Watch the Deeper Than Technique online guitar lesson by Steve Vai from Alien Guitar Secrets: Passion & Warfare
I'd like to talk a little bit about technique, but just a little bit. The reason I don't usually dive deeply into technique is that it might not be the thing for you, and I feel a little uncomfortable teaching a technique that might not be natural or organic. So what I prefer to teach in this realm is to actually find in yourself the technique that feels right. There isn't one technique, as you can tell, with many different types of players, some people holding the pick one way, some vibrating notes other ways, etc.
Now there are certain bad habits to avoid that we can get into, but opening yourself up to your instincts is the best way to discover the best technique for you. I can show you my technique, and you might find some inspiration in it, but you're going to be most comfortable playing in your own style. I'll go through certain things that I went through when I was younger, but more importantly we'll be going deeper than the technique.
But, there is one thing I'd like to talk about that hopefully will resonate with you: The level of technique you need is based on what your needs are to express yourself. Some people like a lot of technique, some people just need a little to get their point across. Nobody's keeping score (unless you're voting in a guitar magazine).
In any field, whether it's sports, music, business, there's a period you go through where you are focusing on preparing the vessel. You're going to go through a long period of time where it's nothing but hard work. It's also known as the "10,000 hour" rule. In the field of music, your need for technique will vary greatly depending on what it is you want to achieve. If you want to be a concert pianist or an accomplished classical guitarist, you're going to have to spend a lot of time preparing your vessel. To be honest, music was always very natural to me, but the guitar wasn't - I had to work really, really hard. I always felt, and still do, that anyone who put in the hours that I put in on the instrument would have tons more technique and ability than I would. I was a very slow learner, but I loved it. And that's the thing - it never feels like work when you're following your dream. Passion eliminates time. It puts you into a timeless dimension of now. There's no work in it - I loved every minute of those hours upon hours of preparing my technique.
There comes a time in every creative person's life, and when I say that I mean everybody is creative, where you've mastered the technique - you've gotten to a technical point in your playing that whatever you want to play is virtually effortless. It flows easily with no thinking, there's just confidence and command. That's what the "10,000 hours" gets you, or if you want to be a virtuoso, maybe its 30,000 hours. Anyway, the bottom line is that there comes a point where all of a sudden it goes from work to something that feels natural. This is where you have to keep pushing, be patient, and enjoy every little accomplishment to avoid getting frustrated in yourself. This keeps the momentum, or passion, going.
This is difficult for a lot of young people, because they don't feel that passion, which is worrisome in that they don't have a passion for something. In terms of that, passion is completely overrated. It's not something that's this burning desire - it's really just this really sweet moment, starting out as simple as realizing it's something that you want to do. Then you start to find enjoyment in it, and then there's some payoff in it. Passion is almost like smelling a rose; there's this faint moment where there's no thought in your mind at all, only the intoxication of the fragrance. It's a momentary excitement for something that then develops momentum, but start slow and don't beat yourself up just because you're not passionate about it. It comes with the right attitude and enjoyment in what you are doing.
Developing your technique is easy with passion. It's fun, but then comes, like I said, the time when you must go deeper than the technique. Technique is just your tool - it's the letters in the alphabet to a poet. They're important, but the letters themselves are not the poetry. The notes themselves, are not it either. The combination and choice of the notes and how they resonate with you on a visceral level. How a melody or a solo feels when you play it, or when you're in the zone of improvisation where you're flying high. You're not even thinking - technique is way in the past, everything is just at your command and you can go deeper to enter the zone of pure inspiration. Inspiration comes instantaneously in a seamless, flowing manner that's almost unconscious to you. The more present you are with your playing, not thinking in technical terms, the more you can listen, observe, and allow you imagination to flow into your work. Now that I've told you this, you can experiment with it. You need to get something to a point where you don't need to think about the mechanics or academics about it.