Steve Vai's unusual tip on how to practice without a guitar

How do you improve as a guitarist without having a guitar in your hands? Trust the virtuoso uberlord Steve Vai to develop a whole process to do it. And he's now sharing his knowledge as part of a weekly online Facebook Live stream. 

"When you go to sleep - when you're lying in bed, close your eyes, relax your body, and visualize, actually visualize yourself playing," explained Vai in the excellent first episode of his new Alien Guitar Secrets series that you can watch above, "and listen audibly and visually and only 'play' what you're capable of hearing with your own ear with the fingers that are playing in your mind.

"So, for instance - this sounds a little odd - okay, so if I'm laying in bed and I'm kind of imagining the guitar neck in my mind, and I'm hearing something like [Vai plays a part], so those notes that I just played, I could see my fingers doing that in my mind and I can hear it if I'm laying there at night and I'm sleeping. But for some people, they may not be able to actually see and hear that, so you got to start easy.

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(Image credit: Hell Gate Media/REX/Shutterstock)

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"If you can connect in your mind seeing yourself play those notes and hearing the notes that are correct to come out, this is incredible practice because you're connecting with your inner ear, and you're strengthening it, you're strengthening it in your mind, which in some sense is not different than picking up the guitar and actually playing.

"So, I'm just playing, but I'm following it in my mind, I can go [hums melody], and I'm seeing it, and many of you already know simple, you know, your blues scale. By now you know what it's gonna sound like in your mind if you're looking at the neck."

Vai admitted this process of visualisation takes time to develop, but the payoff can be huge.

"This creates an incredible connection between your inner ear and your instrument," he added, "and this will benefit you when you play exponentially. It takes discipline, you got to keep pulling your mind back to that visual, and then you can do all sorts of crazy things with yourself in your mind.

"You could see yourself doing things that you wouldn't dream of doing live because you'd be afraid you don't fit in, but that's the laboratory of your own creative expression and it's your best friend because when you get comfortable in that zone of the freedom of expressing yourself, that's addictive.

"It's incredibly rewarding, and it's very rewarding for those who resonate with it that are around you, so try that."

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.