You Never Can Tell

Dec 20th, 2010
This post was originally written on the blog.

Every one of us has biases and preconceptions about people we see in guitar magazines. Sometimes those biases are based on facts, sometimes they are but a reflection of how we’ve been treated.

I’m no different.

A while back, I watched an interview with Steve Vai, where he talked about his early days as a guitar player. In this interview he talked about how hard on himself he was as he was learning to play.

Unsurprisingly (to me), Steve was his own taskmaster. “If you even think you’re going to get up before you play this right”….. That was the kind of thing he’d say to himself when he felt like putting down the guitar.

That interview (in my mind) confirmed everything I’d suspected about what kind of person he was. If you had asked me then, I’d have told you that he’s a picky, snobby music theory genius, who looks down on anyone who doesn’t study music the “right” way.

Boy, was I wrong.

Some of you know of Justin Sandercoe, the wonderful UK based online guitar teacher from  Justin’s interviewed Steve Vai earlier this year. The video from that interview is posted at the end of this article, but I want to focus on something Steve said at 6:00 into the interview:

“But, having said that, that was my way, you know?  And I enjoyed being very methodical, and breaking things down. That’s not necessarily the way for everybody, the way for you is what you feel. The reason I did 10 hour workouts, is because that’s what excited me. If you’re going to take any advice from me, I would tell you to find the thing that excites you the most, and go after that. Whether it’s just playing, you know, a Led Zeppelin song, not practicing scales…. you don’t have to know music.  Just tell Jeff Beck to play an F# on the G String, he might not know where it is.”

What else is there to say?  Just goes to show you, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. By all visible metrics, Steve Vai looks like he’d be you’re typical music theory snob. But in reality, he knows what he loves is not what everyone loves.

“The important thing is to find what excites you”

What excites you? Writing original music? Memorizing scales? Transcribing solos? Maybe it’s dressing up in a hat, and trying to look and play like Jimi Hendrix.  Or sitting on stage with Albert King trying to imitate his licks.

There are “right” ways to accomplish specific guitar skills/styles. But there is no universal “right” way to approach the art of guitar playing. Anyone who tells you otherwise is confusing what they love for universal truth. And they are probably miserable. You’ll be happier if you listen to Steve Vai’s advice.

You never can tell.