Will The Circle Be Unbroken
The song of the week is 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' in the key of G.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - on their classic 3-record 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' album: with Earl Scruggs on banjo, Vassar Clements on fiddle, Doc Watson on guitar, and Mother Maybelle Carter, Jimmy Martin, and Roy Acuff taking turns singing the verses: key of A
Bill Monroe (live) - key of Bb
Ralph Stanley - key of A
Jimmy Martin - key of Bb, modulates to the key of C after the second chorus
Key of G: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQxTop7XtoA
(Notice that this version uses the 6m chord in place of the 1 in the last measure of the 3rd line, and ends with an a capela chorus.)
The Carter Family: Key of Ab
I include this last version purely for historical reasons. Notice that it has 'crooked' timing (half measures being used in place of full measures in various spots within the song), and uses 5511 instead of the much more common 1511 for the last line of the progression.
As it has been played at the Beginner Jam so far, Will The Circle Be Unbroken uses the same chord progression as I'll Fly Away (Prog. V3 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout):
In the key of G: 1 = G, 4 = C, and 5 = D.
In the key of A: 1 = A, 4 = D, and 5 = E.
In the key of Bb: 1 = Bb, 4 = Eb, and 5 = F
Be sure to conceptualize the progression in terms of four 4-measure lines, just as presented above: a line of 1111, followed by a line of 4411, followed by a line that is the same as the first line, namely 1111, followed by the most typical ending line of a progression for vocal bluegrass songs 1511. Do not fall into the trap of thinking of the progression as 1111441111111511: that is: four measures of the 1 chord, followed by two measures of the 4 chord, followed by seven measures of the 1 chord, followed by one measure of the 5 chord, followed by two measures of the 1 chord. That is a very awkward and ineffective way to keep track of where the change to the 5 chord occurs in the progression.
Other songs that use the same chord progression include:
Cryin' Holy (a.k.a., On The Rock Where Moses Stood)
Darling, Say Won't You Be Mine - chorus
Glory, Glory (a.k.a., When I Lay My Burdens Down) - has a melody that is almost the same as the melody for Will The Circle Be Unbroken
I Hear A Choo-Choo Coming
In Despair - verses
It's Mighty Dark To Travel - chorus, and in some versions, the verses as well
Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad (a.k.a., Life's Railway To Heaven) - second half of the verses
Precious Memories - chorus
Sitting On Top Of The World - some versions
Waves On The Sea
When My Time Comes To Go
Will My Mother Know Me There - verses
Songs that use the closely related W3 progression
include Long Gone, Riding On The Midnight Train, Western Hobo, and Won't You Let Me Be Your Friend
Other progressions that have been used on recordings and at jams for Will The Circle Be Unbroken include:
(This is most common alternative progression at bluegrass jams for Will The Circle Be Unbroken.)
(This progression is also used far more often than any other at bluegrass jams in the Boise area for Sitting On Top Of The World.)
(In the key of G: 6m=Em. In the key of A: 6m = F#m. In the key of Bb: 6m = Gm. Etc. The 6m chord is the relative minor chord of the 1 chord.)
Since the person leading the song is responsible for determining which progression will be used for the song, it is important at a jam to pay attention to the choice of chord changes being used by the person leading the song, so that you don't find yourself using a different progression than that used by the leader.
Notice the melody notes in the second line of Will The Circle Be Unbroken. (See the attachments.) The root note of the key is the main note dwelt on during the 4 chord measures (a G note during the C chord measures when in the key of G; an A note during the D chord measures when in the key of A, etc.), the last note in the second of the two 4 chord measures is the 6th note of the Major Scale of the key (an E note when in the key of G; an F# note when in the key of A, etc.), and the note that follows this note is the 5th note of the Major Scale of the key, and this note coincides with the change back to the 1 chord (a D note that coincides with the return to the G chord when in the key of G, an E note that coincides with the return to the A chord when in the key of A). All of this is typical in the second line of songs that use the V3 or W3 progressions. Compare the second line of the melody of 'I'll Fly Away' with the second line of the melody of Will The Circle Be Unbroken:
Notice that while the G Major Scale consists of the 7 notes G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#, only five of these notes are used for the melody of Will The Circle Be Unbroken; these are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes of the G Major Scale: G, A, B, D, and E. This 5-note subset of the G Major Scale forms what is called the G Major Pentatonic Scale.
Knowing which 5 notes of the major scale form the Major Pentatonic scale can be very useful when trying to find the melody of a song on an instrument, because there are many songs like Will The Circle Be Unbroken that have melodies that use only the notes of the Major Pentatonic scale, and even in songs that use more notes, the notes of the Pentatonic Scale tend to show up more frequently than the two major scale notes that are not included in the Major Pentatonic Scale.
Some other songs that use only the notes of the Major Pentatonic Scale in their melodies are: 'Amazing Grace', 'Shortnin' Bread', 'My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains', 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot', 'Canaan's Land', 'Long Journey Home', 'Light At The River', 'Mountain Dew', 'All The Good Times Are Past And Gone', 'Down The Road', 'Foggy Mountain Top', 'Nine Pound Hammer', 'Handsome Molly', 'Camptown Races', 'Come Back Darling','Let Me Be Your Friend','Tom Dooley' and 'Little Liza Jane'.
Just like in Nine Pound Hammer, Foggy Mountain Top, and My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains, the lowest and highest notes of the melody for Will The Circle Be Unbroken are the 5th note of the Major Scale, with the lower 5th and the higher 5th being an octave apart from each other. (D notes when in the key of G; E notes when in the key of A, etc.)
Examples of songs on the current main song list and additional song lists that have one or two more notes in their melodies besides the notes of the Major Pentatonic scale, but which still have for the most part a Major Pentatonic sound because these extra notes occur only once or twice in the melody and/or are used only in passing between two more prominent melody notes in the tune, include: 'I'll Fly Away', 'Cripple Creek', 'Cryin' Holy', 'Mama Don't Allow', 'Gathering Flowers From The Hillside', 'Angeline The Baker' (some versions of the melody for 'Angeline The Baker' are entirely pentatonic), 'I'll Still Write Your Name In The Sand', 'Leaning On The Everlasting Arms', 'Worried Man Blues', 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain', 'O Susanna', 'This Little Light Of Mine', and 'Will You Be Loving Another Man'.
Here is a comparison of the Major Scales and Major Pentatonic Scales for the 8 major keys we play in at the jam:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
G Major G A B C D E F#
G Major Pentatonic G A B D E
A Major A B C# D E F# G#
A Major Pentatonic A B C# E F#
Bb Major Bb C D Eb F G A
Bb Major Pentatonic Bb C D F G
B Major B C# D# E F# G# A#
B Major Pentatonic B C# D# F# G#
C Major C D E F G A B
C Major Pentatonic C D E G A
D Major D E F# G A B C#
D Major Pentatonic D E F# A B
E Major E F# G# A B C# D#
E Major Pentatonic E F# G# B C#
F Major F G A Bb C D E
F Major Pentatonic F G A C D
For Will The Circle Be Unbroken, use the same set of pickups to lead into a break, especially an intro break, that you would use to start Nine Pound Hammer, Little Birdie, or She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain. Notice that the melody of Will The Circle has two pickup notes built into it. These are the same two pickup notes that are built into the melodies of Little Birdie and She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain, and they are also the same as the last two pickup notes that are built into the melody of Nine Pound Hammer. When a song has built-in pickups, it is usually best to include these in one's pickup phrase for leading into a break, rather than selecting pickup notes that don't imply the melody.
Use fill-in licks on the 1 chord measures in the same two places in the progression in your breaks and backup playing for Will The Circle Be Unbroken as in 'I'll Fly Away', 'Nine Pound Hammer', 'Little Birdie', and 'Blue Ridge Cabin Home' (i.e., within the last half of lines 2 and 4):
At jams, it is common for the song to be sung with either 3 or 4 verses:
1. I Was standing by my window...
2. Lord I told that undertaker... (or Well I told that undertaker... or Undertaker, undertaker...)
3. Lord I followed close behind her... (or Well I followed close behind her...)
(4. I went home Lord, my home was lonesome...)
14 songs were played at the jam on Thursday: 12 from the main list, 1 from the additional songs list, and 1 that is on neither list:
All The Good Times Are Past And Gone - A
Beautiful Brown Eyes - G
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - A
Boil The Cabbage Down - A
Buffalo Gals - A
Down The Road - A
Gathering Flowers From The Hillside - G
I'll Fly Away - G
Mama Don't Allow - A
Nine Pound Hammer - A
Will The Circle Be Unbroken - G
Old Joe Clark - A
Wild Mountain Flowers For Mary - D
The chord progression for Wild Mountain Flowers For Mary is Prog. V9 on the Basic Chord Progressions chart. This is the same progression that is used to play 'Banks Of The Ohio', 'Love Me Darling Just Tonight', 'Take This Hammer', 'Give Me My Flowers While I'm Living', 'Just A Closer Walk With Thee', 'Ninety-Nine Years And One Dark Day', and the chorus of 'In The Sweet By And By'.
Lost & Found: Wild Mountain Flowers For Mary - key of F
Will The Circle Be Unbroken - banjo tab
Will The Circle Be Unbroken - guitar tab
Will The Circle Be Unbroken - mandolin tab
Will The Circle Be Unbroken - melody in G
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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