The song of the week is the Bill Monroe classic from the 50s 'On And On' in the key of G.
Bill Monroe - key of G
Tony Rice - key of G
Tempo and Feel
The Tony Rice version is noticeably faster than the original Bill Monroe recording. (I like to play On And On somewhere between the two tempos), but notice what the two versions have in common: the playing and singing is crisp, clear, and punchy. In Bluegrass, all these elements are important in the delivery of a song. Listening frequently to good quality Bluegrass recordings, and playing and singing along with them can go a long ways to help develop the right feel for playing and singing Bluegrass.
Sing and play your breaks on top of the beat, keep a driving and percussive rhythm going when playing backup, don't allow your notes, strums, syllables, etc., to blur together. In traditional Bluegrass, there are no drums: to keep a steady pulse and well-defined beat going during a song requires that all the instruments and the vocals do their part to fill this percussive 'void'.
Attack the strings sharply and swiftly, and play close enough to the bridge to avoid a mushy tone. Finding just the right distance from the bridge to play on your instrument to get the desired amount of percussive element in your playing can do a lot for eliminating mushiness from the sound of your playing. (The closer to the bridge you play, the more percussive your playing will tend to sound, but if you get right up to the bridge, you will lose tone and volume.) Aim to get from your instrument the same quality of sound and feel that you are familiar with from listening to good Bluegrass records.
Progression, Melody, and Breaks
'On And On' uses one of the most common chord progressions in Bluegrass:
...and its melody has a fair bit in common with many other songs that use the same progression. Of songs that have been played regularly at the jam, Foggy Mountain Top has the most similarities to On And On. For recordings and melody tabs of Foggy Mountain Top, go to:
If you already familiar with Foggy Mountain Top, try coming up with a melody-based break for On And On by listening to the recordings of On And On before taking a look at the melody sheets for On And On provided in the attachments.
The challenge here is to come up with a way of recycling a lot of the same moves/licks you use for a melody-based break for Foggy Mountain Top but without your break for 'On And On' sounding like it is a break intended for Foggy Mountain Top.
For melody-based breaks that do not follow the melody slavishly, the first deviation between a melody-based break for 'On And On' and a melody-based break for 'Foggy Mountain Top' need not occur until measures 4. Take advantage of the deviation between the melodies for the two songs that occur in measures 4 and 5 to distinguish what otherwise might be nearly identical breaks.
Harmony and Lyrics
On the standard recordings of 'On And On', harmony is sung on both the verses and the choruses, rather than only on the choruses. At a jam, there is no need to sing harmony on the verses, but if one wishes to do so, it would not be out of place, given the precedents for this on the standard recordings of the song.
But you need to be singing the same set of lyrics as the lead singer, and these need to be sung from memory, so you can watch the lead singer to make sure you are lining up with his phrasing. (Make a cheat sheet consisting of the first line of each verse to help jog your memory in the moment as to what the next verse is: if and when you need to, look at this cheat sheet before the verse in question begins, not while singing the beginning of the verse.)
You might have noticed that there are a few slight differences in the lyrics on the two recordings given here. As I sing them when leading the song, the lyrics are:
Trav'lin' down this long lonesome highway
I'm so lonesome I could cry
With mem'ries of how we once loved each other
And now you are saying goodbye.
On and on I'll follow my darlin'
And I wonder where she can be
On and on I'll follow my darlin'
And I wonder if she ever thinks of me.
I've cried I've cried for you little darlin'
It breaks my heart to hear your name
My friends they all so love you my darlin
And they think that I am to blame
I had to follow you little darlin
I can't sleep when the sun goes down
By your side is my destination
The road is clear and that where I'm bound
She Left Me Standing On The Mountain - A
The chord progression for She Left Me Standing On The Mountain is:
Here is the Jim & Jesse recording of the song: