The song of the week is 'Boil The Cabbage Down' in the key of A.
Like a lot of other traditional fiddle tunes and folk songs that have been absorbed into bluegrass, there are many noticeably different versions of Boil The Cabbage Down. At bluegrass jams, one of the more common ways of playing it is as an instrumental in the key of A with the typical fiddle-tune form AABB, and that is how we will play it at the beginner jam when it is played during the first half of the evening. Alternate versions of the song are welcome to be introduced during the second half of the evening.
AABB means that the tune has two parts (A-Part = first part; B-Part = second part), each of which is played through twice before going on to the next part.
Like many other fiddle tunes, each A-Part and each B-Part is 8 measures long. Therefore, it takes 32 measures (8x4) to get through a complete break for Boil The Cabbage Down.
On the Tommy Jackson fiddle instrumental recording, Boil The Cabbage Down is played as a three-part tune: the tune is played through twice using the form AABBCC, and then deviates from there, being played as AABBAACCAA.
In contrast to this, The Grascals' vocal version uses only the A-Part of the tune.
The chord progression for the A-Part (and also for Tommy Jackson's C-Part) is:
1 4 1 5
1 4 1/5 1
This is Progression Y7 on the 'Basic Chord Progressions' handout.
The chord progression for the B-Part is:
1 1 1 5
1 4 1/5 1
This is Progression Y2 on the 'Basic Chord Progressions' handout.
'1/5' means that the measure is split between the 1 chord and the 5 chord.
In the key of A: 1=A. 4=D, 5=E.
Banjo players and most bluegrass guitar players habitually capo to the 2nd fret for playing in the key of A, so their chord shapes will be the same as those for the 1,4, and 5 chords in the key of G, which are: 1=G, 4=C, 5=D.
Boil The Cabbage Down mandolin lesson:
I recommend this not only for mandolin players, but for anyone who wishes to get a better handle on the melody of the tune and the difference between the A-Part and the B-Part of the tune. You might notice that my version of the melody for the B-Part (see the attached melody sheets) differs a bit from the version of the melody used here, but this kind of variance in interpretation of the melody from one person to the next is quite common within bluegrass and old-time music, especially on fiddle tunes.
Fiddle players should be aware that the mandolin is tuned the same way as the fiddle, so the fingering positions are identical on both instruments. The mandolin breaks in the youtube link - including the one that uses double stops (i.e., two strings being played simultaneously) can be played note for note on the fiddle just as easily as on the mandolin.
John Hartford & The Dillards (starts at 1:05)
The opening fiddle break follows the form AABB, but the banjo break that comes after it plays AAAA. The remainder of the arrangement consists mostly of variations on the A-Part and improvisational playing over the chord progression for the A-Part.
The form for the breaks is ABB and the form for the vocal sections is AB, but with the high part being used as the A-Part (i.e., the first part), and the low part being used as the B-Part (i.e., the second part), which is the opposite of what we will be using as the A and B Parts at the jam.
Melody & Breaks: Fiddle, Mandolin, and Guitar
In the attachments, I have included the basic melody for Boil The Cabbage Down in standard notation, mandolin tab, banjo tab, and guitar tab.
For fiddle, mandolin, and guitar players who wish to create simple break based upon the basic melody, I recommend applying a constant shuffle rhythm to the melody. That simply means playing a constant pattern of one quarter note followed by two 8th notes. Two cycles through this pattern is the length of one measure of music in cut time (2/2), and is counted as: 1 &a2 &a. In the attachments, I show what this rhythm looks like when applied to the first 4 measures of the melody for the B-Part of Boil The Cabbage Down (see the attachment titled 'Shuffle Rhythm Example'.)
Melody & Breaks: Banjo
For banjo players who wish to create a simple melody-based break for Boil The Cabbage Down, I recommend applying one type of roll pattern across the board to the whole tune. For this purpose, the two roll patterns that work best to apply to the whole tune are the alt. thumb roll and the forward roll. (See the attachment: 'Fitting Rolls Around the Melody' for examples of this.)
Remember, on banjo, there is more than one convenient location within the first few frets for some of the notes; in particular, banjo players will often get the B note on the 4th fret of the 3rd string instead of using the open 2nd string, so that they can slide into the B note, and so that they can put an alternating thumb or reverse roll around it. Likewise, they will often get the D note on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string instead of using the open 1st string, so that they can hammer into the D note, and so that they can avoid starting a roll on the 1st string.
For those who wish to create a more complex melody-based break for Boil The Cabbage, I recommend making use of several different roll patterns: experiment with them to discover for yourself at which points in the break you find that one roll works better than another to carry the melody.
Have a happy New Year!