Clarity is one of those songs that I have rediscovered several times, and each time it gives me more things to think about. At first it just appeared as a catchy melody from my youth. Then it was on my ‘A list’ when I started out as a singer songwriter. It’s just one example of the kind of spiritual insights John had on his early records, the kind of things I miss in his more recent records. It was only after working on the pluck and chuck series for a few years that I realized that Clarity was an example of a sophisticated 16th note empty chuck groove. That is what we come to in this lesson.
At first I was tempted to group this song in with the 8th note grooves, but the more recordings I tore into the clearer it became that this song gets its essence from 16th swing syncopations. That being said, most of the phrases from other songs in this series won’t work in this song; it’s a beast all its own. There get to be some intense rhythms in live acoustic versions of this song that will give most guitarists a run for their money. This is why I have devoted this entire section of the series to John Mayer’s style; there’s really not much else to compare it to in the guitar world or the songwriting world.
There are a lot of variations of this song in live performances, and John has developed some pretty sophisticated thumbing techniques for this song. He integrates his favorite thumb-raking technique and his highly syncopated picking patterns into the various iterations of this groove. I linked my favorite live performance, which has a particularly gnasty intro jam, at the top of this page. The composite live score has that intro in addition to some other interesting phrases from other performances to make a collage of the evolution of this song.
When you start out with this song, I highly recommend you use the simplified version that I have here, especially if you want to sing along. The 16th triplet (or 24th note) variations are very hard to sing over without losing tempo, and John Mayer’s music is so grounded in the groove that any loss of tempo absolutely destroys the feel. My recommendation is that you get the easy version down with a metronome and then start to layer in your favorite variations. For most people, I have a hunch these riffs will not come easy, and it’s worth it to take the time to get comfortable with them so that they groove hard before you try to sing over them.