Stormy Monday Fingerstyle Blues
The Lesson explained
Here is yet another lesson using the very cool chord progression from Stormy Monday. It's really just a 12 bar blues, and some versions do in fact simply use the standard I-IV-V progression. I like this one, with the Am, Bm, Bbm passage. I'm not sure who started using it -- Allman Brothers? -- but it's my preferred version.
I'm not sure what had possessed me when I recorded/videoed this, maybe one cup too many of the black coffee I drink, but I attack this quite aggressively so there's a bit of rattling going on. I wasn't as angry as I sound!
I'm in the key of G and in Dropped D tuning.
I start with a little intro I came up with which is a fairly standard turnaround progression but played down in the bass end. The descending bass line gives rise to slash chords -- chords that use notes other than the root as their lowest tone. The G7/F uses the flat 7, the C/E uses the 3rd (a 'first inversion') and the G/D uses the 5th (a 'second inversion').
You'll hear that, as much as possible, I state the 'chord of the moment' in some fashion or other, then play a phrase. In some cases I just play a low root, which is enough to tell the ear where the center of tonality is; in other cases I play a double stop consisting of chord tones, which is an even stronger way of stating the tonality, and I also use a full chord, like the C9. So this kind of fingerstyle arranging gives the listener a good idea of what's going on harmonically without a continuous rhythm guitar part playing away. All the little bits and pieces -- bass notes, bass lines, double stops, phrases, melody lines, chords -- together add up to 'the tune'. I truly enjoy putting these together, it's a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. And if you're wondering how I know where to find all the bits and pieces of the puzzle ... I read PlaneTalk. (In fact I wrote it. :-)
There's nothing terribly difficult about any of this arrangement but keeping the feel going is the tricky bit. You'll hear a lot of holes, a lot of air, so you really do need to have the pulse of the tune running through your bones to keep it from crashing. You'll hear that at times I'm playing it fairly straight, then I switch to a sort of shuffly swing toward the end, then back to the straight feel. I tend to switch around willy nilly and no take is ever the same as any other and I don't suggest you should try and duplicate this one. Better to take note of the chord voicings and the general idea of what I'm doing, and come up with your own way of expressing it.
Another thing to take note of in this lesson is the way I mute unwanted ringing with my picking hand. This is something I started doing when playing slide and has carried over into non-slide playing. You'll see that I use the side of my thumb and my fifer tips to mute strings I don't to ring out. It also prevents extraneous harmonics from ringing out on strings that are left open and un-muted. It keeps everything nice and clean. Of course when I do want to let strings ring on, as in the intro and outro and some of those bass notes, I let them.
I end it the way I start it, with that descending bass line part, but you'll notice that it's played a little differently than the intro. Again, this is what happens when you improvise. Nothing is ever set in stone.
I'll do a couple more of these 'studies' using this same progression in the coming weeks.
Hope you like it!
See you then,