Best Steve Vai Guitar Lessons (our top picks)
Steve Vai's Style Course on TrueFire (taught by Vai)
Steve Vai's flagship course is the one he teaches and has published on TrueFire. It's available for both streaming and download and is one of only two courses on this list that Vai has filmed and taught personally. It's our top pick for fans of Steve Vai's guitar playing.
Steve Vai is one of the greatest guitar players who has ever lived.
Not only is he technically complex, but also melodic and harmonic in the way he plays. He's a rare combination of speed and musicality, who has also managed to put a ton of originality into his playing that is almost a style unto itself.
In this article, we're rounding up guitar lessons and courses that are focused specifically on Vai's playing style.
Our top recommendation, predictably, is the course that Vai himself teaches.
It's the first one we'll highlight, and the one recommended above.
Teaching by Steve Vai VS about Steve Vai
Before getting into our specific recommendations, it's important to mention the two kinds of lessons we'll be highlighting:
- Lessons taught by Steve Vai
- Lessons taught about Steve Vai's playing style
- Lessons that show you how to play Steve Vai's songs
As I already mentioned, there is only one formal course that Vai has taught and recorded (the second one is more like a series of interviews). However, there are other online guitar courses and lessons taught by other guitar players that focus on his style or teach you how to play his songs.
After the TrueFire course that Vai teaches - and the Guitar World series - the rest of our recommendations are made up of that second and third type of lesson.
They're either courses or specific lessons, both free and paid.
Best Steve Vai Guitar Lessons & Courses Online
TrueFire Steve Vai Alien Secrets Course
Guitar World's Steve Vai Guitar Method Episodes on YouTube
Style of Steve Vai JamPlay Course
Guitars from Outer Space Course on Guitar Tricks
Vai Some Time riff lesson via JamPlay (honorable mention)
1. Steve Vai Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare
The course that Vai teaches himself was filmed and published by TrueFire.
It's available both for single-purchase download or as part of a streamable subscription package that gives you access to everything on the site.
Vai's course contains 37 video lessons, 21 charts, 11 jam tracks and runs for just under five hours.
Throughout the course, Vai does a lot of not just playing and demonstrating, but explaining his thought process as he plays, which is extremely interesting to hear.
Other lessons are more about demonstration and application.
For example, in the "Bending Notes" lesson, Vai explains some practical aspects to the technique, but also does a lot of demonstrating, with the entire lesson in guitar tabs below the video.
You might notice that TrueFire uses Soundslice to embed their tabs, which is a fantastic learning tool, and helpful with Vai's lessons in that it transcribes every note he plays, even as he's explaining things verbally.
Additionally, as you click through the tab, the video will jump to the spot where the note on the tab occurs.
Though this feature isn't necessarily unique to Vai's content, it serves his teaching style well as he tends to do a lot of verbal explanation, interspersed with demonstrations. In this course, any time Vai plays you'll have a tab to correspond with it.
If you go into the later parts of the course, Vai spends a lot of time teaching and walking through some of his music.
Most of the music is from earlier albums, and its usefulness to you will depend largely on how much you are interested in Vai's studio recordings. Once you get into those lessons, it becomes less about widely applicable concepts and more about a style study of Vai's playing.
Supposing that's what you're after, you'll enjoy the later lessons that walk you through some of these rather complex tracks.
IDEAL FOR: Intermediate or advanced players looking for a course taught by Steve Vai and not simply about him.
2. Guitar World's Steve Vai Guitar Method Episodes on YouTube
Vai published seven lessons on Guitar World's YouTube channel which are actually somewhat similar to his TrueFire course, though without coming even close to the same volume of content.
Running between roughly eight and 13 minutes for each video, it hovers around one hours worth of content, and doesn't include the tabs or SoundSlice integration that you get with TrueFire.
However, it is completely free.
As we see with the TrueFire course, Vai spends a lot of time explaining abstract ideas about playing the guitar. This results in a lot of strong, unique practice tips that I (at least) wouldn't have thought up on my own.
For example, in the Legato lesson (Episode 5) Vai demonstrates a legato concept, then talks about a variety of ways to practice it.
He specifically draws on his own learning experience to show how you might practice these movements.
Here's how all the lessons break down:
- Episode 1: Intro and Getting Started
- Episode 2: Technique
- Episode 3: String Bends
- Episode 4: Vibrato
- Episode 5: Legato
- Episode 6: Dynamics, Phrasing, and Chords
- Episode 7: Rhythm and Practice Routines
These courses cover a lot of ground, but they do it a little too quickly to reach the level of quality you would get from a paid course.
Instead of going in-depth with each concept, Vai gives you a limited look before moving onto a completely new topic in the next episode. This is emblematic of free content and other lessons published by Guitar World.
When you pay for lessons, not only do you get a lot more content, but you get more cohesion and better order between each lesson.
But again, it's hard to complain much about content available completely free, especially when it's taught by Vai himself. As we've already mentioned, this is the second of only two courses we've been able to find where Vai is filmed and is actually teaching the material.
We should also recognize that the production quality of this video is great.
It's filmed in HD and tops out at a 1080p resolution. You also get crystal clear audio quality and a nice balance of volume between Vai's commentary and his guitar playing.
For free, it's extremely difficult to beat and the seven lesson feature make a great precursor to the much longer TrueFire course.
IDEAL FOR: Those on a budget who want a quick intro and rundown of Steve Vai's playing style
3. The Style of Steve Vai JamPlay Course
Chris Liepe's JamPlay course titled "Style of Steve Vai" is one of the longest and most in-depth Steve Vai guitar lesson series in existence. It's only seven lessons, but four of them are over 20 minutes long, with two eclipsing the 30-minute mark.
In these lessons, Chris explains a lot of what you might hear Vai touch on in the two courses we've already looked at.
Plenty of emphasis is spent on the following concepts:
- Legato exercises
- Specific "Vai" intervals
- Integration with scales
For example, Chris follows the Vai teaching pattern of talking about a technique and then give you a few different ways to exercise that technique. This is what he's doing in the legato lesson in the following screenshot:
Obviously, it's a pretty dramatic shift when you go from a lesson taught by Steve Vai to a lesson that someone else is teaching about him.
However, Chris is able to go into a lot of detail for the topics he does cover.
This course takes the approach of covering just a few different topics that most characterize Vai's playing, but also giving you a lot of depth and time in each one. As we mentioned, a couple of the videos - both covering technique - run beyond the 32 minute mark.
Unlike the Guitar World Vai episodes, it gives you a ton of depth and a focused look.
If you're already a JamPlay member, you can get access to this course simply by streaming it. For those considering membership, you can checkout our JamPlay review for more details on the program overall.
For non-members, the course can be downloaded for a one-time fee, meaning you'll own the content and won't have to worry about a monthly membership.
Also of note, Chris's Steve Vai course comes with plenty of supplemental material like tabs, chord diagrams, audio files, and even Guitar Pro files. JamPlay is usually really good when it comes to providing content that goes beyond the token video.
IDEAL FOR: Those who want a more in-depth look at Vai's technique
4. Guitars from Outer Space Course on Guitar Tricks (Rock Level II)
This course is part of the larger Rock Level II course in Guitar Tricks and is designed as a primer to give you a quicker look at the structures and technique involved with Vai's style. Instructor Anders Mouridsen explains this style as one where the guitar is front and center for both recording and performing which is indicative of players like Vai, Joe Satriani, and Eric Johnson.
Within the course you'll touch on the most prevalent characteristics of Vai's style in the form of tone creation, lead technique, and even effects use.
Mouridsen teaches the course with an Ibanez guitar running through a Mesa Boogie amplifier, and using a heavily distorted tone.
We'd recommend this course if you're interested in the larger scope of the Rock Level II course and the Guitar Tricks program. Since you can't buy the course as a standalone purchase (Guitar Tricks does monthly/yearly memberships only), you'll want to check out the rest of the program, which we'd argue is the best available.
You can read our full Guitar Tricks review for a better look.
As for the Vai and Satriani material, Mouridsen teaches concepts using isolated examples. In the following screenshot, he's teaching rhythm using a delay pedal and a octaves.
While it isn't a ton of Vai-specific content, Mouridsen excels at teaching in such a way that you can easily apply the concepts elsewhere.
The big sticking point with this course is going to be whether or not you're interested in the rest of the Guitar Tricks content. They have a lot, and they're one of the best online options.
But again, you can't buy a single course.
It's all or nothing. Give the free trial a shot if you want to browse around before committing.
IDEAL FOR: An intro to Vai's style and those interested in the broader Guitar Tricks program
Steve Vai's Teaching Style
Vai does a lot of talking when he teaches. He explains his own thought process, and is more abstract and artistic in his reasoning. This is starkly different from teachers you might be used to who speak in more linear and concrete terms.
Yet if we consider Vai's musical style and even what we know about his personality, this should not come as a surprise.
He's unique, eclectic and, a little weird in the way he presents himself.
Throughout this course, he'll often show you something on the guitar, then spend an elongated time explaining how he thinks through it and rationalizing through an abstract idea.
He's good at this and it's helpful to listen to.
You don't just feel like he's talking too much or being too verbal. While watching the courses he taught, I wanted to hear what he had to say.
What skill level?
What is the ideal skill level of someone who might take these courses?
Though Vai is certainly good at making the complex easy to understand, I wouldn't consider these courses deal for beginners.
If you're looking for something easier, I'd recommend checking out our list of recommended beginner guitar courses. However, I would recommend them for intermediate and advanced players, for different reasons.
Vai's style can be helpful for intermediate guitar players, specifically to understand how you would approach lead guitar. He also does a good job showing you how to develop creativity and hone in on some of your own style characteristics.
For an intermediate guitar player, that's a helpful way to approach the guitar.
Yes, it's through the lens of Vai's perspective, but it's also useful for creating your own platform, without simply adopting what Vai is doing, verbatim.
The course can also benefit advanced players who want to take part in an intensive study of Vai's playing style and his songs.
The lessons where Vai goes through his own music are great for someone who wants to study - specifically - what Vai is doing and how it can be emulated. Instead of just learning "lead technique" in a broad sense, you'll hone in on certain aspects of that technique that you might not have been privy to before.
As you'll notice in our TrueFire review, the TrueFire platform is particularly ideal for advanced guitar players in general.
For more, checkout our recommend platforms for advanced guitar lessons.
As you've seen, there are some trademarks to Vai's style, reflected in most of these lessons. They include at least the following:
- Unique chord building
- Melodic solo construction
- Speed-building exercises
- Effects use
Guitar lessons about Vai's style will always include at least some of these concepts, depending on the type of course you're taking. It's important to recognize that lessons should teach you how to use these concepts as tools to implement in your own musical pursuits.
In other words, we're not just trying to learn the same patterns we see Vai using. We're trying to understand why and how he uses them.
Vai is one of the best guitarists of the past few decades, and it's well worth our time to learn from him, even if we don't play a style that mirrors his. We can take these lessons and apply the technique to other musical styles and areas of study.
I'd recommend those using these lessons take time to determine how Vai's approach can fit into their own style.
How can it help you?
How can it make you a better guitar player?
If you can answer these questions Vai's lessons will make you better at what you do, and not just a carbon copy of Vai's guitar playing.
Your Questions and Comments
For those with questions about the guitar lessons listed, feel free to drop them in the comments section below.
I'll jump in and help as best I can.
See you there.
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