Boil The Cabbage Down
Song of the Week
The song of the week is 'Boil The Cabbage Down' in the key of A.
Jason Homey & The Snake River Boys (starts at 13:09)
Like a lot of other traditional fiddle tunes and folk songs that have been absorbed into bluegrass, there are many noticeably different versions of Boil The Cabbage Down. At bluegrass jams, one of the more common ways of playing it is as an instrumental in the key of A with the typical fiddle-tune form AABB, like on the first recording of the tune given here, and that is how we will play it at the beginner jam when it is played during the first half of the evening. Alternate versions of the song are welcome to be introduced during the second half of the evening.
AABB means that the tune has two parts (A-Part = first part; B-Part = second part), each of which is played through twice before going on to the next part.
Like many other fiddle tunes, each A-Part and each B-Part is 8 measures long. Therefore, it takes 32 measures (8x4) to get through a complete break for Boil The Cabbage Down.
On the Tommy Jackson fiddle instrumental recording, Boil The Cabbage Down is played as a three-part tune: the tune is played through twice using the form AABBCC, and then deviates from there, being played as AABBAACCAA.
In contrast to this, The Grascals' vocal version uses only the A-Part of the tune.
The chord progression for the A-Part (and also for Tommy Jackson's C-Part) is:
1 4 1 5
1 4 1/5 1
This is Progression Y7 on the 'Basic Chord Progressions' handout.
The chord progression for the B-Part is:
1 1 1 5
1 4 1/5 1
This is Progression Y2 on the 'Basic Chord Progressions' handout.
'1/5' means that the measure is split between the 1 chord and the 5 chord.
In the key of A: 1=A. 4=D, 5=E.
Banjo players and most bluegrass guitar players habitually capo to the 2nd fret for playing in the key of A, so their chord shapes will be the same as those for the 1,4, and 5 chords in the key of G, which are: 1=G, 4=C, 5=D.
8 Potato Intros
One of the best ways to kick-off most AABB fiddle tunes at a jam is to drone in a straight but rhythmic manner the root note of the key that the tune is in (often together with another one of the notes that also belong to the 1 chord) for four measures to lead into your intro break.This is called in bluegrass and old-time circles the '8 Potato Intro'.
On the Grascals' recording of Boil The Cabbage Down, the fiddle starts the tune with an 8 Potato Intro. On the other recordings, and in the mandolin video lesson (see below), a shorter two measure version of this manner of starting a tune is used, which is called a '4 Potato Intro'.
In the attachments, I have included sheets that show good ways to play on fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and banjo, 8 Potato Intros for the keys of G, A, and D, the three most common fiddle tune keys. I have also included on these sheets, simpler (unfortunately, also less effective when both are played correctly) ways to play this type of intro on each of these instruments for those who are new to playing this type of intro, and may have difficulty playing the more developed forms of the 8 Potato Intros with the right feel and with rock-solid timing.
Playing with the right feel and timing are crucial to making the 8 Potato Intro an effective jam tool. If anything at all goes wrong with the timing or feel of the 8 Potato or with the transition from the 8 Potato into beginning of the A-Part, the whole purpose for using it is thereby defeated.
Boil The Cabbage Down mandolin lesson:
I recommend this not only for mandolin players, but for anyone who wishes to get a better handle on the melody of the tune and the difference between the A-Part and the B-Part of the tune. You might notice that my version of the melody for the B-Part (see the attached melody sheets) differs a bit from the version of the melody used here, but this kind of variance in interpretation of the melody from one person to the next is quite common within bluegrass and old-time music, especially on fiddle tunes.
Fiddle players should be aware that the mandolin is tuned the same way as the fiddle, so the fingering positions are identical on both instruments. The mandolin breaks in the youtube link - including the one that uses double stops (i.e., two strings being played simultaneously) can be played note for note on the fiddle just as easily as on the mandolin.
Melody & Breaks: Fiddle, Mandolin, and Guitar
In the attachments, I have included the basic melody for Boil The Cabbage Down in standard notation, mandolin tab, banjo tab, and guitar tab.
For fiddle, mandolin, and guitar players who wish to create simple break based upon the basic melody, I recommend applying a constant shuffle rhythm to the melody. That simply means playing a constant pattern of one quarter note followed by two 8th notes. Two cycles through this pattern is the length of one measure of music in cut time (2/2), and is counted as: 1 &a2 &a. In the attachments, I show what this rhythm looks like when applied to the first 4 measures of the melody for the B-Part of Boil The Cabbage Down (see the attachment titled 'Shuffle Rhythm Example'.)
Melody & Breaks: Banjo
For banjo players who wish to create a simple melody-based break for Boil The Cabbage Down, I recommend applying one type of roll pattern across the board to the whole tune. For this purpose, the two roll patterns that work best to apply to the whole tune are the alt. thumb roll and the forward roll. (See the attachment: 'Fitting Rolls Around the Melody' for examples of this.)
Remember, on banjo, there is more than one convenient location within the first few frets for some of the notes; in particular, banjo players will often get the B note on the 4th fret of the 3rd string instead of using the open 2nd string, so that they can slide into the B note, and so that they can put an alternating thumb or reverse roll around it. Likewise, they will often get the D note on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string instead of using the open 1st string, so that they can hammer into the D note, and so that they can avoid starting a roll on the 1st string.
For those who wish to create a more complex melody-based break for Boil The Cabbage, I recommend making use of several different roll patterns: experiment with them to discover for yourself at which points in the break you find that one roll works better than another to carry the melody.
On the Snake River Boys and Tommy Jackson recordings of Boil The Cabbage Down, there are an extra 4 measures played at the end of the tune after the final B-Part. These are called 'double endings', for they consist of two 2-measure length ending licks played back to back.
For most songs that use a progression that ends with two measures of the 1 chord (e.g., songs that use any of the progressions in row V, W, or X on the basic chord progressions chart), it is common for a two-measure ending lick to be played on one or more of the instruments over the last two measures of the progression to end the song. Most AABB tunes, however, do not use progressions that end with two measures of the 1 chord, and the last melody note in their parts almost always occurs at either the beginning or in the middle of the last measure of the progression, rather than at the beginning of the second to last measure of the progression. For these reasons, ending licks for AABB fiddle tunes almost always are played after the last measure of the final B-Part rather than during the tail-end of the final B-Part.
In the attachments, I have included examples of double-endings for fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and banjo suitable for most key of G, A, and D fiddle tunes.
It is typical for the double ending to be played only by, or at least led by, the person who played the final break for the tune. However, at the beginner jams, what tends to happen most often, and usually works better than some of the other options, is for everyone who wishes to play a double ending to do so, regardless of which instrument section played the last break, while the rest of the players play nothing during the double ending, except on the last note of the ending.
What is played on the last note of the ending by the backup instruments typically includes things such as a single strum on the 1 chord (good for guitars and mandolins, and sometimes for banjos), the root note of the 1 chord being played by itself (especially good on the bass and in the low register of the fiddle), a double stop consisting of two notes of the 1 chord (especially good for fiddles), and a three-note pinch on banjo consisting of notes of the 1 chord
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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