I will not be at the next intermediate jam (5/18/2018).
The song of the week will be 'I Saw The Light' in the key of Bb.
Though not originally a bluegrass song, 'I Saw The Light' has by now become a bluegrass jam standard. Everything about the song - its melody, its chord progression, its subject matter, etc., makes it perfect for bluegrass. 'I Saw The Light' was written and originally recorded by Hank Williams.
The Stanley Brothers - key of Bb
Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys - key of B
For the sake of comparison and contrast, here is the original Hank Williams recording of I Saw The Light (key of G):
Progression & Melody
The chord progression for I Saw The Light is:
Notice that the last line of the progression consists of five measures, instead of only four.
In the key of Bb: 1=Bb. 4=Eb, and 5=F.
The Bb chord consists of the notes: Bb,D, and F
The Eb chord consists of the notes: Eb, G, and Bb
The F chord consists of the notes F,A,C.
Together, these notes make up the Bb Major Scale: Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A, but the melody of 'I Saw The Light', like many other songs, makes use of only 5 of these: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes of the scale (In Bb, these notes are Bb, C, D, F, and G: these 5 notes form what is called the Bb Major Pentatonic Scale.)
For playing in the key of Bb, banjo and guitar players almost always capo the 3rd fret so they can play as if they were playing in the key of G. (Bb is 3 half-steps higher than G.) For this reason the melody sheets attached here for guitar and banjo are written in the key of G.
[In the key of G: 1=G. 4=C, and 5=D. The G chord consists of the notes: G. B, and D. The C chord consists of the notes: C, E, and G, The D chord consists of the notes: D, F#,, and A. Together, these notes make up the G Major Scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#. The 5 notes: G, A, B, D, and E form the G Major Pentatonic Scale.]
I welcome harmony singers to sing not only the choruses with me, but also on the last line of each of the verses: "Praise the Lord, I saw the light" (the last line of the verses uses the same words and melody as the last line of the chorus.)
Man Of Constant Sorrow - E
Black Mountain Rag - A
Rawhide - C
Progression for the B Part is: 3333666622225555
The song of the week is 'Dooley' in the key of A.
The Dillards - key of B
The chord progression is uncommon for a vocal bluegrass song in that it makes use of progressions that are usually reserved for fiddle tunes:
The progression for the chorus is the same as the progression for the A Part of Liberty:
...unless one counts as part of the progression the extra measure of the 1 on the recording that separates the end of the chorus from the beginning of the breaks. But this extra measure has usually been left out when we have played the song at the jam, and I intend on keeping it that way when I lead the song at the jam as it goes through its song of the week cycle.
The progression for the breaks and verses is the same as the progression for the A Part of Boil The Cabbage Down and the B Part of Soldier's Joy:
1 4 1 5
1 4 1/51
(played twice for a complete verse or break)
This is Prog. Y7 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout.
This progression is closely related to the most common chord progression in bluegrass for vocal songs, namely the progression that is used for Bury Me Beneath The Willow, Wreck Of The Old '97, I Still Write Your Name In The Sand, and countless other songs:
(Prog. V7 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout.
Notice that Prog. Y7 differs from Prog. V7 only in that Y7 runs through the chord changes twice as fast. Where there are two measures of a given chord back to back in V7, there is only one measure of that same chord in Y7. Where there is one measure of a given chord in V7 before the next chord change, there is only half a measure of that same chord in Y7 before the next chord change.
Since I intend on leaving out the extra measure of the 1 chord between the end of the chorus and the beginning of the breaks, there will be no time for me to call out the breaks that immediately follow the chorus. (Notice that the chorus progression as written here ends with only one measure of the 1 chord.) If one does three quarter note pickups into these breaks, the first of the pickup notes must start immediately after the last sung syllable of the chorus. So, for breaks following choruses, you will need to rely solely on visual cues from me.
I end the song with a vocal tag by repeating the last phrase of the chorus: 'and I'll pay you back someday'. With the tag included, the progression for the final chorus will become:
The last syllable occurs on the first beat of the second to last measure, which allows for a typical two-measure ending lick to be played on the 1 chord measures that the song will end with, just like in nearly all the other vocal songs we play at the jam.
The song of the week is 'I Still Write Your Name In The Sand' in the key of A. This song is from Mac Wiseman, a first-generation bluegrass singer who recorded with Bill Monroe, and sang harmony on a few of Flatt and Scruggs' earliest records.
Mac Wiseman - key of Db
The Osborne Brothers & Mac Wiseman - key of C
Lyrics & Phrasing
Notice that the lyrics are not exactly the same in both versions, and that the phrasing of the lyrics also differs between the two versions. The way I sing the song comes closer to the first version offered here. Please keep this in mind when singing harmony with me on the choruses.
The set of lyrics I use for the chorus is:
Oh! I love you my darling, how I love you.
If I talk, will you try to understand?
It's no matter how you treat me, I love you,
And I still write your name in the sand.
Del McCoury - key of B
Tim O'Brien - key of A
The chord progression for 'I Still Write Your Name In The Sand' is the most common of all chord progressions in bluegrass:
Other songs that have been played at this incarnation of the beginner/intermediate jam (Thursdays from Sept. 2015 to the present) that use the same progression include:
Bury Me Beneath The Willow
Wreck Of The Old '97
Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone
Hard Ain't It Hard
I'm On My Way Back To The Old Home
Cry, Cry Darlin' (verses)
White Dove (verses)
Rose Of Old Kentucky (verses)
A Memory Of You
Flint Hill Special (A & B Parts)
The intermediate jam has progressed to the point where, in most cases, relatively little time needs to be spent explaining/running through the chord progression of a song before playing a song that uses an uncommon progression. And, on the whole, the jam group is getting noticeably faster at identifying and finding 'off-chords' in songs: and not just the most common ones (2's, b7's, 6m's), but also some of the less frequently used 'off-chords' (e.g., 6's, 3's, 2m's).
['Off-chord' is an informal term for chords other than the 1, 4, and 5.]
However, the advantage of introducing songs that use such a familiar and commonplace chord progression as the 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow/I Still Write Your Name In The Sand' progression is that it frees up the jam group from the need to focus on catching on to the progression, thereby allowing everyone to focus more on other things that are also important for the continued progress of the jam: timing, feel, melody; and for harmony singers, lyrics and phrasing as well.
Here is a list of songs that use the 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow/I Still Write Your Name In The Sand' progression that I believe could be good song choices for people looking to introduce new songs into the jam (or, in a few cases, songs to reintroduce, revisit, or play more frequently):
Instrumentals that make use of the same progression include:
The song of the week is 'Fireball Mail' in the key of G.
Flatt & Scruggs - key of G, instrumental. The classic bluegrass version
Roy Acuff - key of A, the original sung version. Country/pre-Bluegrass
Earl Scruggs again - key of G (this time with his sons - not exactly a traditional bluegrass band, but good guitar and fiddle breaks here, plus a harmony back-up part played on the banjo behind the fiddle break)
Although Fireball Mail - originally a Roy Acuff song - does have lyrics (verses, no chorus), it was recorded by Flatt and Scruggs, on the Foggy Mountain Banjo album, as an instrumental featuring banjo and dobro; and it is through this recording more than any other that Fireball Mail has become a standard in the bluegrass repertoire.
Although I will lead Fireball Mail at the jam as an instrumental, I have included the lyrics for the first verse in the melody sheets, since some people find it easier to learn and/or remember a melody when they can associate a set of lyrics with it.
The chord progression used for 'Fireball Mail' on the Flatt & Scruggs recording is the standard progression for the song when played at bluegrass jams:
This is the same progression that is used to play 'Canaan's Land', 'Gathering Flowers From The Hillside', the verses of 'Feast Here Tonight', and (at our jam) the verses of 'I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open')
However, unlike the four songs just mentioned, there is nothing in the melody of 'Fireball Mail' that requires changes from the 1 to the 5 chord. On the 7th, 8th, and 14th measures of Fireball Mail, the main melody note is the 5th note of the major scale (D note when in the key of G). This note is common to both the 1 (G) and the 5 (D) chord: G=GBD; D=DF#A. Furthermore, in playing his breaks, Scruggs completely ignores the changes to the 5 chord, choosing to play G and B notes around the D melody notes in the '5 chord' measures, rather than F# and A notes. This is especially noticeable in his up the neck break.
Although the melody only consists of 8 notes, the range of the melody spans almost one and a half octaves. This is an exceptionally wide range for a tune that was originally written as a vocal number. (Fireball Mail has the same range as another recent song of the week: 'Down In A Willow Garden', but unlike 'Down In A Willow Garden', the lowest note and the highest note in the melody are dwelt on rather than used merely in passing).
The melody notes for Fireball Mail, in ascending order of pitch, are (in the key of G): D,E,G,A,B,D,E,G (same as 'Down In A Willow Garden, when played in G). This means lots of open strings and 2nd fret notes on banjo and dobro, and lots of opportunities for unison slides/hammer-ons. Additionally, many of the G and D notes in the melody are held for a long time (a whole measure or longer) before the melody moves to the next note. All of these things make this tune particularly well suited to the banjo and the dobro, which helps to explain why 'Fireball Mail' is a favorite among many banjo and dobro players.
The song of the week is 'I Can't Feel At Home In This World Anymore' (a.k.a. 'This World Is Not My Home') in the key of G. This song was recorded by the Carter Family in 1931, and since that time has been recorded by numerous old-time, bluegrass, and country artists: some of the bigger names including Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Jim Reeves, Merle Haggard, and Ricky Skaggs.
Progression & Recordings
The chord progression I use for 'I Can't Feel At Home In This World Anymore' is:
Jim & Jesse - key of F
Martina McBride (with Ricky Skaggs) - key of D: not exactly a bluegrass version of the song, but it has good mandolin breaks in it, and is played at a tempo that I prefer.
...but, alternatives for the 2nd line of the progression that I have heard on records and at jams include
Blue Highway - key of G
And, in some versions, line 2 is played one of these ways for the verses of the song, and in a different way for the choruses, with breaks in some versions following the verse progression and in other versions following the chorus progression.
Compare these progressions with Prog. V6 on the Basic Chord Progressions Chart:
...and with the 3 most common chord progressions used for playing 'Leaning On The Everlasting Arms':
1144 1144 1144
1115 11155 1115
1144 1144 1144
11511 11511 1151
The 2 Chord
Notice in the versions of 'I Can't Feel At Home...' provided here how the harmony part or parts are affected by the presence or absence of the '2' chord in line 2 of the progression. For, unlike the 1,4, and 5 chords, the 2 chord has one note in it that is not part of the major scale. In the key of G, this note is a C#. (The notes of the G major scale are: G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#.) Relative to the G major scale, the number name for the C# note is #4, which is the same note as what would be called b5 (in the key of G: Db) in certain other contexts.
If you find it doesn't come naturally to you to go to the C# note on the 2 chord measure when singing a tenor harmony part for this song in the key of G, try playing the following scale on your instrument: G, A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G until your ear becomes accustomed to hearing the 4th note of this scale in the context of the whole scale. (This is known as the 'G Lydian Scale': in place of the '4' in the major scale, it has a '#4'. The G Lydian Scale has the same notes as the D Major Scale, i.e., it has one more sharp in it than what the G Major Scale has.) The notes of the G Lydian Scale are the safest notes to play on your instrument during '2' chord measures that come up in a song that is in the key of G.
An informal name for chords other than the 1,4,and 5 that you will sometimes hear in bluegrass circles is 'off-chords'. The '2' chord is one of the two most commonly used major 'off-chords' in traditional bluegrass. The other one is the 'b7' chord. If you have not already done so, I suggest immediately making it a point to memorize the '2' and 'b7' chords for each of the keys that come up at the jam. Remember that '2' is a whole-step higher than '1', and that 'b7' is a whole-step lower than '1':
b7 1 2
Key of G: F G A (A = A,C#,E.)
Key of A G A B (B = B,D#,F#.)
Key of Bb Ab Bb C (C = C,E,G.)
Key of B A B C# (C# = C#,E#,G#)
Key of C Bb C D (D = D,F#,A)
Key of D C D E (E = E,G#,B)
Key of E D E F# (F# = F#,A#,C#)
Key of F Eb F G (G = G,B,D)
In each case, the middle note of the three notes that make up the '2' chord is the #4 note, which when substituted in place of the 4th note of the Major Scale creates the Lydian Scale.
'2' & 'b7' Contrasted
Just as through experience with playing songs that have 1,4,and 5 chords in them, one learns to readily distinguish the sound of the progression 1-4-1 from the sound of the progression 1-5-1, and to detect when a chord is being played that is other than the 1, the 4, or the 5, so also, through experience with playing songs that have various 'off-chords' in them, one learns to be able to just as readily distinguish which 'off-chord' is being played. For starters, I suggest observing that songs that have only the '2' as an 'off-chord' in them tend to have a very different sounding type of melody than songs that have only the 'b7' as an off-chord in them.
Other songs with '2' chords that have been played at the jam include 'Homestead On The Farm' (a.k.a. 'I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home'), 'Cry Cry Darlin', 'Coleen Malone', 'Left Over Biscuits', Old Home Place' (also has a '3' chord in it), 'Earl's Breakdown', 'Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem', 'Eight More Miles To Louisville', Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad' (a.k.a. 'Life's Railway To Heaven'), 'Red Wing', and 'Salty Dog Blues' (also has a '6' chord in it.) Be sure not to confuse these with songs that have a 2m chord in them (e.g., 'Lonesome Feeling', 'Steel Rails', 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere', 'Whiskey Before Breakfast', and 'Devil's Dream').
Compare a few of the songs that have '2' chords in them with some of the songs that have been played at the jam that have 'b7' chords in them (they are all easy to find on youtube):
Songs with b7 chords that have been played at the jam include 'Little Willie', 'Little Maggie', 'Red Haired Boy', 'Salt Creek', 'Old Joe Clark', 'Love Please Come Home', 'I Know You Rider' (also has a 'b3' chord in it), 'Cluck Old Hen', 'Over The Waterfall', 'Shady Grove' (minor key version: also has a b3 chord in it), and 'What Child Is This' (minor key: also has a b3 in it, and in many versions, also a b6 chord).
Another thing you might notice is that while the 'b7' chord is more often than not sandwiched between '1' chords, just like the '4' and '5' chord most often are, the '2' chord is almost always followed immediately by the '5' chord.
[Those of you who have studied music theory might point out that the '2' chord is functioning here as a 'secondary dominant', and some might not like it that I call it the '2' chord, but that it should rather be called 'the 5 of the 5'. (Rough translation: the chord in question has the same relation to the 5 chord that the 5 chord - a.k.a. the 'dominant' - has to the 1 chord: the '2' pushes to the 5 in the progression, which in turn pushes and resolves to the 1.) But, for our purposes here, and for the sake of simplicity, I call 'the 5 of the 5' the '2 chord'.]
New Song Lists
In the attachments I have included the new list of songs that we will play from for the first half of the evening at the Intermediate Jam for the next 3 months. This list replaces the list that we used for the jams held from January through March of this year. There are two versions of the list included here: a one page larger print version that simply lists the titles of the songs, and a two page smaller print version that gives the chord progressions for the songs in addition to the titles.
The song of the week will be 'Little Darling Pal Of Mine' in the key of G.
Ralph Stanley II - key of G
Flatt & Scruggs - key of G, instrumental (Foggy Mountain Banjo album)
Bobby & Sonny Osborne (together with many other well established bluegrass artists of the older generations: how many can you recognize?) - key of G, instrumental, live performance/jam
Flatt & Scruggs - key of G, instrumental (live TV performance: banjo and bass breaks only)
The Carter Family - key of E (the original recording of the song: 1928)
The Stanley Brothers - key of G
The chord progression for Little Darling Pal Of Mine is:
This is Prog. V10 on the basic progressions chart. Be careful not to confuse this progression with the similar and much more common W10 progression that is used to play Gold Watch & Chain, Back Up And Push, Way Down Town, This Land Is Your Land, Rubber Dolly, the B-Part of Red Wing, and the choruses of Nellie Kane and How Mountain Girls Can Love. The two progressions differ from each other only in the first measure of line 4. The last line of W10 is 5511 (same as the second line of both V10 and W10), whereas the last line of V10 is 1511.
The melody for Little Darling Pal Of Mine is similar to the melody for This Land Is Your Land. It was from Little Darling Pal Of Mine that Woody Guthrie drew his inspiration for writing the melody for This Land Is Your Land. The similarity of the melody of Little Darling Pal Of Mine to that of a more well known song that uses the W10 progression may make it difficult at first for some to consistently remember to play the V10 progression instead of the W10 progression for Little Darling Pal Of Mine until they have played the song a number of times.
Little Darling Pal Of Mine has been recorded and performed many times by bluegrass artists as an instrumental. When played as an instrumental, it is often used as a banjo-feature tune. However, the original recorded version of the song (by the Carter Family) that many of the first and second generation bluegrass artists learned the tune from, was a sung version, and some bluegrass artists have recorded sung versions of the song. At jams, I prefer to sing the song, rather than to lead it as an instrumental.
The most well known banjo breaks for Little Darling Pal Of Mine are the two breaks that Earl Scruggs plays on the Foggy Mountain Banjo album. Both of these breaks stick very close to the melody, as does the first fiddle break that Scruggs plays a harmony backup to that is prominent in the mix.
Both Flatt & Scruggs versions provided here include bass breaks. In sung versions of the song, it is uncommon for a bass break to be played, but I like to offer the bass a break when I sing the song at jams.
Have a happy Easter.
The song of the week is 'Down In A Willow Garden' (a.k.a. 'Rose Connelly') in the key of G.
Down In A Willow Garden was recorded by most of the first and second generation big names in bluegrass, and has been recorded many times since then both by bluegrass and non-bluegrass artists. Well-known non-bluegrass singers who have recorded the song include The Everly Brothers, Art Garfunkel, and more recently, Billie Joe Armstrong (lead singer of the pop-punk band 'Green Day') with Norah Jones.
For those interested in the history of the song, check out
The following recordings are representative of the range of ways that first and second generation bluegrass artists played and sang Down In A Willow Garden.
Flatt & Scruggs - key of F
Reno & Harrell - key of G
Charlie Monroe - key of Ab (very sharp, almost A)
The Osborne Brothers with Red Allen - key of G
Ralph Stanley - key of G
The chord progression I use for Down In A Willow Garden is the same as the one on the Flatt & Scruggs and Osborne Brothers recordings:
1 1 1 6m
1 1 6m 6m
1 1 1 6m
1 5 1 1
6m 6m 1 6m
1 1 6m 6m
1 1 1 6m
1 5 1 1
On the Reno & Harrell recording, as well as on the Ralph Stanley recording, the 6 (Major) chord is used in place of the 6m, and on the Charlie Monroe recording, there are some spots where a chord change away from the 1 chord is implied by the melody, yet no clear chord change occurs on the guitar.
Sandwiching 6 Major chords between 1 chords was common in the early days of bluegrass (the original 1949 Flatt & Scruggs recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown is likely the most well-known example of this), but is hardly ever done in bluegrass nowadays. The nearly universal current practice is to use 6m chords (or in some cases where it will work, 4 chords) in such spots.
Nearly all chord progressions one is likely to encounter for 'Down In A Willow Garden' at bluegrass jams that differ from the one I have written out here involve the use of the 4 chord in place of one or more of the 6m measures. The most common spots for the 4 to be used are in the last measure of the 3rd line of the verse and the chorus, and in the first two measures of the chorus.
Here is an example of the 4 being used in all of these spots, and also in the 4th measure of the 1st line of the chorus:
The Lonesome River Band - key of B
Here is a version with even more 4 chord measures in it (and one that begins in 3/4 time, switches to cut common time for most of the song. but then ends in 3/4 time):
Monroe Crossing - key of B
The reason why the 6m, 6(M), and 4 chords all work for the measures that I use the 6m in is because the main melody note (in most cases, the only melody note) in those measures is the 6th note of the Major Scale, and all three of those chords contain that note. In the key of G, that note is an E note, and the E note is part of the Em, E, and C chords. Furthermore, the E note forms a dissonance with only one of the notes of the G chord (the D note), and only a mild dissonance at that. This helps to account for the fewer number of changes away from the 1 chord in the Charlie Monroe version.
6m or 4?
If one sticks mostly to playing E and G notes in one's breaks (or backup on instruments that allow for this) on the 'Em' measures, and makes it a point to avoid B notes, then one need not be too concerned whether a C chord is being played in place of an Em in some of those measures.
Down In A Willow Garden is most often sung solo, but some of the recorded versions included or mentioned here are sung with harmony either on all the vocal parts of the song (e.g., Osborne Brothers), or only on the choruses (e.g., Reno & Harrell).
Although on most of the recordings provided here, breaks are played only over the verse progression and melody, I find it tends to work better when I lead the song at a jam to have the breaks alternate between the verse and chorus progressions when two or more breaks are played back to back. In this respect, the arrangement we will use for the song as it goes through its song of the week cycle is similar to how we almost always play Columbus Stockade Blues at the jam, except that I will usually end the song, not with a vocal chorus, but with two 'everybody' breaks played back to back: the first over the verse progression, and the second over the chorus progression.
The only essential differences between the melodies for the two parts occur in the first two measures of the parts, and once one gets past the first two measures of the chorus, the progression for the chorus is identical with the progression for the verse. So, for a chorus break, all one needs to do is to alter the first two measures of one's verse break to make it fit the chorus progression and melody.
By dropping the melody an octave lower than written in the melody sheets, guitar players can confine the melody to the 4 lowest strings of the guitar, which is ideal for creating Carter-style breaks for the song like the ones played by Charlie Monroe on the recording. The very lowest note of the melody as written (a D note: open 4th string on the guitar) cannot be dropped an octave lower when the guitar is in standard tuning. In place of the low D note in the pickup measure for the verse, and in the 8th measure of the chorus, substituting an E note (open 6th string) will work, and in place of the low D note in the 2nd measure of the last line of the verse and of the chorus, playing an A note (open 5th string) is one easy option.
The melody of the Down In A Willow Garden is Major Pentatonic, which means that it uses only the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes of the Major Scale. In the key of G, those notes are G, A, B, D, and E. The melody has an unusually wide range for bluegrass: wider even than (though only by a half-step) the range for the melody of Wildwood Flower. The melody for Down In A Willow Garden spans the same range as the melody for Fireball Mail. In order, from lowest to highest, the notes for both tunes when played in the key of G are: D, E, G, A, B, D, E, G.
The song of the week is 'Little Willie' in the key of A.
Ralph Stanley - key of B
John Reischman & The Jaybirds (vocal: Trisha Gagnon) - key of C - here -
The melody sheets attached here are based upon how Ralph Stanley sang the song on an earlier recording by the Stanley Brothers. On this recording, which was available on youtube for a brief while in the recent past, but is not currently available there, Ralph sang it in the key of A (a whole step lower than B), and this is the recording that I learned to sing the song from. (I have it only on an old grainy cassette tape.)
The chord progression for Little Willie is:
1 1 b7 b7
1 5 1 1
1 1 b7 b7
1 5 1 1
The b7 Chord
The b7 (flat-seven) chord is always one whole step (= two half steps) lower than the 1 chord.
If you know the 7 letter circular musical alphabet, and know that there is a note between every natural note except between B and C and between E and F, and know what is meant by a whole step (or by two half steps) and what is meant by flat (b) and sharp (#) and natural, then you have all the information you need to know in order to very quickly calculate what the b7 chord is for every key (albeit perhaps not the all the information you need in order to ensure that you are always naming it correctly: e.g., G# - incorrectly named - in place of Ab - correctly named - for the key of Bb, even though G# and Ab are one and the same note/chord).
Although we only use 8 of the 12 Major keys at our jam, here is the b7 chord for all 12 Major keys:
G: b7 = F
Ab: b7 = Gb
A: b7 = G
Bb: b7 = Ab
B: b7 = A
C: b7 = Bb
C#: b7 = B (or Db: b7 = Cb)
D: b7 = C
Eb: b7 = Db
E: b7 = D
F: b7 = Eb
F#: b7 = E (or Gb: b7 = Fb)
Banjo and guitar players who regularly make use of a capo should at the very least memorize the letter name of the b7 chord for the keys of G, C, and D.
Guitar players whose guitars are set up to be capable of the level of volume needed in order to stand a chance of cutting through at a large Bluegrass jam
(medium or heavy gauge strings and high action) will find it helpful to remember that the b7 chord in the key of C is Bb, so that when they know that the song about to be played at the jam has a b7 chord in it, and is going to be played in the key of C, or D, or E, or F, they can choose a option that will not require them to play a Bb chord-shape: for this chord-shape is physically difficult to form and to make sound right on a guitar with high action and medium to heavy gauge strings.
4 vs. b7
When I am playing guitar, my F shape chords look so similar to my C shape chords that, in order to distinguish them from each other, you may find it easier to rely on your ear to hear the difference between when I am playing a b7 chord instead of a 4 chord for the keys of G, A, Bb, B, and C, than to rely on what you (may think you) are seeing on my guitar.
The b7 chord sounds distinctively different than the 4 chord (even if not as different as what the b7 sounds like relative to the 1 and the 5). To help familiarize yourself with the specific sound of the b7 chord, you may find it helpful to listen on youtube (or on any records, tapes, CDs, etc.) in your collection, songs that feature this chord in one or more of their parts back to back with songs that have only the 1,4 and 5 chords in them.
You may also find it helpful to play through the progression for Little Willie back to back with the progression for Nine Pound Hammer, for the only difference between the two progressions is that Nine Pound Hammer uses the 4 chord in the spots where Little Willie uses the b7 chord.
Besides 'Little Willie', songs that have been played at our jams that use the b7 chord include: Old Joe Clark (B-Part only, and has no 4 chord in either of its parts), Red Haired Boy (in both parts; both parts also have the 4 chord), Salt Creek (in both parts; the A-Part also has the 4 chord) Over The Waterfall (second to last measure of the A-Part; the last measure of the A-Part uses the 4 chord), Little Maggie (has no 4 chord), and Love Please Come Home (the b7 is followed by the 4).
Relation to 'Little Maggie'
Lyrical content aside, Little Willie is essentially a slower-tempo Little Maggie. (Little Maggie is a popular Bluegrass jam standard.) So, we can use it at the jam to work towards one of the goals appropriate for the present state of our jam, namely: to be able to play faster as a group. Each time that 'Little Willie' is played at the jam, we can kick it off a bit faster, until we get to the point where the speed is no longer appropriate for Little Willie. At that point, we can switch to playing 'Little Maggie', and then keep on trying to gradually push Little Maggie faster and faster each time it gets played at the jam
Little Willie shares either the same, or a very similar, chord progression with Little Maggie, depending on which version of Little Maggie one has in mind. The two melodies are close enough to each other that any melody-based break that one plays for Little Maggie would not be out of place to play as a break for Little Willie. Though, one might consider altering the first measure (together with any pickups leading into it) of one's Little Maggie break when using it for Little Willie (and perhaps also one's 9th measure), especially for one's intro break, in order for it to be clear which song your break is intended for. (The first long-held melody note in the first and third lines of the verses of Little Willie is a perfect 5th higher than the corresponding melody note in Little Maggie.)
For the sake of comparison and contrast with 'Little Willie', take a listen to the following:
Little Maggie: Ralph Stanley:
and yet faster:
Little Maggie: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
Instrumentals written by Earl Scruggs
'Shuckin' The Corn' is one of about ten or so instrumentals written by Earl Scruggs that I regard as essential listening for all Bluegrass players:
Flint Hill Special
Foggy Mountain Special
Randy Lynn Rag
Foggy Mountain Breakdown
The song of the week is 'Sally Goodin', an old-time fiddle tune that is traditionally played in the key of A.
J.D. Crowe & The New South - key of A (fiddle is featured, with short banjo and guitar breaks in the middle)
Flatt & Scruggs - key of G (banjo is featured, with 2 short fiddle breaks)
Flatt & Scruggs - key of A (fiddle is featured, with banjo and dobro breaks)
Byron Berline, John Hickman & John Moore - key of A (fiddle is featured, with extended banjo and guitar breaks in the middle)
Bill Monroe & Doc Watson - key of A (mandolin is featured, with guitar breaks and a bit of vocal)
Boone Creek - key of A (fiddle is featured, with banjo, dobro and mandolin breaks)
In the attached melody sheets, I have presented Sally Goodin as a straightforward AABB fiddle tune with short 4 measure parts like Cripple Creek, Cluck Old Hen, and Shortnin' Bread. However, most good recorded versions of Sally Goodin deviate from this form, often doubling up one or both of the parts at certain points within the arrangement; and more often than not, the tune will end with the A Part, rather than with the B Part. Furthermore, many of the variations that are commonly played for this tune do not have enough in common with the melody of either part for it to be clear which part the variation is being played for.
At last night's jam, each break, except the last, was played as AABBAABB. The last break was played as AABBAAAA. This is how I intend to structure our playing of Sally Goodin at the jam until I see that enough people at the jam are ready to start making use of some of the types of variations that do not fit easily into this form. At that point, we can try using some freer, less rigid, forms for the tune.
As there is nothing in most versions of the melody (or in many of even the most wild variations on the parts) that implies a chord change away from the 1 chord, Sally Goodin could easily be played as a one-chord song. It can also be played as a six-chord song with chord changes (including some diminished chords) occurring nearly every half measure. (The Boone Creek recording provides a good example of this in some of its sections.) But, for the purposes of our jams, the chord progression for Sally Goodin is (for both of its parts): 1 1 1 5/1.
In the attachments I have given just one of many possible versions of the basic melody of Sally Goodin (plus a typical down-the-neck Scruggs-style break for banjo players). Whether or not one chooses to make use of this version of the melody (or, in the case of Scruggs-style banjo players, the banjo break given here) I highly recommend getting solid on some version of the basic melody (or, once again for Scruggs-style banjo players, some typical Scruggs-style break) before attempting to do anything like the kinds of variations one commonly hears on recordings of the tune.
Notice that the version of the melody given here for the A Part is entirely major pentatonic, with the lowest note being the 5th note of the major scale, and the highest note being the 3rd note of the major scale. This contrasts with the melody given here for the first three measures of the B Part, which, for the most part, simply runs up and down the first six notes of the major scale. Guitar players may find that the A Part (so long as the notes are confined to the 3rd and 4th strings, as written in the guitar melody tab attached here) makes for a good economy of motion exercise for the index and ring fingers of the fretting hand.
A good next step is to work on developing one's version of the basic melody into a melody-based bluegrass break, before jumping ahead to learning variations. On fiddle, for instance, one might among other things (under the influence of good bluegrass recordings of the tune) work on droning an A note (pinky finger on the D string) along with the melody notes in the A Part that are played on the A string. Another good thing to do, on fiddle and mandolin, is to work on playing the melody for the A-Part an octave higher than written in the attachments, by going up to 3rd position: A, B, and C# notes on the E string; E and F# notes on the A string. The high-octave A Part melody forms the basis for some of the common variations on the A Part.
And, of course, don't neglect to make sure that you can smoothly get into your break from an 8 Potato Intro and that you can go into a double ending after your break when you are ready to end the tune. On fiddle, an excellent choice of notes for an 8 Potato intro for Sally Goodin are the A note on the D string (pinky finger) played together as a double stop with the C# note on the A string (middle finger). This sets one up perfectly for playing the A Part with an A note drone on the D string as described previously.
While Scruggs-style banjo players who already have a certain amount of experience playing up the neck breaks will probably want to have an up the neck break worked up for Sally Goodin along the lines of the more common ones heard on the recordings, I advise banjo players to give a lower priority to this, and a higher priority to working on getting their backup playing for Sally Goodin as solid as possible. The drony character of Scruggs-style rolls and licks make the banjo ideally suited to being a primary backup instrument for fiddle on tunes that have no (or only occasional) explicit chord changes. The recordings provided here demonstrate this quite well. Notice that both the J.D. Crowe & The New South and the Boone Creek recordings start with fiddle breaks in which the banjo is the sole backup instrument, and even after the rest of the band comes in, the banjo remains prominent in the mix.
The first recorded version of Sally Goodin (Eck Robertson, 1922) was an old-time solo fiddle arrangement that included many variations, and some of these variations deviated quite significantly from the version of the basic melody established at the beginning of the arrangement. The influence of these variations is evident in the fiddle breaks played by Ricky Skaggs on the J.D. Crowe & The New South and the Boone Creek recordings of Sally Goodin, and in the fiddle breaks played by Byron Berline on the live performance provided in the recordings section.
Eck Robertson - key of A
Here's the original Flatt & Scruggs recording of Flint Hill Special: