The song of the week is 'My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains' in the key of G.
Flatt & Scruggs - key of G
The Mashville Brigade - key of A
The chord progression for My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains is:
This is Prog. W5 on the 'Basic Chord Progressions' handout.
In the key of G: 1=G; 5=D. The G chord consists of the notes G, B, and D. The D chord consists of the notes D, F#, and A.
Notice that the second half of the progression is identical to the first half of the progression. Therefore, there are really only two lines (8 measures) to memorize. You should not need to look at a written copy of the progression while playing the song at the jam. Take a glance at the progression before the song starts, and just remember that every second line starts with two measures of the 5 chord. All other measures in the progression are 1's.
Be prepared, however, to add an extra measure or two of the 1 chord to the last line of the progression for a break that occurs right before the singing starts up again, and the progression starts again from the beginning. This is common in bluegrass arrangements of songs. On the Flatt and Scruggs recording of the song, all three of the breaks are played as:
On the Mashville Brigade recording; the first three breaks, the last (fifth) break, and the first chorus are played as:
In listening to the Flatt & Scruggs recording and/or from looking at the attached melody sheets, notice that the melody of the song has only 5 notes in it. In ascending order of pitch, these are: E, G, A, B, and D. To make the melody slightly more interesting, the banjo, in its intro break lowers the G note in measures 3 and 11 to the D below the E note that is the lowest note in the vocal melody; the dobro break which occurs in the song after the second chorus does this same thing in measure 3, but not in measure 11. On this point, the sung melody on the Mashville Brigade recording coincides with the version of the melody played in the banjo intro break on the Flatt & Scruggs recording.
Make it a point to remember this sequence of notes, and be sure that you can locate them on your instrument: D E G A B D. There are many songs that, when played in the key of G, have this same range of notes (lowest note D, highest note the D an octave higher) and have no other notes than G's, A's, B's, D's, and E's. Songs like this on the current main list and additional songs list for the beginner jam include 'Foggy Mountain Top', 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken', 'Amazing Grace', and 'Long Journey Home'.
When transposed to each of the 7 other keys that these songs may be played in at the jam, these notes become:
key of A: E F# A B C# E
key of Bb: F G Bb C D F
key of B: F# G# B C# D# F#
key of C: G A C D E G
key of D: A B D E F# A
key of E; B C# E F# G# B
key of F: C D F G A C
On the Nashville Number Charts included in the handouts for the beginner jam, these notes correspond with the numbers 5 6 1 2 3 5.
Notice that in the melody for My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains, the only notes that are dwelt on for half a measure or more are notes that belong to the chord being played at the time: G, B, or D notes during G chord measures, and A notes during D chord measures. It is because of those A notes at the beginning of lines 2 and 4, that a chord change occurs at the beginning of those lines, for the A note is not part of the G chord. It is typical, in the key of G, for a D chord to be played when the melody of a song dwells on an A note, for of the 1, 4, and 5 chords for the key of G, namely, G, C, and D, the D chord is the only one that contains an A note.
In the breaks on the recordings, the measures that have only one or two melody notes in them sometimes have what sound like extra 'melody' notes added to them in addition to the many filler notes that are placed around the melody, whereas the measures that have 4 melody notes in them often have one or two of these notes deleted from them, and when not deleted, they sometimes get displaced within the measure.
For a slow-moving melody, as this song has, it will not work well to play for your break only what you see written on the attached melody sheets. In order to maintain good control of the rhythm, tempo, and feel of the song during your break, so that everyone who is playing backup during your break can be following you rather than the other way around, your break needs to consist mostly of eighth notes and quarter notes, not half notes and whole notes.
Simple Guitar, Mandolin, and Fiddle Breaks
If you don't know what other notes would work to put around the melody, then for lack of anything else to do, keep to the melody notes, but - on guitar, mandolin, and fiddle - change half notes to a quarter note followed by two eighth notes, and for whole notes, do this twice: i.e., quarter, eighth, eighth, quarter, eighth, eighth. To see what this rhythm looks like when written out, refer to the 'guitar break' in the attachment. I have not included a fiddle break sheet or a mandolin break sheet in the attachments, because the guitar break tab suffices to show for the sake of all three of these instruments what the rhythm is that is being applied here to the melody.
Simple Banjo Breaks
The banjo is a different story than guitar, mandolin, and fiddle (repeating the same note several times in a row in the manner described above doesn't work so well when playing with finger picks), so I have also included a 'banjo break' sheet in the attachments. This is a very basic break (a lot more is going on in the banjo breaks on the recordings than in the banjo break given in the attachments) which is given here to demonstrate how one can take one roll pattern (in this case, the alternating thumb roll) and place it around the melody, turning quarter notes into a pair of eighth notes, half notes into a series of four eighth notes, etc. To avoid the monotony that results from playing nothing but eighth notes in one's break, I have substituted for the roll in a few places a single quarter note followed by a quarter note double stop (called a 'pinch' on the banjo).
On the break sheets, I have also included a pickup measure for each of the 4 instruments. You will need to use these, or something like them, in order to kick off the song effectively on your instrument without having to count into the song. Remember these three notes: D, G, A. These will work well as pickups for nearly any song in the key of G in which the first complete measure of the melody starts with a B note while a G chord is being played.
The corresponding notes for the 7 other keys used at the jam are:
key of A: E, A, B leading to a C# note on an A chord.
key of Bb: F, Bb, C leading to a D note on a Bb chord.
key of B: F#, B, C# leading to a D# note on a B chord.
key of C: G, C, D leading to an E note on a C chord.
key of D: A, D, E leading to an F# note on a D chord.
key of E: B, E, F# leading to a G# note on an E chord.
key of F: C, F, G leading to an A note on an F chord.
The lyrics of 'My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains' are quite repetitive and easy to memorize. For this reason, this is one of the songs I recommend learning to sing to those who wish to lead a song at the jam, but do not have much experience yet in doing so. Other songs on the current beginner jam song lists that are fairly easy to memorize include: Mama Don't Allow, New River Train, Lonesome Road Blues, Long Journey Home, She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain, This Little Light Of Mine, When The Saints Go Marching In, and Worried Man Blues.
For most of these songs, you need not know any more than three verses (in addition to the chorus for the songs that do have a chorus) in order to be ready to sing and play a complete arrangement of them at the jam. Notice that on the recordings of My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains given here there are only three verses sung (plus the chorus), yet, if you were to look online for lyric sheets for the song, or listen to other recorded versions of the song, you would come across some other verses for the song in addition to these three.
Singing from Memory
It is important to sing from memory when leading the singing at a jam, because, whenever the lead singer is singing, he is the one who is primarily in control of the timing and rhythm of the song. So, he should be singing toward the group as a whole, and his lips should be clearly visible to the group, since the group is supposed to be following him. One cannot lead a song very effectively at a jam when reading the lyrics off a page. If the page is at eye level (for instance, on a music stand), then the page (and the stand) will form a barrier between the lead singer and his fellow jammers. If the page is below eye level (on the ground, or on one's lap), then the lead singer will be looking down, singing towards the ground, instead of towards the group.
This does not mean that one should not bring lyric sheets to a jam. For, even when a song is memorized, it is very easy to forget - in the moment how the 2nd verse (and subsequent verses) of a song starts. So, near the end of the break that comes right before another verse will be sung, it can be useful to be able to quickly glance at the lyrics to remind oneself, if one forgets. Observe, though, that this does not involve looking at the lyrics while singing.
However, instead of referring to a page on which the lyrics are written out in full, it is better to just write out the first line of the 2nd verse, and the first line of each subsequent verse in large print, and then place the page on the floor in front of you. Many guitar players - myself included - will tape smaller versions of these kind of 'cheat sheets' to their guitars for songs that they fear they might forget the lyrics to, so that - if needed - they can take a quick glance at them before starting to sing the next verse. (This will also work for stand-up bass players.)
If one needs to see more than just the beginnings of the 2nd and subsequent verses of a song in order to jog one's memory enough to be able to get through singing the whole song without serious errors, then this is usually a good sign that one does not yet know the song well enough to lead it effectively at a jam, and that one should give it some more practice at home before leading it at a jam.
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