Music and Songwriting/Fingerstyle Improvisation - John Mayer Style

Favorite John Mayer Fingerstyle Moments edit

Bridge Solo - Neon Live in LA - Jon Michael Swift

Intro - Neon Live in LA - Jordan Lee

Queen of California Live Outro - James Bailey

Stop This Train Intro - Charles Dennis

Blues Jam from the Live @ Berklee Lecture - Andrew Ka

Session Log edit

Sunday, October 9th edit

Summary (by JMS) edit

We introduced ourselves and did a little playing and show-and-tell of favorite John Mayer riffs just to get our bearings. I gave a quick lecture on some ideas I'd developed about John Mayer's fingerstyle improv, though truthfully I'm going to try to avoid lectures in the future and keep it to rapid-fire playing. We each picked a song or concept we wanted to focus on and planned to play the basic groove next week, where we'll focus on creating 'jams' that help us get closer to the ideal techniques and phrase sets we need to open them up to free improvisation.0:10 what's this class all about

4:00 Everybody plays their section

13:40 What we would do to get better together

20:47 Fingerstyle improvisation lecture

30:47 Project Goals

38:30 Homework for this week: Pick a riff

46:17 James pushes Jon beyond his comfort level

49:50 Scheduling the next session

October 16th edit

Summary by JMS edit

We realized the challenging of getting the basic riffs down was a substantial one, and so I embarked on a quest to try to find better ways to do so. We talked a lot about time tested strategies of practice, but also about some group strategies that I wanted to employ like doing web jams to develop a particular idea.

Session Guide edit

0:30 Talk about your struggle

6:25 Beating the John Mayer G Stretch

15:00 Stewie's Mnemonics in Improvisation

17:42 G Major and other hybrid positions

24:23 The essence of the fingerstyle improv process

29:38 NINJAM and using jams as a practice tool

37:54 Using non-John Mayer songs in the John Mayer style

45:04 Developing ideas on your own riff

50:16 Developing unconventional improvisations

56:04 Why are we doing collaborative learning projects?

59:20 What's coming next week?

October 23rd - Mapping the G-Train edit

Summary by JMS edit

I was really looking to make this session "Less sayin' and more playin'" and I thought we made some major headway. We focused on playing with the riffs in Stop This Train, and we talked about the ergonomics of that difficult stretch over the G chord in the verses of Stop This Train. We also talked a lot of strategy about how to get to productive improvisations at any level, and we worked a lot of the strategies in-session. We stopped to talk about a couple of issues like chord tones and essential fingerstyle exercises, but all of it was pretty focused on getting to fingerstyle jamming on "Stop This Train" and it looks like within a week or two everyone in the current group should have at least a decent grasp on the skill.

Session Guide edit

0:00 getting to the sweet spot

3:30  How are the riffs goin'

7:00 The Ergonomics of the G Stretch

10:25 The D-G Jam

13:48 Matt's Melodic Improvisation

14:58 The "Way Down South" Blues Lick

17:00 Other licks Jon liked

18:00 James' Challenge: The Displacement Scale

19:54 The Worried Blues - James goes out in a blaze of glory

24:05 An Epiphany on JM Fingerstyle

27:05 Developing a fingsertyle jam in a nutshell

28:30 Chaz's 'Stop This Train' Hook

30:43 Jamming on the chorus of stop this train

32:52 Mapping the Gm(maj7) chord

36:06 A lab on the color notes in chords

44:28 Mapping the "Stop This Train" chorus

48:52 You have 4 bars to find a nice melody with weird notes

54:30 Jon's summary of the fingerstyle improv process

55:50 It's a Trap - The Displacement Scale

57:30 Breaking the monotony of exercise jams

1:00:50 Matt claims he can't improvise...then improvises

1:02:40 The challenge to tackle if you're lost

1:04:55 How improvising flows between instruments

1:07:04 How to make maps when the land is too big

October 29th edit

There was a session but it was not recorded.

November 6th - Doing the Duo Sessions edit

Summary by JMS edit

We started by talking about approaches to working in small groups to motivate practice, and we ended with working through a few exercises to expand improvisation abilities. The rhythmic displacement scale is a critical exercise to free up the fingers, and we combined it with left hand scales to free the hands up and stimulate creative ideas in improvising.

Session Guide edit

2:30 problems we've had with fingerstyle improv so far'

5:30 Easier or harder to practice with others

8:34 Metronome practice techniques

10:00 metronome issues

11:45 Latency issues?

19:50 Mapping techniques

26:57 Thumb Groove Warm-Up

30:47 Working out a bass line

31:54 Displacement Scale Warm-Up

38:55 Playing displacement rhythm jams

45:00 Second phase jams

54:15 Third phase - Chuck James

1:06:00 Suggestions for duo work

1:13:17 Weird stuff that Jon is doing

November 13th - Duo Session w/ Chaz edit

Summary by JMS edit

I proposed doing duo practice sessions over the course of the last week to see if it would help with motivation and depth. What I learned from the responses was that most folks feel sufficiently motivated already or that such an exercise would take too much time. It remains to be seen if this means folks are in fact in the balance they want to be with their guitar or if they simply don't see the approach as a valuable on. Chaz and JMS did a duo session, where the result involved a little of the intended activity and a lot more time spent getting on the same page about both the theoretical approach to practice and motivational interest in the subject matter.

Looking to the future, here's how I'd focus the process. Finding processes to include people at different levels is important. That being said, the wider the spread of abilities, the harder it is to integrate. Matching people who are at closer levels might be helpful, especially in duo sessions. That being said, teaching others is actually a really good way to learn, especially the skills needed to organize one's own practice. Another critical issue are the basic set of technical skills required to do the improvisation. They are usually hard to acquire and folks avoid practicing them out of internal resistance. Setting up a group exercise where everyone works at their own pace with the problem at hand may help this, and over time get everyone where they need to be.

  1. Everybody teaches
  2. Group exercises where everyone can go at their own pace

Let's start there and see how it goes.

Session Guide edit

The Guiliave - Part 1 of 7

Rhythmic Mapping - Part 2 of 7

Deeper into Rhythm - Part 3 of 7

Songs and Musical Time - Part 4 of 7

Off the Deep End - Part 5 of 7

Self Doubt and Learning Music - Part 6 of 7

Blind, Deaf and Talented - Part 7 of 7

November 27th - Taking Train Solos edit

Summary edit

Session Guide

Helpful Prerequisite Knowledge edit

Know some John Mayer songs

Have some experience with melodic improvisation/soloing and/or accompaniment patterns

Understanding musical time concepts like Meter, Time Signature, Beat, Pulse, Rhythmic Values, etc.

Essential Exercises edit

Scales and melodic improvisation

Rhythmic scales and pattern improvisation

Hybrid scales and 2 or 3 part improvisation

Scales in 1, 2 and 3 notes over open hybrid positions

Essential concepts edit

Setting a challenge appropriate to your ability level

Hybrid scale positions

Comping patterns vs. Melodic improvisation

2 and 3 part improvisation

Essential Riffs edit

The 1/4 note and 8th note pluck and chuck grooves:

1/4 note songs:

Who Says

Stop This Train

Heart of Life

Dear Marie (Sometimes)

8th note songs:

Free Fallin' Cover Why Georgia Neon (Sort of) Your Body is a Wonderland Clarity

13th chord bridge

In the intro of Neon Live in LA

In the bridge of this live version of Your Body is a Wonderland

triplet brush

Part of the aforementioned riff

also in this version of clarity

Used in early versions of Neon

Projects edit

Jon Michael Swift's Songs edit

"Subway Trains" was composed by Niall Carmichael, but the solo at the end was written by J.M. Swift for the purpose of developing 2 part improvisation technique

"Planes, Trains and Taxicabs" was written by J.M. Swift to explore a number of ideas involving Mayer style 1/4 note grooves

Unfiled Notes edit