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Learn Steve Vai's Habits, Not His Licks

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 brand Music is Win. His insightful, uncomplicated guitar lessons and gear demonstrations along with entertaining, satirical content about life as a musician receive tens of millions of video views per month across social media. Tyler is also the creator of the extremely popular online guitar learning platform, Guitar Super System. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Tyler has been teaching guitar for over a decade and operates a production studio in Nashville, TN.