The guitar world is filled with terrific tech, a universe of sounds and, of course, incredible instrumentalists. Steve Vai combines all of these parts so smoothly and effortlessly that he inspires guitarists all over the globe.

Practise Really Does Make Perfect

In actual fact, this “effortless” sound takes a LOT of work – 15 hours a day in fact! That’s right, since the age of 13 when he purchased his first guitar he became obsessed with the discipline of practise. 10 to 15 hours a day was a normal amount for a young Steve Vai to be in the practise room – it’s really no wonder he can do such amazing things with the instrument!

He had known from very early on in his life that playing the guitar would be his thing. He was quoted explaining his first encounter with music:

“At the age of five I walked up to a piano, hit a note, and noticed that to the right the notes go higher and to the left the notes go lower. In that very moment, I had a full-on epiphany. I was flooded with the instinctual realization of how music was created and how it worked from a theoretical standpoint – the whole language of music was very obvious. I also understood immediately, instinctually, and unequivocally something that has only deepened through the years that the creation of music is an infinite personal expression. I realised that I could do this, I could make music, and it could be whatever I want.”

Quite the realisation to have at 5 years old, right?!

Popular Virtuoso

The practise certainly paid off, as Steve Vai has since gone on to win 3 Grammy Awards, and has been nominated 15 times in total! He has released 8 solo albums and recorded with artists including Whitesnake, David Lee Roth (cast your minds back to our Van Halen piece!) and Ozzy Osbourne. He has also been voted the 10th greatest guitarist by none other than Guitar World magazine. Wow!

Vai’s highly individualistic playing is what brought him public attention back in 1983, before he’d released a single album. It was when his song “The Attitude Song” was published in Guitar Player magazine. The song has a main guitar riff which is in a 7/16 time signature, but the rhythm section are all playing in a 4/4 time signature. Throw on top of that some crazy techniques like two-handed tapping, whammy bar acrobatics and sweep picking, and you’ve got a recipe for stardom!

Of course, we have included this virtuoso in our Guitar syllabus, and you may be unsurprised to learn that he’s in the Grade 8 line up. “Die to Live” is in a 7/4 time signature, and if you’re not used to playing in odd time signatures like this, we’d recommend spending some time listening to the tune to really get a feel for it. It may help you to count each bar as a bar of 4 and 3 beats too. Hopefully after some practise you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how groovy 7/4 can feel!

“Die to Live” is taken from his 1995 album Alien Love Secrets and was written and recorded in less than six weeks! This album is reminiscent of his more instrumental rock sound, much like the critically acclaimed Passion and Warfare.

You may be inspired to get into the practise room after reading this (we certainly are!), but if you’re in the mood to read about some more guitar heroes then check out our previous blogs which include gypsy-jazz king Django Reinhardt, planet Earth legend Jimi Hendrix and Dave Grohl-approved, Kaki King.