Stormy Monday - a lesson in holding a nice, steady rhythm.
The Lesson explained
This lesson uses the chord progression from Stormy Monday and demonstrates an interesting musical fact and it will also give you some good practice in holding a nice, steady rhythm and finger independence.
The interesting musical fact is this: you don't need to play many notes to express chords in a progression. This idea that rhythm guitar players have to keep strumming through big six-string open or barre shapes to let the listener know what chords are being played ... is wrong. Yes, there are six strings on a guitar, and yes, you can if you want use them all, but once you start playing with other players you will probably find that 'less is best'. Not only is it easier (fingering wise) to keep your chords to the bare minimum of tones, but it sounds better too. It leaves more room in the overall soundscape for others to add their parts or, if you're accompanying yourself singing, for your vocals.
In this lesson, it's the combination of the repetitive double stops and the moving bass line that spell out the chords. Measure 1, for example, is a plain old A triad (1-3-5) so there's no problem recognizing the chord there. Measure 3, though, I'm playing the 9 and b7 for the double stop, and the 3 as bass note, then the bass note moves to the root at bar 4, so in that case it takes two measures to be sure that I've moved to the D, the IV chord. Measure 6 is Eaug and the notes there are 3-#5-1. So you can see that in each case only three notes are ever in play at the same time, and yet a fairly complex progression is coming out. It's a combination of actual notes and context -- what came before and where it's heading -- that makes this happen, that allows us to hear chords even when they're not always there.
We're in the key of A and the time signature is 6/8, meaning 6 eighth beats per measure, all of which are plucked.
If you look at the movie and tab, you'll see that all the double stops are played on strings 2-3 while the bass line meanders around strings 4-5-6. The trick is to keep those double stops going relentlessly while letting the thumb pick out the bass line. It's the combination of both that lets the listener hear the chord progression evolving. You can see that the same two fingers -- the index and middle -- are the pluckers, while the ring finger is resting on the high E string. I didn't even realize it was until I watched the movie. I do like to mute that string, to make sure that no overtones ring out or in case I hit it by mistake. You'll also hear that I accent the first and fourth pluck in each measure to give the whole thing a lilt.
Bar 13 is where the progression becomes Stormy Monday. In a normal blues, I would just stay on the I chord there, the A, until bar 19. In this case I've moved up to a ii chord, then a iii chord, then dropped a semitone to a biii chord then back to the ii ... before going to the E7. It's a great little sequence that turns the blues into jazz. Notice that the shape for each of those is identical, all I've done is move them up and down the fingerboard. The notes in the shape are 1-b7-b3, which is all that's required to hear 'minor 7th' flavor, and the bass line moves between the 1 and 5 (as bass lines love to do) as needed.
There's a fairly standard turnaround starting at bar 21 ... nothing too tricky there. In fact, none of it is very tricky. The fingerings are all pretty straight forward. The hardest thing is keeping those double stops pulsing away in eighth note beats, keeping them nice and steady and soulful. It's more of a piano feel than guitar feel, but when you play finger style, emulating piano parts is easy.
I also did a slide version of Stormy Monday - Here it is on YouTube.
Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
As well as putting together these free guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.