When you listen to Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, and Joe Satriani there seems to be similarities in their playing but all three still have a unique sound within themselves.

All three can run all over the fretboard but it doesn't sound like they are just running up and down scales either. Well, I believe, there is one common aspect to the way they approach the fretboard.

This is one aspect to their playing...the use of the add9 chord, or the add9/#11 (or an susadd9) chord, and the Lydian mode.

Example 1:

Here's a couple of these chords in E:

Eadd9 (audio)


Esus#11 or Eadd9/#11 (audio)




Esus#11 ( Eadd9/#11)


Example 2: (audio)

Now take this basic pattern of E Lydian at the 9th fret:


Sure, some people think this is a "Dorian pattern", but with E as the tonal center it's an E Lydian scale. (E Lydian and C# Dorian as both from the key of B, and contain the same notes, anyways...)

Play one of those chords, then play that scale.

Now here some ways/ideas of breaking it down to get that Vai/Johnson/Satch sound...they have a clear understanding of breaking things into "pentatonic shapes". To a guitarist, this means nothing more then patterns or shapes that consist of "two-notes per string".

Here's two fundamental ways this can be done with the scales pattern above...

Lydian Skeleton 1: (audio)


Can you see that this is nothing more than "carving out" a C# Minor Pentatonic scale from the original?

Now look at it this way:

Lydian Skeleton 2: (audio)


That might be one of the most primitive scales know to a guitarist, but one of the most effective.

Let's use #2 (since it's very important to Vai and Johnsons playing) and jump right into moving through it methodically.

Example 3: (audio)


Now you work your way back through it, methodically.

Now let's use it for some basic string skipping.

Example 4: (audio)





Lets look at Octave/string skipping/patterns/Intervals. This is cool as it's straight octaves for the first couple of string groups then it opens up changing the Intervals from Octaves to Major 7 Intervals...and all by not doing anything new with your fingers.

Example 5: (audio)





Another thing is to "dig into" the notes for a bit. I think this is the part that separates Eric's Lydian work from Joe and Steve. IOW, he's not too worried about getting to others notes quickly. He lets notes develop.

Something like this, based on the last examples (Hold beat 2 until 1 comes around again).

Example 6: (audio)

 1  +   2   3  4  |  1  +   2   3  4 |  1  +   2  3  4 |  1  +   2    3  4 |



 1   +   2   3  4 | 1  +   2    3  4 |  1   +   2    3  4 |  1  +    2    3  4 |

Now go back through these ideas using that first Skeleton (Minor Pentatonic scale) to. And mix between the two Skeletons. This will make things sound less like you are running up and down a scale more than anything you can do.

At this point what you should take away from this is that 9 our of 10 times, people like Johnson, Vai, and Satch (who are all known for using the Lydian scale heavily) use LESS notes to a scale, rather than MORE notes in a scale.

Of course they can pile more notes in on the fly, but some of their true sound comes from using less notes.

It gives things more of a "wide open" sound instead of a "running up and down scales" sound.

Remember to play each of these things over the Eadd9 chord, or the Eadd9/#11 chord.

Also, now go through ALL of the guitars Diatonic Patterns and learn them ALL as Pentatonic patterns (Just like we did with Dorian). You'll see some of them even have two different Pentatonic patterns. Then run those same sequences/methods against all of those, and start mixing all of them together.

You see the fretboard in a whole different light when breaking it out like that.

For instanse, here's the guitars "Mixolydian Pattern" broke into Pentatonic patterns (we'll make it F# Mixolydian to still be in the key of B Major so it goes hand and hand with the E Lydian pattern AND over the Eadd9 chord!):

Example 7: (audio)

Eadd9 (original F# Mixolydian pattern):

Possible Skeleton 1: (audio)


Possible Skeleton 2 (one of my favorites): (audio)


Possible Skeleton 3: (audio)


You can dice it and slice it anyway you want. You can do this to every Diatonic pattern on the fretboard.

These are like little scales within the scales, or fragments of scales. Some sound really nice too.

Then run those examples against these groups of notes.