Steve Vai Guitar Techniques

Authors: Scotty Johnson, Steve Vai | Course Code: OGUIT-415

Berklee Online Exclusive: Gain a deep understanding and command of the playing styles, repertoire, techniques, and musical concepts of guitar legend and Berklee alum Steve Vai. This online course, the first ever of its kind, presents an "under the hood" look at the work of one of the world's most influential guitarists. Through playing exercises, listening examples, hours of never-before-seen video, song transcriptions and performance assignments, students will not only learn the secrets behind Vai's best known compositions and virtuosic techniques, but will also learn how to improve their own solos, chord and rhythm playing, and overall voice on the guitar.

Each week, the course spotlights a different Steve Vai composition and explores all the relevant topics and techniques related to that song, including soloing, rhythm playing, scales, bending, tapping, sweep picking, sliding, time feel, tone, articulation, and use of the whammy bar. You will learn to craft and perform lead lines like those in the Grammy-nominated songs "Tender Surrender," "For the Love of God," and "The Attitude Song." You will learn to execute the seemingly impossible two-hand tapping, pull-offs, and other ear-bending licks from songs like "Building the Church," "Juice," and "Jibboom." You will also listen to a number of Vai's first-hand anecdotes and inspirational lessons, including many behind the scenes stories about playing alongside the composer and guitarist Frank Zappa.

The course will also explore the circular vibrato, the incredibly precise artificial harmonics, and the virtuosic sweeps that Vai is known for. In addition to dissecting Vai's tunes, the course places a heavy emphasis on "how" and "why" each tune was written, allowing you to grow not only as a performer but also as a composer, all the while finding your own unique voice on the guitar. Steve Vai Guitar Techniques is taught by members of Berklee College of Music's renowned guitar department. All students will receive detailed, personalized feedback on their work from an esteemed member of Berklee's guitar faculty, who will be leading this course on a week-to-week basis.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • play several of Steve Vai's compositions and guitar solos according to his own fingerings and techniques
  • improve your power chord and clean rhythm playing techniques and vocabulary
  • improvise your own guitar solos over different loops constructed from various Vai "naked tracks"
  • execute several different whammy bar tricks and techniques
  • further develop your string bending and vibrato skills and techniques
  • learn Vai's approach to sweep picking
  • apply various one- and two-handed tapping techniques on your guitar
  • further develop and improve your odd meter time feel
  • perform different pull-off riffs on your guitar
  • incorporate slides to embellish your guitar solos and melody statements
  • improve your reading skills
  • learn how to ultimately find your own voice on the guitar

Lesson 1: "For the Love of God"

The Melody SectionMental Warm-Up: Music MeditationIntention/Build ConfidenceSinging Melodies Over ChordsToneVibrato: Circular, Multi-Note, and MorePhrasingSlides/The Bridge SectionDiscovering, Setting, and Achieving Your GoalsThe E Aeolian and F Lydian ScalesThe Importance of Reading Music

Lesson 2: "Jibboom"

A Break-Down of "Jibboom"The E Minor and E Major Pentatonic ScalesBendingPull-OffsThe Head to "Jibboom"Identifying, Playing, and Listening to Intervals on the GuitarThe Power of Visualization

Lesson 3: "Sisters"

Playing with a Clean ToneMajor and Minor Triads/InversionsSus2 and Sus4 TriadsChord Embellishment

Lesson 4: "Tender Surrender"

Playing with EmotionThe Melody: Playing with OctavesDiatonic Chord ProgressionsPull-Off Technique: Flutters and Trills

Lesson 5: "Die to Live"

Power Chord Variations and ArticulationsDiatonic Slides and ApproachesThe Melody StatementThe Chord Progression

Lesson 6: "The Attitude Song"

Artificial (Pinch) and Natural HarmonicsSpeed Picking TechniquesThe Melody StatementOdd Meter Time Signatures

Lesson 7: "Juice"

Locking to a Boogie GrooveDoing Something That You Haven't DoneHammer Tapping TechniquesMajor and Minor 6th IdeasMaking an Exercise Out of a Technique

Lesson 8: "Frank"

Thoughts on Frank ZappaThe Intro Verse FillsThe Verse/Melody StatementUsing Harmonics and the Whammy BarThe SoloCreating Cluster Chords

Lesson 9: "The Animal"

Following and Accomplishing Your True DesiresThe MelodyPlaying with a Whammy Pedal and Wah-WahThe Solo SectionBuilding a Dynamic SoloLearning to Relax

Lesson 10: "Building the Church"

The Story Behind "Building the Church"Two-Handed TappingSolo BreakdownThe Melody and ChorusSustainThe E Phrygian ModeGroove Playing

Lesson 11: Guitar Tips, Tricks, and Secrets

The Horse Sound from "Bad Horsie"Steve's Favorite Whammy Bar LicksSteve's Favorite Sweep Picking LicksMore Tapping

Lesson 12: Finding Your Voice

Ear TrainingTime ManagementTaking Care of "Business"The Importance of Performing with Other PeopleImproving without an Instrument

Scotty Johnson

Author & Instructor

Scotty Johnson has been an associate professor in the Guitar department at Berklee College of Music since 1999 and is a regular performer in the Boston theater scene. Scotty has toured the world many times and recorded CDs with Paul Gilbert (Bee Hive Live, Alligator Farm), The Ford Blues Band (Fords and Friends with Robben Ford), The Blindside Blues Band, Dick Dale (Calling Up Spirits), Ansley Dunbar, and many others.

In addition to winning the grand prize in the International D'Addario "Rockontest," Scotty is a former Blues Bureau International recording artist and was also the musical director of the long-running production show Madhattan in Las Vegas. Recent theater credits include Spamalot, The Lion King, High Fidelity, Sweet Charity, Smokey Joes Cafe, Footloose, The Full Monty, Annie, Memphis, and Fame.

Scotty's instructional video Accelerate Your Rock Guitar Playing is available from Berklee Press/Hal Leonard/Rittor Music.

Steve Vai


"Steve Vai's guitar wizardry is so profound that in earlier times he would have been burned as a witch." - Guitar World

As a Grammy award-winning guitar virtuoso with career sales of over 15 million records, Steve Vai's sheer breathtaking facility on the guitar is acclaimed in the rock world and beyond. While Vai clearly had what was needed to make indelible impressions during his stays with Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth, it's as a solo artist that he's made his most precious contributions. The Long Island, NY native has spent the last three decades writing, recording, scoring for films, orchestra, and performing the most exciting music ever created with a guitar. His virtuosity and custom six and seven string instruments continue to inspire young musicians who celebrate Vai as the "Alien Guitar Master." Although Vai is hailed as a musical alchemist of the highest order and tours regularly in over 50 countries, he is also highly sought after to lend his talents to commercial enterprises and has appeared on American Idol, The Tonight Show, games for Xbox. Playstation, and Guitar Hero. In addition to his recording career, Steve is involved with many worthwhile organizations. He is a former Trustee for the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences, is on the advisory board of Hollywood Arts, and works closely with his own Make a Noise Foundation, raising money for music education. Steve attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the college. In 2011 Berklee will launch an eponymous course devoted to the study of Vai's technique and style.

Completion of the Berklee Online course Guitar Chords 101 and Guitar Scales 101 or equivalent knowledge and experience.

In order to succeed in this course, you should have a basic understanding of standard notation and TAB. You should have a basic understanding of major and minor triads, major and minor barre chords, major and minor pentatonic scales, and the major scale and its modes. You should also be able to properly tune your instrument, and record and upload your assignments using a computer.

PC Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, Internet Explorer 10 or higherMac Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, SafariFlash Player: current versionQuickTime: current versionAdobe Reader: current versionA basic audio recording tool that will allow you to record yourself playing along with a background track and save the recording in MP3 format. You will have a tool to use for this purpose inside the learning environment. Alternatively, you can use software like Audacity, GarageBand or any Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
Electric guitarA basic amp chord with a 1/4- to 1/8-inch adapter for recording directly into the computer (if you do not own an audio interface), a built-in microphone, or an external microphone plugged directly into your computer (via built-in ports or an external audio interface)An amp or amp simulator with distortion (or a distortion pedal)Wah-wah, Whammy Pedal, and Whammy Bar are highly recommended to get the most out of this courseSpeakers or headphones for your computer
Windows Vista SP2 or higherIntel Pentium 4 or higher1 GB RAM500 MB hard drive space recommendedSound card
OS X 10.7 or higherIntel Mac2 GB RAM500 MB hard drive space recommended

The "naked tracks" for the following songs:

"For the Love of God""Jibboom""Sisters""Tender Surrender""Die To Live""Juice""Frank""The Animal""Building the Church""Bad Horsie""Whispering a Prayer"

You can get the "naked tracks" here.


Got a question? Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.

Next Term Starts June 27

  • Level
  • Duration
    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
  • or
  • Non-Credit Tuition Add 6 CEUs
    $1,200 + $25

Contact an Advisor

Mon-Thu, 9AM-8PM ET
Fri, 9AM-5PM ET
Call or Text Us at

Int'l: +1-617-747-2146

Create an Account

Secure form. Berklee Online will not sell or rent your email address to third parties. Our privacy policy.
Sample a Lesson