The song of the week is 'Away In A Manger' in the key of G.
Ricky Skaggs - key of G for first two verses and break, key of A for third verse.
solo banjo (key of G) - a good source of ideas for how one might go about playing more than just the melody for one's break, though, my own playing tendency is to use these kinds of additions to the melody more sparingly than how it is played here, so as to enable the melody to stand out more prominently.
'Away In A Manger' is played in 3/4 time. In 3/4 time (a.k.a. Waltz time), there are 3 beats per measure. On guitar, when playing rhythm, one measure will consist of 'boom-chuck-chuck', i.e., 'bassnote-strum-strum', rather than the more common rhythm for bluegrass songs of 'boom-chuck-boom-chuck'. Notice that this means that in 3/4 time it takes two measures, instead of one, to get through a cycle of root-5 (alternating bass) on guitar (and on bass, if you are playing only one note per measure). For this reason, it can be useful to think of the chord progression in groups of two measures.
On the melody sheets attached here, the progression given for Away In A Manger is:
I usually lengthen the last line of the progression by adding an extra measure of the 1 chord at the end of it so that it becomes 51511, like on the recordings given here. This allows time for a fill-in lick to be played on the instruments during the last 2 measures of the progression for each verse and each break. In the attachments, I have included a chart of simple 3/4 time G chord fill-ins presented in the context of 2 complete measures of G. (For the guitar fill-ins, when playing these at the end of a guitar break, you may find it necessary to substitute the open 3rd string in place of the fretted 6th string.)
In some versions, the last line of the progression is played as 4151(1) instead of as 5151(1).
In the key of G: 1=G; 4=C; 5=D.
Melody & Breaks
Like most Christmas carols, Away In A Manger has a very strong and memorable melody. So, when working up a break for this song, it is best to focus more on learning to play the melody cleanly and accurately, than upon figuring out how to make use of your favorite licks. The melody carries itself, and does not really require embellishment. But, once you have the melody down pat, then you might find a select spot here and there in which to add a double stop (i.e., playing a harmony note along with the melody note), a filler note or two between some of the melody notes, or a slide into a melody note.
If you have tried adapting Christmas carols to bluegrass, then you may have noticed that some carols adapt more easily and naturally than others. Like 'Away In A Manger', most of the ones in 3/4 time are good candidates for attempts to play them with a bluegrass feel; but of these, the ones that tend to adapt best have fewer melody notes (on average) per measure and fewer quick chord changes relative to the ones that don't adapt quite as easily. For example, Silent Night and It Came Upon The Midnight Clear are more 'bluegrass-friendly' than The First Noel and We Wish You A Merry Christmas.
The carols that are either in cut time (2/2) or in 2/4 (e.g., Jingle Bells, Good King Wenceslas) are natural candidates for being given a bluegrass treatment; while, on the other hand, most of the 4/4 carols (e.g., O Come All Ye Faithful, O Little Town Of Bethlehem) need to be converted to a cut time feel in order to be played as bluegrass songs; but this can be challenging to do if one is not yet very familiar with how this kind of conversion works, or if one has not heard enough examples of songs being played both ways. As being able to do this conversion is useful not only for creating bluegrass arrangements of Christmas carols, but also for many other songs from various different genres, I intend on explaining more about this, and demonstrating it, during next week's teaching segment at the jam.
Harmony & Lyrics
I welcome all to sing harmony with me all the way through the song. In the key of G, since the starting melody note is a D note on a G chord, the starting note for the tenor harmony is a G note, and the starting note for the baritone harmony is a B note. The set of lyrics I use for Away In A Manger is as follows:
Away in a manger no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
I love thee Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.
Be near me Lord Jesus I ask thee to stay
Close by me for ever, and love me I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.
19 songs were played at last night's jam: 15 from the main list, 1 from the additional songs list, and 3 that are on neither list:
All The Good Times Are Past And Gone - C
Boil The Cabbage Down - A
Buffalo Gals - A
Cripple Creek - A
Down The Road - A
Foggy Mountain Top - G
I'll Fly Away - C
Little Birdie - Bb
A Memory Of You - A
My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains - Bb
Nine Pound Hammer - G
Old Joe Clark - A
Soldier's Joy - D
Way Down Town - E
Will The Circle Be Unbroken - G
Liberty - D
Don't This Road Look Rough And Rocky - Bb
Silent Night - C
Away In A Manger - G
Jason's Beginner Jam Blog 2019 - 2021
Weekly on Thursdays
Songs regularly called at Bluegrass Jams and links from Jason's "Song of the Week" emails. (from Renee)
in alphabetical order