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Tech Session

Steve Vai

Issue #12


demystifying the magic

Andy James takes you through a Steve Vai style analysis. The good news? You don’t really need any special gear, he says. The bad? You’re going to need all your chops!

As I talk about in the video a few times, this Steve Vai style file is rooted in the E Lydian scale, a mode which Steve is very fond of using. The Lydian mode is the 4th mode of the major scale, so E lydian is mode 4 of the B major scale, it contains the notes E, F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D#, in essence we have the E major scale with a #4. This mode is so popular with Vai because of its mysterious quality which comes from that #4.

The main riff is typical Vai and plays off a chugging Emaj7 chord voicing then an F#5 to G#5. Although this riff doesn’t actually feature the characteristic A#, there’s something about this riff that calls lydian. Try jamming over this riff with the regular Emajor scale and see how off it sounds. In bar 3 I move into playing octaves which is always a nice melodic contrast to a Rock based riff. I’m just playing around with the E lydian scale on the A and G string set.

The solo kicks off with a real Vai trademark, which consists of moving up the neck using 5ths, this is made even more Vai by ‘double picking’, which can actually present some technical challenges when you build up speed. To finish this idea we play two unison bends before descending down around the 12th fret area and then slipping back down to the 6th fret on the D string. After just a few bars you get the sense that Vai can and will move around the neck a lot when phrasing, so if you’re uncomfortable shifting around a lot, sit down and familiarize yourself with the seven 3 note per string patterns as this may help you out of a jam.

In bar 11 I play another uniquely Vai idea, what I call ‘distressed’ vibrato. The idea is to play a note, then play a note a fret below but bent up to the original note, you can then apply a violent and thin vibrato to it to create the illusion that the original note is falling apart. Vai is full of quirky little ideas like this and is a master and bringing them out naturally in phrases.

Bar 13 – 14 include some wide interval tapping, so move your hand over the fretboard which will allow you pick each new string much more freely, this series of rapid 7th arpeggios flies up the neck before resolving to a pattern which you may recognize as the C#minor pentatonic scale. This is augmented with the added taps at the 21st fret. Pay careful attention though, this isn’t your run of the mill Van Halen style tapping (run of the mill?! Ed) and time needs to be taken with the left and taps and the double tapped note on the G string.

Bar 15 showcases Vai’s mastery of the alternate picking technique. In essence what we have is very simple, it’s a 20 note pattern that is repeated starting on each string of our 3 note per string scale. The difficulty comes in the speed and accuracy that Steve executes lines like this with. It’s also worth mentioning the exit point, as a line like this means nothing without a meaningful ending. In this instance we hit three unison bends and apply vibrato.

Bar 19 is probably the most “Steve Vai” lick in this piece and consists of a series of sweep picked arpeggios, position shifts and pentatonic legato patterns. This lick is definitely hard! The best advice I can give you is (once you’re comfortable with all the techniques of course) try to look at where you’re going, rather than where you are. For example, you start around the 4th fret area, but really you want to be looking at the 14th fret so that when you slide up there you know you’re going to land in the right place. Once you’re here your eyes should shoot straight down to the 6th fret so you end up in the right place there.

To finish this solo off we have another fast picking part which, as before, takes one idea and moves it across a 3 note per string pattern. You then need to jump up the neck for some ascending tremolo picking and end it with a huge bend on the 24th fret. As normal, don’t worry if you don’t have 24 frets as you can hit the 21st fret and bend up to the 23rd which will give you another note from the Lydian scale.

In order to get the tone required to play something like this you’re really going to want a humbucker equipped guitar and a high gain amplifier, that’s all really. As you can see from the video, I played this on my signature ESP which has a fixed bridge, but Steve plays an Ibanez with a floating trem. The point is that your guitar doesn’t need to stand in the way of you sounding like Steve, and you don’t need all of the effects either - your guitar and amp should be fine as it’s the notes you play, and not what you play them on.

Hopefully that will give you enough to work on for this month, and leave you with lots of research to do into this certified guitar legend.

Issue 12

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