I think it's pretty fair to say, as i sit at the laptop writing this in 2022, John Mayer is probably the most famous guitar player in the world. His rise to fame has been nothing short of exceptional, and i can absolutely vouch for that having been following him from the early days. As a young, keen and budding guitar player, learning his trade, I found John Mayer when Room For Squares came out. Initially I tossed it aside, seeing only the cheesy pop looks, pop songs, and let's be real, clear aim to attract a predominantly female audience (I'll back that fact up by saying me and my mate were one of the 1% male population at his London show when he was on tour for "Heavier Things".)
Having been convinced to re-listen to the album a few weeks later, I decided to look past the pop melodies and cheesy vocals, and found this incredible guitar player. His technique, often shown off in a bizarre middle 8, was absolutely insane, and when we heard glimpses of electric guitar lead, I could see there was a lot more to come.
In fact, when we went to see his live performance as "Heavier Things" came out, he was extremely keen to bring in as much electric guitar soloing as he possibly could. And wow, did that soloing deliver. He blew my young guitar mind that day, and I'll never forget it! Since then I am definitely not alone in the being totally obsessed with his playing and his songwriting. I devoted years of my playing life to mimicking and copying his licks, tunes, songwriting style, and even his vocals (although that didn't go as successfully).
So, in today's lesson, and in the spirit of copying how John Mayer plays, I want to give you an epic insight into how to sound like John Mayer. I will give you 3 simple tips and a simple lick to practice to ensure you'll be mimicking him in less than 15 minutes!
NOTE: Learning to play like John Mayer took me years, but the crucial thing was that I started to understand how he plays, and could therefore adapt his licks and ideas to make them my own. This is what I want for you. No matter how little time you have to practice (we all know how much time work, life & family take up), with focused practiced time, developing the understanding you need to succeed, you will get there.
So, let's take a look at the basic lick we will be learning to play:
Hopefully, just like me, this transports you instantly to some of his best work. I especially loved Continuum as an album, and you will hear motif's like this sprayed across the entire guitar soundtrack. So, the question is, how does learning this one lick help us sound like John Mayer in 10 minutes? Well, as I always say, it's not the lick you learn, it's how you learn it! If you make the effort to understand the detail of the lick, then you will be able to apply those concepts to your guitar playing in general. So, that's what we'll do here, with 3 key areas:
Some of you will hate this. And that's ok! How easily you pick this up is very much depending on the size of your hands, and it really isn't for everyone. However, if we're aiming to sound and play like John Mayer, I would recommend giving this a go! I want you to take your C#m barre chord, which is the root of this lick, and re-fret it to look like the picture below.
At first this will feel horrible, but trust me it's worth it. Why is it worth it? Well, look how much freedom it provides the rest of the fingers to play around within the chord. If you use the barre shape you are very limited as the box is so strict. Be kind, be gentle and gradually work this idea into your practice sessions. every time you come across an E and Em shape barre chord, switch it out from the barre shape, to the thumb over the neck. Gradually, piece by piece, you will get there!
The next shift is to try (and "try" is the key word here) to play this lick without the plectrum. John Mayer loves to use the flesh of his fingers to create a more controlled and dynamic sound. It's quite subtle to listen to, but for me it's more of the feel you get when playing with your fingers. You feel as though you are more connected with the guitar, as there isn't this chunk of plastic between you and strings. It's definitely something we will need to adapt to, but for the purpose of this lesson, the pick is going on the table ready to be used another day! This lick will be all fingerpicking, and as we go through it, I'll show you exactly what strings to pick with which finger!
It's now time to dive into the core concept that will help you sound like John Mayer, and it comes back to the wonderful, the awesome, CAGED system! Now, don't worry if this is something you don't know much about, we have a full course available here that I would highly recommend.
You can take it as gospel, that underneath (or on top of) this minor chord shape, you can always play your pentatonic box 1. Why? Well, the chord and scale shape are built from the same set of notes, and if you look at the chord and scale side by side, you can see that we are working from a pool of the same notes.
Therefore, as long as you are playing this C#m chord, using the C#m pentatonic instead will very much sound to the listener like the chord with extra embellishments. You can take it to a complete extreme as well, and not even play the chord shape at all. By simply playing the C#m pentatonic box 1 in that position, you are clearly referencing the chord and to the listeners ear, have moved chord. It's super fun, and very cool when it clicks!
Well, this applies to anytime you play this chord shape, anywhere on the neck. So, for example, we could take the lick in C# minor and then move it to F# minor and G# minor. You can see that we are simply moving to the same chord shape on a different fret, but applying the same concept and lick. How cool is that? Suddenly, every single time you go to the minor barre chord, you can make it sound like John Mayer is playing the chord!
Once you have one lick mastered, you can add a second. Then a third. Before you know it, every time you move to a minor chord (using the E shape) you have a solid base of ideas you can use to make it sound like John Mayer! And my friend, this is just the tip of the iceberg! Imagine being able to do that on every CAGED chord shape… Suddenly the fretboard turns from a total mystery to becoming a playground for your creativity! The possibilities will be endless for you!
But, that's for later. Today, start here. Learn this lick, have fun with it, try the three steps, and when you're ready to tackle everything CAGED, be sure to check out the full course. Oh yeah, and don't forget we have a full John Mayer player study right here too. Thanks for your precious time today, speak to you soon!