The song of the week is 'Little Birdie' in the key of Bb.
Red Smiley - key of A
The Stanley Brothers - key of Eb
Lonesome River Band - key of B
The chord progression I use for Little Birdie is;
On the Basic Chord Progressions handout, this is the first half of Progression V9 (and Progression W9) played through twice.
1 5 Guitar & Banjo Banjo 5th string tuned to
Key of G G D No capo, play in G G
Key of A A E Capo 2, play as if in G A
Key of Bb Bb F Capo 3, play as if in G Bb (=A#)
Key of B B F# Capo 4, play as if in G B
Key of C C G No capo, play in C G
or Capo 5, play as if in G C
Key of D D A Capo 2, play as if in C A
or No capo, play in D A
Key of Eb Eb Bb Capo 3, play as if in C Bb (=A#)
or Capo 1, play as if in D Bb (=A#)
Key of E E B Capo 4, play as if in C B
or Capo 2, play as if in D B
Key of F F C Capo 5, play as if in C C
or Capo 3, play as if in D C
Note for Banjo Players: Tuning the fifth string up to A, Bb, B, and C notes is usually done with the help of either a 5th string capo or spikes. For the A note, the 5th string is capoed or spiked at the 7th fret. For the Bb note, the 5th string is capoed or spiked at the 8th fret. For, the B note, the 5th string is capoed or spiked at the 9th fret. For the C note, the 5th string is capoed or spiked at the 10th fret. For banjo players who use spikes but, like me, do not have 8th and 10th fret spikes, for the Bb note, spike the 5th string at the 7th fret and then manually tune it up a half step to a Bb (A#) note, and for the C note, spike the 5th string at the 9th fret and then manually tune it up a half step higher to a C note.
Caution: If you try to tune the 5th string up to B and C notes without the help of spikes or a 5th string capo, don't be surprised if the string breaks. Even tuning the 5th string up to A and Bb notes without the help of a spike or a 5th string capo can be risky, especially if your strings are old. Also, tuning one string up manually a whole step or more will put the other four strings out of tune enough on most banjos that you will likely need to retune all five strings in order to be reasonably in tune.
On the Red Smiley recording, half a measure of the 5 chord is deleted from the last line of the progression during the banjo break. Two extra measures of the 1 chord are added to the progression at the end of the first two breaks, and one extra measure of the 1 chord is added to the progression at the end of the third (last) break.
On the Stanley Brothers recording, an extra measure of the 1 chord is added to the end of the last line of the first three breaks, and two extra measures of the 1 chord are added to the end of the last line of the fourth break. Lines 1 and 3 of the verses are lengthened sometimes to six and half measures, and at other times to seven measures, with the last three of the measures being where the 5 chord is played. Line 2 of each verse is six measures long: 551111. The first and fourth verses are twenty-three measures long, the second verse is twenty-four measures long, and the third verse is twenty-three-and-a-half measures long.
On the Lonesome River Band recording, the progression is:
with an extra two measures of the 1 chord being added to the end of the progression for the breaks, the first chorus, and the second verse.
Key of Bb: Tips for Fiddle & Mandolin Players
Some may find it helpful to think of a less familiar key in relation to a more familiar key. One way of approaching playing in Bb is to think of the key of Bb in relation to the key of A. Bb is a half-step higher than A. Therefore, if one raises by a half-step all the notes of the A major scale, or all of the notes of a melody played in A, this will result in playing in the key of Bb:
The corresponding notes of the A and Bb Major Scales are as follows:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
A Major Scale: A B C# D E F# G#
Bb Major Scale: Bb C D Eb F G A
For mandolin players who play closed position chords (no open strings being played), this way of approaching playing in less familiar keys can be especially useful. For instance, to find the 1, 4, and 5 chords for the key of Bb (Bb. Eb, and F), one can just simply take the chord shapes that one uses for the 1, 4, and 5 chords for the key of A (A, D, E) and move them up one fret higher, knowing that this will result in the corresponding 1, 4, and 5 chords for the key of Bb. The same principle applies also to closed-position (no open strings) double stops on mandolin and fiddle.
In ascending order of pitch, the melody notes for Little Birdie are:
5 6 7 1 2 3
sol la ti do re mi
Key of G: D E F# G A B
Key of A: E F# G# A B C#
Key of Bb: F G A Bb C D
Key of B: F# G# A# B C# D#
Key of C: G A B C D E
Key of D: A B C# D E F#
Key of Eb: Bb C D Eb F G
Key of E: B C# D# E F# G#
Key of F: C D E F G A
On the attached melody sheets, the choice of notes, and the timing of the notes coincide for the most part with how Red Smiley sings the first verse on the recording. It is the first half of measure 4 of line 3 that is omitted in the banjo break on the Red Smiley recording.
In the banjo breaks on the Stanley Brothers recording, Ralph Stanley extends the second melody note in measures 1 and 9 a half-measure longer than what is shown in the attached melody sheets. (In singing the verses, Ralph also extends these same notes, but for longer than just one-and-a-half measures). But then, by omitting in his breaks half of the 4th and 12th measures shown on the melody sheets, the result is that lines 1 and 3 of his breaks end up being the same length as lines 1 and 3 on the melody sheets (four measures each, not counting the short pickup measure that occurs before the first measure proper of line 1) even though some of his melody notes are played half a measure later than what is shown on the melody sheets.
On the Lonesome River Band recording, in all parts of the song, the second melody note in measures 1 and 9 is extended a full measure longer than what is shown on the melody sheets.
Arrangement & Lyrics
On the Red Smiley recording, the arrangement is: break, verse, break, verse, break, verse, with the last verse being a repeat of the first verse.
On the Stanley Brothers recording, the arrangement is: break, verse, break, verse, break, verse, break, verse. The third and fourth verses start with the same words as the first verse ('Little Birdie, little birdie'). The lyrics for the first half of the first and fourth verses are identical with each other ('Little Birdie, little birdie, won't you sing to me your song').
On both recordings, there are no harmony vocals. This is common in bluegrass arrangements of songs that are sung without a chorus.
On the Lonesome River Band recording, the arrangement is as follows:
The lyrics for the chorus, which is sung with harmony, are essentially the same as the lyrics for Red Smiley's first and last verse, and Ralph Stanley's first verse. But, of the four verses in this arrangement, only the last one is similar to any of the verses on the two other recordings.
When leading Little Birdie at the jams, I have almost always used Ralph's set of lyrics (four verses, no chorus), and to lengthen the arrangement, I usually have called two breaks back to back between the second and third verses, and two or three breaks between the third and fourth verses.
The set of pickup notes that the melody of 'Nine Pound Hammer' starts with are equally effective to use to start an intro break for Little Birdie. Refer back to the section titled 'Pickup Notes' in the recent beginner jam song of the week write-up for Nine Pound Hammer:
On banjo, another effective way to start an intro break for Little Birdie is to play a half-note pinch (e.g., 5th and 1st strings played together simultaneously, lasting for half a measure before the next note is played) followed by the two quarter notes that the melody starts with.
Fill-in Licks in Backup & Breaks
The third measure of lines 2 and 4 of each verse has only one syllable in it, which is sung at the beginning of the measure. And, the measure that follows begins with a rest. During these kinds of 'dead spaces' within the melody of a song, it is very common for a fill-in lick to be played on one or more of the instruments. In the attachments I have included a chart of simple fill-in licks for guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin that will fit well into measure 3 through to the first quarter of measure 4 of lines 2 and 4 of the progression for Little Birdie when the song is played in the key of Bb. These same licks are also good to use in measures 3 to 4 of lines 2 and 4 of your breaks.
On the attached chart of fill-in licks, notes in parentheses are not really part of the fill-in lick proper and may be omitted if they are inconvenient to get into from what you were doing immediately before the fill-in measures begin. For instance, if you are playing chop chords on the fiddle or mandolin right up to the point where the fill-in measure starts, you may wish to substitute a quarter note rest in place of the quarter note in parentheses that occurs at the beginning of the fill-in lick measure. Likewise, the notes you play in a guitar break in measure 2 of lines 2 and 4 may lead you more naturally to play the open 3rd string at the beginning of measure 3 of those lines than to play the note at the 3rd fret of the 6th string. When this happens, just substitute the open 3rd string note in place of the lower note shown in parentheses on the chart.
Compare this section with the 'Fill-in Licks in Backup & Breaks' section in the Nine Pound Hammer song of the week write-up for the beginner jam:
13 songs were played at the jam on Thursday: 12 from the main list, and 1 from the additional songs list:
Beautiful Brown Eyes - G
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - A
Buffalo Gals - A
Cripple Creek - A
Down The Road - A
I'll Fly Away - G
Little Birdie - Bb
Mama Don't Allow - A
My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains - G
Nine Pound Hammer - A
Shortnin' Bread - G
Soldier's Joy - D
Angeline The Baker - D
Little Birdie - Banjo tab G (Capo 3)
Little Birdie - Guitar tab G (Capo 3)
Little Birdie - Mandolin tab in Bb
Little Birdie - Melody in 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