Just before I was about to send this email, I was notified by the management at the Pioneer Building that next Wednesday (April 25th), our jam space at Jenny's Lunchline will not be available for us to use. So, the next beginner jam will be two weeks from now: Wednesday, May 2nd.
The song of the week will be 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' in the key of G.
Until last night, at the beginner jam, we have used the following chord progression for playing 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken':
This is the same chord progression that is used to play 'I'll Fly Away' and 'Mountain Dew' (Prog. V3 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout).
However, when leading the song last night, I modified the progression for Will The Circle Be Unbroken to:
In the key of G: 6m = Em
This how I will lead the song for the next two beginner jams. If you print off one or more of the attached melody sheets, you may wish to pencil in 'Em' in parentheses above the 12th measure (i.e., the last measure of the third line).
While I prefer to play Will The Circle Be Unbroken as a three chord song, it often gets played at jams with the 6m chord substituted in place of the 1 in the last measure of the 3rd line. Because of this, I have chosen to introduce this variant progression as an option for playing Will The Circle Be Unbroken at the beginner jam in recycling the song as a song of the week for jam.
From now on, when someone calls Will The Circle Be Unbroken at the jam, be prepared for either progression to be used in playing it. I may sometimes ask the person calling or leading the song to specify whether they want to play it with or without the 6m chord. Others times, the person may volunteer this information without being asked.
Yet at other times, we will not know whether the 6m chord will be used in the song until we get to the end of line 3 of the intro break. So be sure to keep your ears and eyes open for this, so that we don't end up with a situation in which, throughout the whole song, some people are playing one progression for the song while others are playing another progression for the song. It is especially important for players of the lower-pitched instruments (guitar & bass) to catch on as quickly as possible whether or not the 6m is being used in the progression, since they, much more so than the players of the higher-pitched instruments, are responsible for making it clear what the chord progression is for a song by way of playing a low-pitched root note of the chord when a chord change occurs.
In cases where it is not clear which progression is intended by the person leading the song (e.g., when the person leading of the song is also the person who plays the intro break, or when the person leading the song is playing backup during the intro break on their instrument in a manner in which the distinction between the 1 and the 6m is not readily visible or audible), it is best for everyone, including the person leading the song, to copy the chord progression used by the strongest/loudest/most confident rhythm guitar player.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - on their classic 3-record 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' album: with Earl Scruggs on banjo, Vassar Clements on fiddle, Doc Watson on guitar, and Mother Maybelle Carter, Jimmy Martin, and Roy Acuff taking turns singing the verses
key of A (no 6m chord in the progression)
Here's a version of the song that uses the 6m chord in place of the 1 in the last measure of the 3rd line:
Key of G: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQxTop7XtoA
6m in place of 1
The 6m chord is called the 'relative minor' of the 1 chord. The 6m chord shares two of its three notes in common with the 1 chord, and the note that the 6m does not have in common with the 1 chord (an E note when Em is the 6m) does not severely clash with the note that the 1 chord has that the 6m does not have (a D note when G is the 1).
So, while one's backup playing is affected by whether a 6m or a 1 chord is being used, especially on the instruments that make use of a lot of complete chords for backup playing, or zero in a lot on the root note of the chord, one need not change what one plays for a break for Will The Circle Be Unbroken when the 6m is put in place of the 1 chord. Sung harmony parts also need not be affected by the presence or absence of the 6m in the progression.
Another common variant on the V3 Progression that involves the use of the 6m chord is:
This progression is commonly used at jams for playing 'Sitting On Top Of The World'. I have also seen it used occasionally for Will The Circle Be Unbroken.
A few other progressions on the basic chord progressions chart that lend themselves well to the substitution of the 6m chord in place of a measure of the 1 chord are:
Prog. V4 Prog. V4 variant:
'You Are My Sunshine' may be played with either of these progressions.
Prog. W4 Prog. W4 variant:
I have heard 'Lonesome Road Blues' played occasionally with this variant on W4.
Prog. V6 Prog. V6 variant
Either of these progressions will work well for 'Amazing Grace'.
Relative Majors & Minors
For each of the 8 Major keys we play in at the jam, here is a chart comparing the notes that make up the 1 and 6m chords with each other:
Key of G: G (=GBD) Em (=EGB)
Key of A: A (=AC#E) F#m (=F#AC#)
Key of Bb: Bb (=BbDF) Gm (=GBbD)
Key of B: B (=BD#F#) G#m (=G#,B,D#)
Key of C: C (=CEG) Am (=ACE)
Key of D: D (=DF#A) Bm (=BDF#)
Key of E: E (=EG#B) C#m (=C#EG#)
Key of F: F (=FAC) Dm (=DFA)
Liza Jane - A
Note: The old-time tune 'Liza Jane' that was played at last night's jam is a different tune than the '(Little) Liza Jane' that is sometimes played at the intermediate jam.
The chord progression used for last night's Liza Jane was:
A-Part: 1116m B-Part: 1114
Another excellent jam last night!
The song of the week is 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' in the key of G.
As I play it, this song uses the same chord progression as I'll Fly Away (Prog. V3 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout):
Other progressions that have been used on recordings of the song include:
(In the key of G: 1=G; 4=C; 5=D; 6m=Em.)
Since the person leading the song is responsible for determining which progression will be used for the song, it is important at a jam to pay attention to the choice of chord changes being used by the person leading the song, so that you don't find yourself using a different progression than that used by the leader.
Here are some youtube links to listen to of 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken'
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - on their classic 3-record 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' album: with Earl Scruggs on banjo, Vassar Clements on fiddle, Doc Watson on guitar, and Mother Maybelle Carter, Jimmy Martin, and Roy Acuff taking turns singing the verses: key of A
Key of G:
(Notice that this version uses the 6m chord in place of the 1 in the last measure of the 3rd line, and ends with an a capela chorus.)
The Carter Family: Key of Ab
(I include this version for historical reasons - although it is pre-bluegrass, and is quite 'crooked' (1/2 measures being used in place of full measures in various spots within the song), and uses 5511 instead of 1511 for the last line of the progression.
Melodies and Scales
About the melody sheets attached here: notice that while the G major scale consists of the 7 notes G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#, only five of these notes are used for the melody of Will The Circle Be Unbroken; these are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes of the G major scale: G, A, B, D, and E. This 5-note subset of the G major scale forms what is called the G major pentatonic scale.
Knowing which 5 notes of the major scale form the major pentatonic scale can be very useful when trying to find the melody of a song on an instrument, because there are many songs like Will The Circle Be Unbroken that have melodies that use only the notes of the major pentatonic scale, and even in songs that use more notes, the notes of the pentatonic scale tend to show up more frequently than the two major scale notes that are not included in the major pentatonic scale.
Some other songs that use only the notes of the major pentatonic scale in their melodies are: 'Amazing Grace', 'Shortnin' Bread', 'My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains', 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot', 'Canaan's Land', 'Long Journey Home', 'Light At The River', 'Mountain Dew', 'All The Good Times Are Past And Gone', 'Down The Road', 'Foggy Mountain Top', 'Nine Pound Hammer', 'Handsome Molly', 'Camptown Races', and 'Liza Jane'.
Examples of songs on the top 20 and additional 30 lists that have one or two more notes in their melodies besides the notes of the major pentatonic scale, but which still have for the most part, a major pentatonic sound because these extra notes occur only once or twice in the melody and/or are used only in passing between two more prominent melody notes in the tune, include: 'I'll Fly Away', 'Mama Don't Allow', 'Gathering Flowers From The Hillside', 'Angeline The Baker' (some versions of the melody for 'Angeline The Baker' are entirely pentatonic), 'Leaning On The Everlasting Arms', 'Worried Man Blues', 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain', and 'This Little Light Of Mine'.
Here is a comparison of the major scales and major pentatonic scales for the 8 major keys we play in at the jam:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
G major G A B C D E F#
G major pentatonic G A B D E
A major A B C# D E F# G#
A major pentatonic A B C# E F#
Bb major Bb C D Eb F G A
Bb major pentatonic Bb C D F G
B major B C# D# E F# G# A#
B major pentatonic B C# D# F# G#
C major C D E F G A B
C major pentatonic C D E G A
D major D E F# G A B C#
D major pentatonic D E F# A B
E major E F# G# A B C# D#
E major pentatonic E F# G# B C#
F major F G A Bb C D E
F major pentatonic F G A C D
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