The song of the week is 'Nine Pound Hammer' in the key of B.
Lonesome River Band - key of B
Tony Rice - key of A
The chord progression for Nine Pound Hammer is:
In the key of B: 1=B; 4=E; 5=F#
The B chord consists of: BD#F#; the E chord: EG#B; the F# chord: F#A#C#
Banjo, Guitar, & Dobro: Practicing with a Capo
For guitar, dobro, and especially banjo players who have much less experience playing in B than in G and A: I suggest making it a point to spend some practice time playing with the capo on the 4th fret (with the 5th string, on banjo, spiked/capoed at the 9th fret), for although the fingerings for playing in B will be the same as those for playing in G, the instrument will feel different to play: the frets will be closer together, and the strings will feel a bit tighter; and on banjo, it can get a bit confusing to see the 5th (short) string being located directly above one's left hand when one is playing in first position if one is not used to this.
In order from lowest to highest, the notes that make up the melody of Nine Pound Hammer are:
5 6 1 2 3 5
sol la do re mi sol
key of G: D E G A B D
key of A: E F# A B C# E
key of Bb: F G Bb C D F
key of B: F# G# B C# D# F#
key of C: G A C D E G
key of D: A B D E F# A
key of E; B C# E F# G# B
key of F: C D F G A C
These are the same notes used to play the melodies for 'Foggy Mountain Top', 'My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains', 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken', 'Amazing Grace', 'Long Journey Home', and 'Mountain Dew'.
The melody of the chorus of Nine Pound Hammer starts higher than the melody for the verses, but then ends the same way as the melody for the verses.
In the melody sheets attached here, notice that the first three notes of the melody of 'Nine Pound Hammer' are quarter notes, and that they occur before the first complete measure of the tune. (In cut common time, i.e., 2/2 time, as well as in common time, i.e., 4/4 time, 3 quarter notes make up only three-quarters of a complete measure.) Make it a point to remember these notes, because they will be useful for starting your intro breaks for many other songs that, like 'Nine Pound Hammer', also have as their first melody note in their first complete measure the note that has the same name as both the key that the song is being played in, and the first chord played in the song. (E.g., 'Little Birdie', 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken', 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain'.)
These notes are:
5 5 6 leading to 1
sol sol la do
key of G: D D E G
key of A: E E F# A
key of Bb: F F G Bb
key of B: F# F# G# B
key of C: G G A C
key of D: A A B D
key of E; B B C# E
key of F: C C D F
Fill-in Licks in Backup & Breaks
The 7th measure of each verse and chorus 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 7 through to the first quarter of measure 8 of the progression for Nine Pound Hammer when the song is played in the key of B. These same licks are also good to use in measures 7 to 8, and in measures 15 to 16 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 measures 6 and 14 may lead you more naturally to play the open 3rd string at the beginning of measures 7 and 15 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.
Breaks, Improvisation, and Scales
While the intro break for the song should follow the melody closely enough to make it clear what song is being played before the first verse is sung, Nine Pound Hammer lends itself quite well to lick-oriented improvised breaks that may deviate considerably from the melody. (See especially the second youtube link above for examples of this.) This is a good song to use as a means for practicing any licks that you may have in your repertoire that fit over a line of 1144 or a line of 1511 for the key that you are playing the song in.
On mandolin and fiddle, a good place to get started with finding suitable notes on your instrument to make use of in licks for improvising over Nine Pound Hammer in the key of B is to run through the B Major, B Major Pentatonic, and B Dorian Scales:
B Major Scale = B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B
B Major Pentatonic Scale = B, C#, D#, F#, G#, B
B Dorian Scale = B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A, B
On guitar, banjo, and dobro, run through the equivalent G Scales with the capo on the 4th fret to raise your key of G playing up to the key of B:
G Major Scale = G, A, B, C, D, E. F#, G
G Major Pentatonic Scale = G, A, B, D, E
G Dorian Scale = G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F, G
Fiddle & Mandolin: Double Stops
For fiddlers and mandolin players who do not have much experience playing in B, I have included in the attachments a chart of double stops that will work well in breaks for many songs in the key of B. For best results when using these in a melody-based break, be sure that the melody note is the lower, not the higher, of the two notes in the double stop, and if lingering on a particular double stop, instead of using it merely in passing, be sure that it matches the chord that is being played at the time in the song. For this reason, I have written chord names above each double stop.
When playing without a capo in keys that have a lot of sharps in their key signature, I tend to try to find more spots than usual in my breaks for where I can make good use of 'blue notes': flatted 3rds and flatted 7ths (observe that these are the two notes in the dorian scale that differ from the notes in the major scale) but only to the extent these suit the song. The reason for this is that in these keys, flatted 3rds and flatted 7ths end up being notes that frequently occur in the more 'user-friendly' keys of C, G, D, and A. In the key of B, the flatted 3rd is a D note, and the flatted 7th is an A note. Unlike the 3rd and 7th scale degrees of the B major scale (i.e., D# and A#), both of these 'blue notes' (D and A when in the key of B) are part of the major scale for all the keys that I feel most comfortable playing in without a capo.
Nine Pound Hammer lends itself especially well to the use of blue notes in breaks, so even when playing it in keys that don't have a lot of sharps, I still tend to use about just as many blue notes in improvised breaks for the song. In the key of G, the flatted 3rd and flatted 7th notes are Bb and F respectively.
Closely related to the use of blue notes is the use of 7th chords. One can make good use of 7th chords in improvised breaks during a measure of the 1 chord that is followed by the 4 chord, and also during a measure of the 4 chord that is followed by the 1 chord. 7th chords are created by flatting the 7th major scale degree of the chord being played and adding that note to the chord. E.g., the 7th scale degree of the B major scale is an A# note. Flatting this note (i.e., lowering it by a half step) gives the A note. Adding the A note to a B chord results in an B7 chord. The 7th scale degree of the E major scale is a D# note. Lower this note by a half step and you have a D note. Add the D note to an E chord and this creates an E7 chord. Adding an F note to a G chord makes it a G7, adding a Bb note to a C chord makes it a C7, etc.
When leading the song at the jams, I usually sing all five of the verses that are included in the Tony Rice performance, but with slightly different wording. To these I often add the 'John Henry' verse that is sung in the Lonesome River Band arrangement, using it as the second to last verse. To lengthen the song even more, I sometimes repeat the first verse at the end of the song.
On the other hand, when I wish to reduce the number of verses, so as to allow for a greater number of breaks to be played without making the song last so long, I may sing only three or four verses, usually leaving out the 'ain't one hammer in this tunnel' verse, the 'this nine pound hammer killed John Henry' verse, and sometimes also the 'when I'm long gone, you can make my tombstone' verse.
The lyrics for the chorus that follows the verse that begins with '(there) ain't one hammer in this tunnel' are different from the lyrics for the other choruses in the song. Instead of 'Roll on buddy, don't you roll so slow', etc.,' the lyrics I sing for this chorus are: 'Rings like silver, shines like gold, rings like silver and shines like gold.' I sometimes also alter the first half of the chorus that follows the 'when I'm long gone' verse to: 'Roll on buddy, pull your load of coal'.
15 songs were played at the jam on Thursday: 14 from the main list, and 1 from the additional songs list:
All The Good Times Are Past And Gone - G
Angeline The Baker - D
Cripple Creek - A
Down The Road - D
Long Journey Home - A
Mama Don't Allow - G
My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains - G
Nine Pound Hammer (played twice) - G & B
Old Joe Clark - A
Shortnin' Bread - G
Soldier's Joy - D
Sweetheart You Done Me Wrong - C
Way Down Town - A
Will The Circle Be Unbroken - G
Jambalaya - C
Nine Pound Hammer - banjo tab in B
Nine Pound Hammer - guitar tab in B
Nine Pound Hammer - mandolin tab in B
Nine Pound Hammer - melody in B
Double Stops for Fiddle & Mandolin - key of B
A Chord Fill-in Licks
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