Steve Vai's Five Tips for Guitarists

Career advice from guitar virtuoso Steve Vai to guitarists who want to maximize their potential both on the instrument and in their professions.
Publish date:
Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 2.59.00 PM

Create a goal. Learn how to own and operate the word “no.” Be friendly with yourself.

Words from a self-help manual?

No. Career advice from guitar virtuoso Steve Vai to guitarists who want to maximize their potential both on the instrument and in their professions.

It’s a subject that Vai is uniquely equipped to speak on. After all, he’s been in charge of his career from his early days with Frank Zappa to the start of his solo career to the launch of the Vai Academy today. Along the way he’s developed his own gear line and, most recently, inked a brand-new record deal with Sony Legacy.

Vai recently spoke with MusicRadar and shared the following five tips:

1. Identify the way you feel about what you’re doing.

“What’s of absolute importance is the quality of your inspiration,” Vai says. “Everything else comes from that.”

Vai says it’s vital to know how you feel, as this flows into all of your actions.

“You need to get in touch with the thoughts you’re thinking in regards to what you need to do,” he says. “Once you identify the way you’re thinking, you have the freedom – and this is virtually the one freedom you have that nobody can touch – to choose the thoughts you want to think to change the way you feel.”

2. Create a goal.

“It’s not entirely necessary to create a goal – you can just go along playing, and whatever comes comes,” Vai offers. “That's fine. But it’s nice to look forward and say, ‘You know what? I would like to do this.’”

Vai says the goal can be as simple as making the decision to buy a guitar, taking lessons or performing. Once you’ve created the goal, you can assess how you feel about it. Any doubts or fears can then be discovered and examined.

“So that’s what you have to work on with the goal,” he says. “It’s not really about doing or going through with the goal; the actual goal doesn’t matter. What matters is how you adjust your thoughts to align with the goal.”

3. Educate yourself about the music business.

This is the no-brainer in Vai’s five tips, but it’s the one that bears emphasizing. Players love to play; they spend much less time learning about the arena in which they want to work.

“You don’t need to be all forensic about this, unless you’re really fascinated by this kind of stuff,” Vai says. “But there are certain things you do need to understand, like how to protect yourself and how the business basically works. This will all be very useful to you.”

4. Learn how to own and operate the word “no.”

In essence, Vai cautions guitarists to honor their discomfort. As a guitarist, you’ll sometimes be torn between doing what you love and doing what you have to do for money. This can cause you to doubt yourself and to say yes to something that you don’t really want to do.

“You’ll be approached about all kinds of things throughout your career, that you won't feel good about doing,” Vai explains. “And the truth is, you don’t have to say yes to everything. Trust your own guidance system.”

5. Be friendly with yourself.

Vai notes, “Life is about feeling good and having fun. There, I said it.”

It’s easy to get down on yourself for your mistakes. But it’s important to think well of yourself and not beat yourself up. This will help you have good regard for yourself and, by extension, the people around you.

As for mistakes, Vai says to be okay with them, “because there are no mistakes. You’ll always get a chance to do it again.

“So again, go easy on yourself,” he says. “There’s nothing so complicated that you can’t figure it all out calmly and in a way you can feel good about.”

Read the whole interview at MusicRadar.