The song of the week is 'Cripple Creek' in the key of A.
Flatt and Scruggs, key of A (the instruments are tuned a little bit sharp):
Butch Robins with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys: key of A
Form & Arrangement
Cripple Creek is a two part fiddle tune (AABB form) that is traditionally played in the key of A.
Just like 'Shortnin' Bread', a previous song of the week, each part of Cripple Creek is 4 measures long. Each part is repeated before going on to the next part.
Although Cripple Creek has lyrics, it is usually played as an instrumental in bluegrass circles, and is often thought of as being more of a banjo tune than a fiddle tune.
On the Flatt & Scruggs recording, Earl Scruggs (banjo) and Paul Warren (fiddle) alternate breaks with each other, with Earl playing the first and last breaks, except that there is one point in the arrangement of the tune in which Earl plays two breaks back to back (AABBAABB) without a fiddle break intervening.
Before his first break (AABB), Earl plays the B-Part once. This single B-Part (four measures) at the beginning of the arrangement serves the same function as an 8 Potato Intro. After his last break (AABB), Earl plays a double ending (two 2-measure ending licks played back to back, for a total of four measures) to end the tune.
On the Butch Robins with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys recording, the arrangement is as follows:
Another way to look at the form of Bill Monroe's extended mandolin break(s) on the recording is: AABBBBAABB, with each A-Part being 8 measures long instead of only 4 measures long, since the melody line he plays on measure 3 of the A-Part (which is essentially the same as the melody for measure 1 of the A-Part), differs significantly from the melody line he plays on measure 7 of his break, and the same is true of measures 11 and 15 compared with each other, and of the corresponding measures in the A-Parts that he plays after his first four B-Parts.
The chord progression for the A-Part of Cripple Creek is:
1 4/1 1 5/1
The progression for the B-Part is the same as the progression for both parts of Shortnin' Bread:
1 1 1 5/1
(In the key of A: 1=A, 4=D, 5=E. In the key of G: 1=G, 4=C, 5=D.)
Notice that: a) just like in 'Down The Road', another recent song of the week, the only chord that is played for more than half a measure at a time is the 1 chord; b) the A-Part uses three chords (the 1,the 4, and the 5), whereas the B-Part uses only two chords (the 1 and the 5); and c) the only difference between the progression for the A-Part and the progression for the B-Part is whether or not a change to the 4 chord occurs in the first half of measure two of the part.
The progression for the B Part is typical for fiddle tunes in which each part is 4 measures long (instead of 8 measures long) before it is repeated. Other fiddle tunes that use the same progression as the progression for the B Part of Cripple Creek and for both parts of Shortnin' Bread include: Cotton-Eyed Joe (both parts), Sally Goodin (both parts), Cumberland Gap (both parts), Black Mountain Rag (A and B Parts), The Eighth Of January (B Part), Sourwood Mountain (key of A, both parts in some versions; other versions use for the A-Part the same progression that is used for the A-Part of Cripple Creek), Ida Red (both parts), Lee Highway Blues (A Part), Fire On The Mountain (both parts, minus the two-measure tag that the last B-Part in the form usually ends with), Four Cent Cotton (both parts), and Hell Broke Loose In Georgia (A, B, and D parts).
8 Potato Intros and Double Endings
Like most AABB form fiddle tunes, Cripple Creek is most effectively started at a jam with an 8 potato intro, and it is customary to end it with a double ending tacked on to the tune after the final B Part has been completed. For examples of 8 potato intros and double endings in the key of A for fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitar, refer back to the attachments in the song of the week write up for Shortnin' Bread:
It is important to remember that any pickup notes that you play for your intro break for Cripple Creek (that is, notes that occur before the first full measure of the A Part) must be included within the last measure of the four measures that the 8 potato intro consists of. It does not work to play 4 full measures of 8 potato intro and then the pickup notes. For instance, if you are using two 8th notes as pickups into the A Part for your intro break for Cripple Creek, you must substitute those two 8th notes in place of the last quarter of the measure of the 8 potato intro, so that your first full measure of the A Part starts exactly four complete measures after the start of the 8 potato intro.
Melody & Breaks
In the version of the melody given in the attachments, the notes that make up the melody for the A-Part of Cripple Creek are, in ascending order of pitch:
5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 1
Key of A: E F# A B C# D E F# A
Key of G: D E G A B C D E G
The melody for the B-Part uses only the first five (the five lowest) of these nine notes.
Notice that the highest melody note in Cripple Creek (which the A-Part starts with) is nearly an octave and a half higher than the lowest melody note. This is common for fiddle tune melodies, but uncommon for songs sung by Bluegrass singers, for which the interval between the lowest melody note and the highest melody note is rarely wider than an octave plus a whole step (e.g., Bury Me Beneath The Willow: the lowest note being an E and the highest note being an F# - a difference of an octave plus a whole step - when sung in the key of A. or, the lowest note being a D and the highest note being an E when sung in the key of G).
Observe that the melody for the last half of the B-Part of Cripple Creek is the same as the melody for the last half of the B-Part. So, there are only six, rather than eight, measures to learn and memorize.
Concerning the melody sheets attached here: Each sheet has two versions of Cripple Creek on it. The version at the top of the page is the melody as I would hum or sing it. (This is only one of many possible interpretations of the basic melody of Cripple Creek.) With the exception of the banjo tab sheet, the version at the bottom of each page is a more elaborate interpretation of the melody of Cripple Creek, and makes for more interesting breaks on fiddle, mandolin and guitar. When playing guitar or mandolin breaks for Cripple Creek at the jam, I often play something very similar to this.
But, just as often I will play a break that is somewhere about halfway between the basic version of the melody and the more elaborate version of the melody. So, if you find that the version at the bottom of the page is too difficult for you to play at the faster speeds that Cripple Creek is sometimes played at the jam, you might wish to take this approach. By doing this, you can come up with many different ways to play a break for Cripple Creek, and this also makes the tune more interesting when all your breaks on a song don't sound exactly the same as each other.
(Note: Instead of writing first and second endings for the A and B Parts of second version of Cripple Creek on each page, I wrote the last measure of each part as an incomplete measure. This measure is completed by the short pickup measure found at the beginning of whichever part one is going to play next.)
When playing successive eighth notes on the guitar and mandolin with a flatpick, be sure to make use of alternate picking: for each pair of eighth notes, play the first note in the pair with a downstroke, and the second note in the pair with an upstroke. Dividing the measures into eight equal sections: 1e&a2e&a, the downstrokes belong on the 1's, the 2's and the &'s, and the upstrokes belong on the e's and the a's.
This system is important to use (for the sake of speed, ease of playing, volume, timing, and feel) not only for passages consisting solely of eighth notes, but also for most passages that contain a variety of different time values within them. For instance, the first measure of the A-Part of Cripple Creek as given in the attachments consists of a quarter note followed by a pair of eighth notes, followed by a quarter note, followed by another pair of eighth notes. These six notes should be played as: down-down-up-down-down-up: the four downstrokes coincide with the 1&2& spots within the measure, and the two upstrokes coincide with the two 'a' spots within the measure. Since no pick strokes coincide with the 'e' spots within the measure, no upstroke occurs between the first two downstrokes or between the third and fourth downstrokes.
For those who find it helpful to listen to a sung version of a tune to get a better sense of the melody, here is a sung version of Cripple Creek that I remember from my early childhood:
Buffy Sainte-Marie - key of Ab
Since there are no guitar breaks in any of the recordings provided above, here is a guitar teaching video that starts off with a couple of good guitar breaks for Cripple Creek (played in G):
The arrangement is:
8 Potato Intro
Low Register Break (AABB)
High Register Break (AABB)
The second break corresponds with the register in which the guitar tab melody and break sheet provided in the attachments is written.
Banjo: Melody & Breaks
On the banjo tab sheet, the version of Cripple Creek at the bottom of the page is not a more elaborate version of the melody, but is rather a Scruggs-style break that is based upon the basic version of the melody.
Bluegrass fiddle, mandolin, and guitar players, when surrounding a melody with additional notes, will tend to choose notes that closely neighbor the melody notes on the scale. This tends to make many of the extra notes sound like additional melody notes. Bluegrass banjo players have less of a tendency to take this type of approach when adding extra notes. Bluegrass banjo players from the Scruggs-style tradition do very little of this, but instead usually use in their breaks not much more than only the most essential melody notes of a tune, and then surround these notes with 'chord' notes (notes that belong to the chord being played at the time in the song), and/or 'drone' notes (usually notes that belong to the 1 chord - e.g., G chord when playing in the key of G, regardless of what chord is called for at the time in the song). These notes are chosen in accord with certain set picking patterns (called 'rolls'), and with little regard to the width of the interval between any two successive eighth notes. The overall effect that this has is to make the notes added around the melody not sound at all like additional melody notes. Their function is comparable in some ways to the function of the strums that occur between melody notes in Carter-style guitar breaks, and in other ways to the function of bagpipe drones.
For banjo players who have not learned yet to do pull-offs or push-offs, or who find these difficult to execute clearly when playing at a jam, I recommend substituting a 2-4 slide on the 3rd string in place of the 2-0 push-off/pull-off written for measure 1 of the B-Part, and substituting the open 3rd string, played as an eighth note, in place of the 2-0 push-off/pull-off written for measure 3 of both parts.
Even for banjo players who are really familiar with playing Cripple Creek, I recommend picking through the basic melody for the tune if you have never done that before. For, the clearer one's idea is of the melody, all the more natural it becomes to give good clear accents to the melody notes in one's break. However, since the melody as written here has several eighth notes back to back played on the same string, unless you already play single-string style (in which the thumb plays the first note in a pair of 8th notes while the index finger plays the second note in the pair, regardless of which strings the notes occur on), I recommend picking through the melody with a flatpick (guitar pick) just as a guitar or mandolin player would.
16 songs were played at the jam on Thursday: 10 from the main list, 5 from the additional songs list, and 1 that is on neither list:
Cripple Creek - A
Down The Road - A
Foggy Mountain Top - G
Gathering Flowers From The Hillside - G
I'll Fly Away - G
Little Birdie - Bb
Mama Don't Allow - A
Nine Pound Hammer - A
Soldier's Joy - D
Way Down Town - E
Long Journey Home - B
O Susanna - G
Old Joe Clark - A
Worried Man Blues - G
Your Love Is Like A Flower - A
Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone - A
'Your Love Is Like A Flower' and 'Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone' use the same chord progression as 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow' (Prog. V7 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout.)
Your Love Is Like A Flower - Flatt & Scruggs - key of Bb
Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone - Tony Rice - key of Bb
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