The song of the week is Cripple Creek.
Form & Arrangement
Cripple Creek is a two part fiddle tune (AABB form) that is traditionally played in the key of A.
Although Cripple Creek has lyrics, it is usually played as an instrumental in bluegrass circles, and is often thought of as being more of a banjo tune than a fiddle tune.
Each part of Cripple Creek is 4 measures long. Each part is repeated before going on to the next part.
The progression stays on the 1 chord for most of the time, with just a very quick change to the 5 chord (for a half a measure) at the beginning of the last measure of each line, and a quick change to the 4 chord at the beginning of the 2nd measure of the A Part.
1 4/1 1 5/1 (play twice)
1 1 1 5/1 (play twice)
(In the key of A: 1=A, 4=D, 5=E. In the key of G: 1=G, 4=C, 5=D.)
The progression for the B Part is typical for fiddle tunes in which each part is 4 measures long (instead of 8 measures long) before it is repeated. Other fiddle tunes that use the same progression as the progression for the B Part of Cripple Creek include: Cotton-Eyed Joe (key of A, both parts), Sally Goodin (key of A, both parts), Shortnin' Bread (key of G or A, both parts), Cumberland Gap (key of G: both parts), Black Mountain Rag (key of A: A and B Parts), The Eighth Of January (key of D: B Part), Sourwood Mountain (key of A, both parts), Ida Red (key of A: both parts), Lee Highway Blues (key of D: A Part), Fire On The Mountain (keys of A and D: both parts), Four Cent Cotton (key of C: both parts), and Hell Broke Loose In Georgia (key of C: A, B, and D parts).
Here are a few youtube links to listen to.
Flatt and Scruggs, key of A (instruments are tuned a little more than a quarter tone sharp, so although the intended key is A, the pitch on the recording is closer to Bb than to A):
Butch Robins with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys: key of A
Since there are no guitar breaks in either of these youtube clips, here is a guitar teaching video that starts off with a couple of good breaks for Cripple Creek (played in G):
For those interested in a version with lyrics, here is one that I remember from my early childhood:
Melody & Breaks
Concerning the melody sheets attached here: Each sheet has two versions of Cripple Creek on it. The version at the top of the page is the melody as I would hum or sing it. (This is only one of many possible interpretations of the basic melody of Cripple Creek.) With the exception of the banjo tab sheet, the version at the bottom of each page is a more elaborate interpretation of the melody of Cripple Creek, and makes for more interesting breaks on fiddle, mandolin and guitar. When playing guitar or mandolin breaks for Cripple Creek at the jam, I often play something very similar to this.
But, just as often I will play a break that is somewhere about halfway between the basic version of the melody and the more elaborate version of the melody. So, if you find that the version at the bottom of the page is too difficult for you to play at the faster speeds that Cripple Creek is sometimes played at the jam, you might play the basic melody for the most part, but every so often make use of a measure, or even just half a measure, of the more elaborate version of the melody. By doing this, you can come up with many different ways to play a break for Cripple Creek, and this also makes the tune more interesting when all your breaks on a song don't sound exactly the same as each other.
(Note: Instead of writing first and second endings for the A and B Parts of second version of Cripple Creek on each page, I wrote the last measure of each part as an incomplete measure. This measure is completed by the short pickup measure found at the beginning of whichever part one is going to play next.)
Banjo: Melody & Breaks
On the banjo tab sheet, the version of Cripple Creek at the bottom of the page is not a more elaborate version of the melody, but is rather a Scruggs-style break that is based upon the basic version of the melody. Bluegrass fiddle, mandolin, and guitar players, when surrounding a melody with additional notes, will tend to choose notes that closely neighbor the melody notes on the scale. This tends to make many of the extra notes sound like additional 'melody' notes. Bluegrass banjo players have less of a tendency to take this type of approach when adding extra notes. Bluegrass banjo players from the 'Scruggs-style' tradition do very little of this, but instead usually use in their breaks not much more than only the most essential melody notes of a tune, and then surround these notes with 'chord' notes (notes that belong to the chord being played at the time in the song), and/or 'drone' notes (notes that belong to the '1' chord - e.g., G chord when playing in the key of G, regardless of what chord is called for at the time in the song). These notes are chosen in accord with certain set picking patterns (called 'rolls'), and with little regard to the width of the interval between any two successive eighth notes. The overall effect that this has is to make the notes added around the melody not sound at all like additional melody notes. Their function is comparable in some ways to the function of the strums that occur between melody notes in 'Carter-style' guitar breaks, and in other ways to the function of bagpipe drones.
Even for banjo players who are really familiar with playing Cripple Creek, I recommend picking through the basic melody for the tune if you have never done that before. For, the clearer one's idea is of the melody, all the more natural it becomes to give good clear accents to the melody notes in one's break. However, since the melody as written here has several eighth notes back to back played on the same string, unless you already play 'single-string' style (in which the thumb plays the first note in a pair of 8th notes while the index finger plays the second note in the pair, regardless of which strings the notes occur on), I recommend picking through the melody with a flatpick (guitar pick) just as a guitar or mandolin player would.
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