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.
Here are some youtube links to listen to:
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:
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.
Bury Me Beneath The Willow has been played at the jam almost just as frequently in A as in G. For the key of A, raise all the notes a whole step, so the pickup series becomes C#, D, D# leading to an E note.
Two songs that so far have always been played in the key of G 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' are: 'Foggy Mountain Top', and 'Gathering Flowers From The Hillside'. The same set of pickups are also good for 'Lonesome Road Blues' and 'Wreck Of The Old '97' (both on the additional 30 list) when played in G. 'Wreck Of The Old '97' has always been played in D so far at the jam. For the key of D, the pickup series becomes F#, G, G# leading to an A note. In the key of C, it would be E, F, F# leading to a G note.
Key Pickup Notes Leading to:
G B C C# D note
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.]