Steve Vai Guitar Techniques

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Authored by Scotty Johnson, Steve Vai


Course Code: OGUIT-415

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 4

Level 4

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


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.

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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
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: "For the Love of God"

  • The Melody Section
  • Mental Warm-Up: Music Meditation
  • Intention/Build Confidence
  • Singing Melodies Over Chords
  • ToneVibrato: Circular, Multi-Note, and More Phrasing
  • Slides/The Bridge Section
  • Discovering, Setting, and Achieving Your Goals
  • The E Aeolian and F Lydian Scales
  • The Importance of Reading Music

Lesson 2: "Jibboom"

  • A Break-Down of "Jibboom"
  • The E Minor and E Major Pentatonic Scales
  • Bending
  • Pull-Offs
  • The Head to "Jibboom"
  • Identifying, Playing, and Listening to Intervals on the Guitar
  • The Power of Visualization

Lesson 3: "Sisters"

  • Playing with a Clean Tone
  • Major and Minor Triads/Inversions
  • Sus2 and Sus4 Triads
  • Chord Embellishment

Lesson 4: "Tender Surrender"

  • Playing with Emotion
  • The Melody: Playing with Octaves
  • Diatonic Chord Progressions
  • Pull-Off Technique: Flutters and Trills

Lesson 5: "Die to Live" 

  • Power Chord Variations and Articulations
  • Diatonic Slides and Approaches
  • The Melody Statement
  • The Chord Progression

Lesson 6: "The Attitude Song"

  • Artificial (Pinch) and Natural Harmonics
  • Speed Picking Techniques
  • The Melody Statement
  • Odd Meter Time Signatures

Lesson 7: "Juice"

  • Locking to a Boogie Groove
  • Doing Something That You Haven't Done
  • Hammer Tapping Techniques
  • Major and Minor 6th Ideas
  • Making an Exercise Out of a Technique

Lesson 8: "Frank"

  • Thoughts on Frank Zappa
  • The Intro Verse Fills
  • The Verse/Melody Statement
  • Using Harmonics and the Whammy Bar
  • The Solo
  • Creating Cluster Chords

Lesson 9: "The Animal"

  • Following and Accomplishing Your True Desires
  • The Melody
  • Playing with a Whammy Pedal and Wah-Wah
  • The Solo Section
  • Building a Dynamic Solo
  • Learning to Relax

Lesson 10: "Building the Church"

  • The Story Behind "Building the Church"
  • Two-Handed Tapping
  • Solo Breakdown
  • The Melody and Chorus
  • Sustain
  • The E Phrygian Mode
  • Groove Playing

Lesson 11: Guitar Tips, Tricks, and Secrets

  • The Horse Sound from "Bad Horsie"
  • Steve's Favorite Whammy Bar Licks
  • Steve's Favorite Sweep Picking Licks
  • More Tapping

Lesson 12: Finding Your Voice

  • Ear Training
  • Time Management
  • Taking Care of "Business"
  • The Importance of Performing with Other People
  • Improving without an Instrument


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Guitar Chords 101 and Guitar Scales 101 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. Students should have a basic understanding of:

  • Standard notation and TAB
  • Major and minor triads, major and minor barre chords, major and minor pentatonic scales, and the major scale and its modes.
  • Tuning their guitar


  • No textbooks required

Media and Subscriptions

  • The following Steve Vai Naked Tracks:
    • "For the Love of God"
    • "Jibboom"
    • "Sisters"
    • "Tender Surrender"
    • "Die To Live"
    • "Juice"
    • "Frank"
    • "The Animal"
    • "Building the Church"
    • "Bad Horsie"
    • "Whispering a Prayer"


  • Students are required to record video while performing with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • Webcam (using either video recording software, or the video recording tool that is built into the learning environment)


  • Electric guitar
  • Amp or amp simulator
  • Distortion (from amp, pedal, or FX simulator)
  • To get the most of the course, the following are highly recommended:
    • Wah-wah pedal
    • Whammy pedal
    • Whammy bar


  • Students are required to capture their instrumental performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required):
      • Instrument connected directly to audio interface (recommended option; alternatively, the microphone options below can be used with amplified instruments)
      • XLR microphone and audio interface
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (recommended option; required if multitracking and/or input monitoring a microphone)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external speakers
  • Instrument cable
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need additional instrument or XLR cables and a microphone stand.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Scotty Johnson

Author & Instructor

Scotty Johnson is an Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music (since 1999) and an active musician in the Boston area. As well as recent tours in Florida and the midwest with the Boston Pops Orchestra, Scotty is an active pit guitarist with over 50 theater credits including The Lion King, Finding Neverland, Pippin, Memphis, Matilda, Motown, Beautiful, and If/Then. In the past, Scotty has toured around the world many times and recorded music with guitarist 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. Scotty's instructional video 'Accelerate Your Rock Guitar Playing' is available from Berklee Press / Hal Leonard / Rittor Music. Scotty is the co-author of the Berklee online course Steve Vai Guitar Techniques and an instructor for Guitar Chords 101.

Steve Vai


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

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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. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Steve Vai Guitar Techniques can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:


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