How to Play Stormy Monday On Guitar
In this Guitar Control video, John MacLennan is going to show you how to play Call It Stormy Monday by T Bone Walker. This song was originally written by T Bone Walker but has been covered by tons of different artists. John is going to break down the entire song for you in three separate parts. We are going to look at the intro, then some classic T Bone Walker chord shapes that you can play through the entire song, and then on top of that, we are going to try some lead parts.
Step 1: The Intro
The intro uses dominant 9th chords, which are a staple in T bone Walker’s playing and a staple in learning how to play Call It Stormy Monday. We start with triplets, see the video at 1:12 to see and hear John play this. So what that riff is, is leading into the five chord here, D7, we are in the key of G. This is a G blues. It starts up on Eb, which would be the 6th fret of the 5th string, then the 5th fret of the 4th string, then lay your third finger across the 3rd, 2nd, and 2st strings on the 6th fret barring them. John is muting the 6th string with his thumb and also letting his pointer finger creep up just enough to also barely touch the 6th strings and muting it too. What this does is it allows him to really let his strumming hand dig in on these downstrokes here, without having to worry about hitting any open strings that he doesn’t want to hear. He is also kind of pumping the chord, he is playing and then letting off, so pressing his shape down for the strum, but just barely lifting his fingers up in between hits to mute as well. This is kind of a jazz rhythm style of playing. And that’s the intro! For a really simple, but fun song, make sure you check out our lesson on how to play Spoonful by Cream on guitar.
Step 2: Classic T Bone Walker Chord Shapes
So now we are moving onto the rhythm part that you can play throughout the entire song! So we are going to continue that dominant 9th theme throughout the rhythm part of this. And these are some classic T Bone Walker chord shapes. The first one is a G9. You’ll notice that there is no root in this chord. It is actually starting on the 5th string 2nd fret. Then use your third finger on the 3rd fret of the 4th string, 2nd finger here on the 2nd fret 3rd string, and then pinky finger on the 3rd fret 2nd string. So that is the first chord. If you want, you can also barre that pinky so it is also holding down the 1st string 3rd fret. Which is kind of a cool sound as well. It is a little harder though so you might want to start without it.
Then when we move to the four chord, we are playing a C9. That’s going to be your middle finger on the 3rd 5th string, pointer finger on the 2nd fret 4th string, and barring your middle finger from the 3rd string down through the 1st on the 3rd fret. So the first four bars go like this, one strum on G held out for four measures, the one strum on the C9 held out for four measures, back to the G and strum again this time once every measure. Sometimes John puts his thumb down on the 6th string 3rd fret to make this chord a G9. For the next four measures we are going to play two bars of the C9 and two bars back to the G9. So again, they’re all 9 chords. John really loves just keeping this part simple and playing whole notes and letting the lush harmony ring out. Now we are going to go to the same chord as C9, we are just going to move it up two frets. So now your middle finger is on the 5th fret 5th string, pointer is on the 4th fret 4th string, and ring finger is barring the 5th fret the 3rd through 1st strings, this is a D9. Our three chords are G9, C9, and D9. At about the 5:25 mark, John is going to walk you through and have you play an entire blues, just using whole notes.
One thing you can do to kind of embellish this, and you’ll hear T Bone do this on the recording, he’ll approach things by half steps. So instead of just starting on the 2nd fret, he will actually play, completely dissonant with it, a half step off and then slide it up. It’s a little crazy but he does it just a little bit. Think of it kind of like salt or something on your meal, you don’t want to necessarily use this trick on every chord, you are going to want to use it sparingly and tastefully. John demonstrates this at 7:26 and shows you how these are iconic rhythm parts to a blues that you need to know. At about 8:26 John shows you that you can also go above a half step and then slide down to your chord. Doing that for the very last two chords of the song. The Ab9 to G9. It’s a cool effect. One other thing that came up while John was playing was that you can also put the 5th in the bass which is nice, too. So instead of playing C9, you can move your middle finger up a string and grab the 6th string 3rd fret, the G note, the 5th in the C9 chord.
Step 3: Lead Ideas
Now we are going to look at the last part we are going to cover in this lesson, and play some lead parts through the blues, these are some classic T Bone Walker riffs. Alright, so these licks are not made up exercises, or anything like that, or any kind of scales, theryre actually just real riffs taken from the recording. John transcribed this from the solo. T Bone Walker plays this really cool rhythmic phrase over the four chord, which is the C9. What he does is he starts with his second finger and he slides to the 9th fret on the 3rd string. Then you put your first finger on the 8th fret on the 1st string. Thats two notes in a C chord. You slide into an E, the 5th, and then up to the root, with the 8th fret 1st string. Then you are going to go to the b7 which would be the Bb note, way up on the fretboard on the 11th fret 2nd string. Then do the same phrase, sliding into the 9th again. And you go 10th fret 2nd string and then 8th fret 2nd string. John makes a note that he might use his pinky there but generally plays most of his blues three finger style and actually won’t use his pinky very much. This is a nice little lick, it has a theme to it, and continues the idea. John likes the concept of when you are playing over the blues, what you play, if you play a lick, or you play a phrase, the next phrase that you play, it has to be connected to that, and this lick really does that. It’s a simple line, but the phrase gets connected and extended and the listener can catch onto the theme. So what John might do is steal that idea and then think, how can he apply that over the other chords in the blues. Our chords three chords again are G9, C9, and D9. so going back to that lick, John can see the chord shape for C7 around the lick. Which is barring the 8th fret with your pointer finger from the 6th string all the way down, placing your ring finger on the 5th string 10th fret, the 4th string is already being held down by the barre on the 8th fret, then middle finger on the 9th fret 3rd string, and pinky on the 11th fret 2nd string, and the 1st string being held down by the barre on the 8th fret. So now you can see that he is sliding right into that middle note, then goes up to the note we would be barring if we helped down the C7 shape. Then John shows how he can play the lead while holding the chord. Using this logic, John explains if he can do that, he can move this chord shape to wherever he has another dominant 7 chord and play the lick there. So if he moves it to the one chord, he can still play it and it sounds completely different. He now slides into the 4th fret 3rd string with his middle finger, then he uses his first finger on the 3rd fret 1st string, then pinky on the 6th fret 2nd string. For the lower frets he actually does use his pinky because the spacing is much larger than when you are higher up on the fretboard. Then slide into the 4th fret 3rd string again, Then use your third finger on the 5th fret 2nd string and then pointer on the 3rd fret 2nd string. And then go back up to where we played this lick in the first place, around the C7 coming from the G7. And now, we can do the same thing over the D chord. Before he gets to the D9 John demonstrates playing over these changes. Then he discusses how it can sound a bit mechanical if you don’t change it up and add dynamics. So if he just picks the same way, same effort, same tone, it will sound boring, but if he plays some notes louder than others and some phrases softer or half and half it kind of brings the phrase to life. Much like the way people speak. If someone speaks in one tone throughout their whole sentence, they probably will sound like a robot, but if you change it up and animate it more, now your solo will be telling a story. So you really want to think like that when you are improvising over the blues. Now back to the D chord. Which all you’re really going to do is move the frets you were holding in the C position, all up two more frets. This will be our third and final lick for this lesson. So slide with your middle finger on the 3rd string to the 11th fret, then place your pointer down on the 1st string 10th fret, and then pinky on the 2nd string 13th fret. Then for the second half, slide again on the 3rd string 11th fret with your middle finger, then pick the 12th fret 2nd string with your ring finger, and then pick the 10th fret 2nd string with your pointer finger. So maybe you might use this lick also on the turnaround, following the chords. So right there, John got through an entire chorus of blues with just one lick, and it’s coming from the language of the music, it’s coming from recording. It’s not a made up exercise. John can turn it into an exercise for us, yes, but the core of what it is, is a classic phrase.
Recap: How to Play Stormy Monday on Guitar
I hope you enjoyed learning how to play Call It Stormy Monday on guitar. This song is great to jam over and even better to learn from. Really make sure to pay a lot of attention to how John described moving this chords, and how he very visually showed you how to move the lick around based off of the chords. Seeing the degrees of the scale everywhere and doing everything very calculated but also having tons of feel in his delivery. Making the way we play phrases very musical and adding dynamics. Take these lesson further than just this song and really incorporate the ideas and techniques into your own placing and own improvising skills, and of course, as always, have fun!
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