Excellent jam last night!
The next intermediate jam in the Pioneer Building will be held on Thursday Dec. 14th. The song of the week will be 'Auld Lang Syne' in the key of G. We will play this mostly as an instrumental, but perhaps sing a verse and chorus near the end of it.
The chord progression I use for Auld Lang Syne is:
Each break will run through the progression twice (32 measures in total) so that each instrument gets to play a break based upon the melody for both the verse and the chorus.
Here are two good bluegrass versions of 'Auld Lang Syne' to take a listen to and play along with:
Bill Keith: key of G
David Grisman: key of G:
These arrangements of Auld Lang Syne (once you get past the intro in the first version) make for good examples of what can be done with any number of non-bluegrass songs in 4/4 time to convert them to a bluegrass rhythm and feel. I suggest listening to these back to back with any non-bluegrass versions of the song that you might have in your music collection or that you might bring up on youtube and study closely how they differ in rhythm and feel from the bluegrass versions. In this connection, you might find it interesting to compare the melody sheets attached here for 'Auld Lang Syne' with the melody sheets you will find on the internet if you google "Auld Lang Syne sheet music".
During the month of December (and the beginning of January) I welcome you to call Christmas songs at the jam that you would like to play that you believe would be a good 'fit' for the intermediate jam group. And you need not wait until the second half of the evening to call these.
If you have tried adapting Christmas carols to bluegrass, then you may have noticed that some carols adapt more easily and naturally than others. Like 'Away In A Manger', most of the ones in 3/4 time are good candidates for attempts to play them with a bluegrass feel; but of these, the ones that tend to adapt best have fewer melody notes (on average) per measure and fewer quick chord changes relative to the ones that don't adapt quite as easily. For example, Silent Night and It Came Upon The Midnight Clear are more 'bluegrass-friendly' than The First Noel and We Wish You A Merry Christmas.
The carols that are either in cut time (2/2) or in 2/4 (e.g., Jingle Bells, Good King Wenceslas) are natural candidates for being given a bluegrass treatment; while, on the other hand, most of the 4/4 carols (e.g., O Come All Ye Faithful, O Little Town Of Bethlehem) need to be converted to a cut time feel in order to be played as bluegrass songs; but this can be challenging to do if one is not yet very familiar with how this kind of conversion works. Being able to do this conversion is useful not only for creating bluegrass arrangements of Christmas carols, but also for many other songs from various different genres.
Christmas/Seasonal songs that were played at the jam last December:
Good King Wenceslas
Auld Lang Syne
What Child Is This
Lasst uns froh und munter sein
Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann
In previous years, we have also played at the jam:
Away In A Manger
Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem
Deck The Halls (I recall this one being a bit challenging for the group to play)
Shepherds In The Field (a Jason Homey original that sounds a lot like 'This Little Light Of Mine' and 'Somebody Touched Me' and 'Paul And Silas', etc.)
The chord progression used for Big Eyed Rabbit was:
Ashes Of Love
The chord progression used for Ashes Of Love was:
1 1 4/1 5
5 5 5 1
1 1 4/1 5
5 5 5 1 1
The next intermediate jam will be held on Nov. 30th.
The song of the week will be '(Someday) We'll Meet Again Sweetheart' in the key of Bb.
Flatt & Scruggs - key of B (instruments tuned up a half step higher than standard)
This was the first song that Flatt and Scruggs recorded together after leaving Bill Monroe's band. (Lester Flatt on guitar and lead vocal, Earl Scruggs on banjo, Jim Shumate on fiddle, Howard Watts, a.k.a. Cedric Rainwater on upright bass, and Mac Wiseman on guitar and tenor harmony vocal.) It is one of 28 songs that Flatt & Scruggs recorded together on Mercury Records between 1948 and 1950. To listen to the complete collection of 'the Mercury Sessions' refer back to the song of the week write up for 'Why Don't You Tell Me So':
Parmley & McCoury - key of B
This is the first version of 'We'll Meet Again Sweetheart' I heard when I was just beginning to get into Bluegrass. This record (in the form of a cassette tape I bought at a Bluegrass Cardinals concert) has been in my collection since 1992, and was a big influence on my playing. From the same album, check out the following songs. This is really high quality Bluegrass well worth taking the time to listen to (over and over) and absorb.
Roll On Buddy - key of B
I'm Going Back To Old Kentucky - key of A
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot - key of B
Down The Road - key of B
I'll Drink No More Wine - key of G
Smoke Along The Track - key of A
I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling - key of E
We'll Meet Again Sweetheart uses the same progression that is used to play 'Blue Ridge Cabin Home':
The melody of We'll Meet Again Sweetheart uses all 7 notes of the Major Scale, with the lowest note being, in Nashville Numbers, the '5' below the '1' (F note in the key of Bb; D note in the key of G). and the highest note being the '4' above the '1' (Eb note in the key of Bb; C note in the key of G).
One characteristic feature of the melody of this song is how often and how long the melody lingers on the 3rd of each chord (i.e., in the key of Bb: D notes during Bb chord measures, G notes during Eb chord measures, and A notes during F chord measures. In the key of G, the corresponding notes and chords are: B notes for G chord measures, E notes for C chord measures, and F# notes for D chord measures).
Another feature of the melody - and one which severely limits the range of keys in which I can feel comfortable singing the song in - is the unusually wide intervals between some of these 3rds of each chord and the note that immediately precedes them. This occurs, for instance, at the end of measure 2 going into measure 3, where the melody abruptly descends from the 3rd of the 1 chord to the 3rd of the 4 chord, and in measure 6, where the melody abruptly ascends from the root of the 5 chord to 3rd of the 1 chord in anticipation of the upcoming chord change from the 5 back to the 1.
Playing in Bb: A Quick Review
The Bb Major Scale consists of the notes: Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, and A.
If you wish to get really familiar with using this scale on fiddle and mandolin, I recommend as a fun exercise, transposing the melody of Turkey In The Straw
https://www.idahobluegrassassociation.org/intermediate-jam/category/turkey-in-the-straw up 3 half steps from G to Bb.
Here are the corresponding notes of the G and Bb Major Scales:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
G, A, B, C, D, E, F#
Bb,C, D, Eb ,F, G, A
The 1, 4, and 5 chords for the key of Bb are Bb, Eb, and 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, and C.
The b3 and b7 ('blue') notes for the key of Bb are D and Ab.
When playing up the neck on banjo in the key of Bb (capo 3, playing as if in G), you may find it helpful to use your 10th and 15th fret markers as your primary points of reference.
Summary Of Last Night's Teaching Segment
The E Major Pentatonic Scale consists of the notes: E, F#, G#, B, and C#.
The E Minor Pentatonic Scale consists of the notes: E, G, A, B, and D.
Put these two scales together, and you end up with a good combination of notes for playing songs in the key of E, (like 'In The Pines', last night's song of the week) when a bluesy or lonesome sound is highly desirable in breaks and in licks used in your backup playing: E, F#, G, G#, A, B, C#, D.
In Nashville Numbers, and then transposed for each of the other 7 Major keys used at the jam, the notes become:
1 2 b3 3 4 5 6 b7
G A Bb B C D E F
A B C C# D E F# G
Bb C Db D Eb F G Ab
B C# D D# E F# G# A
C D Eb E F G A Bb
D E F F# G A B C
F G Ab A Bb C D Eb
Have a happy Thanksgiving!
The song of the week is 'In The Pines' in the key of E.
'In The Pines' is in 3/4 time (a.k.a. 'waltz time': 3 beats per measure: guitar rhythm: boom-chuck-chuck), and is usually played at a slow tempo.
The chord progression is:
In the key of E: 1=E, 4=A, 5=B
Bill Monroe - key of F
Boone Creek (Ricky Skaggs on lead vocal) - key of B: this is my favourite recorded version of 'In The Pines': notice that the chorus is shorter than on the previous version: this is the way (i.e., with the 'woo-woo-woos' mimicking the sound of the wind omitted) that I sing the song.
Peter Rowan - key of E
Melody & Breaks
The melody of In The Pines uses only the first 5 notes of the major scale. In the key of E, these notes are, from lowest to highest: E, F#, G#, A, B. However, In The Pines lends itself well to being played with more of a lonesome or bluesy feel to it than what would seem to be implied by the notes that the melody consists of. So, in both my backup playing and in my breaks, I tend to make a lot of use of b3 and b7 notes. In the key of E, those notes are G and D respectively.
For instance, when playing a melody-based break for the song, I will tend to substitute G notes in place of some of the G# notes, and in my fillin licks - both in my breaks and in my backup playing - I will tend to use D notes in spots where I would much more often use C# notes instead. Many of my fillin licks, and other licks that I might use in a break when I am not attempting to stick close to the melody, will consist solely of the notes that make up the minor pentatonic scale. The E minor pentatonic scale consists of the notes: E, G, A, B, and D
To get a feel for how one might get started in doing this for a melody-based break for 'In The Pines', I have included in the attachments, in addition to the melody as I tend to sing it (which consists of just E, F#, G#, A, and B notes), a modified 'melody' that adds 3 additional notes into the mix: G, A#, and D. When I am really going for a 'bluesy' feel in a break or in a fillin lick for 'In The Pines', I will make frequent use of the A#/Bb note as a passing note between A and B notes, whether ascending: A, A#, B, or descending: B, Bb, A. If you choose to make use of this note, be careful about how long you linger on it, for it clashes severely with all three of the chords in the song.
The 'modified melody' in the attachments is only a basic example of how one might go about making use of the three extra notes to give a lonesome or bluesy sound to one's breaks. There are many more ways in which one might make use of these notes in one's breaks (and also in one's backup playing), so I suggest experimenting with these notes a bit. You might, for instance, take some licks you already know, and try modifying them in various ways to include one or more of these notes in them. In doing this, you might find it helpful to listen closely to the Boone Creek version of 'In The Pines' - see the link below - to use as a point of reference for the kind of 'sound' or 'feel' to aim for.
Due to its slow tempo, you might find that playing 'In The Pines' at the jam affords you with a good opportunity to try to get more 8th notes - and even 8th note triplets (see the explanation below if you are not sure what 8th note triplets are) - into your breaks than what you otherwise tend to play. You might also like to use the song as an opportunity to work on improvising (i.e., making up a break on the fly), since the slow tempo allows one a bit more time to think about which note or combination of notes one might like to play next.
Swung 8ths and 8th Note Triplets
There are a couple of symbols on the melody sheets attached here that you will not see often on the melody sheets for the song of the week.
The first one, at the top of the pages, consists of a pair of 8th notes followed by an equals sign followed by three 8th notes of which the first two are tied together and the numeral '3' occurs above the three 8th notes. This means that whenever you see a pair of 8th notes in the written music, the first of the two notes is held twice as long as the second one, but together, they take up the same amount of time in the measure as what two 'ordinary' (evenly spaced) 8th notes take up. To get the feel for this, sing (or play) the melody along with the sung choruses on the youtube link provided below, making sure that your 8th notes line up with the vocal phrasing.
The numeral '3' which is placed below the staff under the group of three 8th notes in the second to last measure of the 'modified melody' indicates a triplet. Each note of an 8th note triplet lasts one-third the length of a quarter note; so, together, these three notes last the same amount of time as a single quarter note.
Guitar Tab Melody Sheets
For playing in the key of E, Bluegrass guitar players most often capo either to the 2nd fret and then play as if in D or capo to the 4th fret and then play as if in C. But, for In The Pines, as well as for many other songs in which it is desirable to make use of a lot of 'blue notes' (i.e., b3 and b7 notes) in one's playing, the 'capo 4 play as if in C' option can make doing this more awkward than what it needs to be, so I have not included a key of C melody sheet in the guitar tab attachments. (In the key of D, the b3 and b7 notes are F and C, whereas in the key of C, the b3 and b7 notes are Eb and Bb.)
However, in addition to the key of D guitar tab melody sheet, I have included a key of E melody sheet in the guitar tab attachments, since playing in the key of E without a capo lends itself at least just as well to the use of blue notes as what the 'capo 2 play as if in D' option does. If you have never tried playing a guitar break in the key of E without a capo, but would like to, I suggest that In the Pines is a good song to start with.
Note: When playing in the key of E without a capo, Bluegrass guitar players tend to play a B7 rather than a B for the '5' chord.
Banjo Tab Melody Sheet
Both the range of the melody for In The Pines and the desirability of using many 'blue notes' in one's breaks and backup playing for the song make the 'capo 2, play as if in D' option more practical than the 'capo 4, play as if in C' option. Therefore, I have included a key of D banjo tab melody sheet in the attachments, but not a key of C tab.
For banjo players using the melody sheet as a guide for creating a break: for successive 8th notes in the melody, or in fillin licks, there is no need to avoid picking the same string two or more times in a row with the same finger: the song is played slowly enough to allow one to be able to play smoothly even while temporarily breaking away from typical banjo picking patterns in cases where doing so ends up being a more straightforward and simpler option.
Shuckin' The Corn
Here is the original Flatt & Scruggs recording of Shuckin' The Corn. (Played in the key of Ab instead of G, but only because the instruments were all tuned up a half step higher than standard.) I highly recommend listening to this:
The song of the week is 'Love, Please Come Home' in the key of B.
Reno & Smiley - key of A
Del McCoury - key of B
Bill Monroe - key of B
The chord progression for 'Love Please Come Home' is:
Compare this with the progression for 'You Are My Sunshine' (Prog. V4 on the basic chord progressions chart):
The b7 Chord
The b7 (flat seven) chord is always one whole step (= two half steps) lower than the 1 chord. It is called the b7 chord because its root note is obtained by flatting (i.e., lowering by one half step) the 7th note ('ti') of the major scale.
in the key of G: b7 = F
in the key of A: b7 = G
in the key of Bb: b7 = Ab
in the key of B: b7 = A
in the key of C: b7 = Bb
in the key of D: b7 = C
in the key of E: b7 = D
in the key of F: b7 = Eb
Melody & Breaks (for non-capoed instruments)
Notice that the melody of 'Love Please Come Home' contains two notes that are not part of the B Major Scale (see the attachments). These two notes, the flatted 3rd and the flatted 7th (D & A respectively when in the key of B), are called 'blue notes'. Blue notes frequently show up in licks in bluegrass breaks even in songs in which the melody does not contain any blue notes. When the melody of a song does contain blue notes, take that as an invitation to try using more blue notes than usual in your breaks.
When playing in keys that have a lot of sharps in them (B has 5 sharps), being able to make extensive use of blue notes can often help to make playing breaks in those keys easier because the blue notes end up being notes that belong to the more user-friendly keys that have fewer sharps in them.
To acquaint yourself with making use of 'A' notes when playing in the key of B, try playing the following scale:
B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A, B.
This is known as the B Mixolydian Scale. It consists of the same notes as the E Major Scale (4 sharps instead of 5 sharps). To get the hang of making use of A notes while playing in the key of B, try playing a break for Old Joe Clark in the key of B by raising every note by a whole step that you play in your key of A break for the tune. Here is a comparison of the notes of the A and B Mixolydian Scales to help you with this:
A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G
B, C#,D#,E, F#,G#,A
To acquaint yourself with using A and D notes when playing in the key of B: try playing the following two scales:
B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A, B (B Dorian Scale: consists of the same notes as the A Major Scale: 3 sharps)
B, D, E, F#, A, B (B Minor Pentatonic Scale: consists of the same notes as the D Major Pentatonic Scale)
Clinch Mountain Backstep and Cluck Old Hen both use the Minor Pentatonic Scale. Try playing a break in B for one or both of these tunes by raising all the notes in your key of A breaks up a whole step.
Here is a comparison of the notes of the A Minor Pentatonic and B Minor Pentatonic Scales:
A, C, D, E, G
B, D, E, F#,A
Melody & Breaks (for capoed instruments)
Notice that the melody of 'Love Please Come Home' contains two notes that are not part of the G Major Scale (see the banjo and guitar tab melody sheets in the attachments). These two notes, the flatted 3rd and the flatted 7th (Bb & F respectively when in the key of G), are called 'blue notes'. Blue notes frequently show up in licks in bluegrass breaks even in songs in which the melody does not contain any blue notes. When the melody of a song does contain blue notes, take that as an invitation to try using more blue notes than usual in your breaks.
If you do not have much experience with using blue notes in your breaks, try playing your breaks for Old Joe Clark (contains F notes when played in G), and Clinch Mountain Backstep or Cluck Old Hen (both tunes contain Bb and F notes when played in G) before working up a break for Love Please Come Home. Then, as you work out a break for Love Please Come Home, try to find spots where you can make use of the some of the same moves and note combinations in it that you use when playing Old Joe Clark, Clinch Mtn., etc.
The chord progression used for Devil's Dream was:
1 1 2m 2m
1 1 2m 5/1
(In the key of A: 2m = Bm. In the key of G: 2m = Am.)
Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys - Devil's Dream
Melody and Mandolin tap
I will not be at the next intermediate jam. The song of the week cycle will be suspended for the week. I will resume leading the jam on Nov. 2nd, two weeks from now.
The song of the week will be 'Old Joe Clark' in the key of A.
Breaks & Tempos
My intentions in revisiting 'Old Joe Clark' as a song of the week for the intermediate jam are: 1) to provide an occasion for people to review the breaks they have been playing for the most frequently played fiddle tunes at the jam to see if there is anything in their breaks that could use some 'updating' in accordance with the level of playing ability that they have now attained; and 2) to continue where we left off at when Turkey In The Straw went through its song of the week cycle in terms of working on increasing the tempos at which the jam group is able to successfully play standard fiddle tunes.
In the attachments, I have given not only a version of the basic melody, but also two breaks each for fiddle, mandolin and guitar in which notes are added around the basic melody. If the breaks you play for Old Joe Clark consist of little more than just the basic melody, or if you are looking for ideas for other ways to play a break for Old Joe Clark than how you usually play your break, I hope you will find these useful. I have not included any banjo breaks in the attachments because most banjo players who learn to play Old Joe Clark learn to play it with many notes added around the basic melody from the get go.
Better yet, in listening to the breaks on the recordings given below, if there is anything in them that strikes you as something that you would like to add into your breaks for Old Joe Clark, try to learn it directly from the recording. Remember, if you go to settings in youtube, you can slow down the recording to half speed.
The breaks given in the attachments are not as busy as most of the breaks on the recordings provided below, but if you combine the two breaks together, using most of the busy spots in each, then the resulting breaks will come close to some of the breaks heard on the recordings. However, in view of the tempos at which Old Joe Clark will be played at the jam, be careful about how many notes you try to your breaks all at once.
The tempos at which I intend to kick off Old Joe Clark at as it goes through its song of the week cycle are:
Nov. 2nd: 124 beats per minute (2 clicks of the metronome per measure)
Nov. 9th: 128 beats per minute
Nov. 16th: 132 beats per minute
Here are some youtube links of good bluegrass live performances of Old Joe Clark that I hope you will enjoy:
Carolina Bluegrass Express: The fiddle breaks are my favorite part of this performance. The basic melody of the tune can be heard very prominently in the banjo break, since the banjo player not only accents the melody notes loud and clear, but also does not put quite as many extra notes around the melody as what a lot of other banjo players tend to do with this tune. In contrast to this, the guitar break is a good example of non-melody-based playing on a fiddle tune. For the final break, the fiddle is playing a harmony part while the melody is carried on the mandolin.
UK98 Bluegrass Band: good mandolin, banjo and guitar breaks; notice how in the guitar breaks, the A Parts of the breaks consists of little more than the basic melody carried on the low strings of the guitar, which is then contrasted with higher pitched non-melody-based playing for the B Parts.
Gravel Road Bluegrass Band: I really like the breaks these kids play: the basic melody always remains discernable in these breaks, even in the spots where there is a lot more going on than just sticking to the basic melody:
1 1 1 5
1 1 1/5 1
1 1 1 b7
1 1 1/5 1
In the key of A: b7 = G. (In the key of G: b7 = F.)
The song of the week is the Flatt & Scruggs classic 'Why Don't You Tell Me So' in the key of G.
Here is the original Flatt & Scruggs recording of Why Don't You Tell Me So - key of F#
Here is a good cover version of the song from Tony Rice - key of F
The Flatt & Scruggs recording is in the very rarely used key of F# (or Gb, if you prefer) instead of the much more common key of F only because the instruments were all tuned a half step higher in pitch than standard. To play along with the recording, I advise banjo, mandolin and fiddle players to either tune their instruments a half step higher and then play as if in F, or to tune their instruments a half step lower and then play as if in G. (Guitar players need not retune their instruments, for there is little advantage in doing so: either capo 4, and then play as if in D, or capo 2 and then play as if in E will work just fine for playing along with the recording.)
Note to Banjo Players
If the band had been tuned to standard pitch, Scruggs' playing on Why Don't You Tell Me So would be an example of playing in F without a capo (banjo tuned in G tuning with the 5th string capoed at the 7th fret so that the 5th string registers as an A note, a note that is part of the F chord).
For banjo players who wish to learn Earl's backup parts and break from the record, I point out that there is little difference in how it feels to play Scruggs' parts out of G (tuned down a half step from G tuning to be in tune with the recording: F#,C#,F#,A#,C#), or out of F (tuned up a half step from G tuning, with the 5th string capoed at the 7th fret: A#,D#,G#,B#,D#. B#=C) since only in a couple of spots in his backup playing does Scruggs use an open string, and in his break, the only open string he makes use of is the 5th string. There are however, a couple of spots during the backup parts in which one will run out of frets if tuned down instead of tuned up, but an easy fix for this is to simply drop those spots a whole octave: i.e., play the notes 12 frets lower.
For banjo players who have little or no experience playing up the neck (besides vamping), I recommend working up down-the-neck breaks and backup parts out of G with the help of banjo tab melody sheet in the attachments.
Finally, it should be observed that Scruggs' up the neck break that occurs after the second chorus of the song does not follow the melody closely enough to be used as an effective intro break for the song.
The chord progression for the verses and breaks is the very familiar progression:
(Prog. V2 on the basic chord progressions chart)
The chord progression for the choruses is the most common progression for choruses in songs in which the verses use Prog. V2 while the choruses use a different progression. Only the first line differs from V2:
The Mercury Sessions
Why Don't You Tell Me So was the 8th song that Flatt & Scruggs recorded together after leaving Bill Monroe's band. It is one of 28 songs that Flatt & Scruggs recorded together on Mercury Records between 1948 and 1950 (before they went to a different record label: Columbia). This collection of 28 songs is commonly referred to as 'the Mercury Sessions', and I consider it to be essential listening for students of Bluegrass music.
Most of these 28 songs have become Bluegrass standards and have been covered by numerous Bluegrass artists.
In the order in which they were recorded, here are youtube links to the 28 songs of the Mercury Sessions. Songs that I especially recommend listening to several times over are marked with an asterisk
*1. We'll Meet Again Sweetheart
2. God Loves His Children
*3. My Cabin In Caroline
4. I'm Going To Make Heaven My Home
5. Baby Blue Eyes
*6. Down The Road
7. Bouquet In Heaven
*8. Why Don't You Tell Me So
*9. I'll Never Shed Another Tear
*10. Foggy Mountain Breakdown
*11. No Mother Or Dad
*12. Is It Too Late Now
*13. My Little Girl In Tennessee
14. I'll Be Going To Heaven Sometime
15. I'll Never Love Another
16. So Happy I'll Be
*17. Doin' My Time
*18. Pike County Breakdown
19. Preachin' Prayin' Singin'
*20. Cora Is Gone
*21. Pain In My Heart
*22. Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms
23. Back To The Cross
*24. Old Salty Dog Blues
25. Will The Roses Bloom (Where She Lies Sleeping)
*26. Take Me In A LIfeboat
*27. Farewell Blues
28. I'll Just Pretend
Here are two good versions of Big Spike Hammer to listen to, both in the key of B:
The Bluegrass Album Band
The Osborne Brothers
At last night's jam, the way we played Big Spike Hammer was as follows:
Breaks (exept for the last break)
Verses and last break:
(with a stop on the last '5')
The song of the week is 'Down The Road' in the key of B.
Flatt and Scruggs - key of B (studio recording): all breaks are on banjo:
The Bluegrass Album Band - key of B
Flatt and Scruggs - key of A (live recording): banjo, fiddle and dobro breaks
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 B: 1=B; 6m=G#m; 5=F#
The B (major) chord consists of the notes: BD#F#
The G#m chord consists of the notes: G#BD# (it has two notes in common with the B major chord)
The F# (major) chord consists of the notes: F#A#C#
Banjo and guitar players should capo to the 4th 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: F#, G#, A# (leads to a B note) for the key of B. The corresponding notes for the key of G are D, E, F# (leads to a G note).
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 licks that are given in the attachments are three versions of what is commonly called 'the G-run'. Fill-ins for banjo, mandolin, and fiddle are also included in the attachments.). 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.
It is especially helpful if the guitar players make it a point to play the G-run at the end of every break, and at the end of every verse (except for the last verse), regardless of which instrument is going to play the upcoming break.
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.