Eric Johnson: “Why Every Guitarist Needs to Learn Piano”

(Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images)

Eric Johnson is known for his guitar virtuosity, but he’s also a talented pianist, having studied the instrument in his youth. Some readers may recall that he posted a clip of himself playing a ragtime version of his song “Cliffs of Dover” on his Facebook page back in August 2015.

Speaking recently with Total Guitar, Johnson said that learning the basics of piano playing is an essential part of becoming a well-rounded guitarist. In particular, he says, the instrument’s layout can give players a valuable perspective on music.

To that end, he suggests guitarists—for that matter, all musicians—study the instrument.

“I think understanding the piano really helps,” he explains. “And you don't have to become a great pianist, that’s not really important. A lot of people play just enough piano to write a song or figure out chord changes.

“It’s a beautiful instrument for writing and studying music—I would suggest any musicians of any instrument to undertake piano lessons. Not for the intention to become great at the instrument, but rather for perspective.

“When you look at a piano, you can see every note. All 88 keys—the whole spectrum. It’s like laying out a long piece of paper that has all the architectural plans for a building. It’s a great center-point and home base to look at and study music.

“You can then transfer that perspective to any instrument. I don’t think too much about practicing scales any more—I don’t approach things theoretically.

“It’s more like I’ve taught my ear to know the scales and that’s what I go with. If I hear a melody I like, then I’ll work it out.”

You can see Johnson performing his piano rendition of the Jimi Hendrix tune “The Wind Cries Mary” below.

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Christopher Scapelliti

Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player magazine, the world’s longest-running guitar magazine, founded in 1967. In his extensive career, he has authored in-depth interviews with such guitarists as Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Corgan, Jack White, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, and audio professionals including Beatles engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott. He is the co-author of Guitar Aficionado: The Collections: The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World, a founding editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine, and a former editor with Guitar WorldGuitar for the Practicing Musician and Maximum Guitar. Apart from guitars, he maintains a collection of more than 30 vintage analog synthesizers.