The jam on this coming Wednesday will be the last beginner jam I host until after Labor Day. When it gets closer to the time that I will resume leading the jam, I will send out new song lists for the final phase of the beginner jam (Sept. - Dec. 2018). At the beginning of January 2019, the current beginner jam group will be relabeled as intermediate, and I will start a new beginner jam.
The song of the week is 'Soldier's Joy' in the key of D.
Soldier's Joy is one of the more popular traditional fiddle tunes in Bluegrass circles, but one will hear it played not only at Bluegrass jams, but also at Old-Time jams, at square dances, contradances, and even sometimes at Irish sessions.
Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys (guitar & fiddle breaks) (starts at 3:50) - key of D
Larry Rice and the Bottom Dollar Boys (mandolin, fiddle, Scruggs-style banjo: tuned GCGBD, & guitar breaks) - key of D
Earl Scruggs & John McEuen: a good example of Scruggs-style banjo and Clawhammer banjo being played together. Scruggs' banjo is tuned GCGBD; John McEuen's banjo is tuned GCGCE. Note: since there is no fiddle or mandolin here, they get away with playing Soldier's Joy in C (no capo) instead of D (capo 2).
Soldier's Joy follows the most typical form for traditional fiddle tunes: AABB (can be thought of as: verse, verse, chorus, chorus, if this helps), with each A-Part and each B-Part being 8 measures long. (Total: 32 measures). Like most traditional fiddle tunes, there is only one key that it is usually played in: in this case 'D'.
The chord progression that we use at the beginner jam for 'Soldier's Joy' is the one that I have heard most frequently at Bluegrass Jams and on Bluegrass recordings of the tune. It is:
1 1 1 5
1 1 1/5 1
1 4 1 5
1 4 1/5 1
In the key of D: 1 = D; 4 = G; 5 = A.
'To capo or not to capo'
Many banjo players and some guitar players prefer to play Soldier's Joy in D by capoing to the 2nd fret and then playing it as if in 'C'. For this reason, I have included both key of D and key of C tabs for banjo and guitar in the attachments.
If you have the capo on the 2nd fret for playing Soldier's Joy in D, then your chord shapes need to be the same as those for playing in the key of C without a capo: 1=C; 4=F; 5=G.
Note: On banjo, no matter which of these two options you choose: capo 2 or no capo, you will need to raise your 5th string up to an A note (i.e., spike/capo your 5th string to the 7th fret) in order to be able to play an effective Scruggs-style or Clawhammer-style break.
Most Scruggs-style banjo players who prefer the capo 2 option tune their 4th string down a whole step so as to retain access to the lowest melody note in the tune when playing within the first 5 frets. (This is called 'C tuning': without the capo the 4th string will be tuned down to a C note. With the capo on the 2nd fret, the 4th string will then register as a D note when not fretted.)
Most clawhammer banjo players play Soldier's Joy either by tuning to Double C tuning: GCGCD or Open C tuning: GCGCE, and then capo to the 2nd fret in order to be playing in D.
Since the most effective way to start most fiddle tunes at a jam is by playing an 8 potato intro before starting into the first A-Part of your intro break, I have included an attachment that gives 8 potato intros suitable for Soldier's Joy and most other key of D fiddle tunes, for fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and banjo.
An 8 potato intro, reduced to its most basic form, essentially consists of droning the note that has the same name as the key of the tune in a highly rhythmic fashion for 4 measures. Accenting the first pickstroke (or, on fiddle, bowstroke) of each measure of the intro is crucial to an effective 8 potato intro, so as to make it unmistakably clear where each of the measures that make up the intro begin and end; it also helps to accent the first pickstroke/bowstroke of the second half of each measure, but this accent should not be quite as heavy as the accent on the beginning of the measure.
Choose a version of the 8 potato intro that works for you, but don't wait until you are at the jam to 'practice' it. Make it habit to always start most of your fiddle tunes with 8 potato intros when you are practicing at home so that you will be better prepared to effectively use 8 potato intros when playing with others.
Important: If you have pickup notes leading into the first complete measure of your break, you must cut the 8 potato intro short by playing the pickup notes in place of the corresponding part of the last measure of the 8 potato intro, so that you end up with exactly 4 measures worth of music, no more and no less, before the first full measure of your intro break starts.
Melody & Breaks
'Soldier's Joy' is one of those tunes which - in one and the same version - is often played both with so many melody notes that there is little room left for additional 'filler' notes (i.e., as many as 8 melody notes per measure), and with the bare minimum of melody notes necessary to retain the identity of the tune (no more than 3 or 4 melody notes per measure).
In my many years of experience with listening to hundreds of versions of this tune and playing it in a wide variety of jam situations, I have found that in playing 'Soldier's Joy', Bluegrass and Irish fiddlers and melodic (Keith) style banjo players tend towards trying to squeeze in as many melody notes as possible, while Scruggs-style and Clawhammer banjo players and Dobro players tend to play as few melody notes as necessary. Old-Time fiddlers, mandolin players, and flatpickers tend to fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
In place of the melody sheets that I usually include in the attachments for the song of the week emails, I have given an assortment of breaks for fiddle, mandolin, guitar, 3 finger-style banjo, and clawhammer banjo. For those of you who find it helpful to learn from sheet music/tab, I suggest taking a look at each of the breaks provided for your instrument before you try any of them out. And, there is no need to learn/memorize any of the breaks exactly as written. You may wish to mix and match some of them with each other, and with the ways that you already play breaks for the tune, so as to create breaks that work best for you, both in terms of your level of playing ability, and personal preferences. Also, if you are able to read music written for instruments other than the one that you play at the jam, you can get additional ideas for breaks on your instrument from the breaks written for other instruments.
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