The song of the week is 'Soldier's Joy'. It is one of the more popular traditional fiddle tunes in Bluegrass circles, but one will hear it played not only at Bluegrass jams, but also at Old-Time jams, at square dances, contradances, and even sometimes at Irish sessions.
Soldier's Joy follows the most typical form for traditional fiddle tunes: AABB (can be thought of as: verse, verse, chorus, chorus, if this helps), with each A-Part and each B-Part being 8 measures long. (Total: 32 measures). Like most traditional fiddle tunes, there is only one key that it is usually played in: in this case 'D'.
The chord progression that we use at the beginner jam for 'Soldier's Joy' is the one that I have heard most frequently at Bluegrass Jams and on Bluegrass recordings of the tune. It is:
1 1 1 5
1 1 1/5 1
1 4 1 5
1 4 1/5 1
In the key of D: 1 = D; 4 = G; 5 = A.
Here are some good versions of 'Soldier's Joy' to listen to:
Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys (guitar & fiddle breaks) (starts at 3:50) - key of D
Larry Rice and the Bottom Dollar Boys (mandolin, fiddle, Scruggs-style banjo: tuned GCGBD, & guitar breaks) - key of D
Earl Scruggs & John McEuen: a good example of Scruggs-style banjo and Clawhammer banjo being played together. Scruggs' banjo is tuned GCGBD; John McEuen's banjo is tuned GCGCE. Note: since there is no fiddle or mandolin here, they get away with playing Soldier's Joy in C (no capo) instead of D (capo 2).
'To capo or not to capo'
Many banjo players and some guitar players prefer to play Soldier's Joy in D by capoing to the 2nd fret and then playing it as if in 'C'. For this reason, I have included both key of D and key of C melody tabs for banjo and guitar in the attachments.
If you have the capo on the 2nd fret for playing Soldier's Joy in D, then your chord shapes need to be the same as those for playing in the key of C without a capo: 1=C; 4=F; 5=G.
Note: On banjo, no matter which of these two options you choose: capo 2 or no capo, you will need to raise your 5th string up to an A note (i.e., spike/capo your 5th string to the 7th fret) in order to be able to play an effective Scruggs-style or Clawhammer-style break.
Most Scruggs-style banjo players who prefer the capo 2 option tune their 4th string down a whole step so as to retain access to the lowest melody note in the tune when playing within the first 5 frets. (This is called 'C tuning': without the capo the 4th string will be tuned down to a C note. With the capo on the 2nd fret, the 4th string will then register as a D note when not fretted. See the attachment: 'BBJ - Soldier's Joy - banjo tab C tuning'.)
Most clawhammer banjo players play Soldier's Joy either by tuning to Double C tuning: GCGCD or Open C tuning: GCGCE, and then capo to the 2nd fret in order to be playing in D. I have included a Double C tuning banjo melody tab in the attachments.
Since the most effective way to start most fiddle tunes at a jam is by playing an 8 potato intro before starting into the first A-Part of your intro break, I have included an attachment that gives 8 potato intros suitable for Soldier's Joy and most other key of D fiddle tunes, for fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and banjo.
An 8 potato intro, reduced to its most basic form, essentially consists of droning the note that has the same name as the key of the tune in a highly rhythmic fashion for 4 measures. Accenting the first pickstroke (or, on fiddle, bowstroke) of each measure of the intro is crucial to an effective 8 potato intro, so as to make it unmistakably clear where each of the measures that make up the intro begin and end; it also helps to accent the first pickstroke/bowstroke of the second half of each measure, but this accent should not be quite as heavy as the accent on the beginning of the measure.
Choose a version of the 8 potato intro that works for you, but don't wait until you are at the jam to 'practice' it. Make it habit to always start most of your fiddle tunes with 8 potato intros when you are practicing at home so that you will be better prepared to effectively use 8 potato intros when playing with others.
'Soldier's Joy' is one of those tunes which - in one and the same version - is often played both with so many melody notes that there is little room left for additional 'filler' notes (i.e., as many as 8 melody notes per measure), and with the bare minimum of melody notes necessary to retain the identity of the tune (no more than 3 or 4 melody notes per measure).
In my many years of experience with listening to hundreds of versions of this tune and playing it in a wide variety of jam situations, I have found that in playing 'Soldier's Joy', Bluegrass and Irish fiddlers and melodic (Keith) style banjo players tend towards trying to squeeze in as many melody notes as possible, while Scruggs-style and Clawhammer banjo players and Dobro players tend to play as few melody notes as necessary. Old-Time fiddlers, mandolin players, and flatpickers tend to fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
For fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, I have included in the attachments melody tabs with 'few melody notes' and melody tabs with 'more melody notes'.
If you are not ready for a 'more melody notes' type version, then, to the extent that you are able to, try to add some filler notes to a 'few melody notes' version.
Even for the 'more melody notes' versions, filler notes should be added in at least some spots so as to avoid playing half notes. Whenever you play a half note (or a note or even longer duration) in a break, you are decreasing your degree of control over the tempo and feel of the tune at that point.
I have not included 'more melody notes' tabs for banjo, since that would take us well beyond Scruggs-style and traditional Clawhammer banjo into the realm of Melodic and Single-string style playing. If you are a three-finger style player, fill in the blanks with the Scruggs-style picking patterns you know how to play when these are feasible to use around the melody. If you are a clawhammer player, fill in the blanks with 'bum-ditty' figures and - if this is part of your playing - a few rhythmic drop-thumb figures here and there when they fit.
There are many more extra melody notes that may occur in versions of Soldier's Joy, but, for the phase that the beginner jam is currently in, I didn't think it would be appropriate at this time to include any more notes in a melody sheet for Soldier's Joy than what is already included on the 'more (melody) notes' melody sheets.
But, if you are feeling ambitious, and if you believe that you are ready for this, you can find some of these extra melody notes by applying the 'checkmark' pattern to the first half of measures 2 and 6 of the B-Part (notice the checkmark pattern in measures 1, 3, and 5 of the B-Part on the 'more melody notes' tabs when compared with the 'few melody notes' tabs), and upside down 'checkmarks' to the second half of measures 1, 3, and 5 of the B-Part.
For a description of the checkmark pattern and how to apply it to melodies, refer back to the beginner jam song of the week email for 'Buffalo Gals', which is here::