Hands & Heart Lessons #1 with Steve Vai

There are countless exercises you can do to increase your dexterity on the guitar. But that's just what they are - mindless exercises. They help your fingers develop their own eyes and ears. If you use the exercises in this series all the time and become so fascinated with your own chops, you'll sound like an idiot! The objective is to break down barriers between your heart and your fingers

Frankly, it's not such a good idea for me to talk so technically about exercises because it further instills this myth in most people's minds that I'm nothing but a wanking mongolian string-bender shredder. But who cares. Here we go.


When I was younger and trying to develop my technique, I used to create really unorthodox exercises. Here is an exercise that I've used to develop better fingering and picking technique across the neck. If you find an application for this within a solo context, that's great - but again, it's just an exercise.

Linear exercises on the guitar, like running scales from top to bottom, are pretty common. They're good for developing dexterity, too, but this exercise involves skipping strings and creating "angles." Angles are really hard on the guitar because of the picking involved; regardless of what may seem easiest at first, always try to alternate your picking (up-down, up-down).


Start with your 1st finger on the E string at the 1st fret (F). Play that note with your 1st finger, and then play the 2nd fret (F#) with your 2nd finger. Next, put your 1st finger on the B string at the 1st fret (C). Play that note and then play the F# again on the E string, so you've got a little angle there.

That's not the exercise yet, just the first piece of it. Now go down a string and play these notes: 1st finger on the G string at the 1st fret (G#); second finger on the B string at the 2nd fret (C#); and 3rd finger on the E string at the 3rd fret. See how we're creating an angle? Then you move down another string so you're playing the 1st fret on the D string (D#), the 2nd fret on the G string (A), 3rd fret on the B string (D) and 4th fret on the E string (G#).

What It Takes To Be A Virtuoso

A lot of people ask me, "How do you play fast?" I'm not the best fast player in the world, that's for sure. But the secret to playing fast is playing slow - perfectly - and gradually bringing it up to speed. So let's set a few simple ground rules to apply to any practicing.
1. Use a metronome or another time keeper, like a drum machine, and start off slowly.
2. Always alternate your picking.
3. Here's the bust: You have to do it without making any mistakes. And every note has to have tone to it. Every note has to sound like a good note, and you can't go on until it does!
4. If you make a mistake, go back to the beginning. This is the military, isn't it? If you want to be a virtuoso, this is what it takes.
5. Don't increase the metronome speed until you've gotten through each exercise perfectly at the previous speed.


Angle shape of notes when starting on E string


"Angle Ex. 1"


That's the second building block, a four-string pattern. Repeat the pattern beginning on successive strings: first on the E string, then on the B string, then on the G string. By the end of this, you've reached the bottom string.


Angle shape of notes when starting on G string

To execute the entire exercise, start again at the top one fret higher. Follow the pattern down the strings, and when you reach the bottom string again, move the whole thing up another fret. 



"Angle Ex. 2"


With the metronome ticking - and without missing a note - keep moving the exercise all the way up the neck. That's really hard. And you have to do it perfectly or you go back to the beginning. When you hit it right and build up speed, you'll be surprised how much your chops have improved.


Note that the audio examples in these columns DO NOT feature Steve Vai performances. They have been provided by our editors to demonstrate the concepts offered by Steve.




This is Part 1 of a three part series of Steve Vai guitar lessons. Be sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

Just can't get enough? Check out...