In this free guitar lesson, I have another installment of How Does This Song Work featuring “Gravity” by John Mayer. I give you an overview of the song including the chords, progression, composition techniques, and the scales used for the solos. I also demonstrate a part from the live version of the song.
To get my sound for this song, I’m playing an Epiphone Dot semi-hollowbody guitar. I’m on the neck pickup. I currently have PRS 57/08 pickups installed. I’m playing through a Kemper Profiling amplifier using a clean Marshall amp sound with reverb and tremolo.
“Gravity” is in the key of G. It sounds like the organ I hear at the very beginning of the song plays the chords G and Am. These are chords I and ii in the G scale.
|G / / / / / | / / / / / / | Am / / / / / | / / / / / / |
We need to stop right here and discuss the time signature. Instead of being in the common time signature of 4/4, this song is in 6/8. That means each measure contains 6 eighth notes. You count it “1 2 3 4 5 6, 1 2 3 4 5 6…” and so on. You can tap your foot the same way, or you can tap every three beats.
Once the rest of the instrumentation comes in, the chord change is G to C. You clearly hear C played on the bass guitar. These are now chords I and IV in the G scale.
|G / / / / / | / / / / / / | C / / / / / | / / / / / / |
But, there’s still an A note present in the C chord. This creates the sound of a C6 chord. You could think of C6 as an A minor chord with a C in the bass position.
Now, John Mayer doesn’t actually play the C chord this way. His bass player takes care of the root and his organ player sustains the rest of the chord. John added a rhythm guitar track that plays bits and pieces of the chords along with some embellishments. Then there’s a lead guitar that I’ll get to in a moment.
Let’s take a closer look at the rhythm part. John is tapping into his bag of R&B and Hendrix licks to play around the chords. The G chord is embellished with a 6th and 2nd. These parts also make use of notes that all fit into the G major pentatonic scale, so you can think of them that way. I like to visualize G major pentatonic pattern 2 and 3.
On C, I’m thinking C6 (or Am) and a first inversion of a C chord in “G form”.
John improvises over the chord changes and doesn’t seem to play the same thing twice. I worked out a few variations by listening to the recording and viewing the tab. I tend to stick with these parts when I play the song. You can do the same thing. You don’t need to learn everything John played.
Moving on, the guitar soloing you hear in “Gravity” is played in the G major pentatonic scale. This makes sense because we’re in the key of G major and there’s nothing unusual about the harmony. In other words, you’re not playing minor over major as is often done in blues-based music. John begins in pentatonic pattern four working around the root note, G, on the second string 8th fret. He bends from A to B, which is the 2nd and 3rd.
We’ll do more soloing in a minute, but next we need to go over the chord changes in the chorus. The chorus is based on the following chords.
|Am7 / / / / / | / / / / / / | D7 / / / / / | / / / / / / |Gm/Bb / / / / / | Ebmaj7 / / / / / | D7 / / / / / | / / / / / / |
There isn’t anything unusual about the first two chords, Am7 and D7. They are chords ii and V in the G scale. The particular chord shapes might be new to you. But things take a turn halfway through with the Gm/Bb and Ebmaj7 chord. Where do they come from?
These chords come from the parallel scale of G minor, so we have some modal mixture happening here. Where did John get this idea? Perhaps he stole it from some other song, or maybe he came up with it on his own while experimenting with different chord shapes.
The first thing I notice is, the Gm/Bb chord could also be thought of as a Bb6. It’s identical to the C6 chord shape used in the verses only moved down a whole step. Perhap that’s where the idea came from.
When that Gm/Bb chord is played, You have temporarily switched keys to G minor. In minor keys, it’s common to use bVI to V7 movement. In the key of G minor, bVI and V are E major and D major. When you add 7ths you get Ebmaj7 and D7. You can play these chords in various forms.
The D7 chord provides a dominant push back to the tonic pitch, G, and you switch back to G major at this point to resume the G to C6 chord changes.
Gravity Guitar Solo
The guitar solo is played using G major pentatonic. Instead of playing up and down the pentatonic patterns vertically, John Mayer reaches into his bag of Hendrix tricks again by moving horizontally. He plays in a legato manner by hammering on, pulling off, and sliding along the second string. There are a few spots where John ventures outside the pentatonic and plays a C note. You bend to C in one case, and land on a fretted C in another.
Gravity Live Version
I have covered most of what happens in the studio version of “Gravity.” John added a new section to the song in the live version heard on the album Where the Light Is. The section begins around the 6 minute mark.
John used a Stratocaster in the live version, so I decided to switch guitars. This new section is based on a simple idea. You play 6th interval shapes in the G scale, but you use G Mixolydian instead of G major. G Mixolydian contains a b7th, F natural.
During this section, the bass player continues to play the root notes G and C just like the verse. When you combine the C root with the notes in the 6th intervals, you create the sound of the chords Dm/C, C, G/C, and Am/C. You can experiment with different ways to combine these notes on the fretboard if you want, but John left the bass notes to the bass player.
John Mayer takes advantage of the dominant 7th Mixolydian sound here by making use of the G minor pentatonic for his solo. I hear a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan influence in his playing here and I suspect the music is partly influenced by SRV’s song “Life Without You” because there are similar elements.