Steve Vai had an article appear in a 2004 issue of Guitar World detailing his suggested practice regimen. The article was called "Freak Show Excess: Steve Vai's 30-Hour Path to Virtuoso Enlightenment or How to Destroy Your Pop Career in One Easy Lesson". Typical Steve Vai humor abounds.
The 30-hour workout is meant to be completed over three days, ten hours each. It's an update to the original 10-hour workout published in a 1990 GW issue.
I've been practicing up to ten hours a day for the past few months, lifting ideas from Vai's articles, but I hadn't attempted to follow his workout precisely until yesterday. I'll break it down.
Hour 1: Finger Exercises
The workout begins with a heaping helping of non-musical finger exercises. I normally try to steer clear of these. Steve's reasoning is that the best path to technical proficiency is to practice something physically awkward to play, working on it slowly until it can be played flawlessly. I completely agree, but I'd rather do that with something I'll use more often than random chromatic permutations. I gave it a try anyway.
This section is divided into a number of different techniques: linear and angular exercises, tapping, sweeping, legatos, etc. I started with linear exercises yesterday. These are single string runs with minimal position or string shifting.
Hour 2: Scales
The goal here is simple: learn every scale you can in as many fingerings as you can find or create. Obviously tough to do in an hour, but if you spend an hour on this every day for a year, you'll get somewhere. Steve stresses the importance of learning the sound of every scale you practice and making sure it's totally flawless before increasing the tempo.
I kept things simple with the E major scale yesterday. I started with a 12th-fret position, 8th notes at 60bpm, and worked my way down the fretboard through all the CAGED and three note per string positions, then all over again with 8th note triplets. I kept the tempo slow so I could be really meticulous about hitting every note exactly how I wanted to.
Hour 3: Chords
The first of three sections was memorizing. I just spent an entire weekend memorizing 7th chords, so I continued. I worked on maj7, 7, m7, and m7b5 on the top four strings, all four inversions.
Hour 4: Ear Training
I already do this every day. Easy-peasy.
I use special ear training software, but Steve has a lot of suggestions for ear training with your guitar alone, most of which involve singing. My throat still hurts from a recent sickness, so I'll pick them up later.
Hour 5: Reading Music
I do this one every day too. Lemon-squeazy.
Steve's biggest point in this section is variety. Once you know how to read music, read as many different styles and instruments as you can get your hands on.
He confirmed my belief that the two keys to sight reading are recognizing patterns and looking ahead. Different styles and instruments have unique patterns to recognize, so playing a wide variety helps.
I thought this was an interesting piece of advice:
Sight read a little bit of something new and terrifying every day.
Hour 6: Writing Music
Compose in any manner you see fit. Avoid guitar tab. Write chord charts, lead sheets, melodies, orchestral arrangements, whatever. Just do something creative.
I came up with the following chords for a jazz tune, pretty simple ii-V stuff. Worked on a melody, but ran out of time.
Am7 D7 | Am7 D7 | Gmaj7 G6 | Gmaj7 G6 |
Am7 D7 | Am7 D7 | Gmaj7 G6 | Gmaj7 G6 |
Gm7 C7 | Fmaj7 D7 | Gm7 C7 | Cm7 F7|
Bm7 E7 | Bbm7 Eb7| Am7 D7 | Gmaj7 :||
Hour 7: Music Theory
Find a music theory book or ten and learn it. Keep in mind how it can apply to guitar. I spent the hour reading about counterpoint on Wikipedia.
Hours 8-10: Jamming
Steve's purpose here is on developing expressive devices like vibrato, bends, whammy bar nuances, etc. The idea is to play in context with some kind of rhythm backing track. I skipped that for the first day to isolate a few techniques. I worked on vibrato in hour 8, slides in hour 9, and combining bends and slides in hour 10.
I came up with a cool exercise on slides. Put a blindfold on. Start at the first string, first fret, first finger. Slide with that finger all the way up and down the range of the fretboard, one fret at a time, in time with a metronome. The idea is to maintain a mental picture of exactly where your finger is on the fretboard. Do this with every finger on every string. Next, try a larger interval, like whole step slides.
That's it for day one. I'm late getting started on day two, so I better go.