Learn Steve Vai's Habits, Not His Licks

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PHOTO: Gabe Ginsberg | Getty Images

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Steve Vai, and it won’t be the last.

Once-in-a-generation guitar players tend to grab my attention. However, I have a very different point to make this time around. Usually, when educators give tutorials on a specific guitar player’s style, they’ll show you exact licks from that guitarist’s catalog.

While this can be a strong ear-training exercise, I’ve learned it isn’t as effective from an overall educational standpoint. The goal of a guitar teacher should be to unlock a student’s creativity. Teaching precise, note-for-note licks does the opposite by limiting the student’s options.

It’s with this in mind that I recommend examining and teaching tendencies of our guitar heroes, rather than endless pages of tabbed-out solos. This approach encourages creativity by allowing us to apply new learnings to our own guitar playing. It also starts a conversation about the “why” behind a guitar player’s habits, which can be an awesome way to discuss music theory in a way a lot of budding guitarists can understand.

Of course, Steve Vai has a bottomless well of techniques to draw from, so instead of just choosing some of his songs to teach the various skills, I spent time breaking down his thought process and made that the subject of my lesson. While I don’t pretend to be an authority on mind reading, I think it’s interesting to dissect the habits of great guitar players, so that we can address our own strengths and weaknesses to become the best musicians we can be.

Tyler Larson is the founder of the guitar-centric website Music Is Win. His entertaining guitar-related content receives hundreds of thousands of video views on Facebook per month, and his online guitar courses tout more than 1,500 students with a cumulative 4.7 rating on Udemy. Get in touch with Tyler on Facebook, watch more of his guitar lessons and vlogs on YouTube, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.



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