The acoustic side of John Mayer
Just watch any YouTube video of Mayer playing live or listen to songs like “Stop This Train”, “Neon”, “Queen of California” or “Something Like Olivia” and you will get a feel for it. way it blends in a unique way. elements of folk, R&B, jam band and pop in his guitar style.
John Mayer – Neon (Live In LA – 1080p)
On top of all that, he delivers a fantastic voice, masterful lyrics and excellent composition. Mayer paved the way for a new generation of players, demonstrating how performers can achieve full sound with just a guitar and vocals.
Regardless of the level of playing, spending time working on Mayer’s signature acoustic techniques is a valuable study. We’ll start with a simple breakdown of smaller, easier exercises, and then develop more advanced examples that combine multiple elements. The end goal is to show you how to unlock some of these sounds and add them to your own style of guitar. And if you are an electric player, you can still benefit from this lesson, as Mayer also uses a lot of these techniques in his style of electric guitar, albeit with a slightly different approach.
Ex. 1 begins with an isolated thumbs-up. It’s a sound you’ll hear in many of Mayer’s hit songs. Use your thumb to strike the strings with your strumming hand. A drum-like percussion effect is created when the strings are driven into the frets of your guitar. The power comes from the transformation of your wrist into a guitar, towards your body. You want to turn your hand like you would turn a key. The thumb should remain parallel to the strings and usually make contact just above the knuckle. This slap is most often played on beats 2 and 4 for pop songs in a 4/4 time signature. Using this technique creates a backbeat-like groove that will give you the feel and vibe of playing with a drummer even when playing alone. First, let’s just try an isolated thumb-click technique on beats 2 and 4 while counting out loud.
Now that you have the backbeat thumb slap, let’s develop this technique by mixing some fingerstyle folk. Ex. 2 mixes fingerstyle play while keeping the back thumb flapping on a Dsus2 chord shape.
Once the thumb click starts to feel comfortable, try bringing a finger brush as well. Ex. 3 demonstrates the same thumb-clicking technique, but while this is happening you will be brushing simultaneously with the fingernail on your index finger. It looks like a combination of a guitarist strumming a chord and a drummer hitting the snare drum.
This exact technique can be heard on songs like “Who Says”, “Heart of Life” and “Stop This Train”. It’s also important to note that Mayer typically plays this groove with only his thumb and forefinger on the scratching hand. Although the overall pattern may seem complicated at first, it’s best to simplify it and play with just two fingers, to keep it as simple as possible.
John Mayer – Stop That Train – Hollywood Casino – Tinley Park, IL – September 2, 2017 LIVE
Mayer will often add specific embellishments to the chords using hammers and pull-offs. Ex. 4 shows the use of a hammer from the 2nd string open to the 3rd fret on the downbeat. This is the 6 of the chord hammering the root note of the Dsus2 chord form.
Ex. 5 demonstrates the use of pull-offs and hammer-ons on some of Mayer’s acoustic guitar chord shapes. Once you start to see which chord tones Mayer typically embellish on, you’ll be able to add these techniques into your own progressions.
Small melodic embellishments of chord shapes are a great way to keep interest in your backing guitar part, either lightly under a vocals or more pronounced and emphasized when playing instrumental interludes between verses. It’s also important to note that Mayer typically used his thumb to play bass notes on the 6th string, as in the Gm (maj7) chord form.
Another common technique used by Mayer is demonstrated in Ex. 6. Mayer uses his thumb to rake strings 4, 3 and 2, then the 1st string is played with a plucked finger.
This could be used as an embellishment in the middle of a progression or on a final chord as in Ex. 7.
Let’s see then Ex. 8. This shows another way Mayer would use the nudge technique, but this time it’s mixed in with more R&B chords. When Mayer uses this technique, it usually involves three or four fingers in the scratching hand. Here you will pluck all the strings together, which will make your guitar more like a piano. It goes beyond just a thumb hitting the strings. His whole hand falls on the strings to make sure he keeps the back beat on 2 and 4.
Acoustics with a Flatpick
While Mayer plays much of his acoustic repertoire without a pick, many tunes require a pick.
Ex. 9 and Ex. Ten demonstrate how Mayer extracts chords and uses rhythmic and blues progressions very common in his music. In Ex. 9, the bass note G on the 6th string is played with the thumb of the fretting hand. In addition, all notes of the 6th string are played with a light palm mute. Ex. 10 really shows how ingrained his guitar style is in listening to players like Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Cropper, to name a few.
Whether you learn all of these techniques, or just take an idea and add it to your guitar playing, it will immediately begin to improve your guitar skills. The techniques presented only scratch the surface of Mayer’s style, each one will prove to be invaluable, in particular to accompany singers.
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