Eric Johnson teaches you Cliffs of Dover-style chord-based improv in his latest mini-lesson

Last week, Eric Johnson launched a series of lesson videos to help support local food banks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The electric guitar wizard’s first installment covered “using different strings to play different notes in combination with utilizing open strings.”

Now, Johnson is back with his second mini-lesson, which, in his words, demystifies the use of chord-based improv.

To demonstrate what he means, Johnson references his live version of his trademark instrumental, Cliffs of Dover, which he often opens with a long guitar intro “where I’m playing chords and stuff and kind of improv-ing around” in a major scale, he says.

As for how he’s able to combine notes in groups of two, three, four and more?

It’s simple… sort of.

“One of the most important things you can do for all types of music on the guitar is to try to learn all the notes on the fretboard on every string,” he says. From there, Johnson is able to mix and match notes at will, always staying in a particular key.

“It’s a lot of learning,” he admits, “but it’s like learning a language.”

If you’re able to do it, however, “it helps you get out of playing patterns on your lead because you start to think more melodically,” Johnson explains.

“It makes you more fluid and more open and more free to play other stuff instead of just boxed-in physical patterns on the guitar.”

To wrap things up, Johnson says, “learn all the notes on all the frets, so you can afford yourself the freedom to improvise.”

As always, Johnson ends the mini-lesson with a plea to donate to your local food bank

“It’s tough to see a lot of people that are having trouble finding food to eat. And maybe we can help them,” he says.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.