Background Photo: Courtesy of Fender ©2018 Max Crace

I first heard about Eric Johnson from Steve Morse. Like Mateus Asato, it was only a matter of time before all the hip players singing his praises. A few years before the release of Tones, I had the chance to see Eric at the Great American Music Hall here in the S.F. Bay Area. In addition to demonstrating his expertise at virtually any style, Eric’s signature sound was also firmly in place.

In the spirit of “Shred for the Rest Us”, the goal of this installment is to put some “Johnson-isms” under your fingertips. While there are people who can actually play “Cliffs of Dover” note for note, “the rest of us” would probably be content to incorporate some of his trademark stylings into our playing. The following exercises are designed to help you do precisely that!

Starting with this issue, we’ll be partnering with Achieve Music to solve one of the biggest challenges I’ve had as a music educator. As many of you know, I inherited Joe Satriani’s old teaching studio, and with the exception of teaching at Joe’s, Steve Vai’s, and John Petrucci’s guitar camps, I only teach via Skype. Each week this technology allows me to chase time zones around the globe as I teach students in Egypt, Australia, and finally the East and West Coasts of the United States. But, each week I’m reminded how much I miss the ability to jam with my students in real time, something that the latency of Skype makes impossible. Forturnately, for music educators like myself, Achieve Music is the next best thing to being there!

Each of the lessons below is linked to an Achieve Music super chart. Select these links (or copy them to your clipboard) to play along with my guide tracks as you memorize each lesson. Once you’re ready, use the mic on your computer or mobile device to record a performance and see how well you’re doing. As demonstrated in the video below, AM scores you based on the notes, rhythm, and timing of each performance!

PLEASE NOTE: You can learn these great licks from GTR website without charge or registering for the app. This free trial will work using Chrome or Firefox on desktops, laptops and Android devices – Safari and iOS browsers are not supported. The Achieve Music App is available for private music teachers and their students on the App Store and Google Play.

As I mentioned before, Achieve Music aka AM is 100% free for teachers. In turn, teachers can invite all their students to join. In addition to the free 30-day trial, monthly student subscriptions run $2.95 per month for the Basic Subscription, and $4.95 per month for the Full Subscription. The Full Subscription comes with a ton of great content that includes many “method book” favorites. As I’ve done for these lessons, teachers can upload original content that is wrapped using this amazing technology.

Again, thanks to our exclusive partnership with Achieve Music, you do not have to sign up with AM to use their technology for these lessons. However, if you’re a music educator, we encourage you to check out their web site or install the iOS or Android app.

To get the most out of these lessons, I’d strongly suggest 1) reading ALL the instructions; 2) striving for accuracy over speed; 3) paying attention to the specific fingerings on the diagrams and charts; 4) using the embedded AM charts (web site), or links (digital edition) to practice with my guide track before; 5) scoring your ability to play the lesson, noting repetitive mistakes and tempo shifts.

These lessons are a combination of exercises and melodic ideas designed to put elements of Eric’s style underneath your fingertips. I invite you to watch the below video for a quick overview for the things we’ll be covering in this installment of Shred for the Rest of Us. Thanks in advance for hanging out – I had a ton of fun putting all this together for you!

LESSON 1: E Minor Pentatonic Relay in Groups of 3 Strings

OVERVIEW: Pentatonic Sequences are a key element of Eric’s style. This exercise is one of the easiest ways to get started, but at tempo is still challenging for many players. This is also great prep for the other lessons we’ll be going over in this issue.
FINGERING: There are two sets of fretting hand fingerings I’d suggest using as you integrate this set of sequences into your playing.
  Classical Hand Position assigns one finger per fret and has the thumb traveling on the back of the neck, opposite to where the fretting fingers are placed on the fingerboard.
  Blues Hand Position uses the first and third fingers almost exclusively, goes to great lengths to avoid using the fourth finger, and the thumb is generally anchored over the top of the neck.
  Blended Hand Position utilizes the same fingerings as the Blues Hand Position, but keeps the thumb in the back of the neck ala the Classical Hand Position. This is helpful if you have a large neck or small fingers. This is also a great workaround if you have a guitar where the back of the neck is less rounded and a bit more rectangular as you move from the center towards the edges. My thumb is short enough that on guitars where that neck shape is accentuated, it is hard for me to wrap my thumb around the top of the neck. This blended approach is also great for transitioning back and forth between Modal playing and Pentatonic Sequences.
PICKING HAND: For consistency of volume and tone, I’d suggest using only down strokes picked at the same volume as your pull-offs.
FALSE HARMONICS: Another classic EJ technique, False Harmonics are great for creating “punctuation” at the end of a phrase. Letting the last fretted note ring, gently touch the second finger of your picking hand against that same string 12 frets up the neck to create a False Harmonic an octave up – best achieved on the bridge pickup

This lesson groups Pattern #1 of the E Minor Pentatonic Scale in sequences of three strings played with an 1/8th note feel, and incorporates Hammer-ons as you ascend and pull-offs as you descend. As noted above, I’d suggest practicing this using the Classical Hand Position, Blues Hand Position, as well as Blended Hand Position if you’re particularly industrious. FYI, I tend to use Blended the most for the reasons stated above.

• Ascend then descend Pattern #1 of the E Minor Pentatonic Scale in groups of three strings with an 1/8th note feel: 654; 543; 432; 321; 123; 234; 345; 456
• Pick the lower note and Hammer-on to the upper note on each string as you ascend
• Pick the upper note and Pull-off to the lower note on each string as you descend
• Play a False Harmonic on the last note
Listen, practice, and rate your performance in Achieve Music

• Classical Hand Position using the fingering on Fig. 1-1
• Blues Hand Position using the fingering on the Fig. 1-1
• Blended Hand Position using the first and third fingers exclusively
• Blended Hand Position substituting the second finger for the third finger on the third string for the 321 and 123 string sequences

Fig. 1-1
Fig. 1-2

LESSON 2: A Minor Pentatonic Sequences and Chords

OVERVIEW: Now that we’ve got our first sequence dialed in, let’s jump in and start making some music! This one toggles between four note sequences using Pattern #1 of the Minor Pentatonic and chords, and was designed to help you get better at changing gears mid-progression. In “listening” to the chart you’ll probably notice I blended in some Jimi and SRV influence.
FINGERING: Fig. 2-1 includes fingerings for the Pentatonic Sequences at the beginning and end of this progression as well as the chords. Albeit slightly counterintuitive, I’d suggest using a Classical Hand Position for the Pentatonic Sequences, and the thumb in the bass for some of the chords ala Jimi Hendrix.
PENTATONIC SEQUENCES: The Classical Hand Position makes it much easier to play the sequences because of how the Hammer-ons and Pull-offs fall. It’s also helpful to mentally group these four note sequences into “pairs” that are fingered: pick > pull > hammer > pull; pick > hammer > pull > pick.
PATTERN RECOGNITION: A key part to memorizing music is recognizing rhythmic and melodic patterns. The rhythm for the Pentatonic Sequence and chords that are at the beginning and end of this progression are the same, the only things that is different is the chords. Pattern recognition is one of most valuable tools you can use to break a song down into bite-sized pieces.

More than simply toggling between lead and rhythm ideas, the goal is to make these transitions silky-smooth. People generally make mistakes on single phrases or transitions, so isolating them tends to be much more effective than working an entire section up to speed.

• Work the Pentatonic Sequence and the chords up to speed separately before combining them
• Try fine tuning “the seams” between them by looping the last four notes of the Pentatonic Sequence and the first chord (bass note and fingered notes), then doing the same for the notes of the last chord. Start off with a slow tempo, and only bump up the speed when you can nail these transitions four times in a row.
Listen, practice, and rate your performance in Achieve Music

Fig. 2-1

LESSON 3: EJ Triad Chord Relay in G

OVERVIEW: Let’s start by demystifying The Modes. The G Major Scale is made up of seven notes: G A B C D E and F#. If you take that same groups of notes but start off on the A, you get the A Dorian Mode = A B C D E F# and G. If you start off of B, you get the B Phrygian Mode and so on. Next!

The Triads that are the basis of the vast majority of the chords and songs we play are formed by taking the first, third, and fifth notes (aka the 1, 3 and 5) of each Mode. When played at the same time, these notes become Triad Chords. When played separately they are Triad Arpeggios.

The notes in the Major Scale cycle over and over as you move up or down in Octaves. The Triad Chords and Arpeggios that are a signature part of Eric’s sound play the 1 and 5 in the same Octave, and place the 3 in the next Octave up. As noted in Fig. 3-2, the order of these Triads goes: Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor, Diminished. The type of Triad you play is based on the formula of the Mode (Major, Dorian etc.) from which it draws its notes.

Also noted in Fig. 3-2 is the Scale Degree Number associated with each of The Modes and the Triads derived from them. Seeing that the G Major, A Minor, B Minor, C Major, D Major, E Minor, and F# Diminished Triads in Fig. 3-2 can also be thought of as the I, ii- iii-, IV, V, vi-, and viiø Chords in the Key of G Major is a big step towards mastering Diatonic Theory and Harmony. If that sounds a bit scary, fear not, we will be demystifying all this in future lessons.

In looking at the Triad Chords in Fig. 3-3 you’ll notice they are like a Swiss cheese version of the Barre Chords you’ve probably been using for years. By leaving out some of the notes, you get some extra air for a breathier sound. Whether played as Chords or Arpeggios, theses shapes are a key part of Eric’s signature sound.

FINGERING: The chords in Fig. 3-3 will allow you to map the neck for chords based on both the 6th and 5th strings.
Fretting Hand: Although we’ll be using a clean tone for this lesson, learn to be gentle as you place these shapes so you don’t get unwanted Hammer-ons when playing them with distortion.
Picking Hand: Rather than strumming these chords, I’d suggest palming your pick and using your thumb, first, and third fingers to pluck the notes of each chord simultaneously.


• Ascend then descend the 6th String Root Triad Chords: I > I > I
• Ascend then descend the 5th String Root Triad Chords: IV > IV > IV
• Ascend then descend alternating between the 6th and 5th String Root Triad Chords: I IV > ii- V etc.
• Use a clean tone
• Pluck each chord as an 1/8th Note followed by an 1/8th Note Rest
• Using Fig. 3-2 as a guide, try calling out the Scale Degree Number of the Root of each chord as you play it. This will be a big help in terms of memorizing the order in which they occur Diatonically (in a common key).
Listen, practice, and rate your performance in Achieve Music

In addition to playing these shapes as chords, another one of Eric’s stylistic trademarks is to play them as arpeggios with an 1/8th Note Triplet feel. Although it might take a moment to get used to, I would suggest using Hybrid Picking for this. Try using a down stroke with your pick to sweep the bottom two notes, and your second finger to pluck the upper note of each chord.

Fig. 3-1
Fig. 3-2
Fig. 3-3

LESSON 4: G Minor Pentatonic Diagonal Relay

OVERVIEW: Another elusive element of Eric’s signature sound is his use of wide intervals when soloing. The lesson provides a road map for injecting these kinds of sounds into your playing by having you traverse each pattern of the Minor Pentatonic diagonally.
FRETTING HAND: I would strongly suggest using a Classical Hand Position for these per the fingerings in Fig. 4-1 and 4-2 (next page). It will make it much easier to play these intervals without unwanted Hammer-ons and Pull-offs.
PICKING HAND: I’d also suggest learning to play this using alternate picking, making sure not to drag any pick strokes as you move from string to string.

If you’re new to sequences, here’s a good way to think about this one. Imagine you’re playing straight up and down the Minor Pentatonic as you normally would, but alternating between the lowest note on one string, and the highest note on the next.

That said, here’s what I’m actually thinking as I’m playing it. The diagonal in the name refers to the fact that I’m seeing each pattern split into three pairs of strings: 65; 43; 21 descending and 12; 34; 56 descending. I’m always playing the lower note on the lower string and the upper note on the upper string.

Even if you don’t know all five patterns of the G Minor Pentatonic yet, you can get great results just using this approach on Pattern #1. That said, the real magic happens once you started moving up and down the neck using these wide intervals. Either way, Pattern #1 is where you’ll want to start, and I suggest looking at Fig. 4-1 to get this one under your fingertips before bringing it up to tempo.

• Ascend then descend each pattern of the G Minor Pentatonic alternating between lower and upper notes for each adjacent string.
• Alternate pick
• Repeat top notes before coming back down each pattern
• Repeat top pattern before coming back down the neck
• Play a False Harmonic on the last note
Listen, practice, and rate your performance in Achieve Music

Fig. 4-1
Fig. 4-2

LESSON 5: G Minor Pentatonic in 3 Octaves with Slides

OVERVIEW: Yet another elusive element of Eric’s style is his ability to effortless move from one end of the neck to the other. Once again, this lesson is designed to provide you with a uniform approach for learning how to do this.
FRETTING HAND: Now that you’ve memorized all five patterns of the G Minor Pentatonic using the Classical Hand Position, we are going to use the Blended Hand Position I described in Lesson 1.
ASCENDING FINGERING: With the exception of the Low E String, the ascending sequence is all about repeating “pick > hammer > slide up into the next pattern; move up to the next string > pick > hammer > slide up into the next pattern… etc.” and so on.
DESCENDING FINGERING: With the exception of the High E String, the descending sequence is all about repeating “pick > hammer > slide down into the next pattern; move down to the next string > pick > hammer > slide down into the next pattern… etc.” and so on.

Like Jimmy Page’s classic lick Pentatonic riffs on “Good Times, Bad Times”, this one uses a “pickup” to get the sequences rolling. Ascending, we achieve this by dropping the “slide up into the next pattern” for the bottom two notes on the Low E String. Descending, we do the same thing by dropping the “slide down into the next pattern” for the top two notes on the High E String. Fig. 5-1 makes it easy to see what’s what.

• Ascend then descend the neck using the “pickup” and “pick > hammer > slide into the next pattern > change strings” sequences described above
• Blended Hand Position
• Use only down strokes for consistency in volume and tone
• Play a False Harmonic on the last note
Listen, practice, and rate your performance in Achieve Music

Fig. 5-1


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