This is the first part of a 2 part lesson on how to play John Mayer's 'Crossroads' solo from his 2009 album 'Battle Studies'..
I've included video, a backing track at full tempo, a slower backing track, TAB and notation, and audio files of each phrase including versions at 70% speed to help you learn them. I've also given a brief analysis of each phrase.
John Mayer is a seminal, contemporary blues guitarist. So his playing is well worth checking out and learning some of the nuances he uses to get his characteristic sound.
Let's watch the video to see what we'll be learning.
Here are the backing tracks for you to practice to. I've done my best to recreate the sound and feel of the original song.
Let's now get on with learning the solo. We'll start at the beginning:
PHRASE 1 & 2
The phrase in the first bar uses the A minor Pentatonic scale. It ends with a quarter tone bend otherwise known as a blues curl. This is really the only bend in which your destination note isn’t of much importance. This is due to more emphasis being placed on the note you are bending from than the note you are bending to.
The next phrase starting in bar 2 and ending in bar 3 is in response to the first phrase. It also uses the A minor pentatonic scale and ends with a blues curl.
The phrase starting in bar 4 and ending in bar 5 is fairly tricky. It is the first phrase so far to have started on one of the off beat sixteenth notes (the ‘a’ of beat 2). This song has swung sixteenths which means that the off beat sixteenth notes ( ‘e’ and ‘a’ ) are swung and not straight. Keeping this in mind it becomes very important for you to make sure that you are playing the same feel as the track. If in doubt use a programme like ‘Transcribe’ found at www.seventhstring.com to help you loop the phrase and slow it down. Really listen to what you’re playing and compare it to what is being played in the original.
The phrase starts on the ‘a’ of beat 2 and uses the A minor Pentatonic scale again, also making use of hammer ons to make ascending the scale easier to play at speed and which sound smoother. Then on the ‘e’ of beat 4 John plays the major 3rd (F#) of the IV chord (D5) which anticipates the chord that we hear in the next bar. The next part of the phrase is very typical of John Mayer. It is a technique that he uses very often to get fast flurries of notes. The specific delineation of pull offs and slides are very important when trying to achieve this. Be sure to apply more pressure to the string when sliding backwards. This will strengthen the note rather than allowing it to die out which in turn makes the phrase more punchy. Again this phrase is using A minor Pentatonic or you could chose to see it as a D9 arpeggio starting from the 3rd.
PHRASE 4 & 5
The next phrase in bars 6 and the beginning of 7 makes a strong feature of F# in addition to the A minor Pentatonic scale which implies D7 (D,F#,A,C). This gives the effect of playing the changes.
The phrase starts with a half step pre bend from F# to G (meaning you would bend up a half step before striking the note) before releasing that bend back to F#. Again be careful at the end of the phrase and throughout this transcription to pay specific attention to hammer ons, pull offs, slides and also rests. Ending your notes at the correct time will make your playing sound much tighter and your phrases more punchy a la John Mayer.
The phrase spanning bars 7 & 8 starts with a muted note on the ‘e’ of beat 3 and ends with a blues curl. Again using A minor Pentatonic.
The phrase starting at the end of bar 8 and finishing at the beginning of bar 11 uses a lot of techniques that it is important to get right if you want to sound like John Mayer when playing this solo or using these licks. Pay attention to the blues curl on the double stop, the full tone bend at the beginning of bar 10 (this means that you need to bend the G on the B string up to the pitch of A) making sure to reach the desired pitch not going too sharp or falling too flat and also the grace note slides in bar 10. You should slide back from Eb to D immediately after striking the note.
My harmonic take on this phrase is that John is thinking A minor pentatonic throughout adding in the F# (6) and the Eb (b5) for bluesy effect.
This concludes the first part of the solo. Next week's analysis will deal almost exclusively with string bending.
It’s worth noting at this point that this tune is harmonically quite open due to the lack of 3rds being used in the majority of chords. This means that you can play either A major Pentatonic or A minor Pentatonic and their equivalent blues scales over the A5 chord, you can play A minor pentatonic over the D5 chord or you can imply D7 with arpeggios or the D mixolydian should you so choose. It sounds especially good in my opinion to play A minor Pentatonic until the F#m11 chord at which point you can change to A major pentatonic (F# minor Pentatonic). This is what John does in the next half of this solo.
Please leave any questions in the comment section and we will get back to you.
Check back next week for part 2 of this great solo or subscribe to our blog by clicking on the 'Feedly' button.