The song of the week is 'Way Down Town' in the key of E.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Doc Watson - key of D
Tony Rice - key of D
Doc and Merle Watson - key of E
The chord progression for Way Down Town is:
This is Progression W10 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout.
Notice that: 1) the progression starts with the 4 chord rather than the 1 chord; 2) the two halves of the progression are identical; 3) the chord changes occur consistently once every two measures; and 4) each line of the progression ends with 2 measures of the 1 chord.
In the key of E: 1=E, 4=A, 5=B
In the key of D: 1=D, 4=G, 5=A
In the key of C: 1=C, 4=F, 5=G
The notes that make up the E chord are: EG#B
The notes that make up the A chord are: AC#E
The notes that make up the B chord are: BD#F#
Together, these 7 notes make up the E major scale: (four sharps:) EF#G#ABC#D#.
Notice that on the recordings, there is not even one single instance in which one or more extra measures of the 1 chord are added on to the progression at the end of a break before the next verse or chorus starts. This is typical for songs in which the progression for the verses starts with the 4 chord instead of the 1 chord.
If one were to allow extra measures of the 1 chord to go by at the end of a break before starting the next verse or chorus, the people playing the song with you would not have enough warning as to when to change from the 1 chord (that the progression ends with) to the 4 chord (that the progression begins with) to smoothly transition from the 1 to the 4, unless you were to consistently allow the same number of extra measures of the 1 to elapse, and inform the people playing with you in advance of that, but that is a rather awkward thing to do at a jam.
Since it doesn't work well to allow a random number of extra measures to go by at the end a break before the next vocal part starts, it is important when leading the song to start singing at the right time, even if one has momentarily forgotten the lyrics: hum, mumble (loudly), or make words up on the fly, until one can remember the lyrics for the part of the verse or chorus that is being played. Failure to start singing at the right time may confuse enough of the people playing with you to the point where the song falls apart entirely.
Other songs that use the same progression as Way Down Town include: Gold Watch And Chain, This Land Is Your Land (both of which are on the additional songs list), Back Up And Push, Rubber Dolly, the B-Parts of Home Sweet Home, Randy Lynn Rag, and Red Wing, and the choruses of Cash On The Barrelhead, How Mountain Girls Can Love, Montana Cowboy, Shall We Gather At The River, Snow Deer, and Think Of What You've Done.
Progression Side Note
There is one song on the additional songs list (Little Darling Pal Of Mine) that uses the closely related V10 progression (same as W10 except that the last line is 1511 instead of 5511) for which people at jams often mistakenly play the W10 progression (the progression for Way Down Town, This Land Is Your Land, etc.). It seems to me that the two main factors that contribute to this are: 1) The W10 progression is by far more common than the V10 progression, and 2) The melody of This Land Is Your Land is very similar to the melody for Little Darling Pal Of Mine, and of the two songs, This Land Is Your Land is the more well known.
As the new beginner jam progresses beyond its initial phase, and more and more of the regulars expand their bluegrass music listening repertoire, and otherwise increase their familiarity with the bluegrass genre, This Land Is Your Land will be removed from the additional songs list, but the similar-sounding song Little Darling Pal Of Mine will remain on the list (and eventually will likely be transferred to the main list), since it has a closer association with the bluegrass genre than what This Land Is Your Land has.
Closely Related Keys
This section is especially relevant for people who play instruments on which a capo is not ordinarily used.
The key of E is closely related to the key of A. For they share 6 of the 7 notes in common that make up their major scales. (The A Major Scale has a D instead of a D#.) The A Major Scale has 3 sharps instead of 4: ABC#DEF#G#. For their 1,4, and 5 chords, the keys of E and A have two chords in common, the E chord and the A chord. In the key of A, 1=A, 4=D, and 5=E. In the key of E: 1=E, 4=A, and 5=B.
The key of E (4 sharps) is also closely related to the key of B (5 sharps), and therefore can be used as 'gateway' for learning to play in the key of B, just as the key of A can serve as a gateway to the key of E. A# is the note that the B Major Scale has that the E Major Scale does not have, and of its 1, 4, and 5 chords, F# is the chord that the key of B has that the key of E does not have.
The melody of Way Down Town consists of the same six notes that make up the melodies for Beautiful Brown Eyes, New River Train, You Are My Sunshine, the A-Part of Buffalo Gals, and the B-Part (or chorus) of O Susanna. When listed in ascending order of pitch, these correspond to the first six notes of the Major Scale: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or: do-re-mi-fa-sol-la.
When these songs are played in the key of E, the notes that make up their melodies are the very same notes that make up the melodies of All The Good Times Are Past And Gone, Little Birdie, Gold Watch And Chain, Goodnight Irene, This Little Light Of Mine, Worried Man Blues, Your Love Is Like A Flower, and Leaning On The Everlasting Arms when this second group of songs are played in the closely-related key of A. Although the number names of the notes are different for the two keys, the letter names remain the same.
E F# G# A B C#
Key of E: 1 2 3 4 5 6
do re mi fa sol la
Key of A: 5 6 7 1 2 3
sol la ti do re mi
The key of G is related to the key of D in the same way that the key of A is related to the key of E. So, for banjo and guitar players who habitually capo to the 2nd fret for playing in the keys of E and A, and therefore tend to think in the key of D while playing in the key of E, and tend to think in the key of G while playing in the key of A, the information in this section is just as applicable as it is for players of non-capoed instruments.
Just go one letter backwards on the musical alphabet and one whole step lower to convert the letter names given above for the notes, and you will have the letter names for the notes for the keys of D and G instead of for the keys of E and A. The E's become D's, the F#'s become E's, the G#'s become F#'s, etc.
An effective way to lead into a melody-based break for Way Down Town in the key of E is to play the same set of pickup notes that I recommended for last week's song of the week Down The Road when played in the key of A:
E F# G# leading to A (the first melody note)
Key of E: 1 2 3 4
Key of A: 5 6 7 1
When Way Down Town is played in the key of E and Down The Road is played in the key of A, they share the same starting melody note (the A note), and the same starting chord (the A chord)
Transposed to the key of D (for Way Down Town) and G (for Down The Road): the pickups become:
D E F# leading to G (the first melody note)
Key of D: 1 2 3 4
Key of G: 5 6 7 1
Fiddle & Mandolin: Easy Double Stops
Notice that, in first position, the melody is carried on only the 2nd and 3rd strings. It is convenient that the 1st string on the fiddle and on the mandolin is tuned to an E note, for both the E and the A chords contain that note. Therefore, the open first string can be played along with the melody notes that occur on the 2nd string during the E and A chord measures to create double stops.
Way Down Town has dead spaces in its melody on the 1 chord measures that occur at the ends of lines 2 and 4. These are the same spots where the dead spaces occur in Little Birdie, I'll Fly Away, Nine Pound Hammer, Bury Me Beneath The Willow, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Foggy Mountain Top, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, All The Good Times Are Past And Gone, and too many songs on the additional songs lists to name here. To fill up some of these dead spaces, try to make use of the simple E chord fill-in licks provided in the attachments when playing your breaks and when playing backup if you do not already have fill-in licks in your repertoire of licks that work for playing over an E chord.
Banjo: Capo 2, Spike 9
I recommend that banjo players try to play this song with the capo on the 2nd fret and with the fifth string capoed, or spiked to a 'b' note, i.e., 9th fret, playing as if in the key of D. This way the melody can be located on the 3rd and 4th strings at the very same locations as is most common for melody notes for songs played in the key of G (or with a capo, A, Bb, etc.) See the attached banjo tab melody sheet.
Guitar: Capo 2 or 4
Guitar players will probably want to capo either to the second fret to play as if in D (1=D; 4=G; 5=A) or to the fourth fret to play as if in C (1=C; 4=F; 5=G). The latter option will work better for those who wish to play a Carter-style break for Way Down Town, but the first option lends itself more easily to the use of 'blue notes' (b3 and b7 notes: in the key of D, these notes are F's and C's: called b3 and b7 respectively because they are each a half step lower than the 3rd and 7th notes of the D Major Scale, namely F# and C# notes) which can also sound good when used in appropriate spots in breaks for this song. Therefore, I have included two melody sheets in the attachments in guitar tab.
The set of lyrics that I sing for the chorus of Way Down Town are printed on the melody sheets in the attachments.
The three verses I sing for the song begin as follows:
In the key of E (and in number names, for the sake of transposition to other keys):
Starting note Ending note Range of notes
(lowest to highest)
Tenor harmony part: C# (6) G# (3) G# - E (3 - 1)
Melody (lead part): A (4) E (1) E - C# (1 - 6)
Baritone harmony part: E (1) B (5) B - A (5 - 4)
The tenor part is higher than the melody, and the baritone part is lower than the melody.
If one lowers the tenor part an octave, so that it becomes lower than both the melody and the baritone part, the resulting harmony part is called in bluegrass circles 'the low tenor'. (Try this for Way Down Town when played in the key of E if you have a very low pitched singing voice.)
If one raises the baritone part an octave, so that it becomes higher than both the melody and the tenor part, the resulting harmony part is called in bluegrass circles 'the high baritone'. If your vocal range is typical for a bluegrass tenor singer, but the tenor part is already being sung by someone (or, at our jam, perhaps by more than one person, but no one is singing the high baritone), try going up to the high baritone part when Way Down Town is played in the key of E. This is also a good option if you have a really high pitched voice, and you find that the tenor part is a bit too low for you to sing audibly on its lowest notes.
20 songs were played at the jam on Thursday: 16 from the main list, 3 from the additional songs list, and 1 that is on neither list:
All The Good Times Are Past And Gone - A
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - A
Boil The Cabbage Down - A
Buffalo Gals - A
Bury Me Beneath The Willow (played twice) - G & C
Cripple Creek - A
Down The Road - A
I'll Fly Away - G
Little Birdie - C
My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains - G
New River Train - F
Nine Pound Hammer - A
Shortnin' Bread - G
Soldier's Joy - D
Way Down Town - E
Will The Circle Be Unbroken - A
O Susanna - G
Old Joe Clark - A
This Land Is Your Land - G
In The Pines - A
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