A Rhythmic Ear Training Lesson With Steve Vai’s “Velorum”

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A transcription primer

The solo section in Steve Vai’s “Velorum” is a great opportunity to slide in a little rhythmic ear-training/ transcription demonstration. In this mini-lesson, I’ll show you one way to break down and notate the rhythm of the guitar part but the process I’m outlining can be adapted to any tune.

What Steve has done in the solo section of this tune is to take a 6/4 figure between the guitar and the drums and add guitar hits on off-beats to give the impression of a shifting meter. It’s a neat compositional device and a great way to change up the feel of a given time signature.

Work out the rhythm

The first secret to transcribing something like this is to listen to the drums. Since the drummer is hitting the hi-hat on each 1/8 note, (and since the guitar hits are synching up with the hi-hat) that’s the pulse I’m going to use to notate the guitar hits.


First I’ll write out 4 bars of 6/4 time and number each ¼ note.

1 2 3 4 5 6  | 1 2 3 4 5 6  |  1 2 3 4 5 6  |  1 2 3 4 5 6

From here, I’ll add the 1/8 notes as “ands” or “&”.

1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & |
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & |

Find the “hits”

Now I’ll put X’s above where the hits are. I’ve used a small x after the X if the hit is held for 2 beats (I’ve underlined it here as well to help clarify the hit durations).


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Next, I’ll convert all of the x’s and spaces to 1/8th note attacks and rests in standard notation and use ties to hold over notes that ring across 2 1/8th notes:


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The next step is to simplify the notation. I’ll do this by combining any two consecutive 1/8th note notes or rests to ¼ notes…

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The last step is to add the actual notes (which I’ll let you do when the release comes out on August 14th!)

In the meantime, this process for breaking down rhythm can be applied to any tricky rhythm you might come across!  Hopefully it will help open some new doors for you!

Scott Collins

Scott Collins is the author of the pedagogical/reference series, The GuitArchitect’s Guide To: and several e-book titles that include: An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out. His playing is inspired by a wide range of western and non-western music, and, as a performer, he specializes in real-time composition.

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