The song of the week is 'New River Train' in the key of F.
Here are some youtube links to good versions of 'New River Train' to listen to:
First, here is the classic Bill and Charlie Monroe recording from 1936, with just mandolin and rhythm guitar and two voices - key of D. Notice how fast they play the song. In order to do this well, one needs to avoid all unnecessary motions in one's playing: e.g., keep your picking, strumming, - or on fiddle, bowing - motions short and compact so as to not overexert yourself, and don't allow your left hand fingers to fly away from the strings when taking them off the fretboard, keep them curled in towards the strings and have them anticipate the location on the fretboard where they need to go next.
Tony Rice and Norman Blake - also in the key of D, and quite a bit slower than the Monroe Brothers recording: good guitar breaks on this one:
Here are a couple of full band versions of the song (both in the key of E) in which - of the main bluegrass instruments - more than just guitars and mandolins are represented for the breaks:
The White Brothers - New River Train
Roland White - New River Train - Live at McCabe's
The lyrics of New River Train are quite repetitive and easy to memorize. For this reason, this is one of the songs I recommend learning to sing to those who wish to lead a song at the jam, but do not have much experience doing so. Other songs on the current main list and additional songs list that are fairly easy to memorize include: Mama Don't Allow, My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains, Hand Me Down My Walking Cane, Lonesome Road Blues, Long Journey Home, Take This Hammer, and Worried Man Blues.
For a song that has a chorus, 3 verses (in some cases, even just 2 verses) are plenty to sing for the song at a jam, and singing more than 4 verses is almost always too much, especially when songs are not being played up to speed.
For a song that does not have a chorus, 5 verses is often perfect, more than 6 is usually too many, and just 4 verses will sometimes be enough.
Note: In offering the preceding points about the number of verses for typical jam arrangements of songs, I have in mind songs in which each verse is 16 measures long and, if the song has a chorus, then songs in which each chorus is also 16 measures long. For songs in which parts of the song are shorter or longer than 16 measures each, the numbers given above should be adjusted accordingly.
The progression I use for this song is the same as the progression used on the recordings:
(W2 on the basic chord progressions chart)
Notice that the 4 is followed by the 5 without a 1 intervening between the 4 and the 5. Keep this is mind if it helps you to avoid confusing this progression with the closely related progression given below in which a 1 does intervene between the 4 and the 5:
This latter progression (V2 on the basic chord progressions chart) is the one used for playing 'Mama Don't Allow' and 'Will You Be Loving Another Man'.
Key of F
In the key of F: 1=F, 4=Bb, and 5=C
For mandolin, fiddle, and bass players (and players of any other instrument on which capos are not commonly used): the two major scales that share the most notes and in common with the F major scale (one flat in the scale: Bb) are C (no flats or sharps), and Bb (two flats: Bb and Eb), so if you are more familiar with playing in Bb and C than with playing in F, you might find it helpful for finding your way on the fingerboard in the key of F to think of it as having a lot in common with playing in these other keys. (The F major scale differs by only one note from the C major scale, and differs by only one note from the Bb major scale.) As for the three most frequently used chords in the key of F (F, Bb, and C, the 1,4, and 5 respectively), you might notice that two of these chords are among the three most frequently used chords when playing in the key of C (C, F, G, the 1,4, and 5 respectively), and when playing in the key of Bb (Bb, Eb, F, the 1,4, and 5 respectively).
For New River Train in the key of F, some guitar players will prefer to capo to the 5th fret and play as if in C, while others will prefer to capo the 3rd fret and play as if in D. The C capo 5 option for F works well for doing a Carter-style guitar break for the song (i.e., a break in which the melody is carried on the bass strings of the guitar with strums in between the melody notes when there is time for them), for all the notes of the melody can be found within the first 3 frets on the 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings. Among other things, the D capo 3 option for F allows for lower-pitched fillin licks on the 1 chord that make use of the 6th string (e.g., the D chord equivalent of the famous bluegrass guitar 'G run'). I have included both a key of C and a key of D guitar tab melody sheet in the attachments
For beginner banjo players, I recommend playing this song as if in the key of D: capoing the 3rd fret and spiking the 5th string at the 10th fret to arrive at the key of F. This way you can find all the melody notes on the 4th and 3rd strings. (See the attached banjo tab of the melody.) If you, like myself, do not have a 10th fret spike on your banjo, use your 9th fret spike and then manually tune the 5th string up the extra half step to a C note.
Will You Be Loving Another Man
Here is the original Bill Monroe recording of Will You Be Loving Another Man (with Lester Flatt on lead vocal, and Earl Scruggs on banjo):
key of A
The song of the week is 'Liberty', an old-time fiddle tune that is traditionally played in the key of D.
Flatt & Scruggs with Doc Watson - fiddle, guitar and harmonica breaks
This contains a good example of harmonica being played in a bluegrass context.
Take note of the feel and timing with which the 4 potato intro is played on the fiddle at the very beginning of the recording. Also, notice the 4 measure double ending after the last fiddle break at the end of the recording which is split between the fiddle and the guitar.
Notice that Scruggs does not play a banjo break here, but contents himself with playing backup. And this is what I recommend that banjo players at the beginner jam do who have not yet learned to play in the key of D by way of playing as if in C, but with the capo on the 2nd fret. I advise against attempts by beginner-level players to try to come up with a banjo break for Liberty in D without a capo.
Now, to make up for the lack of banjo breaks in the recording, check out this live performance involving so many great banjo players:
Bill Keith, Tony Trischka, Greg Cahill etc.
For the next two weeks, I intend on kicking off Liberty at the extremely slow tempo of 72 beats per minute (2 clicks of the metronome per measure). That is 48 beats per minute slower than the standard square dance tempo (120). But after the tune has run through its song of the week cycle, attempts should be made to kick it off at increasingly faster tempos by those who call it at future jams.
The reason for such a slow tempo is to encourage fiddle, mandolin and guitar players to learn to make use of more consecutive 8th notes in their breaks than what the general tendency has been up to this point at the beginner jam, and at the same time to make it easier for them in doing this to focus on their technique, feel, and timing for playing passages that contain many 8th notes back to back.
Despite how they look when written on paper, and what their name implies, a string of consecutive 8th notes should not all be given equal time value when playing most Bluegrass breaks. Rather, they should usually be swung, so that the first 8th note in each pair of 8th notes lasts a bit longer than one-eighth of a measure, stealing time value from the second 8th note in the pair, which in turn takes up a bit less than one-eighth of the measure. The slower that consecutive 8th notes are played, the easier it is to detect whether they are being played in this manner (long-short-long-short, etc., often called 'lilt' or 'bounce'). To hear more clearly what this sounds like, slow down the youtube links provided here to half speed. To do this, click on settings, then click on speed, then click on 0.5.
As is the case with most traditional fiddle tunes, there are many versions and interpretations of the melody of Liberty, but most versions one will come across online (whether written or recorded) are compatible with the interpretation of the melody I have offered in the attachments. But, for fiddle, guitar and mandolin players to get the most out of playing Liberty for the next two weeks at the jam (very slow: 72 beats per minute), it is best for them to avoid playing a version of the melody that contains significantly fewer cases of consecutive 8th notes than the version I have offered here.
Guitar & Banjo Tabs
With ease of left hand fingering in mind, I have written the guitar and banjo tabs for Liberty in C instead of D. So, guitar and banjo players playing breaks based upon these will need to capo the 2nd fret to raise their playing up from the key of C to the key of D, and will need to make it a point to remember that Liberty is a 'D' tune, not a 'C' tune. (No guitar or banjo player should call Liberty at a jam in the key of C when there are fiddlers or mandolin players present.)
Banjo Melody Tab
The banjo melody tab in the attachments is not intended to be played as written for a banjo break, but is intended to serve as a guide for creating a Scruggs-style break. For tunes with fast-moving melodies like Liberty, Scruggs-style players tend to incorporate only as much of the melody into their breaks that is needed in order for the tune to be recognizable, and replace the rest of the melody with strategically selected filler-notes.that are compatible with the chord that is called for at the time, and that allow the player to make use of the right hand picking patterns that are typical of the style. In the attachments, I have provided examples of how a Scruggs-style player, using the melody sheet as a guide and following the basic principles of Scruggs-style, might choose to play the first two measures of the A Part and the first two measures of the B Part.
Note to Clawhammer Banjo Players
Clawhammer banjo players usually tune their banjos to double C tuning (GCGCD) for playing Liberty, and then capo the 2nd fret to raise their playing up to D. When tuned this way, in order to make use of the banjo melody tab provided here, one will need to add 2 to the numbers shown on the tab for the 4th string, and subtract 1 from the numbers shown on the tab for the 2nd string. (In the case of the open 2nd string notes shown on the tab, the 4th fret of the 3rd string will need to be used in their place.)
By transferring some of the melody notes shown on the first string in the tab to the 2nd string (and by transferring also the open 2nd string note to the 4th fret of the 3rd string), it is feasible, with the help of drop-thumb, hammer-ons, and pull-offs, for a clawhammer player to grab almost every melody note. However, most clawhammer players take a similar approach to Scruggs-style players in being selective about which melody notes to include in their playing of the tune, substituting filler notes in place of some of the melody notes in ways that allow them to make more use of the picking patterns typical of clawhammer style than what would be the case if they were to try to grab as much of the melody as possible.
8 Potato Intros
Since there is nothing more effective for kicking off most fiddle tunes at a bluegrass jam than 8 Potato Intros, I have included examples of these in the attachments for each of the 4 primary lead instruments played at the beginner jam: fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and 3-finger style banjo. Players of other instruments/styles can get ideas from these examples, and/or by listening to the 4 Potato intro on the Flatt & Scruggs recording of Liberty, for what to do on their instruments for an 8 Potato intro.
Notice that the last (4th) measure of the 8 Potato Intro includes the two pickup notes (or in the case of the banjo tab, just one pickup note) that lead into the first complete measure of the A Part of Liberty. If there were no pickup notes into the A Part of Liberty, then all 4 measures of the 8 Potato Intro would be identical with each other. This is important to keep in mind when kicking off fiddle tunes with an 8 Potato Intro. For, if one does not start into the melody at exactly the right time, then the 8 Potato Intro fails to serve its purpose.
I have also included in the attachments examples of double endings suitable for Liberty for the four primary lead instruments played at the jam, since it is customary at bluegrass jams to end fiddle tunes (and certain other types of instrumentals) with these kinds of endings.
When playing these endings, it is important to make sure that they start at exactly the right time relative to the end of the final B Part. The incomplete last measure on the melody sheets (2nd ending of the B Part) needs to be completed either by a quarter note rest, or by changing the last note from a quarter note to a half note before the first note of the double ending starts.
Since the last break played for Liberty at the jam will usually be an 'everybody' break, it makes sense for everyone who played that break to also play the double ending together. But, even if the last break were not an 'everybody' break, I would still encourage everyone at the beginner jam who knows how to play a double ending to do so, so as to let them get more practice and experience with doing this.
Those not playing the double ending should stop playing after the last note of the final B Part has been played, and then prepare themselves to do one final note, double stop, or strum that will coincide with the last note of the double ending. In order for them to be able to do this, and to do this confidently, it is important that those playing the double ending play it clearly and with the correct timing.
The song of the week is 'All The Good Times Are Past And Gone' in the key of A. This song is played in 3/4 (a.k.a., 'Waltz') time.
Flatt and Scruggs, key of A
The chord progression for 'All The Good Times Are Past and Gone' is:
[Progression V6 on the 'Basic Chord Progressions' handout. Probably the most well-known song in 3/4 time that uses this same progression is 'Amazing Grace'.]
In the key of A: 1 = A; 4 = D; 5 = E.
With a capo on the 2nd fret, the chord shapes become: 1 = G; 4 = C; 5 = D.
Notice that on the Flatt and Scruggs recording of 'All The Good Times', an extra measure of the '1' chord is played at the end of each of the breaks before the vocal comes in. When playing this song at the jam, this may or may not happen, so be prepared for either scenario. Also be prepared for the possibility that more than one measure of the '1' chord may be added to the end of some of the breaks before the vocal comes in. The safest thing to do here is to just keep on hitting the root note of the chord (on bass and guitar) at the beginning of each of these additional measures of the '1' chord so as to guarantee that you will be playing the root note of the chord at the time when the progression starts over from the beginning.
To say that a song is played in 3/4 time means that there are 3 beats per measure in the song. On guitar, when playing rhythm, one measure will consist of 'boom-chuck-chuck', i.e., 'bassnote-strum-strum', rather than the more common rhythm for bluegrass songs of 'boom-chuck-boom-chuck'. Notice that this means that in 3/4 time it takes two measures, instead of one, to get through a cycle of root-5 (alternating bass) on guitar (and on bass, if you are playing only one note per measure). For this reason, it can be useful to think of the chord progression in groups of two measures.
The root note of each chord is simply the note that has the same letter name as the chord. The '5' of the chord is the 5th scale degree of the major scale that has the same letter name as the chord. The first five scale degrees of the A major scale are A, B, C#, D, and E, so when playing 'root-5' over an A chord, this means that you are alternating between an A and an E note.
There are six major (and six minor) chords for which identifying the '5' involves nothing more than counting up the musical alphabet, without having to worry about sharps or flats. The six are: A, C, D, E, F, and G. So, the 5 of 'C' (counting C as '1') is G (1,2,3,4,5: C,D,E,F,G), the 5 of D is 'A', the 5 of E is 'B', the 5 of F is 'C', and the 5 of G is 'D'.
3/4 Time Root-5
Taking the progression two measures at a time, the first two measures allow one to play 'root-5' over the 1 chord, but the second group of two measures (i.e., the third and fourth measures) allow one to play only the root note of the chords called for there, because the second of these two measures has a different chord than what the first of these two measures does. So, this scenario is similar to what happens in the non-3/4 time songs we play at the jam in which a single measure is split between two chords (e.g., the 7th measure of each of the parts of Boil The Cabbage Down and Soldier's Joy, or the 4th measure of each of the parts of Shortnin' Bread and the B-Part of Cripple Creek.)
The second line of the progression for All The Good Times allows one to play root-5 over the 1 chord and then over the 5 chord. Notice that this means that two root notes over the 1 chord end up being played back to back, one in the last measure of the first line, and one in the first measure of the second line, since the first line of the progression ended with the 1 chord, and there was only time to play the root note of the chord, but not the 5, because the third measure of the first line called for chord that was not the 1 chord.
When playing a 'vamp' or 'chop' rhythm on mandolin, banjo, fiddle, or dobro, a measure of 3/4 time will consist of 'rest-chuck-chuck', which is the same as the guitar rhythm, just without the bass note at the beginning of the measure.
When playing a roll in 3/4 time on banjo, you will have time for a maximum of 6 plucked notes per measure (counted as '1 & 2 & 3 &'), rather than the usual maximum of 8 notes per measure ('1 e & a 2 e & a'), Considered in relation to a roll pattern consisting of 8 notes, this usually involves omitting either the last two notes of the roll, or in some cases, the 5th and 6th notes of the roll, or the 3rd and 4th notes of the roll. If approaching playing in 3/4 time from his angle, make sure that the 3/4 time rolls you create by dropping notes from the standard 8 note rolls don't result in the need to play two 8th notes back to back with the same finger of your picking hand.
There are many standard (common time: 4/4, or cut common time 2/2) licks on banjo, as well as on the other bluegrass instruments, that have 3/4 time equivalents. The 3/4 time versions of these licks in many cases can be derived from the common time or cut common time lick by omitting a quarter of a measure's worth of the least essential notes of the lick.
Little Cabin Home On The Hill
Here is the original recording of 'Little Cabin Home On The Hill':
Bill Monroe - key of A (Lester Flatt on lead vocal)
The song of the week is 'Mountain Dew' in the key of A.
Flatt and Scruggs with Merle Travis - live at Carnegie Hall (key of A): banjo and fiddle breaks
Stanley Brothers (key of Bb, tuned a bit sharp): guitar breaks
Stringbean (key of A): clawhammer banjo and dobro breaks
...and, included for historical reasons, Grandpa Jones (key of A, clawhammer banjo): more of an old-time version than a bluegrass version of the song (even more so than the Stringbean recording), but many bluegrass players associate 'Mountain Dew' with Grandpa Jones, and have been influenced by his performance of the song:
Mountain Dew has the same chord progression as I'll Fly Away and Will The Circle Be Unbroken:
(Prog. V3 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout)
Mountain Dew is often played at a fast tempo. The song does not lend itself well to being played as slowly as what we have often played many other songs at the jam. While I do not intend on playing it as fast at the beginner jam as it is played on the recordings provided here, it should still be one of our faster songs within the range of tempos that we play at.
Here are some things to try that might help you to play faster:
For rhythm guitar: focus on the bass notes, think of the strums as though they were a mere afterthought. Keep the strums between the bass notes relatively quiet; between bass notes, the strums should be a single, rapidly executed, and compact downstroke with the pick aiming for no more than just the 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings. The pick should not need to change the angle at which it hits the strings between strums and bass notes, and there should be no more than the bare minimum amount of motion from the hand and arm needed for playing rhythm.
For banjo: don't get locked into doing the same right hand picking pattern over and over again; repetitive motions are difficult to maintain even for a short time at fast tempos. Leave some of the less important notes out of the rolls: various mixtures of quarter notes and 8th notes are not only easier to play at fast tempos that a steady stream of 8th notes, but also tend to sound better.
For bass: when playing along with records, make sure that you are able to play on top of the beat, rather than behind it. Can you push the beat just a little bit without speeding up or falling out of time with the record? Test yourself on this with moderate tempo songs before attempting to play along with fast songs on a record.
For guitar and mandolin breaks: for fast songs, tend to play fewer notes per measure than what you would do for moderate tempo songs; the faster the song is, the less need there is for so many notes in order for your breaks to be satisfying to the ear.
For fiddle: when you wish to include measures consisting mostly of 8th notes in your breaks, you might try to find places where it is convenient to play 3 or 4 notes back to back with a single bow stroke, rather than using a separate bow stroke for each note.
For all instruments: when practicing with a metronome, set the metronome just a couple beats faster than the fastest tempo that you feel comfortable playing at, and make yourself keep up to it. Isolate and loop any spots that you find yourself tending to slow down on or stumble over (starting at a slower tempo than what you had the metronome set to, building back up to that speed), or find ways to simplify what you are playing in those spots. Once the metronome speed feels comfortable to play at, set it yet another couple of beats faster, and repeat the same process.
I know six verses for Mountain Dew, but usually use only four or five of them at a time when singing the song at a jam. Among the four recorded versions given here, all six of these verses are accounted for. Three verses is enough to know for the sake of leading the song at a jam. But, the advantage of knowing more verses for the song than what you would sing at any one time at a jam is that if, in the moment, you forget one of the verses, you are less likely to need to repeat a verse you already sang.
The first words of each of the six verses I know are:
1. There's a big holler tree down the road here from me...
2. Mr. Roosevelt told me just how he felt...
3. My Uncle Mort, he is sawed off and short...
4. My Aunt June bought some new perfume...
5. The preacher rode by with his head heisted high...
6. My Brother Bill's got a still on the hill...
The verses that I tend to almost always use when singing the song are the first, third, and sixth on the list, and the one that I leave out more often than any of the others is the fourth. But, the faster the song is played, the more inclined I am to sing more verses.
The song of the week is 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow' in the key of G. Originally recorded by the Carter Family in 1927 (it was the first song they recorded), and then by the Monroe Brothers (Bill Monroe and his older brother Charlie) in 1937 (under the title: 'Weeping Willow Tree'), 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow' has gone on to become one of the most common of bluegrass standards.
Alison Krauss - key of E
The Stanley Brothers - sharper than F#, but flatter than G
Firebox Bluegrass Band - key of G
Roseanne Cash - key of A
for historical purposes, here are the Carter Family and Monroe Brothers recordings of the song:
The Carter Family- Bury me under the Weeping Willow Tree
The Monroe Brothers-Weeping Willow Tree
Changing the Pronouns?
Notice that both the Monroe Brothers and the Stanley Brothers sing the song in the person of a woman, just like on the original recording of the song by the Carter Family, whereas the lead singer in the Firefox Bluegrass Band changed the pronouns 'he' and 'him' to 'she' and 'her' so that he would not be singing from the first person perspective of a woman.
The practice of changing the lyrics to a song sung from a first person perspective to make them correspond to the singer's gender has been called by at least one Bluegrass writer 'the dreaded gender-switch'. It works okay for some songs, but not so well for others. But, either way, changing the lyrics in this manner is entirely unnecessary in Bluegrass. There are many good recorded examples of Bluegrass songs sung by men in the person of a woman, and many examples of Bluegrass songs sung by women in the person of a man. Just as one does not need to be a parent to sing 'Bring Back To Me My Wandering Boy' (a song that has often been recorded by male Bluegrass singers that is sung in the person of a mother: no one I have ever heard sing the song changes 'mother' to 'father' in the lyrics), or to be a murderer to sing 'Banks Of The Ohio', or to be a dying little child to sing 'Little Joe', so, for precisely the same reasons, one does not need to be a woman to sing Bury Me Beneath The Willow in the person of a bride-to-be whose fiance has abandoned her, nor does one need to be a man to sing a song like 'Will You Be Loving Another Man?'
The chord progression for Bury Me Beneath The Willow (on all the recordings given here except for the Monroe Brothers' version) is the most common of all progressions in bluegrass (Prog. V7 on the Basic Progressions handout):
Here's a short list of standard bluegrass songs that use this same progression:
Wreck Of The Old '97
I Still Write Your Name In The Sand
I'm On My Way Back To The Old Home
Your Love Is Like A Flower
Down Where The River Bends
Lost And I'll Never Find A Way
Come Back Darlin
Why Did You Wander
If I Should Wander Back Tonight
I'm Waiting To Hear You Call Me Darling
Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone
Road To Columbus
Hold Watcha Got
Blue Moon Of Kentucky (verse)
Black Mountain Rag (C-Part)
Flint Hill Special
Rose Of Old Kentucky (verse)
Tiny Broken Heart (verse)
Little Annie (verse)
White Dove (verse)
Memory Of You
In the key of G: 1=G, 4=C, and 5=D
The G chord is made up of the notes: G, B, and D.
The C chord is made up of the notes: C, E, and G.
The D chord is made up of the notes: D, F#, and A.
Together, these 7 notes make up the G major scale, and the melody of Bury Me Beneath The Willow makes use of all of them. (See the melody sheets attached here.)
Pickups into Breaks
When played in the key of G, the first melody note of the first full measure of the verses (and choruses) is the D note above the G note that the melody resolves on. When this is the case, the most effective pick up notes to use to kick off the song are the B, C, and C# notes immediately below that D note. Use of this series of notes is equally effective on all the bluegrass lead instruments. Give it a try. Start by finding the B note on your instrument, and then ascend in half steps (on a fretted instrument, this means you will not skip over any frets) until you reach the D note, playing the B, C, and C# notes as quarter notes, and be sure to place a heavy accent on that D note, since it is the first note of the first full measure of the song.
Transposed to each of the 7 other keys that we play in at the jam,
the notes become:
Key Pickup Notes Leading to:
A C# D D# E note
Bb D Eb E F note
B D# E E# F# note
C E F F# G note
D F# G G# A note
E G# A A# B note
F A Bb B C note
[The note named as E# in the context of the key of B pickups is the same note as the note that is in most other contexts is named as F.]
Other songs played at the jam for which this same 3-note pick-up measure will work effectively, for the same reasons that it works so well for Bury Me Beneath The Willow include: 'Foggy Mountain Top', 'Gathering Flowers From The Hillside', 'Lonesome Road Blues' and 'Wreck Of The Old '97'. In all these songs, the first melody note in the first full measure of the song is a perfect 5th higher than the root note. (The D above G when in the key of G, the E above A when in the key of A, the F above Bb when in the key of Bb, etc.)
Little Cabin Home On The Hill
Here is the original recording of 'Little Cabin Home On The Hill':
Here's Flatt & Scruggs with Doc Watson playing 'Liberty':
The song of the week is 'Lonesome Road Blues' (a.k.a. 'I'm Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad) in the key of G.
Here is one of the first sung bluegrass versions of Lonesome Road Blues I remember hearing. It is a live recording of the Stanley Brothers, and it is played at quite a fast tempo:
The Stanley Brothers - key of G
Here is what is probably the most well-known instrumental bluegrass version of Lonesome Road Blues, played as a banjo-feature tune on the Flatt and Scruggs' album 'Foggy Mountain Banjo', and at a slower tempo than the Stanley Brothers' live version:
Flatt and Scruggs - key of G
Here is a sung version by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music
Bill Monroe - key of C
Finally, another sung version in a live performance, by a young Japanese band. Since there are breaks in this version played on four different instruments - banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, and they are all really good, I was happy to come across this version on youtube.
Bluegrass Police - key of G
The chord progression used in the versions of Lonesome Road Blues on the recordings given here is the same one that I use when leading the song:
(Prog. W4 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout)
...though, I have heard it played at some jams with the last line played as 1511 (Prog. V4 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout), and/or with the third line played as 4416m.
Notice the Bb note in measure 2 of lines 2, 3, and 4 on the melody sheets attached here. Relative to the key of G, the Bb note is the b3 (flatted third scale degree). Together with the b7 (for the key of G, an F note), making good use of this note will often add a 'bluesy' characteristic to your playing.
onesome Road Blues is one of those small handful of songs that at a typical bluegrass jam it would not be out of the ordinary for it to be played either with or without singing: I have no idea which way I have played it more often at bluegrass jams.
Lonesome Road Blues is also one of those songs that may be sung either with or without a chorus. Other songs on the lists we use at the jam that are also like this include: Down The Road, Handsome Molly, Amazing Grace, and Little Birdie. When sung without a chorus, the set of lyrics that make up the chorus in the versions of Lonesome Road Blues that use a chorus will usually be sung as one of the verses in the song - usually as the first or as the last verse, or as both.
For most of the songs that may be sung either with or without a chorus, I tend to choose to sing them without a chorus when I lead them at a jam, and this is how I sing Lonesome Road Blues. This arrangement allows more time for a greater number of breaks to be played without making the song unusually long.
The song of the week is 'Gathering Flowers From The Hillside' in the key of G.
'Gathering Flowers' is just one of thousands of simple and straightforward bluegrass songs that, for that very reason, tend to work well at almost any bluegrass jam, irrespective of how many people at the jam have ever played or even heard the song before. Keep your ears open for these types of songs if you are looking for ways to more rapidly increase your repertoire of songs to introduce into the jams you play at.
The chord progression for 'Gathering Flowers' is:
(Prog. V1 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout)
In the key of G: 1 = G; 5 = D. The G chord consists of the notes G, B, and D. The D chord consists of the notes D, F#, and A.
Notice the relation between the progression for 'Gathering Flowers' (V1) and the progressions used to play 'Mama Don't Allow' (V2), 'Foggy Mountain Top (V6), and 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow' (V7). V1 simply stays on the '1' chord in all the spots where these other progressions have a '4' chord. In all four of these progressions, the locations of the '5' chords are the same (measures 3 and 4 of line 2, and measure 2 of line 4), and in all these progressions, measures 1 and 2 of lines 1, 2, and 3, and measures 1, 3, and 4 of line 4 have the '1' chord.
Here are a few versions of 'Gathering Flowers From The Hillside' to take a listen to. The first one is just good old straightforward traditional bluegrass. The second one is from an old-school country artist I have always enjoyed listening to whose music could be described (albeit somewhat anachronistically) as somewhere between country and bluegrass. And the third one is the version that I learned the song from.
Earl Taylor & Jim McCall - key of G
Wilma Lee Cooper - key of C
Hylo Brown - key of F
Melody & Breaks
Remember, the melody sheets provided here in the attachments are just that and nothing more. They do not show you how to play bluegrass-style breaks on your instrument. So, why do I include the melody sheets in the song of the week emails? Because, to a significant extent, creating a break that sounds like it belongs in the song (and this is especially true of intro breaks, i.e., the break that is played before the singing starts and which identifies what song is being played even before the singing starts, or in the case of an instrumental, just simply the first break) involves surrounding the melody notes in the song with appropriate choices of other notes: and, in order to do this, one needs to have a fairly clear idea of what the melody of the song is.
There are countless ways to play a break for any given song, and how one plays a break for a song depends upon several factors, including stylistic preference, level of technical ability on one's instrument, and even things of the nature of what tempo the song is being played at. But, once one is past the very beginner stages of learning to play 'lead' parts, attempts should be made - with the help of a teacher if need be - to play in a way that involves more than just copying on one's instrument the melody of the song as sung.
Concerning Pickup Notes into a break for Gathering Flowers. Instead of playing only the 2 pickup notes (B and C) that are sung in the vocal melody (see the attached melody sheets) to lead into the first complete measure of your break, it is often more effective at jams to add a 3rd quarter note, a C#, after these two notes, especially if you the one kicking off the song with an intro break. The chromatically ascending sequence of pickup notes: B, C, C# to lead to a D note on a G chord is commonplace on good Bluegrass records (good examples of this are at the beginning of the banjo intro break and at the beginning of the fiddle break on the first youtube link given here for Gathering Flowers). Three-quarters of a measure, rather than just half a measure, worth of pickup notes gives everyone at the jam a better sense of what the tempo of the song will be, so that they can all start playing backup confidently behind the person playing the intro break at the beginning of the first complete measure of the break. This is a good case in point illustrating how it is sometimes better to make modifications to the melody as sung, rather than to follow the melody slavishly, when creating melody-based breaks.
Note: Many melodies do not have any built-in pickup notes leading into their first complete measure; in these cases one needs to create a pick-up measure to have an effective intro break for the song. This can be done by borrowing pickup phrases from other songs in which the first full measure of the song starts with the same note and same chord as the song in question, or one can learn common generic pickup phrases used on Bluegrass records for each specific situation: e.g., a generic pickup phrase leading to a B note on a G chord, a generic pickup phrase leading to a C note on a C chord, etc.
The song of the week is 'Old Joe Clark' in the key of A.
Here are some youtube links of good bluegrass live performances of Old Joe Clark that I hope you will enjoy:
Carolina Bluegrass Express
UK98 Bluegrass Band
Gravel Road Bluegrass Band
Form & Arrangement
'Old Joe Clark' is a two-part fiddle tune traditionally played in the key of A. The form of the tune is AABB. This means that each part of the tune (called the A-Part and the B-Part respectively) is played through twice before going on to the next part.
Like most of the fiddle tunes played at the beginner jam, Old Joe Clark does have lyrics, but, more often than not, Old Joe Clark is played as an instrumental at Bluegrass jams. It is more common at Old-Time jams for lyrics to be sung for fiddle tunes.
The chord progression for the A-Part is:
1 1 1 5
1 1 1/5 1
The chord progression for the B-Part is:
1 1 1 b7
1 1 1/5 1
In the key of A:
1 = A
5 = E
b7 = G
With the capo in the second fret, the chord shapes become:
1 = G
5 = D
b7 = F
Note: the way that many people, myself included, play the F chord on the guitar looks very similar to the fingerings used for the C chord. So, if you are following a guitar player for the chord changes for Old Joe Clark while at the jam, it can be helpful to keep in mind that there is no '4' chord in the progression.
Note: The B-Part progression given for Cluck Old Hen on the new main song list for the beginner jam also has the b7 chord in it.
The b7 Chord
A quick way to determine what the b7 (flat-seven) chord is for any given key is to think of it relative to the 1 chord. The b7 will always be one letter lower and one whole-step lower than the 1. Make it a point to remember this.
For each of the 8 Major keys we play in at the jam, the b7 chord is:
Key (1) b7
It is called the b7 (flat-seven) chord because the root note of the chord is a half-step lower than the 7th note of the Major scale (flat means a half-step lower). E.g., The G Major Scale consists, in order, of the notes: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#. The 7th note of the G Major Scale is therefore F#. The note that is a half-step lower than F#, and uses the same letter in its name as F#, is F. Therefore, in the key of G, the b7 chord is F.
Intros & Endings
The most effective way to kick-off most AABB-form fiddle tunes, including Old Joe Clark, at a jam is not by playing a pickup measure consisting of three quarter notes to lead into your intro break, but is by droning in a straight but rhythmic manner the root note of the key that the tune is in (often together with another one of the notes that also belong to the 1 chord) for four measures to lead into your intro break.This is called in bluegrass and old-time circles the '8 Potato Intro'.
It is also customary in Bluegrass circles to end most AABB-form fiddle tunes (as well as most fast instrumentals) with a tack-on 'double ending' that is played, not in place of the last 4 measures of the tune, but rather immediately after the last measure of the tune has been played. 'Double' refers to the ending being 4 measures long rather than only 2 measures long. Most of these types of endings consist of two 2-measure length ending licks played back to back.
See the attachments for some beginner-level examples of 8 Potato Intros and Double Endings for the key of A.
The melody of the tune is based upon the mixolydian scale. This scale, which shows up frequently in the traditional music of the American South and the British Isles, and in Gregorian Chant, is in all respects like the major scale that we are all familiar with (do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do), except that the seventh scale degree ('ti') is lowered by a half step.
The result is that a mixolydian scale always has one less sharp (or one more flat) in it than the major scale that shares its same letter name. Since the A major scale has 3 sharps (F#,C#,G#), the notes of the A major scale being, in ascending order of pitch: A B C# D E F# G# A, the A mixolydian scale (like the D major scale) has 2 sharps (F#,C#), the notes of the A mixolydian scale being: A B C# D E F# G A. Since the G major scale has 1 sharp (F#), the G mixolydian scale (like the C major scale) has no sharps. The G major scale is: G A B C D E F# G. The G mixolydian scale is: G A B C D E F G.
The melody sheets attached here give only a very basic version of the melody. Put some filler notes around it (e.g., rolls on banjo, shuffle rhythm on the other instruments, etc.), make use of double stops (especially on fiddle and mandolin), slide into some notes, etc., and this will suffice for beginner-level break for Old Joe Clark. However, quite a few more notes can be added to the basic melody, many of which may be considered as melody notes instead of as mere filler notes. If you already know how to add these into your breaks for Old Joe Clark, don't hold back in doing this at the beginner jam. In the Fall, we will revisit Old Joe Clark as a song of the week for the beginner jam. At that time, I will provide attachments showing some of the extra melody notes. In the meantime, if you are curious to see what more developed breaks for Old Joe Clark might look like (like many of the breaks on the recordings), check out the song of the week write up on intermediate jam blog on the IBA website that was given when Old Joe Clark was recently revisited as a song of the week for the intermediate jam:
Have a happy New Year!
New Song Lists
Included in the attachments are two new song lists for the jam which are intended to replace the lists that were used for the jam between September and December 2017.
The first list (titled 'Beginner Bluegrass Jam - Jan. - June 2018 - Main List') consists of 22 of the 27 songs that were on the previous main list, plus 10 more songs that I intend on making songs of the week between now and the beginning of June. This list of 32 songs is the list that we will play from for the first half of the evening.
Notice that the progression given for 'Cluck Old Hen' on the new main list has more chord changes in it than the progression that was given for the song on the previous main list.
Also notice the inclusion of a common alternate progression for Will The Circle Be Unbroken that was not on the lists used for the beginner jam in 2017.
The second list (titled 'Beginner Bluegrass Jam - Jan. - June 2018 - Additional Songs') consists of the 5 songs that have removed from the main list (Beautiful Brown Eyes, Boil The Cabbage Down, Little Birdie, My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains, and Shortnin' Bread), and songs that have been played at least once at the Beginner Jam between September and December of 2017 during the second half of the evening, when people were free to call songs not on the main list, so long as these are beginner-friendly and appropriate for a Bluegrass jam. Many of the songs on this list will likely continue to be called by people at the jam during the second half of the evening, and some of the songs will eventually become songs of the week for the jam.
Notice that on the new additional songs list, no key is specified for Shortnin' Bread. If you wish, you may take this as an invitation to call the tune in any one of the keys that are commonly associated with playing traditional old-time fiddle tunes (i.e., A, D, G, and sometimes C).
Also included in the attachments is the Basic Chord Progressions handout that the song lists are keyed to, and Nashville Number System charts for converting the number names of chords to their letter names for the keys that songs are played in at the jam. No changes have been made to these handouts.
Good jam last night!
The song of the week is Nine Pound Hammer in the key of A.
Here are a couple of good youtube links of Nine Pound Hammer to listen to:
Tony Rice - key of A
Lonesome River Band - key of B
Guitar and banjo players who wish to play along with this second link can capo to the 4th fret and play as if playing in G. For fiddle, mandolin, and bass players who wish to give playing in B a try, the 1, 4, and 5 chords in the key of B are: 1=B, 4=E. 5=F#. The B chord consists of the notes: B,D#, and F#; the E chord: E, G#, and B; the F# chord: F#, A#, and C#.
Remember, on youtube you can adjust the tempo by clicking on settings, and then clicking on 'speed'.
The chord progression for the verses (the second half of which can be thought of as a chorus) and for the breaks for 'Nine Pound Hammer' is:
Notice that this progression is simply the second half - played through twice - of other more commonly occurring progressions. E.g., the progression for 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow', 'A Memory Of You', and 'Wreck Of The Old '97'. (Prog. V7 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout)
or, the progression for 'Mama Don't Allow', 'Red River Valley', and 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain'. (Prog. V2):
In the key of A: 1=A; 4=D; 5=E
The A chord consists of the notes: A, C#, and E; the D chord consists of: D, F#, and A; and the E chord consists of: E, G#, and B.
Banjo players and most guitar players will wish to capo to the 2nd fret to play in A; so the key that they will be thinking in will be G.
In the key of G: 1=G; 4=C; 5=D
The G chord consists of the notes: G, B, and D; the C chord: C, E, and G; the D chord: D, F#, and A
While the intro break for the song should follow the melody closely enough to make it clear what song is being played before the first verse is sung, Nine Pound Hammer lends itself quite well to lick-oriented improvised breaks that may deviate considerably from the melody. (See especially the first youtube link below for examples of this.) This is a good song to use as a means for practicing any licks that you may have in your repertoire that fit over a line of 1144 or a line of 1511 for the key that you are playing the song in.
In the melody sheets attached here, notice that the first three notes of the melody of 'Nine Pound Hammer' are quarter notes, and that they occur before the first complete measure of the tune. (In cut common time, i.e., 2/2 time, as well as in common time, i.e., 4/4 time, 3 quarter notes make up only three-quarters of a complete measure.) Make it a point to remember these notes, because they will be useful for starting your intro breaks for many other songs that, like 'Nine Pound Hammer', also have as their first melody note in their first complete measure the note that has the same name as both the key that the song is being played in, and the first chord played in the song.
In the key of A, these three quarter notes are: E, E, F#, and the first note of the first complete measure is an A note.
In the key of G, these three quarter notes are: D, D, E, and the first note of the first complete measure is a G note.
In the key of B, these three quarter notes are: F#, F#, G#, and the first note of the first complete measure is a B note.
The melody of 'Nine Pound Hammer' contains 3 more notes in it that are higher in pitch than the notes that it starts with. In the key of A, these notes are, in ascending order of pitch: B, C#, and the E above the C#.
So, in ascending order of pitch, the melody notes for Nine Pound Hammer in the key of A are: E, F#, A, B, C#, E. These are the same notes used to play 'Foggy Mountain Top', 'Handsome Molly', 'Long Journey Home', 'My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains', 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken', 'Amazing Grace', and 'Mountain Dew' in the key of A.
In the key of G, the notes would be: D, E, G, A, B, D.
In the key of B, the notes would be: F#, G#, B, C#, D#, F#.
Nashville Number System
Having a basic understanding of the Number System for naming the notes that belong to the Major Scale (the series of notes that gives us that familiar 'do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do' sound) together with an understanding of the relation of the Major Scale to the Chromatic Scale (which, for our purposes here, may be conveniently thought of as the set of 12 notes needed in order to be able to play all the Major Scales), can make it much easier to memorize the relationships involved here and to see how the information presented here all neatly fits together.
G Major Scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, (G)
A Major Scale: A, B, C#,D, E, F#,G#, (A)
B Major Scale: B, C#,D#,E,F#,G#,A#, (B)
Number Names: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, (1)
So, no matter what key one plays Nine Pound Hammer, Foggy Mountain Top, Handsome Molly, etc. in: the melody notes are, from lowest to highest: 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 5.
The three quarter notes that make up the pickup measure that precedes the first complete measure in Nine Pound Hammer are: 5, 5, 6, and this leads to the first note of the first complete measure, and the number name for that note is 1.
Have a merry Christmas!