Lost this post from last February, so here it is again:
It’s a beautiful, clear, winter day; the temperature is 11º Fahrenheit (that’s -11º Celsius), and I can’t go anywhere. I dropped my car key in the snow yesterday, and now the ignition lock has frozen solid. Great day to stay home and work on this song.
Just about every vocalist who ever lived has recorded this song-- it may be the most-covered song of all time. Lots of instrumentalists have covered it too. I think it sounds especially nice on an acoustic guitar. Here’s my version of the aria from George Gershwin’s jazz opera, Porgy and Bess.
Summertime is not an especially hard song to play, but it does require barre chords, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and bending notes. I would call it intermediate level. None of these techniques are especially tricky, but there are a couple of fast chord changes, so you simply must nail the barre chords every time, with no messing around. If you cannot do this, download the song anyway and prepare for some serious practicing.
Set your metronome for 76 quarter-notes per minute. I originally tabbed it in 4/4 time, which doubled the number of measures, but made the beat easier to figure out. Then I found that the time signature had to be changed a lot, to accommodate the bluesy nature of the song, so I gave up and tabbed it in 8/8. It’s lots easier to read that way, but you’ll find that most of the measures will actually sound more like two measures of 4/4 than one of 8/8. Let me know if this bothers you. If your playing is sufficiently relaxed, no one will notice.
The Intro is a measure and a half long. Accent the second note of each phrase: da-DUM-da, da-DUM-da, da-DUM-da, da-DUM. Do the double slide at the beginning of the third measure with your barring finger, and you’ll be all ready for the Amv chord. Done right, it sounds like you are sliding the whole chord, but don’t actually slide the whole chord. It’ll make scratching noises with your fingers on the strings you’re not playing.
The next measure is a bit tricky, as you need to bend the D on the second string, then pull it off to the C. It’s actually not hard to do, but it sounds wonderful. Make the bend fairly deep, about half a fret. You can bend it either by pushing the string or pulling it. The underline shows that you have to ligado directly from the bent note to the C. Again, you can do this as a pull-off or a push-off. Either will work fine, as long as you do the ligado the same direction as the bend! I can get a deeper bend by pushing, so I do the ligado as a push-off, but if you can’t get a clear ligado this way, then pull the bend and do a pull-off.
The bend at the end of the measure should be a bit more subtle, about half as deep. I show bent notes as italics, but they can be hard to notice with everything else happening in the tab, so I also write the word bend in light-face italics above the line, to make it more obvious. Please do not omit these bent notes. They add lots of expression and lustre to the song.
The third line consists of a downward-running chord sequence that is one of the coolest parts of the song. Strongly accent the first note of each phrase: DUM-dum-dada DUM-dum-dada, repeated three times. Change from the Dm to the Dmaj7 by sliding the ring finger from the III space to the II space. The whole progression goes very easily, especially if you start with a short barre on the first two strings, even in the Dm, where it isn’t necessary. The E7 chord is easy to do, and provides a very subtle change to the EaddD chord in the next measure. Actually, EaddD is just another way of playing an E7, and is usually just called E7. The notes are identical, but they are in a different order, which gives a slightly different sound. Pianists refer to chords like this as different inversions of the same chord, while to guitarists, they are different chord shapes.
I had to change the time signature for the next measure, to accommodate the triplets, as there is no way to divide 12 notes into eighths and have it come out even. The tempo does not really change at all, but it sounds like it, as you are cramming half-again as many notes into a measure of the same length. Strongly accent the first note of each triplet: ONE-and-a TWO-and-a THREE-and-a FOUR-and-a. You’ll have to play the notes somewhat faster than you have been playing, to make the measure the same length as the other measures. Practicing with a metronome can really help here, if you set it to 76 beats per minute. Then, in every measure, there will be four ticks of the metronome, regardless of whether you are playing eighth notes or twelfth notes.
The hardest part of the whole song (for me) is changing from 4/4 triplets back to 8/8 eighth notes, while moving from EaddD to Amv with a double slide, all at the same time, and QUICKLY. That’s one reason I play the open G note on the last triplet. It sounds good, and gives me a slightly longer time to let go of the EaddD and get my barring finger up to the IV fret. Admittedly, a twelfth note is not a whole lot of extra time, but I need all the help I can get! Don’t give up! You may have to practice this change a lot before it becomes smooth.
The first measure on the fifth line (“an’ yo’ mama’s good-lookin’”) is played almost exactly like measure 4, only without the bends. You can put the bends in if you like, but I think leaving them out adds variety in a way the audience is likely to find subtle. Translation: they’ll hear the difference, but they won’t know they’ve heard it. Since the whole song is repeated at least once, there will be some times when the bends are used, and others when they aren’t. Keep ‘em guessing.
Second time around, I like to hold the following BmVII chord a bit, for emphasis. Then, in the sixth line, I like to strum the runs in the first and third measures with my thumb for variety. Some guitarists don’t like switching back and forth between strums and pinches, but I like the sound. Don’t forget the bends in the second measure.
The first measure of the last line continues right back to the end of the Intro. Play the whole song over again. After the last verse, add the Finale and take your bows. There are words to the second verse, often changed for political correctness. Since this is a guitar solo, and the lyrics are not going to be sung at all, no one should be offended. Here’s what Gershwin wrote:
One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky
But until that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by.