The Wisdom of Steve Vai - Finding Yourself on the Guitar

Ed Seith

Staff member
Nov 11, 2019
Marana, AZ USA
Guitar Experience (years)
This was transcribed by Ultimate Guitar from a livestream Q&A session Steve did a couple days ago.

Hello from NY, advice for someone who feels like they don't fit or sound similar to today's guitarists, shredders...?

"Congratulations! I don't think it's necessary to feel like all the other shredders. This is vital to understand because then you're always predisposing your own instincts, you're always trying to usurp your own instincts.

"Because when you see what somebody else is doing, feeling that, 'I should be doing that' because that's what's popular, that's what's trendy, and you might actually be interested in shredding, and that's fine, but it's not necessary if you're not interested in it.

"So the important thing is that you're able to get in touch with what it is in you that you'd like to do, and embrace that, and the feeling of feeling different, use that to your advantage.

"Everybody's unique creative nature is different, and if you're not following it, you're never gonna find real fulfillment because that feeling of fulfillment that comes from expressing your unique creativity is the real payoff.

"It's a lot nicer than the egoic payoff of being able to play faster than someone else or something like that.

"So embrace that and realize that diversity, although many times the world views diversity as something alien sometimes, many people feel that there's a status quo and they need to meet that and that what they feel attracted to in the form of anything, food, religion, politics, their sexual perspectives or whatever, you'll notice something, and that's that there's an incredible amount of diversity.

"No two people have the same perspective on anything; no two living things have the same perspective, but the human ego kind of believes that their perspective is the correct one.

"So, when you can do away with that and realize the incredible advantage of the diversity that surrounds you - if you can appreciate the diversity in other players, this will serve you really well.

"Imagine the feeling of feeling left out and not fitting in, and perhaps feeling that you're contribution isn't enough to snuff or something, what does that feel like to you? It feels pretty bad. It's a form of suffering.

"Now, compare that feeling with a feeling of looking into the world and seeing the diversity, and since we're talking about guitar playing, and appreciating that diversity, and realizing that it's actually there for you. It's there for your inspiration.

"There's so many different types of players that no one's right or wrong, they're just following their bliss, and you deserve to follow your bliss. When you look into the world at other players that are perhaps doing things that you feel are impossible for you, but you'd like to do, then use them as inspirations.

"I've always had a weird kind of feeling about competition, because I've always felt that the only person you're ever actually, in reality, competing with is yourself because that's all you can compete with, really - upping your own game from one level to another.

"And the diversity that's going on outside of you can be a great inspiration, so it's very rare that you might hear a coach tell a basketball team, 'You guys, when you go out there, I want you to remember one thing: we're not competing with the other team, and you're not competing with each other.'

"You can only ever compete with yourself to make yourself better, and everybody else is an opportunity to help you do that whether you beat them or not. You can only do your best.

"So, if you get out there and do your best and you lose, you did your best, and you can be angry at the opponents, you can criticize them, or you can use them as inspiration to see how you can continue to up your game.

"So try that with the guitar, and see how that feels. It feels much better than feeling shut out and out of place and not fitting in. It's good that you feel that way, I really think you can use that to your advantage."

Aileé Guerra Aréizaga

Staff member
Nov 11, 2019
I love Vai! He's the coolest and always has good advice!
I relate to what he said in so many ways, I only found freedom in my playing when I stopped trying to play like X guitarist and feeling like I needed to measure up to other people or find validation outside of myself.
You always keep growing and improving, but that doesn't mean you aren't good enough today, especially when expressing in your own way.