Eric Johnson Style Practice

Hi there all,

I’m new to the forum - it looks like a great place to get some valuable new insights to improve our playing!

I recently purchased Troy’s cascading seminar focusing on the playing style and techniques of Eric Johnson. I’ve really gotten into him over the past year and I’m trying to dedicate as much of my practice time honing in on the techniques he’s employing. Obviously, this is a slow process and can often be frustrating at times, but nevertheless its a fantastic way to expand the musical vocabulary. If anybody else here is really into EJ or perhaps a little bit more well versed in his technique / phrasing do shoot me a message. It’d be great to get any additional insights I can.

Hope you’re all doing well and healthy!

2 Likes

Hey Mike! Welcome to the forum :slight_smile:

I’d check out some of the EJ posts by nitro1976 or Peter_C. They both seem to have really developed a great feel for EJ’s technique and tone. It might also be worth checking out some of the mini lessons Eric has been posting on his YouTube channel:

2 Likes

All the Eric Johnson instructional material (by him) I’ve seen is next to useless. I don’t think he was cut out to be a teacher.
This “instructional racket” is in many cases something that guitar players do to supplement their meager income.
Pat Martino, who I do think is a good teacher, said that “being a guitar player is like being a homeless person,” a point which was driven home when he had to recover from his legendary brain surgery at his parents’ home. I’m glad he is able to supplement his income by imparting information.
As far as Eric Johnson goes, I think this forum is the best place to learn EJ’s technique. I get the impression that Eric himself doesn’t really have the tools to explain what he does; he appears to do it all intuitively, due to natural intelligence, motor skills, and persistence.
I think Troy Grady is a genius when it comes to teaching, because he has the tools to do it. He went to Yale or wherever it was, and learned to do it the right way, and by hard work.
No offense to Eric Johnson, but the guy is not a teacher. I bought the video “The Fine Art of Guitar,” and I now jokingly refer to it as “The Fine Art of Bullshit.”

I mean, it sounds like you mean offense. I doubt you’ll find many who will agree that Eric Johnson has ever put out any material anyone would consider bullshit.

Eric’s instructional videos don’t hold your hand, or show you to paint by numbers. He drops a lot of wisdom in both of the videos, demonstrates a ton of great ideas, and we get an intimate close-up view of how a master artist works in the woodshed. If you didn’t learn anything from it, you probably weren’t paying attention.

His method is not Troy Grady’s. Very few elite level guitarists really pay analytical attention to the mechanics of their technique in the way Troy does. If they’re interested in exploring and discussing other aspects of guitar craft than Troy does, or what you wish they would do, that’s the right they have earned as an artist.

2 Likes

I agree with your sentiment. The delivery needs some work. I don’t think EJ or anyone who makes those videos are all that well equipped to teach. Imagine how much you could take from a lesson on composition from Beethoven if he were alive to give them on the internet. He doesn’t give a fuck about your talent level. You’re lucky he’s there at all.

Couple comments here. Personally, I think Eric is great and by all accounts a super nice dude. We may one day get the chance to sit down with him and I’d appreciate it if we could keep discussion about him relatively non-offensive to him. If he or his people were to somehow find these threads by way of general Google search, it would be cool if they didn’t dig up comments which imply he’s trying to BS people. Which I’m almost certain he isn’t.

Second comment. There are absolutely tons and and tons of amazing stuff on both of Eric’s instructionals. Stuff you would be very hard pressed to know or find out if you didn’t watch them. Just as one example, I wanted to include a segment in our “Cascade” seminar about how he keeps open strings from ringing when he plays this one particular type of pentatonic line. So I spent a lot of time watching the Austin City Limits performance, and trying to guess what was going on by trying different things myself. I eventually decided that the pinky finger, even though you can’t see it, might be muting the high E. Then I loaded up “Total Electric Guitar”, and there’s a whole damn section on this. Should’ve watched the video first.

Anyway, you have to put yourself in the time period of 1988 when the first video was filmed. Nobody, absolutely nobody talked about the trajectory of the picking motion or the fact that only certain motions can play certain phrases. Not on Intense Rock, Speed Kills, MAB’s prior Star Licks video, Vinnie Moore’s two videos — none of them. And here is Eric including a whole section in his video where he talks about picking “away from the pickguard”. He’s basically explaining USX motion right there. Then on Fine Art of Guitar he has that whole chapter where he talks about trying to get his downstrokes to go away from the pickguard too, and how he can’t figure out how to do it. i.e. DSX motion. Or perhaps double escape.

Yes these explanations were opaque, and he starts bringing in other concepts like stringhopping (“bounce technique”) and edge picking (“it affects the tone”). But make no mistake, in retrospect it’s obvious he was going places no other teachers even thought about. Let’s give some credit where credit is due. We can all laugh at my many ham-fisted, oversimplified, and sometimes flat-out wrong explanations of things — our Steve Morse feature comes to mind. Nobody is above flubbing these justifiably hard concepts. The best we can do is take our best first stab at understanding them, even if they’re wrong and embarrassing stabs, and correct ourselves over time as we figure more stuff out.

11 Likes

Umm let’s just delete this whole thread and get EJ strapped to the magnet.

6 Likes

Howdy folks!
I bought the total electric guitar, and I had the unique opportunity to have a 30s class with EJ at a G3 workshop a few years back. I guess what most of us do not understand is not that EJ is a good/bad teacher. The experiences I had were that the density of information he delivers in one sentence can keep me thinking for a month or longer… case in point was the harp thing, where he takes all open strings and plays one natural harmonic and a string, sounds so beautiful! I was next to him, and I asked him - how do you do this?? He explained it to me three times, and in his reference frame he may think he was doing it really slowly, but in my reference frame I just could not get it… I asked to record on video, he was totally cool, non judgmental, uber nice guy! In the end, I concluded that he was not at fault. His level is so stratospheric (pun intended…) higher than most people (me anyways) that we just cannot understand, unless you get someone like Troy to bring it down to earth. And he is so, so humble. My goodness, his patience is unheard of. In total electric guitar, I feel like I can spend a month per tab, and would still not grasp all the little details and idiosyncrasies. In summary - Trying to learn directly from EJ is like drinking water from a firehose!

5 Likes

I have found myself getting pretty frustrated with books, vids, etc. that I feel should be laying more groundwork before taking off. The explanations in this thread (and the above quote - love that!) are helpful; gotta have some patience and try to appreciate that effective explanation/demonstration can be as challenging (if not more so) than the actual doing.

Total Electric Guitar is a fantastic video I’ve had since it came out, and I learned endless things from Eric about playing music, not just the wonderful techniques he developed. He stresses developing your own style, something Randy Rhoads said too in lessons tapes and interviews I’ve heard.

The biggest lesson to learn from these genius guitarists/musicians is that most of them don’t sit around thinking about technique at all, they have music in their heads and they figure out how to get it out. In the recent video posted of Ed visiting Jason Becker I think Ed said it best where he is a conduit and it comes from above and the worst part is not being able to always play it. Carlos Santana and countless other brilliant musicians have said similar things.

There is so much more to this than breaking everything down into mechanics and focusing purely on that, same with theory. They are important, but they are the means to an end, not the be all end all of it.

I think that we are witnessing a revolution in guitar instruction, due to Troy Grady’s genius and scientific approach. The right hand (picking hand) has been almost totally ignored until Troy shed light on it, using mechanics and lots of brilliant detective work. “Cracking the Code” is exactly that: delving into a previously arcane and unspoken area of guitar playing.
Secrecy, or arcane ‘unspoken’ information, is the way many systems ‘keep their power.’ I see this ‘unspoken’ aspect in many other areas of life, especially in social areas.

The only specific, useful information about EJ’s technique (according to my criteria) has had to be painstakingly discovered by Troy Grady.
Sure, I can see how everybody needs to develop ‘their own style,’ and that seems to be EJ’s attitude; thus his instructional videos have very little specific information about what he is doing with the notes themselves (pitches, melodic structures, riffs, rhythmic groupings). We have to go to this forum to find out any specifics, thanks to Troy’s painstaking scrutiny of slowed-down excerpts of the Austin City Limits video.

So why hasn’t Eric Johnson allowed himself to be ‘strapped to the magnet’ as one member put it?

Could it be that he doesn’t wish to reveal his secrets? I remember something Frank Zappa said, I’ll paraphrase: “Someday a younger player will come along, take all your riffs and turn them from eighth notes into sixteenth notes, and move them up a minor third.” Zappa saw that he might soon be outplayed, at least technically.
I’ve even seen EJ himself marveling at the skill of younger players (in a Rick Beato video), jokingly saying these kids can play “Cliffs of Dover” better than he can!

I haven’t disparaged Eric Johnson’s character; I know he’s a nice person. I simply said he was not the optimal teacher of the specifics of his own technique. (“The Art of Bullshit” was just Texan humor, which I’m sure EJ ‘and his people’ would understand).

Neither was Frank Zappa; his “The Frank Zappa Guitar Book” is full of daunting, complicated transcriptions done by Steve Vai, full of nested tuplets and irrational rhythmic groupings. This underscores the limitations of music notation, and the need for more picking-hand and fingering-hand information, which Troy Grady is creating with his revolutionary methods.

Of course we don’t want to see a bunch of “Eric Johnson clones” created, but on the other hand, we need specific, useful information, not vague generalities.
“Your own style” will develop on its own, regardless, because music is an expression of our being, and we are all unique beings.

Of course, we can do it “the old-fashioned way” like Troy Grady and so many other players have done: “Crack the Code” by careful slowed-down listening, and meticulous observation.
Good luck with that! I saw EJ play multiple times, as early as 1974 in small clubs, and even in close proximity his technique remained opaque to me. What is happening is too fast to be deciphered except by intense scrutiny in a recording. After all, that’s the whole idea of speed: to “blow the listener away.”

3 Likes

Because we haven’t asked him. And even if and when we do, not every world-famous guitarist has the time or inclination to meet with the random camera nerds and be examined in that way. This says precisely nothing about the character of the individual involved. Only that the world is full of lots of different kinds of people, who are all value different aspects of musical investigation.

I appreciate the kind words about our work. But once again, I’d ask you kindly to not post speculative things about Eric’s motivations for which there is no evidence, especially when you could just ask us directly what we think.

6 Likes

The true genius of Cracking the Code and what Troy has provided us, in my humble opinion. Is showing us what to look for and how to interpret it. This lesson was the most valuable one I’ve learned. I can now watch other guitar players and see what they are doing, not just picking hand but fretting hand too. Many of the motions are subtle, but he opened my eyes to something and I can cannot express enough gratitude.

1 Like

Another thought: part of Eric’s magic isn’t necessarily in his picking or technique but musically he’s really coming from a place where the fact that he learned piano at a young age, has a wide variety of interests musically and togther it’s an eclectic blend of styles (rock, blues, jazz, country) that mixed together really is quite his own thing. Every style he tries has this “Eric Flavor” to it that is quite special.

There’s a lot of great players out there who have their own thing but I can think of few people that incorporate so many styles and make them their own thing with a unique flavor that you can tell it’s them in two notes whether it’s rock or jazz or country or blues or one of his soundscape things.

His chord voicings and musicality are as interesting to me as his chops which are pretty formidable.

I see what you are saying, but the things that really interest most guitar players on this site about Eric Johnson’s playing are his lightning-fast articulated pentatonic runs, which are “guitaristic” and related to rock (It’s played through a Marshall, remember?)
Those lightning runs have very little if anything to do with the piano per se. I think Eric’s other “artistic” elements and voicings come mainly from his artistic sensibility, moreso than his piano lessons. Many guitar players are not even aware of chord voicings. He’s said that these wide voicings came from piano, but I think he just became aware of wide voicings from the piano. What he does on guitar is firstly guitaristic. We shouldn’t emphasize the piano in this, because the main interest should be the guitar.

After all, what is “Cracking the Code” and most of its members interested in about Eric Johnson’s playing? His artistic sensibility and chord voicings? No, it’s his “cascading” lightning-fast runs.

I think the reason there are different elements in EJ’s playing (jazz, country, blues) is because he maintained his intent to be recognized as a solo guitarist, and he could do that because of his ability. He was in groups (Electromagnets, etc.), but his fame came as a result of his being a solo guitar player.
To differ with you, I think a good argument can be made that Eric Johnson is primarily, and mainly, a rock guitarist, not jazz or blues. Although he works with Mike Stern, and is on a John Mclaughlin album, I don’t consider him a jazz player.
If a comparison can be made about “fast rock guitar players and jazz,” then Alan Holdsworth went further in a “jazz” direction than Eric Johnson has gone. EJ is going to have to increase his harmonic ability, and integrate his linear runs into that, to convince me otherwise. I still hear him as a linear rock player. His scales are not that exotic or “jazzy,” and if they are, please provide an example. It all sounds pentatonic or minor to me.
“Blues” is just a form, as applied to EJ. I don’t hear any direct blues influence, like B.B. King, or much string-bending. He doesn’t convince me as being a “blues guitarist.” He is what he is: Eric Johnson the solo guitarist, playing Eric Johnson music, not blues or jazz. Let’s let “blues guitarists” and “country guitarists” be something separate from Eric Johnson, out of respect for blues and country guitarists who have chosen their genre, which is something greater than they are, and not so connected with their identity as a guitarist.

1 Like

It’s all just music, innit.

This is my criteria of art.

…and music is a human expression. To the degree an artist projects his own being into his music is what makes music more, or less, artistic. The highest forms of art are expressions of a person’s being, which can transcend labels, such as The Beatles transcending the genre of “pop music” to become, truly, “high” art, and what makes Sleepy John Estes or Blind Willie McTell as great as Michaelangelo or Bach. This is according to my criteria. Art is firstly human, not just an object. It transmits meaning through a system which maps the artist’s experience on to our own, via a symbol system we call art.
Eric Johnson has consciously chosen his music to be an expression of his being, rather than submit to popular genres as such. Still, everyone is human, and Wes Montgomery is not “less” of an artist because he chose jazz as his genre. His circumstances somehow dictated that jazz be his vehicle, to do what he needed to do. Likewise, I see Eric Johnson, a Texas guitarist, as being primarily a rock guitarist.

I guess I feel like Eric Johnson is primarily an Eric Johnson guitarist playing in the genre of Eric Johnson.

In that sense, we are all guitarists who can be striving to play in “our own genre” as “ourselves,” if art is an expression of our being. Is that what you are saying?
In Eric Johnson’s case, his particular skills and abilities happen to coincide in the area of “guitar playing,” whereas we all have our own skills and abilities which may not be as sharply focussed in one area. For instance, Eric Johnson can’t play football like Patrick Mahomes, or play harmonica like Kim Wilson, or cook gumbo like Kevin Belton.

Some people moreso than others, maybe.