Mama Don't Allow
The song of the week is 'Mama Don't Allow' in the key of A.
Be prepared also to play Mama Don't Allow in the key of G, since that is the key the song has most often been played in at the jam when others have sang it.
In the attachments, I have included melody sheets for Mama Don't Allow in both A and G.
Recordings of the Song
The two recorded versions of the song given below are very different from each other. The first, from Flatt and Scruggs (in the key of G), is a straightforward Bluegrass studio recording arrangement of the song, featuring only three lead instruments (banjo, fiddle, and dobro), while the second, from Doc Watson (in the key of A), has more of a jam feel to it, and, in addition to featuring traditional Bluegrass instruments (mandolin, banjo, guitar, etc.) it also includes and features some instruments that are not among the first instruments that usually come to mind when one thinks of Bluegrass (drums, piano).
Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs - Mama Don't Allow It
Mama dont allow - Doc Watson
Use of Fill-ins in Backup Playing
While listening to the youtube links provided here, observe that the instruments not only take turns doing breaks, as determined by the lyrics, but also take turns being featured as the dominant backup instrument behind the vocals. As soon as the name of the instrument is mentioned in the first line of the verse, this is an opportunity for that instrument to play a fill-in lick during the two measures of 'dead space' that occur in the vocal between the last syllable of the first line of the verse and the first syllable of the second line of the verse. Two measure length 'dead' spaces' occur also after the last syllable of the second line and after the last syllable of the fourth line; so, in each verse there are three different spots where the appropriate instrument can 'announce' its presence by playing a fill-in lick in anticipation of its upcoming break.
In the recorded versions, most of the fill-in licks used are not among the simpler ones to learn to play. In addition to the melody sheets for Mama Don't Allow, I have included in the attachments some easier fill-in licks for fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and banjo to help you get started with using fill-in licks in your playing if you do not already do so. The licks are intended to start at the beginning of the 3rd measure of lines 1, 2, and 4 of the verse: the G licks for lines 1 and 4, and the D licks for line 2. Each lick ends at the beginning of measure 4 of the line, at which point you can simply go back to doing whatever kind of thing you were doing before you started the fillin, whether that be simple rhythm playing on the guitar or mandolin, roll backup on the banjo, or something else. On the attached chart of fill-in licks, notes in parentheses are not really part of the fill-in lick proper and may be omitted if they are inconvenient to get into from what you were doing immediately before the fill-in measure begins. For instance, if you are playing chop chords on the fiddle or mandolin right up to the point where the fill-in measure starts, you may wish to substitute a quarter note rest in place of the quarter note in parentheses that occurs at the beginning of the fill-in lick measure.
Bluegrass songs typically contain at least 2 'dead spaces' in each 16-measure-length verse and in each 16-measure-length chorus that are long enough for a fill-in lick to be used during them. Depending on whether there are pickup notes leading into the next line of the song, these 'dead spaces' will last anywhere from one measure to two measures. These are always opportunities for fill-in licks to be played by a lead instrument. On bluegrass recordings, you may notice that the lead instruments usually take turns being featured as the dominant backup instrument. This same thing occurs also at jams. Mama Don't Allow is a good song to use to start to get the hang of doing this, for the lyrics of song draw attention directly to the fact that that is what is going in the backup, and so there need never be any doubt in this song as to which lead instrument should be featured at any given time.
Singing and leading the song at the jam
As more and more people (including those who have not yet led the singing on a song at the jam but might like to try), notice that the lyrics of Mama Don't Allow are among the easiest to learn of all the 50 songs on the two songs lists provided for the Beginner Jam, and that once learned, the lyrics are not easily forgotten even in the moment that one is about to start singing the next verse after a break, the need will likely arise to learn to play the song in keys other than G and A. This is because one or more of the 6 other standard keys for Bluegrass (Bb, B, C, D, E, & F) is bound to be more well suited to the vocal ranges of certain people at the jam than either G or A.
The one thing that can sometimes be challenging about remembering the lyrics to this song is that one needs to keep track of which instruments one has mentioned in each verse so far, so as to not leave any instrument out that is represented at the jam, and so as to not over-feature any of the instruments.
It helps to keep track though if one makes it a point to call each instrument type in the order in which one first encounters each type of instrument, going clockwise around the circle starting from the person who played the intro break for the song until one runs out of other instruments to call and one finally calls the name of the instrument on which the intro break was played. This is the system that I use for calling breaks on most songs at the jam.
As traditionally played at jams, the bass player is given a break on Mama Don't Allow, whereas for most other songs this is not done.
(Bass breaks for this song are not usually melody-based, so I have not included a melody sheet for bass in the attachments.)
For this song, I don't usually call the breaks as each verse is ending. The person singing the verses is calling the breaks simply by virtue of singing the name of an instrument in any given verse. The only times when I have felt a real need to call a break on this song when someone else was singing it, is when either: a) I had failed to mention before the song started that the verse 'Mama don't 'low no bluegrass music round here' (or something similar to this) is - at least in the context of how our jam operates - a way of calling a collective 'everybody' break, and it seemed doubtful to me that enough people had caught on to this in time before the collective break was about to begin; or b) it was obvious that people were not catching on to which instrument was named by the person singing.
This latter scenario occurs almost any time, for instance, when a singer abbreviates mandolin as 'mando': many people mistake this for 'banjo'. So, even though it is not as easy to squeeze a three-syllable instrument name into the verses as it is to sing a two-syllable instrument name, it is best to always sing 'mandolin' instead of 'mando' for the mandolin verse.
About the Chord Progression for the song
The progression for Mama Don't Allow is:
In the key of A: 1=A; 4=D; 5=E
In the key of G: 1=G; 4=C; 5=D.
This is a very useful progression to know by heart, for it is very common. (It is the one that is labelled as V2 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout.) It is the same progression that is used to play the well-known folk songs 'When The Saints Go Marching In', 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain', 'Froggy Went A Courting', and (some versions of) 'Red River Valley'. Three other songs that I believe are especially well worth familiarizing oneself with if not yet familiar with them that also use the same progression are: 'The Crawdad Song' (a folk song adapted to Bluegrass that has tended to be popular at previous incarnations of Beginner jam in some of their phases), 'Will You Be Loving Another Man' (a classic Bluegrass song from Bill Monroe, very well-known in Bluegrass circles), the verses and breaks, but not the choruses, of 'Why Don't You Tell Me So' (a classic Bluegrass song from Flatt & Scruggs, also very well-known in Bluegrass circles).
The 'Mama Don't Allow' progression, or, if this works better for you, the 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain' progression, or the 'When The Saints Go Marching In' progression, etc., all of which are much better ways to label the progression both for your own point of reference, and to explain the progression to others when the need arises, than by calling it Progression V2. (Only people who have carefully studied the Basic Chord Progressions chart I created for the beginner and intermediate jams might know off the top of their heads which progression it is that is in column 2 of row V on the chart without having to have to take a look at the chart.)
I highly recommend making it a point to associate a particular song (or a small group of songs) with each progression on the chart, whenever this is possible, that you are really familiar with. Songs that you have known and, better yet, sung since childhood, and/or songs that were the first song example(s) of a particular progression that you learned to play on your instrument(s) tend to work best for this purpose.
For a progression on the chart that you do not yet have a direct useful point of reference for, you might find it helpful to think of the progression in terms of its relation to a progression that is similar to it that you are able to easily associate with a particular song or group of songs.
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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