Stevie Ray Vaughan Guitar Techniques
Stevie Ray Vaughan 1954 - 1990. From Dallas, Texas, one of the most legendary guitar players in history, and one of the most influential blues guitarist in the world.
His unique style and tone have inspired generations of musicians, including some of today’s biggest names like John Mayer, Gary Clark Jr., Eric Johnson, Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and many more.
My name is Chris Ochoa, I will be your guitar instructor for this guitar course. Before we get started, I want to personally thank you for choosing this guitar course and for trusting in it.
This course is more academic than technical.
There are plenty of instructional videos on Stevie Ray Vaughan's songs and methods, but I couldn't find one that covered his live performance techniques or his success, to say the least.
I thought it would be interesting to give a new viewpoint on some of the topics that aren't addressed in any training or course.
By The Way...
I am a firm believer in the value of time. Your and my time are very valuable to us. My teaching style is straightforward, so we don't lose time. Expect quality rather than quantity with this course.
The topics that I'm going to go through in this course are rather straightforward, and you don't need a textbook to support what I'm attempting to communicate.
Throughout this training, if you find yourself thinking, "Yes, this appears to be quite straightforward or obvious," it's because it is. However, we are frequently so drawn to the notion that learning more must imply greater achievement that we believe that the more content we get, the better our chances are of success.
However, if you have any questions or require me to expand on certain points, please return later since I will be releasing more material on the themes covered in this course.
So let's get started...
Stevie Ray Vaughan 1954 - 1990
While Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar sound was quite distinctive and unique, it was not his guitar gear that made him become a guitar legend, as many would like to think.
Regardless of how many brilliant guitarists there are, these legends, like Stevie, continue to reign supreme in the music industry.
But how is this possible? you may ask, and that is a very good question. How does Stevie continue to be one of the most popular guitar players in the world? well, let's find out.
Where Do I Come From?
In 2001, I started listening to Stevie and became a fan of him and some of his songs. Although some of his creations are covers by other artists, my favorites include Little Wing, Cold Shot, Lenny, Look at Little Sister, and Texas Flood.
Besides his songs, I didn't know much about him. It was only after seeing one of his live shows that it finally hit me. When I saw him perform live, I was impressed. I could tell he had a lot more to learn from by watching him perform than you could hear in his music.
Aside from being a full-time musician, engineer, producer, and recording artist, I was also interested in psychology and human behavior, so it was only natural for me to seek out more information about his success than simply his guitar skills. I knew there were a lot of great guitarists out there, but I wanted to find out why only a few of them have been able to achieve legendary status. I suspected there was something more going on than just being a super-skilled guitar player.
It's been 20 years since I first started learning about his success and techniques, and I've learned a lot of things. But what I've discovered may be too shocking for people to accept. I thought it would be interesting to give a new viewpoint on some of the topics that aren't addressed in any training or course.
Something that I thought would be difficult to figure out ended up being simpler than I anticipated.
I'm confident in saying that after 20 years of study, I've reached a point where I truly understand what made him so successful and special. It didn't take me that long to figure out, I sensed where everything was leading to since the beginning, but I had to be sure, so I just kept researching as time went on.
I was unsure if I was disappointed or overjoyed when I reached the conclusion that defined his success, and that is because it appears to be so simple to be true. However, it is what it is.
Aside from having a strong and distinctive guitar technique, which we've seen in other great guitarists, the most essential component of his success is something that we're all aware of yet don't usually practice or pay attention to.
It is that simple. Simple, in this case, doesn't imply that you can just close the course and expect to sound like him. There are a few things that make this simple thing considerably more complex than it appears.
Stevie Ray Vaughan's approach to playing is rather basic, yet filled with passion. Aside from his strong guitar skills, it's the feeling that gives his sound its individuality and awe-inspiring quality.
Let's not forget, he was also a great singer.
Without feeling, excellent guitar skills aren't nearly as appealing to the audience.
He was frequently asked for advice from other guitar players on how to improve their playing and techniques. He would always respond with the same pointers on keeping things simple, and to put passion into it. I'll be honest with you - I didn't think many people truly believed that was the most essential aspect.
I believe he was constantly trying to make us aware of it over the years through autographs and interviews. He'd sign his name and sometimes include one of his most famous quotes.
Always Play Her With A Feelin'
It's not a coincidence. He knew that many guitar players were talented and maybe even comprehending books on music theory, but few had the most important piece of the puzzle: feeling.
When you play with feeling, it really doesn't matter what you play. You can make simple riffs sound amazing, just as long as you put your heart into it.
Stevie Ray Vaughan's Distinctive Sound
When most guitarists want to play or sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan, I have noticed that the very first thing they do is try to figure out what gear he used, such as guitars, strings, amps, or effects. The reality is, with any guitar, any amp, or any other piece of equipment, Stevie was well-known for his distinct sound.
This has been one of the most difficult things I've ever had to teach my students since it appears too easy or simple to be true. It's at this time that understanding a bit about psychology and human behavior can come in handy, so I try to explain everything in terms that might make more sense than the usual method of instruction.
Playing an instrument with passion and feeling is more difficult than it appears, technically speaking, especially when we're just getting started. As we learn, we're always thinking about every variation, every chord, and every note, so expressing ourselves on the instrument on top of that, isn't that simple.
It's not simple to add passion or feeling to our performances, we understand that, so how did these guitar legends manage to do that? the answer is hidden in plain sight; you hear it all the time whenever you switch on their music. It's by keeping things as basic and simple as possible.
Albert King, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Clapton, to name a few, all share one thing in common: they were all able to achieve top levels of success with just a few if not one main skill. We'll go through it in more depth later on in this course.
In conclusion, Stevie's legendary guitar techniques come from his simple and basic approach to notes and scales, combined with a lot of feeling.
Technique, Dynamics & Phrasing
Let's take a look at Stevie's technique, dynamics, and phrasing now that we've covered some of the basics.
Grab your guitar if you want to play along, enjoy!
The Technical Side Of Things
If we get into the technical side of things, learning his techniques is not that complicated, and we will cover them in this course. Stevie's sound is basically a style of playing, but how exactly does this translate into reality? It means that to sound like him, you must stay on the path of his particular style.
It is easy to get carried away and start adding or removing notes, which is when you begin to lose that distinctive sound of his.
This is where things get a little complicated since we are frequently drawn to the notion that everything we learn on guitar has to be challenging, and so we start to learn more and more new skills, believing that they will make us sound better when in reality, it's not about adding more to our knowledge.
Try to keep things simple so that you can focus on developing feeling into your performance which is the most distinctive element of his sound. Remember, when you play with feeling, basic riffs can sound amazing.
Stevie Ray Vaughan's Guitar Tuning
Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar tone comes mainly from custom heavy gauge strings combined with the mellow and deep sound of the E♭ (E-flat) or D♯ (D-sharp) tuning.
E♭ - A♭ - D♭ - G♭ - B♭ - E♭
Down a half step from the traditional tuning.
Stevie Ray Vaughan Guitar Strings
Stevie also didn't restrict himself to a single set of strings. The E-flat tuning reduces the tension on the neck and frees up some room for heavier gauge strings, resulting in a fuller tone.
From what we know, the strings that his main guitar was equipped with are believed to have been 13's.
E♭ (13) - B♭ (15) - G♭ (19) - D♭ (28) - A♭ (38) - E♭ (58)
Throughout his career, he used strings ranging from 12's all the way up to 17's, however, I believe he used 10's in some of his latest albums, and you can hear a thinner tone in many of his songs, particularly "Riviera Paradise."
Chords & Scales
Let's take a look at the guitar scales and chords Stevie's style of playing was based on.
The Minor Pentatonic Scale
Most of us are familiar with the pentatonic scale. The minor pentatonic scale is one of the most common scales used by guitarists.
This scale allows you to easily improvise over any blues or rock songs.
The Minor Blues Scale
However, if you spice up the minor pentatonic scale by adding a single note, it becomes quite fascinating. This very little variation makes a significant impact.
The Minor Blues Scale
The minor blues scale is basically the minor pentatonic scale with a (♭5) or a (#4).
This is the scale that allows your playing to have a similar sound to Stevie's. It is a very basic scale, easy to learn, it sounds great and there are many ways to play it.
Stevie Ray Vaughan's Legendary Sound
Stevie Ray Vaughan's legendary sound is mostly found in the minor blues scale. Almost every guitar solo Stevie played was based on this specific scale. When I figured this out also, I was astonished because again, most of us associate achievement with having a lot of specialized knowledge.
It was good to know that this misconception that the more you know, the more successful you'll be was becoming increasingly evident.
The majority of these guitar legends rose to the top of their fields by relying on a few, if not merely one, signature riff. It doesn't necessarily imply that's all they could do. I'm sure their guitar knowledge was quite extensive. However, they all kept a fairly basic but melodic style of playing with a lot of feeling.
The minor pentatonic scale was my main soloing scale until I discovered the mighty minor blues scale, which became my favorite scale ever.
Minor Blues Scale Phrasing
In most of Stevie Ray Vaughan's songs, especially in live shows, he would solo over this scale.
In the key of C minor (using E-flat tuning).
In the key of C minor (using E-flat tuning), for example, a minor blues scale advanced phrasing is demonstrated. This is by far one of my favorite ways Stevie would play over this scale. With minor changes, he'd do this same pattern over and over in different keys.
This particular guitar riff is one that you'll want to master.
The Classic SRV Shuffle
One of Stevie's most distinctive approaches was his signature, powerful shuffle licks. Stevie was nominated several times and awarded for his song "Rude Mood," in which he uses this technique. It's a takeoff of Lightnin' Hopkins' "Hopkins' Sky Hop" song, as he referred to it.
Stevie's technique was to strum the upstroke closer to the bridge and the downstroke closer to the fretboard.
There were a couple of instances when I observed it looked somewhat like a circular movement, and he did it in an upside-down v formation between the middle and neck pickups.
Here's a sample of how this shuffle technique sounds and looks like.
The pick attack of Stevie is also quite special, and there are a few things to take away from this.
He preferred to use medium guitar picks. They usually range from .60 to .80 mm in thickness, and he used to pick with the round edge of the pick, which is refreshing to know since that is how I've been using the guitar pick as well since I can remember.
This is the way I teach my students to use the guitar pick when soloing, because it offers a smoother feel and string transition. Not only that, but the tone is considerably fuller as a result of it.
Stevie also used the so-called hybrid picking technique, which is when you use both the pick and your fingertips simultaneously. This technique is often used in bluegrass and country music, but it's becoming more popular among guitarists. It improves your speed.
The pick strikes the 3rd string downstroke and an upstroke on the 2nd string with your middle finger in this illustration.
-------- ↓ - ↓ -------------------- | ( 3rd String - Guitar Pick )
---------- ↑ - ↑ ------------------ | ( 2nd String - Middle Finger )
Practicing Stevie's Aggressive Picking
This simple exercise will improve your picking technique. It doesn't matter how clean it sounds at first; all that matters is that you hit the strings aggressively and in the proper sequence. The idea here is that after you hit a string, the pick should end in a position where it is simple to transfer to the following string without having to leap.
You are going to hit each string 6 times. Start with a downstroke on the 6th string, then move to the 5th string with a downstroke, and so on.
-------- ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ---------------------- || 6
-------- ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ---------------------- || 5
-------- ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ---------------------- || 4
-------- ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ---------------------- || 3
-------- ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ---------------------- || 2
-------- ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ---------------------- || 1
An upstroke ↑ on lower string positions you to hit a higher string ↓ downstroke, does this make sense? give it a shot, practice it and increase your picking technique by 50%. Yea, by that much!
The goal of this drill is to increase speed by hitting each string four times aggressively without getting stuck when changing strings.
SRV Aggressive Vibrato
Another aspect that made his sound unique was Stevie's strong vibrato. This form of vibrato is produced mostly by the arm rather than the wrist or fingers.
The vibrato used by plenty of rock and blues guitarists is similar, but it has been claimed that Stevie's was particularly distinctive. It had a distinct wobble to it, rather than a smooth slide from one note to the next.
Vibrato Waveform Comparison
Vibrato comparison: Moderate vibrato vs. aggressive vibrato.
Dissecting A Track
When it comes to playing in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan, certain things come to mind. One if not the most essential thing is to keep things simple, as you recall from our previous lessons.
This is a song I composed especially for this guitar course, and we'll look at the intro of the song to see what I intended to accomplish.
The song got a lot of attention, and I can see why. It's relaxing; there's nothing on it to suggest that I'm showing off; the riffs are basic, and I tried my best to keep things simple.
The reason this track turned out great is that I played it in my head, attempting to imagine how Stevie would play it. I'd try to think about what he'd do first and what he'd do next. As much as I wanted to go all out, as many others would, I didn't. I followed Stevie's dynamics.
Let's start with the beginning. The first thing I wanted to do was draw attention by playing something a touch more technical and less musical.
Stevie would do things like this in live performances. He may play a short portion from the next song or just something in the same key, range, and/or progression, which I've done here and used as an opening to this song.
After getting their attention, I played a simple but melodic riff to let them know that this would be a song rather than just a guitar solo.
I kept it basic by sticking to Stevie's dynamics and just visualizing how he would play this next section.
In this section, I introduced my own style of playing.
I tried to blend a little of the melody with a solo using now my technique while at the same time aiming to keep things as basic and straightforward as feasible.
In my opinion, it sounds great. I'm not trying to hide the fact that I wanted to go crazy with more difficult things, but this is where this guitar course shines because it shows you how to add feeling to your performance and keep things basic, just by understanding a few things.
Determining Stevie's Success
When it comes to determining someone's success, you must consider their physical abilities, audience knowledge, personality characteristics, trends, and historical context. The emotions you put into your performance determine whether your audience likes or dislikes you.
Stevie Ray Vaughan is an excellent example of this.
He understood his audience, and not only had the physical abilities. These qualities may come naturally, with good management, study, or happenstance.
I've seen some incredible guitarists lately that have all of the physical abilities necessary to make a decent living as musicians, but their lack of understanding about how people perceive their music prevents them from rising.
In general, musicians try to simply show off rather than express their passion, but a genuine, mature musician understands that the crowd is there because they enjoy their music and are there to have a good time. They are not there because of their talent or any other reason.
In Memory Of Stevie Ray Vaughan
I hope you found this simple but informative guitar course to be both interesting and useful.
We all miss Stevie, and his music will continue to inspire guitarists around the world.
The best of luck!
Practice Track 1
Practice track 1 in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
(Bass & Drums - bpm 148)
Practice Track 2
Practice track 2 in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
(Bass & Drums - bpm 116)
Practice Track 3
Practice track 3 in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
(Bass & Drums - variable bpm 180 - 170)
Practice Track 4
Practice track 4 in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
(Bass & Drums - bpm 124)
Practice Track 5
Practice track 5 in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
(Bass & Drums - bpm 122)