The song of the week is 'How Mountain Girls Can Love' in the key of A.
The Stanley Brothers - key of A
How Mountain Girls Can Love has only two verses, yet on the recording, the Stanley Brothers manage to squeeze in three breaks in addition to the intro break, without two breaks being played back to back at any point in the song. This is done by going straight into the chorus after the intro break, which is then followed by another break before the first verse is sung, and by going into another break and chorus after the second verse and chorus have been sung.
The arrangement on the record is:
This type of arrangement is worthwhile keeping in mind for almost any fast two-verse song that one may call at a jam. Of course, extra breaks can also be added into a song by doing two or more breaks back to back in certain spots of the song (and we will quite likely also do this when I lead How Mountain Girls Can Love at the jam next week); but, when arranging a song for bluegrass jamming purposes, the more places one can find in the song where it will work to put breaks the better.
The chord progression for the breaks and verses of How Mountain Girls Can Love is:
This is the same as the progression that is used for 'My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains', the verses of 'Columbus Stockade Blues', and the chorus of 'Are You Missing Me'.
The chord progression for the chorus is:
This is the same as the progression that is used for 'Way Down Town', 'Gold Watch And Chain', and the B-Part of 'Red Wing'.
Anticipating the Chorus
Because the chorus starts with a different chord than the chord that the breaks and verses start with, it is important to be able to anticipate which part of the song is coming next when playing it with others. Notice that the chorus occurs only four times in the song: after the first and last breaks, and after each of the two verses.
When I lead How Mountain Girls Can Love at the jam, I will indicate that the chorus is coming up next by playing either a 7th chord during the last measure of the verse progression, or a slow-moving descending or ascending run during the last two measures of the verse progression that leads from the 1 to the 4 chord.
A (dominant) 7th chord is created by adding to a major chord the note that is a whole step lower than the root note of the chord. Adding an F note to a G chord results in a G7; adding a G note to an A chord results in an A7; adding a Bb note to a C chord creates a C7; adding a C note to a D chord creates a D7, etc.
The (dominant) 7th chord most naturally leads to the chord whose root note is a perfect 4th higher than the root note of the 7th chord. Thus, A7 leads to D, D7 leads to G, G7 leads to C, C7 leads to F, F7 leads to Bb, etc.
In the key of A, the notes I use for a descending run that takes up the space of two measures to lead from the 1 chord to the 4 chord are A, G, F#, E. This series of notes leads down to a D note, the root note of the 4 chord. (In the key of G, the corresponding notes are G, F, E, D, leading down to a C note.) In the key of A, the notes I use for an ascending run that takes up the space of two measures to lead from the 1 chord to the 4 chord are: A, B, C, C#. This series of notes leads up to a D note. (In the key of G, the corresponding notes are G, A, Bb, B, leading up to a C note.)
The song of the week is 'John Henry' in the key of D.
'John Henry' is a traditional American folk song/ballad that has been played as a bluegrass song, either with or without lyrics, by a wide range of top-notch bluegrass artists. When arranged as a bluegrass instrumental, it is most commonly played as a banjo-feature tune. The three most common keys that bluegrass instrumental versions of John Henry are played in are G, C, and D, and those just happen to be the three keys that are the most convenient for the banjo to play in when a capo is not being used.
John Henry has no chorus, only verses. If one were to try to collect all the versions of the lyrics for John Henry together that one can find in books, on records, and on the internet, it would not take long before one had way too many verses to sing for a single performance of the song. Most Bluegrass versions of the song that I have heard use at most 5 or 6 of the many different verses that the song has accumulated over the years, though I have tended to include recorded versions of the song here that use more verses than this in order to give more examples of verses used for John Henry. For playing the song at a jam in which sufficient time needs to be given for everyone to get their breaks in, 5 or 6 verses is more than enough to sing, and is, of course, more manageable for memorization purposes.
For your own arrangement of the song, I suggest choosing 5 or 6 verses that you like best and string them together in an order that makes sense to you. You may find some of the verses easier to commit to memory than others, and you may also find that putting the verses in one order instead of another makes them easier to memorize.
Here is a variety of bluegrass versions of John Henry to take a listen to, some with vocals, others without vocals:
Flatt & Scruggs - key of D instrumental (banjo breaks are based on the melody an octave higher than as written on the attached banjo tab melody sheet)
Doc & Merle Watson - key of D
Tony Furtado - key of G instrumental (This is my all time favorite banjo-feature instrumental version of John Henry.)
Bill Monroe - key of G (very sharp, almost G#)
Hylo Brown (with Earl Scruggs on banjo) - key of B (sung in two different octaves!)
Bluegrass Youth All Stars - key of A
The Bluegrass Album Band - key of G instrumental
The Foggy Hogtown Boys - key of E (Unlike the previous versions, this one has 6m chords in it)
Form & Progression
The form for the verses (and breaks based on the verses) is 5 lines (instead of the much more common 4 lines) consisting of 4 measures each, making a total of 20 measures.
The chord progression I use for John Henry is the most common one (and is the progression that has always been used for the song up to this point at the jam):
Notice that this progression is closely related to V1 on the basic chord progressions chart (i.e., the progression used to play Canaan's Land, Gathering Flowers From The Hillside, and Fireball Mail). In relating the two progressions to each other, one might think of the progression for John Henry as being V1 with an extra 1111 line added between lines 3 and 4 of V1.
Alternative progressions for John Henry include:
In versions that use the first of these three alternative progressions, the melody for line 2 necessarily differs from the version of the melody given in the attached melody sheets.
When the second or third of these progressions are used, the melody in the second part of line 3 need not differ all that much from the version of the melody given in the attachments.
The version of the melody given in the attachments would be entirely major pentatonic (major scale notes 1,2,3,5, and 6: do-re-mi-sol-la) were it not for the b7 note in measure 2 of line 2 (a C natural note in the key of D; a Bb note in the key of C). Because of the exact spot where this note occurs in the melody, one should avoid playing the typical descending 2 note run C#, B (key of D) or B, A (key of C) in backup for leading from the 1 chord to the 5 chord. If one desires to play a two-note descending run here, just copy the melody at that point: C, B (key of D), or Bb, A (key of C), which just so happen to be the very two notes that one would typically play for the last two notes of the three notes that make up a typical chromatic three-note descending run leading from the 1 chord down to the 5 chord.
The melody of John Henry has the same range as the melody for Little Liza Jane and Buffalo Gals: the lowest and the highest notes in the melody are both the root note of the key (e.g., D notes when in the key of D, or C notes when in the key of C) and almost the same range as the melodies for Wreck Of The Old '97 and Y'all Come. These are all melodies that I feel most comfortable singing in the key of D.
You might notice that almost all of the songs that I sing at the jam in the key of G also have D notes as their lowest and highest (or second to highest) notes. In these cases, the range of the melody is such that the root note of the key is right in the middle of the range of the melody, rather than at the very bottom or top of the range of the melody. This is a much more typical range for Bluegrass songs; hence, there are many more songs that I sing in G than in D.
Sometimes I will purposely overshoot the melody of John Henry on the last half of measure 1 of line 3 by reaching for either an F natural or a F# note (when singing in the key of D), and when this is done, and I manage to reach the F#, then the melody has the same range as that for Wildwood Flower.
Banjo: D Tuning
When John Henry is played in the key of D, Scruggs-style banjo players commonly tune their banjo to an open D chord for playing it (F#DF#AD or ADF#AD). D tuning is used on the first two recordings provided here. Notice how much more frequently one can use open strings for grabbing the melody for John Henry in D when tuned this way (see the attached banjo tab melody sheet) than what one could if one were tuned to the bluegrass banjo default tuning (G tuning).
Guitar: C capo 2 = D
Due to both the range of the melody and the specific notes that the melody most frequently lingers on, I find that John Henry in the key of C (no capo) lends itself to a wider range of types of bluegrass guitar breaks than what the key of D (no capo) does. For this reason, I have given a key of C guitar tab melody sheet (capo 2 for D), rather than a key of D guitar tab melody sheet.
The song of the week is 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' in the key of G.
Flatt & Scruggs (1949 - the original recording) - key of Ab (instruments tuned up a half step higher than standard.)
Flatt & Scruggs (1968 - used for the soundtrack of the movie 'Bonnie And Clyde') - key of G
Earl Scruggs & Friends (2001 - won a grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance of the Year) - key of G
The chord progression on the original recording is:
(In the key of G, 6=E).
(For the sake of simplicity, in the following discussion, the original recording will be treated as if it were in the key of G, instead of in the key of Ab.)
In the first two measures of lines 2 and 3 of the opening banjo break, (and in most of the rest of the banjo breaks on the recording), an Em chord, rather than an E (Major) chord, is outlined, and the G# note in the E (Major) chord forms a very dissonant interval with the G natural notes that the banjo plays during the E chord measures. Most subsequent recordings of Foggy Mountain Breakdown, including the 1968 Flatt & Scruggs recording, and the 2001 Earl Scruggs recording avoid using the E (Major) chord altogether. On the 1968 recording, the progression is:
1 1 1 1
6m 6m 1 1
6m 6m 1 1
5 5 1 1
On the 2001 recording, the progression is:
1 1 1 1
6m 6m 6m 1
6m 6m 6m 1
5 5 1 1
This last progression is the one that I intend for us to use for Foggy Mountain Breakdown at the jam as it goes through its song of the week cycle. Before kicking off the tune, I will likely specify this by saying something along the lines of: 'remember to hold the Em chord for 3 measures, rather than only for 2 measures, each time before changing back to the G'.
Melody & Breaks
Foggy Mountain Breakdown is a banjo-feature instrumental that is more readily identifiable by virtue of the set of banjo licks that make up its opening break rather than by way of a clearly defined melody line; and subsequent breaks, both on the banjo and on the other instruments, tend to be lick/improv. oriented, rather than melody-based.
Nevertheless, the banjo licks that the opening break consists of do have some melodic content. In the attachments, the first thing I have included is a note-for-note transcription of the opening banjo break on the original recording, written in banjo tab. The melody sheets that follow this represent just one feasible interpretation of the melodic content of the opening banjo break. Others listening to or analyzing the opening banjo break are likely to arrive at other identifications of the melodic content of the banjo break, with some hearing fewer or more notes in the break, or certain parts of the break, as being part of 'the melody'.
If I had chosen the opening break from one of the other recordings as the basis for the melody sheets, some of the notes on the melody sheets would be different.
On the original recording, banjo and fiddle are the only two lead instruments. The fiddle breaks provide a good example of simple playing at fast speeds: mostly long drawn out double stops that grab only the most important melody notes.
One thing that is common in fiddle, mandolin, and guitar breaks for Foggy Mountain breakdown is to shuffle through some of the Em measures with a double stop that consists of the open E string together with the unison E note on the 2nd string: often with the fretted note being slid into one or more times while the double stop is being played. One example of this is found in the fiddle break on the 1968 recording during its second pass through the form. Another example occurs in Marty Stuart's mandolin break on the 2001 recording.
On the 2001 recording, there is a wide variety of instruments playing breaks. To differing extents, many of these breaks make use of the melodic content of the opening banjo break, and sometimes this is done by way of approximating some of the banjo licks heard in the opening banjo break. But there are other breaks on the recording that consist mostly of a bunch of licks strung together that fit over the chord progression, but which result in breaks that, taken in isolation by themselves, would hardly be recognizable as the tune Foggy Mountain Breakdown.
'Blue Grass Breakdown'
Foggy Mountain Breakdown has a lot in common with Bill Monroe's 'Blue Grass Breakdown'. This is especially noticeable on the banjo breaks played by Scruggs on the original 1946 recording of Blue Grass Breakdown. The main thing that distinguishes the two tunes from each other, apart from one being a banjo-feature tune and the other being a mandolin-feature tune, is that Foggy Mountain Breakdown uses a 6 or 6m chord in the spots where Blue Grass Breakdown uses a b7 (or a 4 on the final pass through the form during the mandolin breaks).
Bill Monroe - key of G
The song of the week is the Flatt & Scruggs classic 'Why Don't You Tell Me So' in the key of F.
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 tune their instruments a half step higher and then play as if in F. (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, capo 6 and then play as if in C, 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. Scruggs' playing on Why Don't You Tell Me So consists almost entirely of the same types of licks that he used in his key of G playing on other songs, just moved down two frets lower to put his playing in the key of F. 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 the sake of banjo players who have little or no experience playing the kinds of movable licks that Scruggs used on the recording, and little or no experience with playing in the key of F without a capo, I suggest going with the capo 5 and then play as if in C option for playing in the key of F on this song.
In the attachments, I have included two banjo tab melody sheets: one in the key of F and one in the key of C.
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
The third line of the progression for Farewell Blues is: 6 6 2 b3.
In the key of D, that is: BBEF (B7 may be used in place of B). In the key of C, that is: AADEb.
The progression for the chorus of Rocky Top is:
6m 6m 5 5
b7 b7 4 4
4 4 1 1
1 b7 1 1
1 b7 1 1
The song of the week is 'Salty Dog Blues' in the key of G.
Flatt & Scruggs (1950 - Mercury Sessions) - key of Ab (instruments tuned up a half step)
Flatt & Scruggs (1962 - Live at Carnegie Hall) - key of G
The chord progression for Salty Dog Blues is:
In the key of G, this is
The '6' and '2' Chords
The vast majority of songs that use a 6 chord contain within them the chord sequence 6, 2, 5, 1.
Just as the 2 chord is almost always followed by the 5 chord when it occurs in a progression, so also the 6 chord is almost always followed by the 2 chord.
Within the past year, many songs have been played at the jam that use the 2 chord. In addition to Salty Dog Blues, these include I Can't Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Homestead On The Farm, Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem, Old Home Place, Cry Cry Darlin', Red Wing, Earl's Breakdown, Left Over Biscuits, Eight More Miles To Louisville, Blackberry Blossom, Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad, Coleen Malone, Farewell Blues, Mary Of The Wild Moor, and Rawhide.
With only one exception (Farewell Blues), the 2 chord is followed by the 5 chord. (In Farewell Blues, the 2 is followed by the b3.)
While there are only three songs that have been played at the jam within the past year that use a 6 chord (Salty Dog Blues, Farewell Blues, and Rawhide), in all three of them, the 6 is followed by the 2. Here are a few more songs that use a 6 chord:
Don't Let Your Deal Go Down - key of F#/Gb (instruments tuned up a half step)
Alabama Jubilee - key of C
I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome - key of D
Dear Old Dixie - key of Ab (instruments tuned up a half step)
Sweet Georgia Brown - key of F
These songs all contain the chord sequence 6, 2, 5, 1 at some point in their progressions.
The '6' chord has the same relation to the '2' chord that the '2' chord has to the '5' chord, and that the '5' chord has to the '1' chord. The root note of the 2 chord forms an interval of a perfect 4th with the root note of the 6 chord, just as the root note of the 5 chord forms an interval of a perfect 4th with the root note of the 2 chord, and just as the root note of the 1 chord forms the same interval with the root note of the 5 chord.
Notice that, when playing in the key of G, the progression for Salty Dog Blues, from the E chord onward, corresponds with the notes that the open strings of the bass (and the four lowest pitched strings of the guitar) are tuned to: EADG. These strings are tuned in perfect 4ths (E to A spans 4 letters of the musical alphabet: E,F,G,A, and the two notes are separated from each other by 5 half steps, or two-and-a-half whole steps; the same is true of A to D and of D to G.) If one reverses the order of the letters, then this corresponds to how the fiddle and mandolin are tuned: GDAE. These instruments are tuned in perfect 5ths (G to D spans 5 letters of the the musical alphabet: G,A,B,C,D, and the two notes are separated from each other by 7 half steps, or three-and-a-half whole steps). The perfect 5th is the inverse interval of the perfect 4th.
Review of 4ths and 5ths
When the letter names of two notes span 4 letters of the musical alphabet, the two notes form an interval of a 4th. When two such notes are separated from each other by 5 half steps, the type of 4th they form is called a perfect 4th (e.g., A to D, or F to Bb). If they are separated by only 4 half steps (e.g., A to Db), the interval is called a diminished 4th. If they are separated by 6 half steps (e.g., A to D#, or F to B), the interval is called an augmented 4th.
When the letter names of two notes span 5 letters of the musical alphabet, the two notes form an interval of a 5th. When two such notes are separated from each other by 7 half steps, the type of 5th they form is called a perfect 5th (e.g., D to A or B to F#). If they are separated by only 6 half steps (e.g., D to Ab or B to F), the interval is called a diminished 5th. If they are separated by 8 half steps (e.g., D to A#), the interval is called an augmented 5th.
Two intervals are said to be the inverses of each other when their number names add up to 9, and their number of half-steps add up to 12 (12 half-steps = 1 octave). Thus, the perfect 4th and perfect 5th are inverse intervals (4 + 5 = 9; 5 half-steps + 7 half-steps = 12 half-steps), and the augmented 4th and diminished 5th are inverse intervals (4 + 5 = 9; 6 half-steps + 6 half-steps = 12 half-steps).
When arranged in perfect 5ths, the order of the 7 natural notes is: F, C, G, D, A, E, B. This can be remembered as: Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle.
Reversing this order arranges the notes in perfect 4ths: B, E, A, D, G, C, F. (Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father.)
An easy way to expand the order of perfect 5ths to include sharps and flats is to write the order of letters (F, C, G, D, A, E, B) three times back to back, and then put flats on the left and sharps on the right, with the naturals in the middle.
Fb, Cb, Gb, Db, Ab, Eb, Bb, F, C, G, D, A, E, B, F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#.
In expanding the order of perfect 4ths to include sharps and flats, the sharps go on the left and the flats go on the right:
B#, E#, A#, D#, G#, C#, F#, B, E, A, D, G, C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb.
This order lays out the chord sequence 6, 2, 5, 1 for all the 8 Major keys (and more) that songs are played in at the jam. Starting on G# gives this chord sequence for the key of B: G#, C#, F#, B; starting on C# gives the 6, 2,5,1 order for key of E: C#, F#, B, E; starting on F# gives the order for the key of A: F#, B, E, A; starting on B gives the order for the key of D: B, E, A, D; etc.
3, 6, 2, 5, 1
In some songs that use the 6, 2, 5, 1 chord sequence, the order of perfect 4ths is extended backwards to include the 3 chord: 3, 6, 2, 5, 1. In the sequence of perfect 4ths given above, the 3 is to the immediate left of the 6, just as the 6 is to the immediate left of the 2, and just as the 2 is to the immediate left of the 5, etc. The B-Part of Rawhide for instance is:
which then resolves back to the 1 when the A Part starts again.
Bill Monroe: key of C (3, 6, 2, 5, 1 = E, A, D, G, C)
The 3 also occurs before the 6 in the middle of the progression for Sweet Georgia Brown. (Key of F on the Doc Watson recording given above: 3 = A; 6 = D; 2 = G).
However, one should not draw the conclusion that one can expect the 6 chord to follow the 3 chord in the vast majority of songs that use a 3 chord. In many songs, the 3 is followed by the 4 instead (e.g., Dear Old Dixie, the verses of Old Home Place, the B-Part of Cheyenne, the chorus of Tennessee Waltz), or by the 6m (e.g., the B Part of Blackberry Blossom, the chorus/B-Part of Lorena and of O Little Town Of Bethlehem).
The song of the week is 'Banks Of The Ohio' in the key of F.
Tony Rice (key of F)
I like to play this song with the same very pronounced 'swing' or 'bouncy' feel that is on the recording. This 'feel' is created by delaying playing the second of two consecutive eighth notes, whenever the first of the two eighth notes occurs in one of the 4 strongest spots in a measure (but not delaying the note that comes after it that is in a strong spot in the measure). On the recording, this is particularly noticeable on the banjo, since quite often the banjo is playing a steady stream of eighth notes. In cut common time, a measure consisting of 8 eighth notes is counted as: 1e&a2e&a. The 4 strongest spots are the '1', the '2' and the 'ands'. (boom-chuck-boom-chuck) To create this 'bounce', the notes occurring in these spots are held about twice as long as the notes occurring in the 4 weaker spots. The resulting pattern of note durations is thus: long-short-long-short-long-short-long-short. On rhythm guitar, this means that any upstrokes that are played (between the 'boom' and the 'chuck' or vice versa) will be delayed.
On most bluegrass recordings, this 'bounce' is ever-present to one degree or another; but on some songs, and as played by certain players, it is more pronounced, (or is just simply more readily noticeable,) than usual. Because playing with 'bounce' is so universal in bluegrass music, one can learn to play with bounce without even realizing that one is doing this.
The chord progression for 'Banks Of The Ohio' is V9 on the basic chord progressions handout, which is also used to play 'Love Me Darling Just Tonight', 'Ninety-Nine Years And One Dark Day', 'Take This Hammer', 'Wild Mountain Flowers For Mary', 'Give Me My Flowers While I'm Living', and the chorus of 'In The Sweet By And By':
Key of F Review
The 1, 4, and 5 chords in the key of F are F, Bb, and C respectively.
The F Major Scale consists of the notes: F, G, A, Bb, C, D, and E.
For playing in the key of F, bluegrass guitarists usually either capo the 5th fret and play as if in C, or capo the 3rd fret and play as if in D, but occasionally capo the 1st fret and play as if in E. For Banks Of The Ohio, I favor the first option, as I find it works better for me for the kinds of breaks I tend to want to play for the song (Carter-style, crosspicking, or a combination of both).
For playing in the key of F, 3-finger-style banjo players are faced with many options, some of which are: 1) play in G tuning without a capo; 2) keep the four long strings in G tuning without a capo, but raise the 5th string to an A note; 3) in G tuning, capo the 5th fret, and raise the 5th string to a C note, and play as if in C; 4) in G tuning, capo the 3rd fret and raise the 5th string to a C note, and play as if D; and 5) in D tuning (F#DF#AD or ADF#AD), capo the 3rd fret, and raise the 5th string either to an A note or to a C note, and play as if in D. For Banks Of The Ohio, I recommend the first two options for those who already have a bit of experience playing in F without a capo. (The second option is the one used on the banjo on the recording.) For those who do not have such experience yet, I suggest trying the third option; but some may prefer the results they get from the fifth option instead.
Melody & Breaks
There are only 8 important melody notes in Banks Of The Ohio: the first note of each odd numbered measure. See how many of these you can catch by ear by listening to the song before looking at the attached melody sheets. All the other melody notes in the song are connector notes: they function to create smooth transitions from one of the 8 main melody notes to the next main melody note. It makes little difference whether one uses transitional notes that ascend into the next main melody note or transitional notes that descend into the next main melody note. Even singers differ among themselves on which set of transitional notes to use to get from one main melody note to the next in this song, so even more so for the instruments, there is a lot of leeway for choosing transitional notes without this resulting in making the song unrecognizable. For instance, in place of the A G F notes in measure 2 that lead to the G note in measure 3, you could use F E F instead. And, in place of the F G A notes in measure 10 that lead to the Bb note in measure 11, you could use C D C instead.
Notice that the intro break on the mandolin grabs notes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8 of the 8 main melody notes, but overshoots main melody note 5 (measure 9) going temporarily into the tenor harmony, and also overshoots main melody note 7 (measure 13) in the process of using a non-melody based 1511 break ending lick that would work for any number of songs played in the key of F (and, for any other key, if one transposes the notes) that have a progression that ends with 1511 Are you able to tell which of the main melody notes are preserved and not preserved in the other 3 breaks on the recording?
The Old Spinning Wheel
Here's a good version of The Old Spinning Wheel to take listen to:
I hope that you have had a good Summer.
I will resume leading the Intermediate Bluegrass Jam at the Pioneer Building this coming Thursday (Sept. 6).
The song of the week is 'Little Maggie' in the key of B.
Ralph Stanley - key of C
Ricky Skaggs - key of B
Flatt & Scruggs - key of A
The Stanley Brothers - key of C
On the Ralph Stanley recording, the breaks use the progression:
1 1 b7b7
1 5 1 1
but, the verses use
1 1 1 b7b7
1 5 1 1
This is how I usually play the song when I lead it at a jam. The melody sheets included in the attachments follow the progression for the verses, rather than for the breaks. To read them for the breaks (or for the verses for versions of the song that use the same progression for the verses as for the breaks), skip over the second half of measure 2 and the first half of measure 3 in lines 1 and 3.
On the Ricky Skaggs and Stanley Brothers recordings, a 5 is put in place of the second b7, so that the first and third lines of the breaks are: 1 1 b7 5, and the first and third lines of the verses are: 1 1 1 b7 5.
On the Flatt & Scruggs recording, both the breaks and the verses use the same progression as the one that is used for the breaks on the Ralph Stanley recording:
1 1 b7b7
1 5 1 1
On all four recordings, the arrangement is: break, verse, break, verse, break, verse, etc., with the banjo being the specially featured lead instrument. The banjo takes both the first break (the intro break) and the last break in the song, and gets one more break than any other lead instrument playing on the recording.
The song has no chorus, and no harmony vocals on the verses. On the Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs, and Stanley Brothers recordings, there are 5 breaks and 5 verses, and the banjo plays a break after the verse that ends with 'listen to this old banjo ring'. On the Flatt & Scruggs recording, there are 4 verses and 4 breaks.
On the Ralph Stanley recording, Ralph sings a different second verse than the one that he sang on the earlier Stanley Brothers recording. Ricky Skaggs uses the same 5 verses that are on the Stanley Brothers recording, but inverts the order of the second and third verses. On the Flatt & Scruggs recording, Lester uses the same first and third verses that Ricky uses, but his second and fourth verses are different than any of the verses sung on the other three recordings.
To accommodate more breaks at a jam, I have sometimes sung 7 or 8 verses for Little Maggie, and in no particular order, except for the first verse ('Over yonder stands...), and the last verse (either 'Go away, go away...', or 'March me down to the station'), and being sure to time the banjo verse ('Lay down your last gold dollar...') for when I want to hear a banjo break next. But, more often than not, I sing 5 or 6 verses, and have two or more breaks played back to back between some of the verses. Sometimes I will also end the song with a break instead of with a verse.
Most versions of the melody of Little Maggie that I have heard contain only 4 or 5 different notes, two of which are 'blue notes': b3 and b7 (D and A notes when in the key of B; Bb and F notes when in the key of G). The version of the melody given in the attached melody sheets is based upon the sung melody on the Ricky Skaggs and Stanley Brothers recordings.
Note to Banjo Players
Although all the banjo breaks on the recordings are melody-based breaks, the implied melodic content of most of them does not correspond all that closely to the version of the sung melody given in the attachments or to the versions of the sung melody heard on the recordings. In addition to the timing of the melody being altered in several spots (often by way of using the foggy mountain roll in measures that in the sung melody are not made up of a quarter note followed by a dotted half note, or a quarter note followed a half note and then another quarter note), in most of the breaks, for instance, the order of the melody notes in the first two measures of lines 2 and 4 is altered, with (when thinking in the key of G) G notes being put in place of D notes, and vice versa.
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 until the end of year. This list replaces the list that we used for the jams held from April through June 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.
Also included in the attachments is the Basic Chord Progressions handout that the two page version of the song list is keyed to, and a more comprehensive Nashville Number System chart than the charts that I include in the set of handouts for the beginner jam. No changes have been made to these handouts.
We have been given permission to immediately resume the Wednesday and Thursday evenings jams at the Pioneer Building.
Revitalize Juice Bar, which is the new business that has replaced Jenny's Lunchline, is in favor of having the jams there (6:30 - 9pm), even though they do not close until 7pm.
we are on summer schedule
Until further notice, the Thursday evening jam (6:30-9pm) this coming week is being moved to John and Steph's garage: 820 W Brumback St.
Bring your own beverages, and, if it is convenient enough, also your own chairs
Hope to see you!