The song of the week is 'Boil The Cabbage Down' in the key of A.
This was the first tune to be made the song of the week for the present incarnation of the Beginner Jam when it started back in January, and this tune has been played regularly at the jam ever since. The jam group as a whole has made a lot of progress over this time.
In revisiting Boil The Cabbage Down and certain other familiar past songs of the week, I intend to help push the jam group forward in several ways.
In the case of Boil The Cabbage Down, I intend to use this tune to: 1) provide the jam group with the opportunity to gain experience playing at faster tempos; 2) encourage those who have a basic break for this tune down pat, and have played this tune the same way so many times, to start working on coming up with variant breaks to use for the tune, so as to keep the tune 'fresh' for them; and 3) help newcomers to the jam to get better acquainted with the commonly shared established repertoire of the jam group as a whole.
Like a lot of other traditional fiddle tunes and folk songs that have been absorbed into bluegrass, there are many noticeably different versions of Boil The Cabbage Down. At bluegrass jams, one of the more common ways of playing it is as an instrumental in the key of A with the typical fiddle-tune form AABB, and that is how we will play it at the beginner jam when it is played during the first half of the evening. Alternate versions of the song are welcome to be introduced during the second half of the evening.
AABB means that the tune has two parts (A-Part = first part; B-Part = second part), each of which is played through twice before going on to the next part.
Like many other fiddle tunes, each A-Part and each B-Part is 8 measures long. Therefore, it takes 32 measures (8x4) to get through a complete break for Boil The Cabbage Down.
The chord progression for the A-Part is:
1 4 1 5
1 4 1/5 1
This is the same as the progression for the B-Part of Soldier's Joy. (Prog. Y7 on the 'Basic Chord Progressions' handout.)
The chord progression for the B-Part is:
1 1 1 5
1 4 1/5 1
(Prog. Y2 on the 'Basic Chord Progressions' handout.)
Note: 1/5 means that the measure is split between the 1 chord and the 5 chord.
In the key of A: 1=A. 4=D, 5=E.
Banjo players and most bluegrass guitar players habitually capo to the 2nd fret for playing in the key of A, so their chord shapes will be the same as those for the 1,4, and 5 chords in the key of G, which are: 1=G, 4=C, 5=D.
Here are a few youtube links to watch and listen to. I recommend the first one not only for mandolin players, but for anyone who wishes to get a better handle on the melody of the tune and the difference between the A-Part and the B-Part of the tune. You might notice that my version of the melody for the B-Part (see the attached melody sheets) differs a bit from the version of the melody used by the mandolin player on the first youtube link. This kind of variance in interpretation of the melody from one person to the next is quite common within bluegrass and old-time music, especially on fiddle tunes.
Fiddle players should be aware that the mandolin is tuned the same way as the fiddle, so the fingering positions are identical on both instruments. The mandolin breaks in the youtube link - including the one that uses double stops (i.e., two strings being played simultaneously) can be played note for note on the fiddle just as easily as on the mandolin.
The versions on the second and third links have vocals in them, and do not follow the form AABB all the way through. The instrumental sections of the second link do follow the form AABB while the vocal sections do not.
In the version on the third link, the form for the breaks is: ABB and the form for the vocal sections is AB, but with the high part being used as the A-Part (i.e., the first part), and the low part being used as the B-Part (i.e., the second part), which is the opposite of what we will be using as the A and B Parts at the jam.
Boil The Cabbage Down mandolin lesson:
The Hillbilly Gypsies (Old Time Version)
Jackstraw (Bluegrass version)
Melody, Breaks, and Variations
In the attachments, I have included the basic melody for Boil The Cabbage Down in standard notation, mandolin tab, banjo tab, and guitar tab. For fiddle, mandolin, and guitar players who wish to create a simple break based upon the basic melody, I recommend applying a constant shuffle rhythm to the melody. That simply means playing a constant pattern of one quarter note followed by two 8th notes. Two cycles through this pattern is the length of one measure of music in cut time (2/2), and is counted as: 1 &a2 &a. In the attachments, I show what this rhythm looks like when applied to the first 4 measures of the melody for the B-Part of Boil The Cabbage Down (see the attachment titled 'Shuffle Rhythm Example'.)
For more complex breaks, and for variations on a basic break, some things to experiment with include: 1) sliding (and on mandolin and guitar, also hammering) into certain notes; 2) adding extra notes around the melody; 3) lowering or raising the melody by an octave to use as one's starting point for coming up with a break; 4) harmonizing the melody with double stops (2 notes played simultaneously); and 5) altering the melody at few points here and there: 'overshooting' the melody (i.e., substituting a harmony note higher in pitch than the melody note) is often more effective than 'undershooting' the melody.
For banjo players who wish to create a simple melody-based break for Boil The Cabbage Down, I recommend applying one type of roll pattern across the board to the whole tune. For this purpose, the two roll patterns that work best to apply to the whole tune are the alt. thumb roll and the forward roll. (See the attachment: 'Fitting Rolls Around the Melody' for examples of this.) Remember, on banjo, there is more than one convenient location within the first few frets for some of the notes; in particular, banjo players will often get the B note on the 4th fret of the 3rd string instead of using the open 2nd string, so that they can slide into the B note, and so that they can put an alternating thumb or reverse roll around it. Likewise, they will often get the D note on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string instead of using the open 1st string, so that they can hammer into the D note, and so that they can avoid starting a roll on the 1st string.
For those who wish to create a more complex melody-based break for Boil The Cabbage, I recommend making use of several different roll patterns: experiment with them to discover for yourself at which points in the break you find that one roll works better than another to carry the melody. For the sake of creating variations, try substituting one roll in place of another, vary the spots in which you make use of left-hand techniques (slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, etc.), and select a couple of spots in which to intentionally deviate from the melody (for starters, try overshooting the melody in these spots with a note that belongs to the chord being played at the time that is a higher note than the melody note).
Don't This Road Look Rough And Rocky
The chord progression for Don't This Road Look Rough And Rocky is:
1 1/4 1 1
1 1 5 5
1 1/4 1 1
5 5 1 1
4 4 1 1
1 1 5 5
1 1/4 1 1
5 5 1 1
The Bluegrass Album Band
Flatt & Scruggs (live)
Jason's Beginner Jam Blog 2017 - 2018
Songs regularly called at the Beginner Bluegrass Jam and links from Jason's "Song of the Week" emails. (from Renee)
in alphabetical order