FOR THIS LESSON, I’D LIKE TO discuss with you the track “Building the Church,” a song on my record Real Illusion Reflections. I really wanted something in this song to be unique, something I had never done before. I had this riff that I had written a long time ago for a piece of music that I never released, and it involved a two-handed tapping technique. It looks relatively effortless now, but when I started I had to go note by note by note by note. Ex.1 shows the riff.
For me, it was all about getting one note to sound good. It’s a very odd kind of linear series of notes, because I’m using three fingers on my right hand and two fingers with my left to pull this off. The result is that you get this round of notes. [Ed. Note: In the notation, the three right-hand fingers are designated R1for the first finger, R2 for the second finger, etc Left-hand fingers are L1 and L2. Both hands hammer notes on the top of the neck, piano style, as Vai does in the video.]
The riff is five notes, but I’m playing them as thirty-second-notes. So, it takes time for them to revolve around and land on the beat again, which is really one of the cool aspects of the song. When it turns around, I still have a few beats left and I finish it off with a repeated four-note figure.
The hardest part of doing this riff is the stress put on your tricep muscle! When I was practicing it, I’d have to set up something to rest my arm on because it got so painful that I could only do it for a few minutes at a time before I had to put my arm down. After a while, I just couldn’t do it anymore. So I actually had to rest my arm in order to be in the position for hours and hours, because that’s what it took me to get this riff right. I mustered up the mental attitude and I got excited about it because I was able to see myself on stage, ripping this thing out. I heard the chords in my mind and I said, “Okay, I have to do this. This is what I’m here for.”
Steve Vai is the co-author of Steve Vai Guitar Techniques, a new online course at Berkleemusic.com. Learn more at berkleemusic.com/vai.