Jack Johnson

This month Stuart Ryan goes surf-side as he shows you how to get the cool and groovy vibe of this chilled-out acous­tic trou­ba­dour.

Guitar Techniques - - LEARNING ZONE -

Born in Hawaii in 1975, Jack Johnson took up gui­tar at the age of eight and was writ­ing songs be­fore he was a teenager. How­ever, mu­sic wasn’t his first call­ing – he is the son of the fa­mous surfer Jeff Johnson and his child­hood and teenage years were spent de­vel­op­ing his surf­ing skills on the pro­fes­sional cir­cuit. But for an ac­ci­dent at the age of 17 things may have taken a dif­fer­ent course al­to­gether, and he could have be­come a surf­ing su­per­star in­stead of a global acous­tic suc­cess. How­ever, af­ter his ac­ci­dent mu­sic was clearly ‘in the pipe­line’ and his love for play­ing grew while he stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia and played rhythm gui­tar in a band.

Johnson’s gui­tar style is quite sim­ple but also quirky and catchy. You’ll hear both strum­ming and fin­ger­pick­ing but don’t ex­pect so­los as his style is more based around laid-back acous­tic song­writ­ing – es­sen­tially the gui­tar is used as a writ­ing and rhythm tool with plenty of in­ter­est­ing ideas con­tained therein. His in­flu­ences range from clas­sics like Jimi Hen­drix and Bob Dy­lan to those who formed their mu­sic ca­reer just be­fore Johnson – Ben Harper, Ra­dio­head and G Love And Spe­cial Sauce. In­deed, it was work­ing with the lat­ter in 1999 that led to his big break and Ben Harper con­trib­uted to his 2001 de­but al­bum Brush­fire Fairy­tales.

The in­stru­men­ta­tion on Johnson’s record­ings is of­ten sparse – typ­i­cally his voice will be backed up by just his acous­tic gui­tar, bass and drums. You’ll find ev­ery­thing from sim­ple open-chord strum­ming to more chal­leng­ing barre chord work. In­deed, barre chords are some­thing that many acous­tic gui­tarists tend to over­look (or live in fear of) so I’ve in­cluded some Johnson-es­que barre chord phrases in this month’s study. If you are new to barre chords or build­ing up strength to fo­cus on them please work through these sec­tions slowly and care­fully as it is sur­pris­ingly easy to de­velop wrist and hand-re­lated in­juries from ex­ces­sive barre work - even with a good, mod­ern ac­tion.

This month’s piece com­bines a riff-based idea with some more ba­sic chord work but lis­ten out for the chord changes as Johnson doesn’t al­ways take the pre­dictable route you’ll some­times hear twists and turns and longer chord se­quences than the av­er­age I-IV-V pop strum­mer. As al­ways, en­sure you fo­cus on your rhythm and tim­ing as you play through this piece and don’t for­get those all es­sen­tial loud-to-quiet dy­nam­ics (a hang-over from grunge). See you next is­sue.

barre chords are some­thing that many acous­tic gui­tarists tend to over­look (or live in fear of)

NEXT MONTH Stuart ex­am­ines the acous­tic style of Amer­i­cana leg­end Dave Matthews

Jack Johnson: he spent life as a pro surfer be­fore go­ing solo as a mu­si­cian

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