Very good jam last night! For such a large group, we did quite well keeping our timing locked in with each other.
The song of the week is Little Birdie in the key of Bb.
This was one of the first songs I learned to play on banjo.
Probably the most well known version of this song within bluegrass circles is Ralph Stanley's, on which he plays clawhammer (old-time) style banjo instead of the more common (for bluegrass) 3 finger style. Ralph's version of the song is 'crooked', meaning that there are extra half measures in the progression. This makes his version somewhat hard to learn or to play along with. Making things even more difficult is that the breaks do not follow exactly the same form as the verses. Here is a link for Ralph's version of the song. But this is not the version that I will use at the beginner jam, since it is not very jam friendly.
Ralph Stanley (key of D)
Here is a slower version of the song, and one in which the form is not crooked, and in which the form is the same for both the verses. the choruses, and the breaks. Notice that Ralph Stanley's version has no chorus. His first verse is used as a chorus in the version below.
The Cartys (key of D)
This is pretty much how I intend on playing the song at the beginner jam, except that there will be no chorus, only verses, as in the Ralph Stanley version.
The chord progression, for both the verses and the breaks is:
(first half of Prog. V9 - played through twice - on the basic chord progressions handout)
In the key of Bb: 1 = Bb; 5 = F
The notes that make up the Bb chord are: Bb, D, F
The notes that make up the F chord are: F, A, C
Of the other 7 common keys that bluegrass is played in, the key of F is the most closely related to the key of Bb. The Bb major scale and the F major scale contain six notes in common; only one note is different. The F major scale consists of the notes: F, G, A, Bb, C, D, and E. The Bb major scale consists of the notes: Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, and A. Playing a song in Bb that uses only the 1 and 5 chords does not involve needing to use any chords other than those that are used to play songs in F that use the 1 and 4 chords in them. Playing the melody for Little Birdie in Bb does not involve using any notes that are not also part of the F major scale, because the melody for Little Birdie does not use the 4th note (scale degree) of the major scale.
If you are fiddler or a mandolin player, and you already play songs or licks in F, then, provided that these songs or licks do not require using the 4th string, you can take your same fingerings for F and move them all one string lower in pitch, and you will be thereby be playing in Bb.
For playing in the key of Bb, bluegrass banjo and guitar players almost always capo to the 3rd fret, so that they can use the same fingerings that they would use for playing in the key of G. (In the key of G: 1=G; 5=D)
Banjo players will need to raise the pitch of the fifth string to a Bb note (registers as A# on most tuners). This is done by capoing (with a 5th string capo, or 8th fret spike) the 5th string at the 8th fret. For banjo players who do not have a fifth string capo or an 8th fret spike (that includes myself), spike the 5th string at the 7th fret, and then tune it up a half step to a Bb (A#) note. This is best done by ear by playing the 5th string with the thumb while playing the 3rd string with the index finger, turning the 5th string tuning peg slowly until the 5th string sounds harmonious with the 3rd string.
If you do not have spikes or a 5th string capo, you can just tune up the 5th string manually to a Bb note (I know one good local Boise banjo player who habitually does this), but don't be surprised if the string breaks. You might wish to keep the banjo away from your face when tuning the 5th string up this high in case the string does break. Also, remember that the tension on the neck changes every time you tune a string up or down. Tuning one string up 3 half steps will cause the rest of your strings to go flat, and so they will need to be tuned up a little bit.
Here is another version of Little Birdie which you may enjoy (and which, unlike the previous links, has a 3 finger style banjo break):
Spinney Brothers (key of B)
Reminder: The Friday Night Jam will be playing at Sockeye this Friday (tomorrow) at their Cole Rd. location (3019 N Cole Rd.) from 7pm to 9:30pm. We hope to see you there.
Attached here is the poster advertising the upcoming 4th Annual Weiser Bluegrass Banjo Camp, which I will be teaching at together with Janet Beasley, Mark Thomas, and Gary Eller: there will be classes for all levels of banjo playing. If you are interested, I will be happy to give you more details, and I encourage you to check out our website given on the poster (or, you can punch in: banjocontest.org and it will redirect you to the current webpage). The dates for this year's camp are May 18 - 21. Please help us to spread the word about the upcoming banjo camp.