The song of the week is Steel Rails in the key of G.
Alison Krauss - key of E
~ STEEL RAILS ~ Alison Krauss, full version
~ ~ ~ Lyrics ~ ~ ~ Steel rails, chasing sunshine round the bend Winding through the trees, like a ribbon in the wind I don't mind not knowing what lies down the track Cause I'm Looking out ahead, to keep my mind from turning back It's not the first time I've found myself alone and known If I really had you once, then I'd have you when I'm gone ...
1 1 2m 2m
4 5 4 1 1
1 1 2m 2m
4 5 4 1 1
On the recording, the progression for the verses is slightly different: line 2 is played as 45111. For the past 25 years, I have failed to notice this on the recording. I have jammed this song many times over the years with many different people, and not once do I ever recall a different progression being used for the verses than for the choruses and the breaks. So, to keep it simple, when I lead the song at the jam, I will use the same progression for the verses as for the choruses and the breaks, with line 2 consistently being played as 45411.
Even if the progression were 16 or 17 measures long instead of 18 measures long, and even if it did not contain 2m chords, it would still be an unusual progression for a bluegrass song, in that a 5 chord measure is sandwiched between two 4 chord measures. Of the 6 possible chord change sequences involving the 1, 4, and 5 (14, 41, 15, 51, 45, 54) 54 (a 5 followed by a 4) is the least common, and when this order does occasionally show up, the 5 is usually preceded by a 1 rather than by a 4.
Steel Rails ends with a vocal tag that follows the final chorus. The progression for the tag is:
2m 5 5 5 5
4 1 1
and there is a stop at the beginning of the fifth measure.
The 2m Chord
When 1=G, 2m=Am; when 1=A, 2m=Bm; when 1=Bb, 2m=Cm, when 1=B, 2m=C#m, etc. Just as the root note of the 2 (major) chord is always a whole step higher than the root note of the 1 chord, so by the same token, the root note of the 2m chord is always a whole step higher than root note of the 1 chord.
Minor Chords in Major Key Songs
The 2m (two minor) chord is the second most frequently used minor chord in songs played in a major key. The most common minor chord used in major key songs is the 6m, and the third most common (which only very rarely shows up in bluegrass songs) is the 3m.
The 6m is the relative minor of the 1.
The 2m is the relative minor of the 4.
The 3m is the relative minor of the 5.
6m, 2m, and 3m are the only three minor chords that contain no notes in them other than the notes that make up the major scale that has the same letter name as the 1.
For example, the C major scale has no sharps or flats in it, but consists of the 7 natural notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B.
Just as the 1,4, and 5, when 1=C, are the only major chords that contain no sharps or flats in them: C = CEG; F = FAC; G = GBD, so also their relative minors: 6m, 2m, and 3m respectively, when 1=C, are the only minor chords that contain no sharps or flats in them: Am = ACE; Dm = DFA; Em = EGB.
History of Minor Chords in Bluegrass
The use of minor chords in major key songs shows up less frequently on bluegrass recordings from the 40s and the 50s than on recordings from the 60s onward. In the spots in where a minor chord would have been suitable to play, the older recordings more often than not have the major chord that is either the relative major or the parallel major of that minor chord.
For instance, in the spots where it is now standard practice to play a 6m in Down The Road, the original Flatt & Scruggs recording used a 1 instead (1 is the relative major of 6m), and in the spots where it is now standard practice to play a 6m chord in Foggy Mountain Breakdown, a 6 chord was played on the guitar by Lester Flatt on the original recording, even though the 6m chord is so clearly outlined in the banjo breaks (6 is the parallel major of 6m).
2m & 6m vs. 2 & 6
In contrast to the 2 (major) chord, which is almost always immediately followed by a 5 chord, the 2m chord may often be followed just as easily and naturally by a 1, a 4, a 6m, etc., as by a 5 chord. A similar observation may also be made about the 6m chord relative to the 6 (major) chord. The 6 (major) is almost always followed by a 2 (the most notable exception to this being the obsolete practice of sandwiching 6's between 1's in playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown and certain other songs) but the 6m is often followed by a 1, a 4 or a 5.
The song of the week will be 'East Virginia Blues' in the key of F.
The Country Gentlemen - key of G
Ralph Stanley - key of E
(Prog. W4 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout.)
East Virginia Blues may be sung either solo, or, as on the recordings, with harmony all the way through. The song does not have a chorus. The five verses that I sing when leading the song are:
I was born in East Virginia,
North Carolina I did go,
There I met a fair young maiden,
But her name I did not know.
Oh her hair was dark and curly,
And her cheeks were rosy red,
On her breast she wore white linen,
Where I longed to lay my head.
I don't want your greenback dollar,
I don't want your watch and chain,
All I want is your heart darling,
Won't you take me back again.
The ocean's deep and I can't wade it,
And I have no wings to fly,
I'll just get me a blue-eyed boatman,
For to row me over the tide.
I'll go back to East Virginia,
North Carolina ain't my home,
I'll go back to East Virginia,
And leave those North Carolinians alone.
Melody Sheets for Guitar and Banjo
For playing in the key of F, bluegrass guitarists usually either capo the 5th fret and play as if in C, or capo the 3rd fret and play as if in D. In the attachments I have included two melody sheets in guitar tab, one written in C, and one written in D.
For playing in the key of F, 3-finger-style banjo players are faced with many options, some of which are: 1) play in G tuning without a capo; 2) keep the four long strings in G tuning without a capo, but raise the 5th string to an A note; 3) in G tuning, capo the 5th fret, and raise the 5th string to a C note, and play as if in C; 4) in G tuning, capo the 3rd fret and raise the 5th string to a C note, and play as if D; and 5) in D tuning (F#DF#AD or ADF#AD), capo the 3rd fret, and raise the 5th string either to an A note or to a C note, and play as if in D. For playing East Virginia Blues, I favor the first, fourth, and fifth options. Accordingly, I have included in the attachments melody sheets in banjo tab written in F (in G tuning), and D (in D tuning and in G tuning). For the key of D in G tuning, I have given two melody sheets, the second of which is written an octave higher than the first.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!
The song of the week is 'Roving Gambler' in the key of A.
Here is my favorite version of Roving Gambler:
Peter Rowan - key of Bb
The progression I use for Roving Gambler is:
If it helps, you may wish to think of this progression as consisting of the first half of the progression for Long Journey Home (or Gotta Travel On) followed by the last line of the progression for Wildwood Flower (or Leaning On The Everlasting Arms. or Molly And Tenbrooks).
Other songs that have been played at the jam in which a three-line (as opposed to the much more common four-line) progression is used include Rocky Road Blues, Shuckin' The Corn, Molly And Tenbrooks, and the short form (12 measure) version of Worried Man Blues.
The progression given here is the same as that used for the breaks on the recording (minus extra measures of the 1 that go by between the ending of a break and the beginning of the next verse), but not for the verses. On the recording, there are extra measures of the 1 chord at the ends of both lines 2 and 3 in the verses. I keep the progression the same for both the verses and the breaks (once again, not counting any extra measures of the 1 that I might allow to go by between the ending of a break and the beginning of the next verse).
Form & Arrangement
The arrangement I use for Roving Gambler when leading it at the jam is based upon the recording: seven verses, no chorus, with two verses being sung back to back between breaks, with one verse left over to end the song.
Both the form and the arrangement I use for Roving Gambler are nearly identical with the form and arrangement used on the original Bill Monroe recording of Molly And Tenbrooks, a song that has occasionally been played at the jam, except that Molly And Tenbrooks is sung with 9 verses instead of 7, and makes use of a tack-on ending. See to what extent you can detect the similarities in form and arrangement between the two songs.
Molly And Tenbrooks - Bill Monroe
A third song with a similar form and arrangement to Roving Gambler and Molly And Tenbrooks is the version of McKinley's Gone (a.k.a., White House Blues) found on Flatt & Scruggs' Folk Songs Of Our Land album:
The practical advantage of learning to group songs together based upon similarity of form and/or arrangement is the same as the practical advantage of associating songs with each other that have similar progressions or the same progression as each other. It reduces the number of distinct pieces of information to keep track of when learning new songs, or when trying to follow along on new songs that come up at a jam, and this enables one to more quickly and easily expand one's repertoire.
The melody of Roving Gambler consists of the notes of the Major Pentatonic scale which are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes of the Major Scale (A, B, C#, E, and F# in the key of A; G, A, B, D, and E in the key of G, etc.) The first two lines (first 8 measures) of the melody of Roving Gambler are similar to the first two lines of the melody of Long Journey Home, except that the melody goes higher in Roving Gambler in measures 3 and 4 of line 1 than what it does in measures 3 and 4 of line 1 of Long Journey Home. The second lines of the two songs are similar enough that I often use exactly the same notes/licks in a melody-based intro break for the second line of Roving Gambler as the ones that I typically use for the second line of an intro break for Long Journey Home. Keep in mind that good melody-based breaks often do not follow the melody slavishly, but take some liberties with it.
Although Roving Gambler does not have a chorus, it does have repetitions in its lyrics. In these spots, namely, the third (last) line of each verse, it is common for harmony to be sung. The third line of any given verse repeats twice the lyrics that make up the second half of the second line of that verse. (Note: Molly And Tenbrooks has a similar type of repetition at the ends of its verses, but in that song it is not customary for harmony to be sung on the last line of the verses.)
The song of the week is 'Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms' in the key of B.
Flatt & Scruggs - key of Bb
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder - key of B
The chord progression on the recordings is:
(W2 on the basic chord progressions handout)
This progression is often mistaken for the closely related progression:
(V2 on the basic chord progressions handout)
The tempo is 166 beats per minute on the Flatt & Scruggs recording. The song is played even faster than that on the recording of the Kentucky Thunder live performance.
While we may not get the song up to the mid-160s as it goes through its song of the week cycle at the jam, I recommend practicing playing along with the recordings at full speed: for the faster we can play the song at the jam, the better. Last night, we attempted to play it at 150. The speed that I will kick it off at the next three intermediate jams will be determined by the size of the jam group and the combination of people and instruments that we have at each of those jams.
My intention is for us to play the song as fast as we can without getting the beat flipped around. For this purpose, it is important that the bass notes on the bass and the guitars be clearly heard above any chop/vamp rhythms on the off-beats played by the other instruments, and that those who are playing the chop/vamp rhythm make sure that they are playing on the off-beats rather than on the down-beats. If the song is being played too fast for someone to play their chop/vamp rhythm correctly, then that person should find something else to do on their instrument rather than play the chop/vamp rhythm out of time. Besides, the fewer people doing the chop/vamp rhythm at the same time as each other, the less danger there will be for the beat to get flipped around.
Key of B Review
In the key of B: 1=B, 4=E, 5=F#
The notes that make up the B chord are B, D#, and F#.
The notes that make up the E chord are E, G#, and B
The notes that make up the F# chord are F#, A#, and C#.
Together, these notes form the B Major Scale: B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, and A#.
The key of B is closely related to the key of E. The B Major Scale shares all but one of its notes in common with the E Major Scale. (The E Major Scale consist of the notes E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, and D#.) For this reason, of their 1, 4, and 5 chords, the keys of B and E share two chords in common. The 1 chord in the key of B is the same chord as the 5 chord in the key of E, and the 4 chord in the key of B is the same chord as the 1 chord in the key of E.
1 4 5
Key of B: B E F#
Key of E: E A B
For playing in the key of B, bluegrass banjo and guitar players almost always capo to the 4th fret, so that they can use the same fingerings that they would use for playing in the key of G. (In the key of G: 1=G; 4= C; 5=D.)
Here are the corresponding notes of the G and B Major Scales:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
G, A, B, C, D, E, F#
B, C#,D#, E, F#,G#,A#
The song of the week will be 'Down In A Willow Garden' (a.k.a. 'Rose Connelly') in the key of F.
Down In A Willow Garden was recorded by most of the first and second generation big names in bluegrass, and has been recorded many times since then both by bluegrass and non-bluegrass artists. Well-known non-bluegrass singers who have recorded the song include The Everly Brothers, Art Garfunkel, and more recently, Billie Joe Armstrong (lead singer of the pop-punk band 'Green Day') with Norah Jones.
For those interested in the history of the song, check out
The following recordings are representative of the range of ways that first and second generation bluegrass artists played and sang Down In A Willow Garden.
Flatt & Scruggs - key of F
Reno & Harrell - key of G
Charlie Monroe - key of Ab (very sharp, almost A)
The Osborne Brothers with Red Allen - key of G
Ralph Stanley - key of G
The chord progression I use for Down In A Willow Garden is the same as the one on the Flatt & Scruggs and Osborne Brothers recordings:
1 1 1 6m
1 1 6m 6m
1 1 1 6m
1 5 1 1
6m 6m 1 6m
1 1 6m 6m
1 1 1 6m
1 5 1 1
In the key of F, 6m = Dm.
On the Reno & Harrell recording, as well as on the Ralph Stanley recording, the 6 (Major) chord is used in place of the 6m, and on the Charlie Monroe recording, there are some spots where a chord change away from the 1 chord is implied by the melody, yet no clear chord change occurs on the guitar.
Sandwiching 6 Major chords between 1 chords was common in the early days of bluegrass (the original 1949 Flatt & Scruggs recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown is likely the most well-known example of this), but is hardly ever done in bluegrass nowadays. The nearly universal current practice is to use 6m chords (or in some cases where it will work, 4 chords) in such spots.
Nearly all chord progressions one is likely to encounter for 'Down In A Willow Garden' at bluegrass jams that differ from the one I have written out here involve the use of the 4 chord in place of one or more of the 6m measures. The most common spots for the 4 to be used are in the last measure of the 3rd line of the verse and the chorus, and in the first two measures of the chorus.
Here is an example of the 4 being used in all of these spots, and also in the 4th measure of the 1st line of the chorus:
The Lonesome River Band - key of B
The reason why the 6m, 6(M), and 4 chords all work for the measures that I use the 6m in is because the main melody note (in most cases, the only melody note) in those measures is the 6th note of the Major Scale, and all three of those chords contain that note. In the key of F, that note is a D note, and the D note is part of the Dm, D, and Bb chords. Furthermore, the D note forms a dissonance with only one of the notes of the F chord (the C note), and only a mild dissonance at that. This helps to account for the fewer number of changes away from the 1 chord in the Charlie Monroe version.
6m or 4?
If one sticks mostly to playing D and F notes in one's breaks (or backup on instruments that allow for this) on the 'Dm' measures, and makes it a point to avoid A notes, then one need not be too concerned whether a Bb chord is being played in place of an Dm in some of those measures.
Down In A Willow Garden is most often sung solo, but some of the recorded versions included or mentioned here are sung with harmony either on all the vocal parts of the song (e.g., Osborne Brothers), or only on the choruses (e.g., Reno & Harrell).
Although on most of the recordings provided here, breaks are played only over the verse progression and melody, I find it tends to work better when I lead the song at a jam to have the breaks alternate between the verse and chorus progressions when two or more breaks are played back to back. In this respect, the arrangement we will use for the song as it goes through its song of the week cycle is similar to how we almost always play Columbus Stockade Blues at the jam, except that I will usually end the song, not with a vocal chorus, but with two 'everybody' breaks played back to back: the first over the verse progression, and the second over the chorus progression.
The only essential differences between the melodies for the two parts occur in the first two measures of the parts, and once one gets past the first two measures of the chorus, the progression for the chorus is identical with the progression for the verse. So, for a chorus break, all one needs to do is to alter the first two measures of one's verse break to make it fit the chorus progression and melody.
The melody of the Down In A Willow Garden is Major Pentatonic, which means that it uses only the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes of the Major Scale. In the key of F, those notes are F, G, A, C, and D. The melody has an unusually wide range for bluegrass: wider even than (though only by a half-step) the range for the melody of Wildwood Flower. The melody for Down In A Willow Garden spans the same range as the melody for Fireball Mail. In order, from lowest to highest, the notes for both tunes when played in the key of F are: C, D, F, G, A, C, D, F.
Notes to Guitar and Banjo Players
The attached melody sheets in guitar tab, and one set of the melody sheets in banjo tab are written in the key of C (capo 5 for F). To interpret the preceding explanations for the key of C instead of for the key of F, make the following substitutions of letter names for the notes and chords:
Key of F: F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E
Key of C: C, D, E, F, G, A, B
The set of banjo tab melody sheets written in F contain a few spots where the melody has been altered (the first note of line 1 of the verse, the first note of measure 2 of line 4 of the verse, and the last note of line 2 of the chorus), for the reason that the low C note is not accessible when the banjo is tuned to G tuning. When the low C note occurs in the melody in an F or Dm chord measure, I have raised it to a D note. When the low C note occurs in the melody on a C chord measure, I have raised it to an E note.
When playing Down In A Willow Garden on banjo in the key of F without a capo, I usually raise the pitch of my 5th string to an A note, since this note is part of the two main chords used in the song, the F chord and the Dm chord, whereas the G note is not. But, if I know in advance that the song will be played with a lot of Bb chords in it, I might choose not to raise the pitch of the 5th string, for the A note forms a severely dissonant interval with the root note of the Bb chord, whereas the G note, while not being part of the F, Dm, and Bb chords, does not form a severely dissonant interval with any of the notes in them.
Down In A Willow Garden - banjo tab (chorus)
Down In A Willow Garden - banjo tab (verse)
Down In A Willow Garden - guitar tab (chorus)
Down In A Willow Garden - guitar tab (verse)
Down In A Willow Garden - mandolin tab
Down In A Willow Garden - melody in G
The song of the week is 'How Mountain Girls Can Love' in the key of A.
The Stanley Brothers - key of A
How Mountain Girls Can Love has only two verses, yet on the recording, the Stanley Brothers manage to squeeze in three breaks in addition to the intro break, without two breaks being played back to back at any point in the song. This is done by going straight into the chorus after the intro break, which is then followed by another break before the first verse is sung, and by going into another break and chorus after the second verse and chorus have been sung.
The arrangement on the record is:
This type of arrangement is worthwhile keeping in mind for almost any fast two-verse song that one may call at a jam. Of course, extra breaks can also be added into a song by doing two or more breaks back to back in certain spots of the song (and we will quite likely also do this when I lead How Mountain Girls Can Love at the jam next week); but, when arranging a song for bluegrass jamming purposes, the more places one can find in the song where it will work to put breaks the better.
The chord progression for the breaks and verses of How Mountain Girls Can Love is:
This is the same as the progression that is used for 'My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains', the verses of 'Columbus Stockade Blues', and the chorus of 'Are You Missing Me'.
The chord progression for the chorus is:
This is the same as the progression that is used for 'Way Down Town', 'Gold Watch And Chain', and the B-Part of 'Red Wing'.
Anticipating the Chorus
Because the chorus starts with a different chord than the chord that the breaks and verses start with, it is important to be able to anticipate which part of the song is coming next when playing it with others. Notice that the chorus occurs only four times in the song: after the first and last breaks, and after each of the two verses.
When I lead How Mountain Girls Can Love at the jam, I will indicate that the chorus is coming up next by playing either a 7th chord during the last measure of the verse progression, or a slow-moving descending or ascending run during the last two measures of the verse progression that leads from the 1 to the 4 chord.
A (dominant) 7th chord is created by adding to a major chord the note that is a whole step lower than the root note of the chord. Adding an F note to a G chord results in a G7; adding a G note to an A chord results in an A7; adding a Bb note to a C chord creates a C7; adding a C note to a D chord creates a D7, etc.
The (dominant) 7th chord most naturally leads to the chord whose root note is a perfect 4th higher than the root note of the 7th chord. Thus, A7 leads to D, D7 leads to G, G7 leads to C, C7 leads to F, F7 leads to Bb, etc.
In the key of A, the notes I use for a descending run that takes up the space of two measures to lead from the 1 chord to the 4 chord are A, G, F#, E. This series of notes leads down to a D note, the root note of the 4 chord. (In the key of G, the corresponding notes are G, F, E, D, leading down to a C note.) In the key of A, the notes I use for an ascending run that takes up the space of two measures to lead from the 1 chord to the 4 chord are: A, B, C, C#. This series of notes leads up to a D note. (In the key of G, the corresponding notes are G, A, Bb, B, leading up to a C note.)
The song of the week is 'John Henry' in the key of D.
'John Henry' is a traditional American folk song/ballad that has been played as a bluegrass song, either with or without lyrics, by a wide range of top-notch bluegrass artists. When arranged as a bluegrass instrumental, it is most commonly played as a banjo-feature tune. The three most common keys that bluegrass instrumental versions of John Henry are played in are G, C, and D, and those just happen to be the three keys that are the most convenient for the banjo to play in when a capo is not being used.
John Henry has no chorus, only verses. If one were to try to collect all the versions of the lyrics for John Henry together that one can find in books, on records, and on the internet, it would not take long before one had way too many verses to sing for a single performance of the song. Most Bluegrass versions of the song that I have heard use at most 5 or 6 of the many different verses that the song has accumulated over the years, though I have tended to include recorded versions of the song here that use more verses than this in order to give more examples of verses used for John Henry. For playing the song at a jam in which sufficient time needs to be given for everyone to get their breaks in, 5 or 6 verses is more than enough to sing, and is, of course, more manageable for memorization purposes.
For your own arrangement of the song, I suggest choosing 5 or 6 verses that you like best and string them together in an order that makes sense to you. You may find some of the verses easier to commit to memory than others, and you may also find that putting the verses in one order instead of another makes them easier to memorize.
Here is a variety of bluegrass versions of John Henry to take a listen to, some with vocals, others without vocals:
Flatt & Scruggs - key of D instrumental (banjo breaks are based on the melody an octave higher than as written on the attached banjo tab melody sheet)
Doc & Merle Watson - key of D
Tony Furtado - key of G instrumental (This is my all time favorite banjo-feature instrumental version of John Henry.)
Bill Monroe - key of G (very sharp, almost G#)
Hylo Brown (with Earl Scruggs on banjo) - key of B (sung in two different octaves!)
Bluegrass Youth All Stars - key of A
The Bluegrass Album Band - key of G instrumental
The Foggy Hogtown Boys - key of E (Unlike the previous versions, this one has 6m chords in it)
Form & Progression
The form for the verses (and breaks based on the verses) is 5 lines (instead of the much more common 4 lines) consisting of 4 measures each, making a total of 20 measures.
The chord progression I use for John Henry is the most common one (and is the progression that has always been used for the song up to this point at the jam):
Notice that this progression is closely related to V1 on the basic chord progressions chart (i.e., the progression used to play Canaan's Land, Gathering Flowers From The Hillside, and Fireball Mail). In relating the two progressions to each other, one might think of the progression for John Henry as being V1 with an extra 1111 line added between lines 3 and 4 of V1.
Alternative progressions for John Henry include:
In versions that use the first of these three alternative progressions, the melody for line 2 necessarily differs from the version of the melody given in the attached melody sheets.
When the second or third of these progressions are used, the melody in the second part of line 3 need not differ all that much from the version of the melody given in the attachments.
The version of the melody given in the attachments would be entirely major pentatonic (major scale notes 1,2,3,5, and 6: do-re-mi-sol-la) were it not for the b7 note in measure 2 of line 2 (a C natural note in the key of D; a Bb note in the key of C). Because of the exact spot where this note occurs in the melody, one should avoid playing the typical descending 2 note run C#, B (key of D) or B, A (key of C) in backup for leading from the 1 chord to the 5 chord. If one desires to play a two-note descending run here, just copy the melody at that point: C, B (key of D), or Bb, A (key of C), which just so happen to be the very two notes that one would typically play for the last two notes of the three notes that make up a typical chromatic three-note descending run leading from the 1 chord down to the 5 chord.
The melody of John Henry has the same range as the melody for Little Liza Jane and Buffalo Gals: the lowest and the highest notes in the melody are both the root note of the key (e.g., D notes when in the key of D, or C notes when in the key of C) and almost the same range as the melodies for Wreck Of The Old '97 and Y'all Come. These are all melodies that I feel most comfortable singing in the key of D.
You might notice that almost all of the songs that I sing at the jam in the key of G also have D notes as their lowest and highest (or second to highest) notes. In these cases, the range of the melody is such that the root note of the key is right in the middle of the range of the melody, rather than at the very bottom or top of the range of the melody. This is a much more typical range for Bluegrass songs; hence, there are many more songs that I sing in G than in D.
Sometimes I will purposely overshoot the melody of John Henry on the last half of measure 1 of line 3 by reaching for either an F natural or a F# note (when singing in the key of D), and when this is done, and I manage to reach the F#, then the melody has the same range as that for Wildwood Flower.
Banjo: D Tuning
When John Henry is played in the key of D, Scruggs-style banjo players commonly tune their banjo to an open D chord for playing it (F#DF#AD or ADF#AD). D tuning is used on the first two recordings provided here. Notice how much more frequently one can use open strings for grabbing the melody for John Henry in D when tuned this way (see the attached banjo tab melody sheet) than what one could if one were tuned to the bluegrass banjo default tuning (G tuning).
Guitar: C capo 2 = D
Due to both the range of the melody and the specific notes that the melody most frequently lingers on, I find that John Henry in the key of C (no capo) lends itself to a wider range of types of bluegrass guitar breaks than what the key of D (no capo) does. For this reason, I have given a key of C guitar tab melody sheet (capo 2 for D), rather than a key of D guitar tab melody sheet.
The song of the week is 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' in the key of G.
Flatt & Scruggs (1949 - the original recording) - key of Ab (instruments tuned up a half step higher than standard.)
Flatt & Scruggs (1968 - used for the soundtrack of the movie 'Bonnie And Clyde') - key of G
Earl Scruggs & Friends (2001 - won a grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance of the Year) - key of G
The chord progression on the original recording is:
(In the key of G, 6=E).
(For the sake of simplicity, in the following discussion, the original recording will be treated as if it were in the key of G, instead of in the key of Ab.)
In the first two measures of lines 2 and 3 of the opening banjo break, (and in most of the rest of the banjo breaks on the recording), an Em chord, rather than an E (Major) chord, is outlined, and the G# note in the E (Major) chord forms a very dissonant interval with the G natural notes that the banjo plays during the E chord measures. Most subsequent recordings of Foggy Mountain Breakdown, including the 1968 Flatt & Scruggs recording, and the 2001 Earl Scruggs recording avoid using the E (Major) chord altogether. On the 1968 recording, the progression is:
1 1 1 1
6m 6m 1 1
6m 6m 1 1
5 5 1 1
On the 2001 recording, the progression is:
1 1 1 1
6m 6m 6m 1
6m 6m 6m 1
5 5 1 1
This last progression is the one that I intend for us to use for Foggy Mountain Breakdown at the jam as it goes through its song of the week cycle. Before kicking off the tune, I will likely specify this by saying something along the lines of: 'remember to hold the Em chord for 3 measures, rather than only for 2 measures, each time before changing back to the G'.
Melody & Breaks
Foggy Mountain Breakdown is a banjo-feature instrumental that is more readily identifiable by virtue of the set of banjo licks that make up its opening break rather than by way of a clearly defined melody line; and subsequent breaks, both on the banjo and on the other instruments, tend to be lick/improv. oriented, rather than melody-based.
Nevertheless, the banjo licks that the opening break consists of do have some melodic content. In the attachments, the first thing I have included is a note-for-note transcription of the opening banjo break on the original recording, written in banjo tab. The melody sheets that follow this represent just one feasible interpretation of the melodic content of the opening banjo break. Others listening to or analyzing the opening banjo break are likely to arrive at other identifications of the melodic content of the banjo break, with some hearing fewer or more notes in the break, or certain parts of the break, as being part of 'the melody'.
If I had chosen the opening break from one of the other recordings as the basis for the melody sheets, some of the notes on the melody sheets would be different.
On the original recording, banjo and fiddle are the only two lead instruments. The fiddle breaks provide a good example of simple playing at fast speeds: mostly long drawn out double stops that grab only the most important melody notes.
One thing that is common in fiddle, mandolin, and guitar breaks for Foggy Mountain breakdown is to shuffle through some of the Em measures with a double stop that consists of the open E string together with the unison E note on the 2nd string: often with the fretted note being slid into one or more times while the double stop is being played. One example of this is found in the fiddle break on the 1968 recording during its second pass through the form. Another example occurs in Marty Stuart's mandolin break on the 2001 recording.
On the 2001 recording, there is a wide variety of instruments playing breaks. To differing extents, many of these breaks make use of the melodic content of the opening banjo break, and sometimes this is done by way of approximating some of the banjo licks heard in the opening banjo break. But there are other breaks on the recording that consist mostly of a bunch of licks strung together that fit over the chord progression, but which result in breaks that, taken in isolation by themselves, would hardly be recognizable as the tune Foggy Mountain Breakdown.
'Blue Grass Breakdown'
Foggy Mountain Breakdown has a lot in common with Bill Monroe's 'Blue Grass Breakdown'. This is especially noticeable on the banjo breaks played by Scruggs on the original 1946 recording of Blue Grass Breakdown. The main thing that distinguishes the two tunes from each other, apart from one being a banjo-feature tune and the other being a mandolin-feature tune, is that Foggy Mountain Breakdown uses a 6 or 6m chord in the spots where Blue Grass Breakdown uses a b7 (or a 4 on the final pass through the form during the mandolin breaks).
Bill Monroe - key of G
The song of the week is the Flatt & Scruggs classic 'Why Don't You Tell Me So' in the key of F.
Here is the original Flatt & Scruggs recording of Why Don't You Tell Me So - key of F#
Here is a good cover version of the song from Tony Rice - key of F
The Flatt & Scruggs recording is in the very rarely used key of F# (or Gb, if you prefer) instead of the much more common key of F only because the instruments were all tuned a half step higher in pitch than standard. To play along with the recording, I advise banjo, mandolin and fiddle players to tune their instruments a half step higher and then play as if in F. (Guitar players need not retune their instruments, for there is little advantage in doing so: either capo 4 and then play as if in D, capo 6 and then play as if in C, or capo 2 and then play as if in E will work just fine for playing along with the recording.)
Note to Banjo Players
If the band had been tuned to standard pitch, Scruggs' playing on Why Don't You Tell Me So would be an example of playing in F without a capo (banjo tuned in G tuning with the 5th string capoed at the 7th fret so that the 5th string registers as an A note, a note that is part of the F chord).
For banjo players who wish to learn Earl's backup parts and break from the record, I point out that there is little difference in how it feels to play Scruggs' parts out of G (tuned down a half step from G tuning to be in tune with the recording: F#,C#,F#,A#,C#), or out of F (tuned up a half step from G tuning, with the 5th string capoed at the 7th fret: A#,D#,G#,B#,D#. B#=C) since only in a couple of spots in his backup playing does Scruggs use an open string, and in his break, the only open string he makes use of is the 5th string. Scruggs' playing on Why Don't You Tell Me So consists almost entirely of the same types of licks that he used in his key of G playing on other songs, just moved down two frets lower to put his playing in the key of F. There are however, a couple of spots during the backup parts in which one will run out of frets if tuned down instead of tuned up, but an easy fix for this is to simply drop those spots a whole octave: i.e., play the notes 12 frets lower.
For the sake of banjo players who have little or no experience playing the kinds of movable licks that Scruggs used on the recording, and little or no experience with playing in the key of F without a capo, I suggest going with the capo 5 and then play as if in C option for playing in the key of F on this song.
In the attachments, I have included two banjo tab melody sheets: one in the key of F and one in the key of C.
Finally, it should be observed that Scruggs' up the neck break that occurs after the second chorus of the song does not follow the melody closely enough to be used as an effective intro break for the song.
The chord progression for the verses and breaks is the very familiar progression:
(Prog. V2 on the basic chord progressions chart)
The chord progression for the choruses is the most common progression for choruses in songs in which the verses use Prog. V2 while the choruses use a different progression. Only the first line differs from V2:
The Mercury Sessions
Why Don't You Tell Me So was the 8th song that Flatt & Scruggs recorded together after leaving Bill Monroe's band. It is one of 28 songs that Flatt & Scruggs recorded together on Mercury Records between 1948 and 1950 (before they went to a different record label: Columbia). This collection of 28 songs is commonly referred to as 'the Mercury Sessions', and I consider it to be essential listening for students of Bluegrass music.
Most of these 28 songs have become Bluegrass standards and have been covered by numerous Bluegrass artists.
In the order in which they were recorded, here are youtube links to the 28 songs of the Mercury Sessions. Songs that I especially recommend listening to several times over are marked with an asterisk
*1. We'll Meet Again Sweetheart
2. God Loves His Children
*3. My Cabin In Caroline
4. I'm Going To Make Heaven My Home
5. Baby Blue Eyes
*6. Down The Road
7. Bouquet In Heaven
*8. Why Don't You Tell Me So
*9. I'll Never Shed Another Tear
*10. Foggy Mountain Breakdown
*11. No Mother Or Dad
*12. Is It Too Late Now
*13. My Little Girl In Tennessee
14. I'll Be Going To Heaven Sometime
15. I'll Never Love Another
16. So Happy I'll Be
*17. Doin' My Time
*18. Pike County Breakdown
19. Preachin' Prayin' Singin'
*20. Cora Is Gone
*21. Pain In My Heart
*22. Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms
23. Back To The Cross
*24. Old Salty Dog Blues
25. Will The Roses Bloom (Where She Lies Sleeping)
*26. Take Me In A LIfeboat
*27. Farewell Blues
28. I'll Just Pretend
The third line of the progression for Farewell Blues is: 6 6 2 b3.
In the key of D, that is: BBEF (B7 may be used in place of B). In the key of C, that is: AADEb.
The progression for the chorus of Rocky Top is:
6m 6m 5 5
b7 b7 4 4
4 4 1 1
1 b7 1 1
1 b7 1 1
The song of the week is 'Salty Dog Blues' in the key of G.
Flatt & Scruggs (1950 - Mercury Sessions) - key of Ab (instruments tuned up a half step)
Flatt & Scruggs (1962 - Live at Carnegie Hall) - key of G
The chord progression for Salty Dog Blues is:
In the key of G, this is
The '6' and '2' Chords
The vast majority of songs that use a 6 chord contain within them the chord sequence 6, 2, 5, 1.
Just as the 2 chord is almost always followed by the 5 chord when it occurs in a progression, so also the 6 chord is almost always followed by the 2 chord.
Within the past year, many songs have been played at the jam that use the 2 chord. In addition to Salty Dog Blues, these include I Can't Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Homestead On The Farm, Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem, Old Home Place, Cry Cry Darlin', Red Wing, Earl's Breakdown, Left Over Biscuits, Eight More Miles To Louisville, Blackberry Blossom, Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad, Coleen Malone, Farewell Blues, Mary Of The Wild Moor, and Rawhide.
With only one exception (Farewell Blues), the 2 chord is followed by the 5 chord. (In Farewell Blues, the 2 is followed by the b3.)
While there are only three songs that have been played at the jam within the past year that use a 6 chord (Salty Dog Blues, Farewell Blues, and Rawhide), in all three of them, the 6 is followed by the 2. Here are a few more songs that use a 6 chord:
Don't Let Your Deal Go Down - key of F#/Gb (instruments tuned up a half step)
Alabama Jubilee - key of C
I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome - key of D
Dear Old Dixie - key of Ab (instruments tuned up a half step)
Sweet Georgia Brown - key of F
These songs all contain the chord sequence 6, 2, 5, 1 at some point in their progressions.
The '6' chord has the same relation to the '2' chord that the '2' chord has to the '5' chord, and that the '5' chord has to the '1' chord. The root note of the 2 chord forms an interval of a perfect 4th with the root note of the 6 chord, just as the root note of the 5 chord forms an interval of a perfect 4th with the root note of the 2 chord, and just as the root note of the 1 chord forms the same interval with the root note of the 5 chord.
Notice that, when playing in the key of G, the progression for Salty Dog Blues, from the E chord onward, corresponds with the notes that the open strings of the bass (and the four lowest pitched strings of the guitar) are tuned to: EADG. These strings are tuned in perfect 4ths (E to A spans 4 letters of the musical alphabet: E,F,G,A, and the two notes are separated from each other by 5 half steps, or two-and-a-half whole steps; the same is true of A to D and of D to G.) If one reverses the order of the letters, then this corresponds to how the fiddle and mandolin are tuned: GDAE. These instruments are tuned in perfect 5ths (G to D spans 5 letters of the the musical alphabet: G,A,B,C,D, and the two notes are separated from each other by 7 half steps, or three-and-a-half whole steps). The perfect 5th is the inverse interval of the perfect 4th.
Review of 4ths and 5ths
When the letter names of two notes span 4 letters of the musical alphabet, the two notes form an interval of a 4th. When two such notes are separated from each other by 5 half steps, the type of 4th they form is called a perfect 4th (e.g., A to D, or F to Bb). If they are separated by only 4 half steps (e.g., A to Db), the interval is called a diminished 4th. If they are separated by 6 half steps (e.g., A to D#, or F to B), the interval is called an augmented 4th.
When the letter names of two notes span 5 letters of the musical alphabet, the two notes form an interval of a 5th. When two such notes are separated from each other by 7 half steps, the type of 5th they form is called a perfect 5th (e.g., D to A or B to F#). If they are separated by only 6 half steps (e.g., D to Ab or B to F), the interval is called a diminished 5th. If they are separated by 8 half steps (e.g., D to A#), the interval is called an augmented 5th.
Two intervals are said to be the inverses of each other when their number names add up to 9, and their number of half-steps add up to 12 (12 half-steps = 1 octave). Thus, the perfect 4th and perfect 5th are inverse intervals (4 + 5 = 9; 5 half-steps + 7 half-steps = 12 half-steps), and the augmented 4th and diminished 5th are inverse intervals (4 + 5 = 9; 6 half-steps + 6 half-steps = 12 half-steps).
When arranged in perfect 5ths, the order of the 7 natural notes is: F, C, G, D, A, E, B. This can be remembered as: Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle.
Reversing this order arranges the notes in perfect 4ths: B, E, A, D, G, C, F. (Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father.)
An easy way to expand the order of perfect 5ths to include sharps and flats is to write the order of letters (F, C, G, D, A, E, B) three times back to back, and then put flats on the left and sharps on the right, with the naturals in the middle.
Fb, Cb, Gb, Db, Ab, Eb, Bb, F, C, G, D, A, E, B, F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#.
In expanding the order of perfect 4ths to include sharps and flats, the sharps go on the left and the flats go on the right:
B#, E#, A#, D#, G#, C#, F#, B, E, A, D, G, C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb.
This order lays out the chord sequence 6, 2, 5, 1 for all the 8 Major keys (and more) that songs are played in at the jam. Starting on G# gives this chord sequence for the key of B: G#, C#, F#, B; starting on C# gives the 6, 2,5,1 order for key of E: C#, F#, B, E; starting on F# gives the order for the key of A: F#, B, E, A; starting on B gives the order for the key of D: B, E, A, D; etc.
3, 6, 2, 5, 1
In some songs that use the 6, 2, 5, 1 chord sequence, the order of perfect 4ths is extended backwards to include the 3 chord: 3, 6, 2, 5, 1. In the sequence of perfect 4ths given above, the 3 is to the immediate left of the 6, just as the 6 is to the immediate left of the 2, and just as the 2 is to the immediate left of the 5, etc. The B-Part of Rawhide for instance is:
which then resolves back to the 1 when the A Part starts again.
Bill Monroe: key of C (3, 6, 2, 5, 1 = E, A, D, G, C)
The 3 also occurs before the 6 in the middle of the progression for Sweet Georgia Brown. (Key of F on the Doc Watson recording given above: 3 = A; 6 = D; 2 = G).
However, one should not draw the conclusion that one can expect the 6 chord to follow the 3 chord in the vast majority of songs that use a 3 chord. In many songs, the 3 is followed by the 4 instead (e.g., Dear Old Dixie, the verses of Old Home Place, the B-Part of Cheyenne, the chorus of Tennessee Waltz), or by the 6m (e.g., the B Part of Blackberry Blossom, the chorus/B-Part of Lorena and of O Little Town Of Bethlehem).