The song of the week is 'Down The Road' in the key of A.
Flatt and Scruggs - key of B (studio recording): all breaks are on banjo:
Flatt and Scruggs - key of A (live recording): banjo, fiddle and dobro breaks
The Bluegrass Album Band - key of B
The form of this song is unusual. Except for the last verse of the song (which has a common 8 measure form: 2 lines consisting of 4 measures each: this does not include the 2 measure tack-on 'shave-and-a-haircut' ending that follows the last verse), the form for Down The Road consists of 2 lines of unequal length. The first line is the standard 4 measures that lines in most bluegrass songs consist of, but the second line is 5 and a half measures long. This brings us to a total of 9 and a half measures.
Add to this the bluegrass tendency to allow 1 or more extra measures of the '1' chord to go by at the end of a break that occurs right before a verse is sung, and you can end up with 10 and a half, or 11 and a half, or 12 and a half measures or more for the length of a break that occurs before a verse.
Notice that on the first Flatt & Scruggs recording given here, the breaks are consistently 10 and a half measures long, while on the second recording, even more measures are added to the end of the breaks, but not always the same number of extra measures. However, and this is important to observe, on all the recordings, all the sung verses that are followed by a break are exactly the same length: 9 and a half measures. One way to think about this is that the number of beats that go by between the last sung syllable and the first full measure of the break that follows is always the same.
Not counting extra measures of the '1' that might occur at the end of some of the breaks, the chord progression for Down The Road is:
1 1/6m 1 5/1
1 1/6m 1 5 1 1
The 'half' measure in the form occurs in the spot where the 5 chord is played in the second line.
If one is counting the beats in the second line in cut common time (2/2), one would count it as: 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,1,2.1,2. Notice the spot where there are two 1s back to back without a 2 intervening between them. On the sheet music attached here, I have written the 'half' measure (measure 8) with a time signature of 1/2. And then to indicate that the remaining two measures in the form return to 2/2, I have placed the time signature symbol that represents 2/2 at the beginning of the measure that follows the 1/2 time measure.)
In the key of A: 1=A; 6m=F#m; 5=E
The A (major) chord consists of the notes: AC#E
The F#m chord consists of the notes: F#mAC# (it has two notes in common with the A major chord)
The E (major) chord consists of the notes: EG#B
For mandolin players especially: If you find yourself struggling too much with making the quick change from the 1 chord to the 6m chord and back, you may play the 1 in place of the 6m, since there are no notes in the 1 chord that will clash with the 6m.
Banjo and guitar players should capo to the 2nd fret, and then play as if in G.
In the key of G: 1=G; 6m=Em; 5=D
When you look at the sheet music attached here for Down The Road, observe that the first measure of the break begins two measures from the time that the last syllable of the verse is sung. Another way of looking at this is that there are two measures of the 1 chord that are played at the end of the verse before the break begins. If enough of us make it a point to observe and practice this, this will go along ways towards minimizing the confusion that can easily result (due to the unusual form of the song) when Down The Road is played at a jam.
There are two things that one can do to help prevent confusion about when the break begins (i.e., when the form starts over again):
1) Use three quarter-note pickup notes for leading into your break. For a good choice of pickup notes, see the attachment: 'Down The Road - melody in A': the notes are E, F#, G#: which are located at frets 2, 4, and 6 on the 3rd string of the mandolin, and would usually be represented in guitar, banjo, and dobro tab as 0, 2, and 4 on the 4th string for the key of G, capo 2 for the key of A.)
Dig into your three pickup notes really hard so as to draw attention to yourself, and then dig into the note that comes next (namely, the first note of the first measure of your break) even harder so that there can be no room for doubt as to where the first measure of the form begins. These three pickup notes should be played during the last three-quarters of the last measure of the form, and they should be spaced apart from each other evenly.
Breaks & Backup
2) Play a fill-in lick in the measure that contains the last syllable of the verse, and end that fill-in lick on the first downbeat of the next measure. Bring your volume up as soon as after the last syllable is sung, and hit the last note of your fill-in lick really hard (make it 'pop', especially if you are playing a G run on the guitar: the G chord fill-in lick that is given in the attachments represents one version of what is commonly called 'the G-run'). This makes it clear as to where the last measure of the form begins - which is helpful to make clear on account of the half measure that the form contains in its second line, after which some people may find the beat 'flipped around' in their head and/or in their playing. The first of the three pickup notes into the break begin right after the last note of the fill-in lick is played. If you don't already play fill-in licks on your instrument yet, or are new to playing them, refer to the A-chord fill-ins for fiddle and mandolin, or the G-chord (capo 2 for A) fill-ins for guitar and banjo given in the attachments for the preceding song of the week 'Mama Don't Allow' which I have reattached here for your convenience.
For the last verse, which is 8 measures long, rather than 9 and a half, it works best if everyone plays their last note at the same time as the last syllable is sung (as on the standard recordings given here). Then the banjo players can add a two measure tack-on ending appropriate for the '1' chord of the song (doesn't have to be the same ones that are on the recordings) that everyone else remains silent on except for the on the very last note of the ending.
Have a happy Easter!