The song of the week is 'Down The Road' in the key of A.
Flatt and Scruggs - key of B (studio recording)
Flatt and Scruggs - key of A (live recording)
The Bluegrass Album Band - key of B
The form of this song is unusual. Except for the last verse of the song (which has a common 8-measure form: 2 lines consisting of 4 measures each: this does not include the two-measure tack-on 'shave-and-a-haircut' ending that follows the last verse), the form for Down The Road consists of 2 lines of unequal length. The first line is the standard four measures that lines in most bluegrass songs consist of, but the second line is five-and-a-half measures long. This brings us to a total of nine-and-a-half measures.
Add to this the bluegrass tendency to allow one or more extra measures of the 1 chord to go by at the end of a break that occurs right before a verse is sung, and you can end up with ten-and-a-half, or eleven-and-a-half measures, or more, for the length of a break that occurs before a verse.
Notice that on the first Flatt & Scruggs recording given here, the breaks are consistently ten-and-a-half measures long, while on the second recording, even more measures are added to the end of the breaks, but not always the same number of extra measures. However, and this is important to observe, on all the recordings, all the sung verses that are followed by a break are exactly the same length: nine-and-a-half measures. One way to think about this is that the number of beats that go by between the last sung syllable and the first full measure of the break that follows is always the same.
Not counting extra measures of the '1' that might occur at the end of some of the breaks, the chord progression for the breaks and verses, except for the last verse, of Down The Road is:
1 1/6m 1 5/1
1 1/6m 1 5 1 1
The 'half' measure in the form occurs in the spot where the 5 chord is played in the second line.
If one is counting the beats in the second line in cut common time (2/2), one would count it as: 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,1,2.1,2. Notice the spot where there are two 1s back to back without a 2 intervening between them. On the sheet music attached here (first attachment), I have written the 'half' measure (measure 8) with a time signature of 1/2. And then to indicate that the remaining two measures in the form return to 2/2, I have placed the time signature symbol that represents 2/2 at the beginning of the measure that follows the 1/2 time measure.)
The progression for the last verse is:
1 1/6m 1 5/1
1 1/6m 1 5/1
after which a 2-measure ending lick is played on the banjo.
In the key of A: 1=A; 6m=F#m; 5=E
The A (major) chord consists of the notes: AC#E
The F#m chord consists of the notes: F#AC# (it has two notes in common with the A major chord)
The E (major) chord consists of the notes: EG#B
For mandolin players especially: If you find yourself struggling too much with making the quick change from the 1 chord to the 6m chord and back, you may play the 1 in place of the 6m, since there are no notes in the 1 chord that clash severely with the 6m, due to the relationship between these two chords.
The notes making up the 1 and 6m chords when combined together, result in a 6th chord (e.g., A6: A,C#,E,F#) when the root note is the same as that of the 1 chord, and result in a minor 7th chord (e.g., F#m7: F#,A,C#,E) when the root note is the same as that of the 6m chord. 6th and m7 chords occur frequently in music. In bluegrass they tend to occur more often as the result of an instrument or voice adding the note that turns a major chord into a 6th chord, or a minor chord into a minor 7th chord, to the chord that is being played on the other instruments, than due to all four notes of the 6th or m7 chord being played together on a single instrument.
Banjo and guitar players should capo to the 2nd fret, and then play as if in G.
In the key of G: 1=G; 6m=Em; 5=D
Parallel Majors and Minors
For every major chord, there is a minor chord that shares its same letter name. When a major and a minor chord have the same root note as each other (and hence the same letter name), the minor chord is called the 'parallel minor chord' of the major chord, and the major chord is called the 'parallel major chord' of the minor chord.
A major chord consists of the first, third, and fifth notes of the major scale that has the same letter name as the chord. A minor chord consists of the first, third, and fifth notes of the minor scale that has the same letter name as the chord. Within the first five notes of these scales, only one note differs, the third note of the scales:
First five notes of the Major Scale: 1 2 3 4 5
e.g., D Major Scale: D E F# G A (first five notes)
D (Major) Chord: D F# A
First five notes of the Minor Scale: 1 2 b3 4 5
e.g., D Minor Scale: D E F G A (first five notes)
Dm Chord: D F A
The middle note (called the 'third') in the minor chord is a half-step lower in pitch than the middle note of the major chord. These two notes clash severely with each other. Parallel major and ninor chords should not be treated as being interchangeable with each other.
Relative Majors and Minors
There is, however, another set of pairings of major and minor chords, called relative majors and minors, that, like parallel majors and minors, share two of their notes in common with each other, but unlike parallel majors and minors, the notes they do not share in common with each other do not severely clash with each other. Relative majors and minors may sometimes be substituted for each other.
For every major chord, there is a minor chord that contains within it the root note and the third of the major chord. Conversely, for every minor chord, there is a major chord that contains within it the third and the fifth of the minor chord. When a major chord and a minor chord are related to each other in this manner, the minor chord is called the 'relative minor chord' of the major chord, and the major chord is called the 'relative major chord' of the minor chord.
One way to find the pairings of relative majors and minors is to take the first and sixth notes of each major scale. In each case, the relative major will have the same letter name as the first note of the scale, and the relative minor will have the same letter name as the sixth note of the scale. For, in every major key, the 6m chord is the relative minor of the 1 chord.
Tip: Unless you make use of the order of 5ths (...BbFCGDAEBF#...), so as to be able to skip over the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th notes of the scale, to find the sixth note of a major scale, it is quicker to count backwards down the scale. From your starting note, count one letter backwards on the musical alphabet and one half-step lower (e.g., G-F#, C-B, or Bb-A) then from there count one letter backwards on the musical alphabet and a whole step (two half-steps) lower (e.g., F#-E, B-A, or A-G). G-F#-E: Em is the relative minor of G; C-B-A: Am is the relative minor of C; Bb-A-G: Gm is the relative minor of Bb, etc.
Major Chord Relative Minor Chord
Ab (Ab,C,Eb) Fm (F,Ab,C)
A (A,C#,E) F#m (F#,A,C#)
Bb (Bb,D,F) Gm (G,Bb,D)
B (B,D#,F#) G#m (G#,B,D#)
C (C,E,G) Am (A,C,E)
Db (Db,F,Ab) Bbm (Bb,Db,F)
D (D,F#,A) Bm (B,D,F#)
Eb (Eb,G,Bb) Cm (C,Eb,G)
E (E,G#,B) C#m (C#,E,G#)
F (F,A,C) Dm (D,F,A)
Gb (Gb,Bb,Db) Ebm (Eb,Gb,Bb)
G (G,B,D) Em (E,G,B)
The four pairings written in bold are especially useful for guitar, banjo, and dobro players to know. In addition to these, fiddle, mandolin, and bass players will find it useful to know the relative minors of A,Bb,B,Eb, and E. The three pairings written in italics are not likely to come up at the jam, since there are certain keys that we purposely avoid playing in.
For the last verse, which is eight measures long, rather than nine-and-a-half, it works best if everyone plays their last note at the same time as the last syllable is sung (as on the standard recordings given here). Then the banjo players can add a two measure tack-on ending lick appropriate for the 1 chord of the song (doesn't have to be the same ones that are on the recordings) that everyone else remains silent on except for the on the very last note of the ending.
This kind of ending is a single ending, for it consists of only one ending lick, as contrasted with the double endings consisting of two ending licks played back to back that are commonly used for AABB-form tunes like Boil The Cabbage Down, Shortnin' Bread, Buffalo Gals, Cripple Creek, Soldier's Joy, etc. For a single ending, you may use either the first or the second ending lick that your double endings consist of. Refer back to the attachments in the song of the week write up for Shortnin' Bread for an example of a double ending on the banjo, which can be turned into two ways of playing a single ending.
In the attachments for the current song of the week write-up, I have included a simplified version of the up-the-neck single ending 'shave-and-a-haircut' licks that are played on the banjo on the recordings for Down The Road given here. This ending lick will also work well for the second half (but not for the first half) of a double ending for tunes in G (and with a capo, also for tunes in A, Bb, B, and C.)
Breaks & Backup
When you look at the sheet music attached here for Down The Road, observe that the first measure of the break begins two measures from the time that the last syllable of the verse is sung. Another way of looking at this is that there are two measures of the 1 chord that are played at the end of the verse before the break begins. If enough of us make it a point to observe and practice this, this will go along ways towards minimizing the confusion that can easily result (due to the unusual form of the song) when Down The Road is played at a jam.
There are two things that one can do to help prevent confusion about when the break begins (i.e., when the form starts over again):
1) Use three quarter-note pickup notes for leading into your break. For a good choice of pickup notes, see the attachment: 'Down The Road - melody in A': the notes are E, F#, G#: which are located at frets 2, 4, and 6 on the 3rd string of the mandolin, and would usually be represented in guitar, banjo, and dobro tab as 0, 2, and 4 on the 4th string for the key of G, capo 2 for the key of A.) This is the same set of pickup notes that I usually use for starting Buffalo Gals. Refer back to the section titled 'Starting the Tune' in the song of the week write-up for that tune to see the corresponding set of pickup notes for the rest of the keys that we play songs in at the jam, and for a listing of other songs which they will also work well for.
Dig into your three pickup notes really hard so as to draw attention to yourself, and then dig into the note that comes next (namely, the first note of the first measure of your break) even harder so that there can be no room for doubt as to where the first measure of the form begins. These three pickup notes should be played during the last three-quarters of the last measure of the form, and they should be spaced apart from each other evenly.
2) Play a fill-in lick in the measure that contains the last syllable of the verse, and end that fill-in lick on the first downbeat of the next measure. Bring your volume up as soon as after the last syllable is sung, and hit the last note of your fill-in lick really hard (make it 'pop', especially if you are playing a G run on the guitar: the fill-in licks for guitar that are given in the attachments represent three different versions of what is commonly called 'the G-run'). This makes it clear as to where the last measure of the form begins - which is helpful to make clear on account of the half measure that the form contains in its second line, after which some people may find the beat 'flipped around' in their head and/or in their playing. The first of the three pickup notes into the break begin right after the last note of the fill-in lick is played. But, on banjo, and especially on guitar, it is good to play a fill-in lick at the end of the progression for every break and every verse, except for the last verse, and not just when a banjo or guitar break is going to occur next in the arrangement of the song.
If you don't already play fill-in licks on your instrument that are suitable to use in Down The Road when played in the key of A, refer to the A-chord fill-ins for fiddle and mandolin, or the G-chord (capo 2 for A) fill-ins for guitar and banjo given in the attachments.
In ascending order of pitch, the notes that make up the melody of Down The Road are:
5 6 1 2 3
sol la do re mi
Key of G: D E G A B
Key of A: E F# A B C#
Key of Bb: F G Bb C D
Key of B: F# G# B C# D#
Key of C: G A C D E
Key of D: A B D E F#
Key of E: B C# E F# G#
Key of F: C D F G A
The starting note of the melody is the 1st note of the scale (do): the note that has the same name as the key that the song is being played in.
It is the spots where the melody dwells on the 6th note of the scale (the second lowest melody note in the song) that the changes to the 6m chord occur in the progression.
In most of the other songs played at the jam, when the 6th note of the scale is dwelt upon in the melody (or occurs in close connection with the 1st and 2nd notes of the scale when the melody is in the lower part of its register, e.g., Nine Pound Hammer, Bury Me Beneath The Willow, or with the 4th note of the scale when the melody is in the higher part of its register, e.g., New River Train, the end of the third line of Beautiful Brown Eyes), the 4 chord is played rather than the 6m.
The 4 chord is absent from the progression for Down The Road because in the places in the progression where it would work well to use it, the 6m chord is being used instead.
Like the 6 and 6m chords (parallel major and minor), and like the 1 and 6m chords (relative major and minor), the 4 and 6m chords also share two of their notes in common. E.g, In the key of G: 4=C and 6m=Em. The C chord consists of the notes C, E, and G. The Em chord consists of the notes E, G, and B. But I am not aware of there being any special name for the relationship of the 4 and the 6m to each other as there is for the other two types of pairings of majors and minors that share two of their notes in common with each other. If you know a name for this relationship, please let me know.
When the melody of Down The Road dwells on the 1st or 3rd notes of the scale, the 1 chord is played.
The spots where the melody dips down to the 5th note of the scale (the lowest melody note in Down The Road), which is then immediately followed by the 6th note of the scale, are the places where the 5 chord is played; the change back to the 1 chord occurs right after this, since the melody then immediately ascends back up to the first note of the scale.
The notes in the half-measures of the 5 chord are also compatible with the 1 chord, but the converse of this is not true; so if one cannot find the right places to play the 5 chord in the progression while the song is being played, it is better to stay on the 1 chord, rather than to end up playing the 5 chord at the wrong time.
On the recordings, there are 5 verses for Down The Road, and no chorus. On the first recording, the first and last verses are repeated after the fifth verse to lengthen the song to 7 verses, with a banjo break occurring before each verse.
On the third recording, the first verse is repeated after the fifth verse and break to lengthen the song to 6 verses.
Notice that there is no harmony sung on the three recordings of Down The Road given in the recordings section. This is typical in bluegrass arrangements of songs that do not include a chorus in the arrangement.
For the fourth verse (used in some versions as the fifth verse), it is common for the singer to insert either his last name or the last name of one of the people is playing the song with:
Lester Flatt (Flatt & Scruggs):
"Now old man Flatt he owned the farm...."
Tony Rice (Bluegrass Album Band: Bobby Hicks on fiddle):
"Now old man Hicks he owns the farm...."
David Parmley (Parmley & McCoury - see below)
"Old man Parmley owned the farm...."
But, another option is:
"Her old man he owns the farm....", which is how I usually sing this verse.
Some versions of Down The Road have a short five-and-a-half measure chorus that follows each verse. Harmony is typically sung on the chorus, but, just like in the arrangements of the song that do not use a chorus, harmony is not sung on the verses.
Here is one example:
Parmley & McCoury - key of B
The progression for the chorus is identical with the progression for the second line of the verses and breaks:
1 1/6m 1 5 1 1
But the melody for the chorus differs from the melody for the second line of the verses. The most notable spot is in the second half of the first measure of the chorus where on the word 'road', the melody note is the 5th note of the scale above the 3rd note of the scale. This is a higher note than any note that occurs in the melody for the verses.
When Down The Road is played with a chorus, the last verse is not shortened to 8 measures. Instead, the last chorus is shortened to 4 measures.
When played as the song of the week, or when played during the first half of the evening at the jam, the chorus will not be used in the arrangement. But during the second half of the evening at the jam, if the person who calls the song wishes to include the chorus when leading the song, or in asking me to lead the song requests that the chorus be included, Down The Road will be played with the chorus included.
14 songs were played at the jam on Thursday: 13 from the main list, and 1 from the additional songs list:
Boil The Cabbage Down (played twice) - A
Buffalo Gals - A
Cripple Creek - A
Down The Road - A
Gathering Flowers From The Hillside - G
I'll Fly Away - G
Little Birdie - C
Mama Don't Allow - G
My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains - G
New River Train - F
Shortnin' Bread - G
Soldier's Joy - D
Way Down Town - E
Angeline The Baker - D
Have a happy St. Patrick's Day,
Jason's Beginner Jam Blog 2019 - 2020
Weekly on Thursdays
Songs regularly called at Bluegrass Jams and links from Jason's "Song of the Week" emails. (from Renee)
in alphabetical order