on the guitar. Your techniques are not supposed to be a way for you to show off. Watch this video to learn how to play guitar solos with more emotion

Learn how to improve your guitar solos in this guitar video lesson.

Reason Steve Vai Is Great #3: Seemingly Infinite Musical Improvisational Ideas

Most Steve Vai performances consist of several long, improvised guitar solos. Vai even creates his own backing tracks on the spot by looping his riffs and then SOLOING over them on stage. How is he able to continually come up with fresh ideas during these long solos? 2 reasons:

1. His guitar playing fluency level is extremely high

2. His ability to develop a short guitar lick into a full composition

How to improve your own guitar playing:

Even though Steve Vai has honed his guitar abilities over many decades, you can make this process happen faster for you by doing these 3 things:

1. Work with an experienced guitar teacher who can help you master guitar fluency and integration of your guitar skills in many different ways

2. Improve your guitar phrasing and overall fluency on the instrument (as discussed earlier in this article)

3. Practice creating many phrasing variations out of a very short guitar phrase. See an example of how you can do this in this guitar improvisation video

You will start to see yourself develop into a much better guitarist after you start using these ideas in your own guitar playing. Start learning from a guitar teacher who will help you reach all of your musical goals.

Author's Bio: 

About The Author:

Tom Hess is an accomplished professional musician. He teaches guitar players all over the world in his online guitar lessons. Check out his website to get more guitar playing resources and guitar playing articles.