Mama Don't Allow
The song of the week is 'Mama Don't Allow' in the key of A.
The first two of the three recorded versions of Mama Don't Allow given below are very different from each other. The first, from Flatt and Scruggs, is a straightforward Bluegrass studio recording arrangement of the song, featuring only three lead instruments (banjo, fiddle, and dobro), while the second, from Doc Watson, has more of a jam feel to it, and, in addition to featuring traditional Bluegrass instruments (mandolin, banjo, guitar, etc.) it also includes and features some instruments that are not among the first instruments that usually come to mind when one thinks of Bluegrass (drums, piano).
Flatt & Scruggs - key of G
Doc Watson - key of A
Jason Homey & The Snake River Boys - key of A (starts at 12:09)
Jason Homey and the Snake River boys, IBA Open Mic, 10_22_19 - YouTube
Here are four jam videos I have made for Mama Don't Allow. I recommend playing along with the one listed first, in which I am on guitar playing the song in the key of A, and with the one listed third, in which I am on mandolin (also in the key of A).
Jason’s YouTube Links – Alphabetical Listing – Parisology (cyberplasm.com)
The chord progression for Mama Don't Allow is:
(Progression V2 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout.)
In the key of A: 1=A; 4=D; 5=E
In the key of G: 1=G; 4=C; 5=D.
This is a very useful progression to know by heart, for it is very common. It is the same progression that is used to play the well-known folk songs 'When The Saints Go Marching In', 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain', 'Froggy Went A Courting', and some versions of 'Red River Valley'. Three other songs that I believe are especially well worth familiarizing oneself with that also use the same progression are: 'The Crawdad Song' (a folk song adapted to Bluegrass that has tended to be popular at previous incarnations of Beginner jam in some of their phases), 'Will You Be Loving Another Man' (a classic Bluegrass song from Bill Monroe, very well-known in Bluegrass circles), the verses and breaks, but not the choruses, of 'Why Don't You Tell Me So' (a classic Bluegrass song from Flatt & Scruggs, also very well-known in Bluegrass circles).
I highly recommend making it a point to associate a particular song (or a small group of songs) with each progression on the basic chord progressions handout, that you are really familiar with whenever this is possible. Songs that you have known and, better yet, sung since childhood, and/or songs that were the first song example(s) of a particular progression that you learned to play on your instrument(s) tend to work best for this purpose.
For a progression on the chart that you do not yet have a direct useful point of reference for, you might find it helpful to think of the progression in terms of its relation to a progression that is similar to it that you are able to easily associate with a particular song or group of songs.
Use of Fill-ins in Backup Playing
While listening to the recordings provided here, observe that the instruments not only take turns doing breaks, as determined by the lyrics, but also take turns being featured as the dominant backup instrument behind the vocals. As soon as the name of the instrument is mentioned in the first line of the verse, this is an opportunity for that instrument to play a fill-in lick during the two measures of 'dead space' that occur in the vocal between the last syllable of the first line of the verse and the first syllable of the second line of the verse. Two measure length 'dead' spaces' occur also after the last syllable of the second line and after the last syllable of the fourth line; so, in each verse there are three different spots where the appropriate instrument can announce its presence by playing a fill-in lick in anticipation of its upcoming break.
In the recorded versions, most of the fill-in licks used are not among the simpler ones to learn to play. In addition to the melody sheets for Mama Don't Allow, I have included in the attachments examples of a round of backup for each of the five instruments (including bass) that are almost always present at the jams. These sheets give examples of more widely accessible fill-in licks for each of the instruments, and show where to put the fill-ins in the progression. In the measures that I have left blank on the sheets, just play what you usually play for backup. (There are two example sheets given for banjo, since, depending on what order in which one learns one's rolls, chord shapes, etc., some banjo players are likely to find the set of fill-ins on the first sheet considerably easier to play than the set of fill-ins on the second sheet, while other banjo players may find that nearly the exact opposite is the case for them.)
On the backup sheets, 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 measure begins. 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 rest of equivalent time value in place of the note in parentheses that occurs at the beginning of the measure. In other cases, you may find yourself playing some other suitable note or notes in place of the ones in parentheses.
Bluegrass songs typically contain at least 2 'dead spaces' in each 16-measure-length verse and in each 16-measure-length chorus that are long enough for a fill-in lick to be used during them. Depending on whether there are pickup notes leading into the next line of the song, these 'dead spaces' will last anywhere from one measure to two measures. These are always opportunities for fill-in licks to be played by a lead instrument. On bluegrass recordings, you may notice that the lead instruments usually take turns being featured as the dominant backup instrument. This same thing occurs also at jams. Mama Don't Allow is a good song to use to start to get the hang of doing this, for the lyrics of song draw attention directly to the fact that that is what is going on in the backup, and so there need never be any doubt in this song as to which lead instrument should be featured at any given time.
Notice that during the final verse of Mama Don't Allow on the Doc Watson recording, several instruments play fill-in licks during the 'dead spaces' simultaneously. This is because the break that follows this verse is an 'everybody' break. For, in the final verse, Doc does not name an instrument. The same thing happens at the jams when, instead of naming an instrument in a verse, I sing "Mama don't 'low no bluegrass music 'round here."
As I sing it, the melody of Mama Don't Allow consists of 6 notes. In ascending order of pitch these are:
5 6 1 2 b3 3
Key of G: D E G A Bb B
Key of A: E F# A B C C#
Key of Bb: F G Bb C Db D
Key of B: F# G# B C# D D#
Key of C: G A C D Eb E
Key of D: A B D E F F#
Key of E: B C# E F# G G#
Key of F: C D F G Ab A
The b3 note is not part of the major scale. It is borrowed from the minor scale, and is commonly referred to as a 'blue note'. This note occurs during the second of the two 4 chord measures in line 3 of the melody. When the b3 note is added to the 4 chord a (dominant) 7th chord is created. (E.g., adding a C note to a D chord results in a D7 chord; adding a Bb note to a C chord results in a C7 chord.)
With the exception of the 4 chord measures in line 3, there is not much to the melody of Mama Don't Allow. So when creating a break for this song, try to do more than just merely shuffle (or on banjo, roll) through the melody. Make use of fill-in licks, and any other licks you know that will fit over the chords being played. These licks need not always imply the melody. Notice that in many of the breaks on the recordings, licks are used that have little or nothing to do with the melody of the song.
As commonly played at jams, the bass player is given a break on Mama Don't Allow, whereas for most other songs this is not done. Bass breaks for this song are not usually melody-based, so in place of a melody sheet for bass, I have included a bass break for Mama Don't Allow in A that is similar to the one played on the Snake River Boys live performance of the song given in the recordings section at the top of this write-up.
I have also included in the attachments a banjo tab that illustrates a very common way for all instruments to play backup during a bass break. Since this is significantly different from how backup is played on the instruments during banjo, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle breaks, I recommend taking a glance at this sheet if you do not have much experience with playing backup during a bass break, and I also recommend listening to and playing along with the mandolin jam video for Mama Don't Allow that I provided the link for in the jam videos section of this write-up.
While I have written the backup sheet for the bass break only in banjo tab, I have included it here not only for the sake of banjo players. Guitar, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, harmonica players, etc., can also use it to get an idea of what to do for backup during a bass break on Mama Don't Allow at the jams. Translated into guitar terms, for instance, the sheet indicates that one would play a strum for the specified chord at the beginnings of measures 1,3,5,7,9,11,13, and 14 and only allow the notes of the chord to ring on for the space of a quarter note (there should be dead silence from the backup instruments in all the places where rests are written on the page), and then play a fill-in lick starting in measure 15 and extending into the beginning of measure 16 before resuming one's ordinary way of playing backup again. On guitar, the most typical fill-in to use here would be some form of the 'G-run'. For one example of the 'G-run', refer to measure 15 plus the first note in measure 16 on the attached sheet titled 'Mama Don't Allow - guitar - fill-ins in backup.'
For the verse that is sung right before the bass break, the way that we have played backup on this verse so far at the jams, since they resumed in September, also differs from how we have played backup for the other verses. At the beginning of measure 3 of lines 1 and 2, we have played a quarter note (whether that be a single note, a double stop, or a chord) and then we have played nothing during the remainder of the measure and nothing during the measure that follows (i.e., measure 4 of lines 1 and 2), thereby allowing for the fill-ins that our bass player(s) have played in those spots to be more clearly heard. (Refer to the sheet in the attachments titled 'Mama Don't Allow - bass - fill-ins for bass verse' to see examples of bass fill-ins in lines 1 and 2 of a round of backup.) To hear what this sounds like, refer back to the Snake River Boys live performance of Mama Don't Allow in the recordings section: the bass verse starts at 13:54 in the video.
The last 3 notes printed on the six fill-ins in backup sheets in the attachments are the set of pickup notes that I recommend using to lead into most of your breaks for Mama Don't Allow. This is the same set of pickup notes that I offered in a previous song of the week write-up for leading into breaks for Down The Road. The starting melody note of both songs is the same (it is the note that has the same name as the key that the song is being played in), and there are no pickup notes built into the melody of either song.
Singing and leading the song at the jam
The lyrics of Mama Don't Allow are among the easiest to learn of all the songs on the two songs lists provided for the Beginner Jam, and once learned, the lyrics are not easily forgotten.
However, the one thing that can sometimes be challenging about remembering the lyrics to this song is that one needs to keep track of which instruments one has mentioned in each verse so far, so as to not leave any instrument out that is represented at the jam, and so as to not over-feature any of the instruments.
It helps to keep track though if one makes it a point to call each instrument type in the order in which one first encounters each type of instrument, going clockwise around the circle starting from the person who played the intro break for the song until one runs out of other instruments to call and one finally calls the name of the instrument on which the intro break was played. This is the system that I use for calling breaks on most songs at the jam.
For this song, I don't usually call the breaks as each verse is ending. The person singing the verses is calling the breaks simply by virtue of singing the name of an instrument in any given verse. The only times when I have felt a real need to call a break on this song is when either: a) I had failed to mention before the song started that the verse 'Mama don't 'low no bluegrass music round here' (or something similar to this) is - at least in the context of how our jam operates - a way of calling a collective 'everybody' break, and it seemed doubtful to me that enough people had caught on to this in time before the break was about to begin; or b) it seemed obvious that people were not catching on to which instrument was named by the person singing.
This latter scenario occurs almost any time, for instance, when a singer abbreviates mandolin as 'mando': many people mistake this for 'banjo'. So, even though it is not as easy to squeeze a three-syllable instrument name into the verses as it is to sing a two-syllable instrument name, I find that it is best to sing 'mandolin' instead of 'mando' during the mandolin verse.
15 songs were played at last night's jam: 7 from the main list, 3 from the additional songs list, and 5 that are on neither list:
Buffalo Gals - A
Bury Me Beneath The Willow - G
Foggy Mountain Top - G
I'll Fly Away - C
Little Birdie - Bb
Mama Don't Allow - A
Shortnin' Bread - A
Leaning On The Everlasting Arms - A
Lonesome Road Blues - G
Worried Man Blues - A
Away In A Manger - G
Silver Bells - C
Silent Night - C
Auld Lang Syne - G
Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem - Bb
Have a Merry Christmas!
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