The chord progression we used for Swing Low Sweet Chariot last night is V6 on the Basic Chord Progressions chart, which is the same progression used to play Foggy Mountain Top.
The chord progression is one of the most common progressions in bluegrass:
Here are a couple of good bluegrass versions of Swing Low Sweet Chariot to take a listen to:
Del McCoury - key of B
Listening to Del McCoury is always an opportunity for me to get ideas for improving my rhythm guitar playing. Del never plays guitar breaks, but he is one of the greats when it comes to good solid bluegrass-style rhythm guitar playing. Although it is not the first thing that jumps out to the listener on most bluegrass records, the vital role of rhythm guitar in bluegrass should never be underestimated: it is the 'glue' that holds a bluegrass band together. The way that the guitar is played in a bluegrass band when it is playing backup can make or break a bluegrass band. There are many nuances to master - some of them very subtle - in becoming a solid bluegrass rhythm guitar player, and good backup skills are a much more important thing for a bluegrass guitar player to have than the ability to play breaks.
Bill Monroe (the 'Father of Bluegrass') - key of B (Gospel Medley: Swing Low Sweet Chariot, I'll Fly Away, I Saw The Light.)
Notice that, in these versions, line 2 of the progression is 1111 instead of 1155, and that this affects the choice of harmony notes on the syllable 'home' in line 2 of the verses and choruses.
In last night's teaching segment, we went over using a capo to play in keys other than G, using the common sets of chord shapes that are used to play in the keys of G, C, and D without a capo; and, by way of reference to the chromatic scale, how to readily identify the name of the real chord being played when one sees a common chord shape being played on guitar when the capo is on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th frets. For the benefit of those who were not able to make it to the jam last night, and as a way of summarizing the information for those who were there, I have included in the attachments a simple capo chart (written with the guitar in mind, but applicable to any instrument that a capo may be used on), and I have circled the scenarios in it that are the most typical for bluegrass guitar playing.
Two notes separated from each other by 7 half-steps form an interval of a perfect 5th when, assigning the number name of '1' to the lower note, the letter name of the higher note corresponds to '5' in the number system. (E.g., G and D, with G being the lower of the two notes: D is 7 half-steps higher than G, and D is '5' when G is '1': G (1), A (2), B (3), C (4), D (5).)
Two notes separated from each other by 5 half-steps form an interval of a perfect 4th when, assigning the number name of '1' to the lower note, the letter name of the higher note corresponds to '4' in the number system. (E.g., D and G, with D being the lower of the two notes: G is 5 half-steps higher than D, and G is '4' when D is '1': D (1), E (2), F# (3), G (4).)
The 7 natural notes arranged in perfect 5ths are, in order: F, C, G, D, A, E, B, which can be remembered by:
Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle.
Reversing this order results in the 7 same notes being arranged in perfect 4ths: B, E, A, D, G, C, F:
Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father.
Practical Application #1: In the alternating bass pattern used for playing bluegrass bass and rhythm guitar, the note that the root note of the chord is alternated with is to immediate right of the root note in the sequence of perfect 5ths: so for playing the alternating bass pattern for the C chord, one alternates between a C note (the root note of the chord) and a G note (the '5' of C), for a G chord, one alternates between a G note (the root note of the chord) and a D note (the '5' of G), etc.
Practical Application #2: In the sequence of perfect 5ths, the 5 chord is to the immediate right of the 1 chord, and the 4 chord is to the immediate left of the 1 chord: E.g., when 1 = G, then 5 = D and 4 = C.
The list of practical applications goes on and on, but these two applications make for a good start. Suffice it to say for now that the sequences of perfect 5ths and 4ths clump the notes and chords together that most frequently show up together in songs, whereas the chromatic scale (the sequences involving ascending and descending in half-steps) separates these from each other.
The sequences of perfect 5ths and 4ths can be expanded to include sharps and flats (this will be dealt with in a future teaching segment at the jam), and this is something we will need to do, for instance, to account for the '4' chord in the key of F, and for the '5' chord in the key of B and for the alternating bass pattern for a B chord. In preparation for this, a good thing to make it a point to remember is that F and B are at the two ends of the sequences of natural notes. (The reason why F and B are the two outermost natural notes of the sequences will be made clear when we expand the sequences to include sharps and flats.)
Summary of Jan. 25, 2017 teaching segment:
7 letters to name 12 notes:
e.g., ascending from G to G:
G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F# (G)
e.g., descending from G to G:
G, Gb, F, E, Eb, D, Db, C, B, Bb, A, Ab, (G)
Points to remember:
- nothing between B and C
- nothing between E and F
- # (sharp) = 1 half-step higher in pitch (the equivalent of one fret higher on a fretted instrument)
- b (flat) = 1 half-step lower in pitch (the equivalent of one fret lower on a fretted instrument)
Summary of Feb. 1, 2017 teaching segment:
The name for the 12 note scales in the preceding teaching segment is 'the chromatic scale'.
The Major Scale is a subset of the Chromatic Scale, and consists of 7 notes.
The easiest way to remember which notes of the Chromatic Scale make up the Major Scale is by using the C Major Scale as the point of reference relative to the Chromatic Scale, since the C Major Scale is the only Major Scale that contains no sharps or flats:
Chromatic Scale starting on C: C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, (C)
C Major Scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, (C)
do re mi fa sol la ti (do)
So, the formula for the Major Scale is: whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step.
(A whole-step higher is the equivalent of 2 frets higher on a fretted instrument.)
So, applying the same pattern to the Chromatic Scale starting on D:
D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, (D)
we find that the D Major Scale is D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, (D)
for F: F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, (F)
F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, (F)
for G: G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, (G)
G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, (G)
for A: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, (A)
A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, (A) etc.
In each Major Scale, the notes are to be named in a way that uses all 7 letters of the musical alphabet only once. This determines whether the note between G and A, the note between A and B, the note between C and D, the note between D and E, and the note between F and G are called by their sharp names or by their flat names in the context of a particular Major Scale.
The 'Top 20' and 'Additional 30' song lists are keyed to the 'Basic Chord Progressions' handout.
Basic Chord Progressions handout:
For example, Prog. W8 refers to the progression that is located in row W, column 8 of the Basic Progressions chart. Any progression in row W differs by only one measure from the progression directly above it in row V.
In row V, the 13th measure (i.e., the first measure of the fourth, or last, line) of each progression has a '1' chord, whereas in row W the 13th measure of each progression has a '5' chord. The two most common final 4 measures of a 16 measure progression are 1511 and 5511.
The most common progressions in rows V and W are marked with an asterisk. By thoroughly familiarizing oneself with all the progressions in rows V and W, one can learn to avoid making a very common mistake. Upon hearing the first 12 measures of a basic 16 measure progression, it is a good thing to make an educated guess about what the last 4 measures will be. The mistake is to assume one ending over another ending to the progression. This is why I have included in rows V and W even some progressions that are very uncommon (notably V8 and W6). And this is one of the reasons why the handout is titled 'Basic Chord Progressions' instead of 'Common Chord Progressions'.
The more uncommon a progression in either row V or row W is, the greater the temptation will be to automatically assume that one is dealing with the progression that is located in the same column of the other row. Although progressions like V8 and W6 are not encountered frequently, one should be prepared for them to show up in a straightforward and otherwise very predictable bluegrass song. For, other than the infrequency in which they occur, there is nothing odd about them; they conform to the 'pattern' just as much as the more common progressions do.
In a song in which the progression for the chorus differs from the progression for the verse, and verse progression is V1, V2, V6, or V7, it is then quite likely that the chorus progression will be the progression located in row X of the same column. A song with a V6 verse, for instance, will most likely have either a V6 or an X6 chorus. All other combinations involving a V6 verse are far less common.
Any row X progression differs only in its first line (i.e., its first four measures) from the row V progression that shares its same column. The row X progressions begin with 4411; other than that, each is identical to the row V progression that is in its same column.
The progressions in rows Y and Z occur primarily in fiddle tunes. Like the progressions in row X, I have written out only the most common row Y and row Z progressions: the idea being that if one gets used to the row V and row W progressions, the uncommon row X, row Y, and row Z progressions will not be necessary to practise in order to learn to expect the unexpected. Of course, every row V and row W progression does have a row X, Y, and Z counterpart. If you take the time to figure these out, then I commend you for your studiousness about a matter that is usually learned only by cold hard experience.
The progressions in row Y are closely related to the progressions in row V, and in the same way, the progressions in row Z are closely related to the progressions in row W. For example, in progression Y7, the order of the chord changes is identical to the order of the changes found in progression V7. Not only that, but also the relative locations of the changes within Y7 is identical to the relative locations of the changes in V7. If, for instance, one divides both progressions into 8 equal parts, the first eighth of both progressions has a '1' chord, the second eighth of both progressions has a '4' chord, etc. The only thing that distinguishes progression Y7 from progression V7 is that in Y7, the chord changes occur twice as frequently than is the case in V7, which results in Y7 being an 8 measure progression instead of a 16 measure progression.
By observing how chord progressions are related to one another, you can develop the ability to predict with a fairly high degree of accuracy what is going to come next while playing a song in a jam that you have never played - or even heard - before. But, once again, such predicting is a matter of making educated guesses, not of making assumptions. Developing this ability is something that comes with experience in jamming and critical listening. But, one can speed up the process by thinking about these things during times when one is not jamming, and even when one is neither playing nor listening to music at all.
Concerning the key of a song:
All songs on the list can be played in any of the 12 major keys. However, only 8 of these keys are commonly used at bluegrass jams: G, A, Bb, B, C, D, E, and F, with banjo players tending to prefer G, A, Bb, and B over C, D, E, and F, and mandolin and fiddle players tending to prefer G, A, C, and D over Bb, B, E, and F.
With the exception of the instrumentals on the song lists, the specifications for which key a song is to be played in on the 'Top 20' list are provisional, and will be removed from the list as the beginner jam advances beyond its first phase. The keys specified are those which suit my voice best for singing lead on the songs. Whenever the specified key for a song does not suit your voice for singing the lead part (i.e., the melody), but you wish to call the song during the first half of the night, have someone else sing the lead part while you sing a harmony part that does suit your voice for the key the song is played in. (For most songs, it is customary at jams to sing harmony only on the choruses, not on the verses.)
For songs that you call during the second half of the night that you wish to sing lead on, make it a point to choose the key, of the 8 standard bluegrass keys, that suits your voice best for the song, rather than just simply defaulting to a key that the song has been sung in by others at the jam in the past.
On the 'Additional 30 list', only a few songs have a key specified for them. These are fiddle tunes which are traditionally played at bluegrass jams as instumentals, and most fiddle tunes have only one standard key. For instance, nearly all fiddle (and mandolin) players who play 'Old Joe Clark', learn to play it in the key of A. For this tune, 'A' is the key that best suits the fiddle (and the mandolin). 'Old Joe Clark' is an 'A' tune. Therefore, when there are fiddle or mandolin players at a jam, it is generally understood that if a guitar player or banjo player calls this tune, he should expect to play it in the key of A.
For nearly all banjo and guitar players who play this tune, this will simply mean capoing to the 2nd fret, which is far more convenient than to expect the fiddle and mandolin players to figure out on the fly how to play the tune in the key of G, instead of the key of A. Asking a bluegrass or old-time fiddler to play a tune in the key of G that is traditionally played in the key of A is somewhat analogous to asking a classical pianist to play Mozart's 'Sonata in A Major' in the key of G instead of the key of A.
Unless specified otherwise, all songs on the lists are played in 'cut common' (C or 2/2) time: 2 beats per measure: one-(and)-two-(and); guitar rhythm: boom-chuck-boom-chuck, or pick-strum-pick-strum. 3/4 time = three-four time (waltz time): 3 beats per measure: one-two-three; guitar rhythm: boom-chuck-chuck, or 'pick-strum-strum'.
Form: AABB. This refers to a tune that has 2 parts - traditionally called the A-Part and the B-Part - and in which each part is repeated before the next part is played. This is by far the most common form for a fiddle tune. In most AABB fiddle tunes, each part is 8 measures long; therefore, to go through the AABB form once involves playing 32 measures. In some AABB fiddle tunes (e.g., Cripple Creek), it takes only 16 measures to go through the form once, for in those tunes each part is only 4 measures long instead of 8. This is the second most common type of AABB fiddle tune. In some AABB tunes (e.g., Angeline The Baker, Shortnin' Bread), the chord progression is the same for both parts. However, in most AABB tunes, the chord progression for the B-Part is different than the chord progression for the A-Part.
Inst. = Instrumental. As used here, this marking does not mean that the song does not have lyrics, but only that it is played at the jam without any lyrics being sung. Most of the songs marked as instrumentals on the two lists do have lyrics, but it is unusual at bluegrass jams to sing them. And, in the rare instances in which one might hear someone sing some lyrics at a bluegrass jam to a tune marked as an instrumental on the lists, it will almost always be in the same key that the tune is traditionally played in at bluegrass jams when played as an instrumental. (Once again, if the key does not suit your voice for the song, it is not a good idea to force yourself to sing the song in that key.)
Half measure: In cut common time, a half measure has one beat instead of two. One way of thinking about this is that the time signature has momentarily changed from 2/2 to 1/2. (In 1/2 time, a full measure has only one beat). When a full measure of cut common (2/2) time occurs after a half measure, the beat of the half measure is to be counted as 'one', and the two beats of the full measure are to be counted as 'one-two' (as opposed to 'two-one'). Observe that this involves there being two 'one' counts back to back. It is crucial in songs that contain half measures to avoid thinking about the half measure as though it were the first half of a full measure that is then completed by the first half of the full measure that comes after it. A full measure that comes after a half measure is to be thought of and played just like any other full measure. Failure to do this results in the beat getting flipped around: one will find oneself either one beat ahead or one beat behind those who played properly through the part of the progression that contains the half measure. 1/5, 1/6m, 4/1, etc. These are split measures. In cut common time, this means that the first of the two chords is played for the first half of the measure (one beat), and the second chord is played for the second half of the measure. m = minor (chord). E.g., 6m = 6 minor chord.
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