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Moonlight Serenade - A fingerstyle guitar lesson

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

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The video with un-blurred virtual fretboard can be downloaded from a link at the top of the TAB

Moonlight Serenade - the lesson explained.

I had a great time listening to the original Glenn Miller version of this, picking it apart, weaving the main lines together into this fingerstyle arrangement and remembering my childhood. This tune was played often and loud in the Lorange household, in fact I'm sure I remember it (like many other others) from my days as a fetus. They sure knew how to write them back then.

I tried to keep this as straight forward as possible, not an easy task though. It's the interplay between the two main moving lines that make this tune so memorable. I just had to figure out a way to express it on six strings. I hope I succeeded. If you haven't heard the original, Here it is on YouTube.

I did this in Dropped D, which suits it it to a T. That opening D6 chord is so beautiful (I spent a lot of time just strumming through it and listening to it ring) with that low D that it seemed the best key. So, lower that bass E string down a full tone and remember that all notes on that string will now be 2 frets higher in pitch. Sometimes it gets confusing to read a chord name and see that bass note out of position.

There is nothing too tricky about this, but, on the other hand, there is nothing too easy about it either. There are some oddball chords in amongst it all, chords I had to figure out by ear. I'm sure they're not the exact chords that Glenn wrote, nor am I confident that I named them right. But, they sound right to my ear in context, and you'll see the dots on the virtual fretboard showing you where to put your fingers. It's quite long, but one section is repeated three times, so it's not that bad.

It opens with that beautiful D6 chord, the 6 being the melody note. The simple melodic figure repeats over the next two chords, which is something they used to do quite often in those days. The first time through I keep it fairly simple. It then moves up in pitch and, once again, the simple melody, now up a fifth in pitch, line repeats itself over the 3 flavors of D -- D, DM7 and D7th. Here I introduced the second line. It gets a little tricky playing both and will require some concentration and stretching to get it down, but it's worth the effort. The verse section ends with a beautiful melodic resolve over some unusual changes. The B7 in measure 8 has a momentary #9 in it (I didn't write it into the chord name), followed by a sort of chord-melody that brings it all to a resolve over those two complicated but gorgeous sounding A chords in bar 11.

Bar 12 is a little turnaround, heading back to verse two. If you listen to the original on YouTube you will hear the most wonderful little piano lick over that same spot. I didn't copy it exactly but I kept the same vibe with those three descending diminished chords. Once you realize that it's the same shape moving down in one-fret increments and that all you need to do is pick your way through them, you'll find it fairly easy ... and fun. The red dots flying around the fretboard in the video make it look much trickier than it is.

That whole thing repeats, but you'll hear that the second time I introduce the moving line over those first three chords. This is where you really do begin to recognize Moonlight Serenade. Glenn uses brass playing harmonized lines, I could only get one note lines to fit, but it seems to work.

The second pass through ends on a Am-D7, over which I play a lick, which leads us to ...

...the middle eight. It starts on the IV chord, G. It's a GM7 to be exact and requires a BIG stretch. Fortunately there's nothing too complicated going on other than the stretch. It then moves to a iv chord, the minor four chord. It's a Gm6, but the shape I wound up with includes a 9 (the melody note). Then comes that neat F#7. I decided to be a bit more dramatic about the stop there, Glenn seems to ride through it more sedately, I give it a good old thump on the bass string.

Bars 29 and 30 are, unfortunately, barred shapes. I hate them as much as anyone else but there was no other way to express this part. You can hear that I have trouble getting a nice clean ring out of them. The middle eight ends with a couple of half diminished (minor7b5) to dom7 changes, the last being that wonderful sounding A13#9 chord.

Back to the last verse, slightly different. I manage to really nail the interweaving of the two lines over the Em at bar 35, This would be the one to work out. I was trying to get it on the second pass but didn't quite. The original goes through another verse, another middle eight and a last verse. I kept this version more compact and ended it after the third verse. My ending is similar to Glenn's but not quite same. I hadn't really worked anything out but this particular take wound up with this one. I don't mind it.

So that's it ... should keep you busy for a while. Remember: you're the boss of those fingers and if you make them do the same moves over and over (and over) again -- slowly -- they will remember on their own. I know this to be fact because when I started working on this a week ago I had no idea how it would go, nor did my fingers. Now? I can play it without thinking about it.