Clinch Mountain Backstep
The song of the week is 'Clinch Mountain Backstep' in the key of A.
'Clinch Mountain Backstep' is a bluegrass banjo tune composed by Ralph Stanley (Feb. 25, 1927 - June 23, 2016), who until his recent passing, was the last surviving of the great first-generation pioneers of bluegrass banjo playing.
(Ralph Stanley is the only first-generation bluegrass artist that I have met in person; I met him twice: once at a concert in a school gymnasium in Sedro Woolley, Washington when I was about 15 or 16 - after his concert, I played our current song of the week in his presence on a banjo he had with him for sale - and then again he spoke with me in 2004, during breakfast at the hotel that both of us were staying at for the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. Our conversation started by way of Ralph asking me questions about some of the other bands and artists playing at the Festival.)
There is a good documentary on Ralph Stanley available on youtube that is well-worth watching:
Ralph says that he came up with 'Clinch Mountain Backstep' by combining 'Cluck Old Hen' with 'Liza Jane'. (He was likely referring to a different - yet somewhat related - 'Liza Jane' than the one that we regularly play at our jam.)
Here is my favorite of Ralph's studio recordings of Clinch Mountain Backstep:
Ralph Stanley - key of A
...and, when he was a bit younger, when his older brother Carter was still alive, here is Ralph playing Clinch Mountain Backstep on a live TV show:
The Stanley Brothers - key of A (no breaks on any other instruments, all banjo).
There are no mandolin, guitar, or dobro breaks in the preceding renditions of the tune. Here is one which has all three:
Blue Highway - key of A: live performance
The chord progression for the A-Part is:
(Prog. Z1 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout)
The chord progression for the B-Part is the same, except that there is an extra 'half-measure' of the '1' before the first '5'. If one is counting the beats in the first line of the B-Part in cut common time (2/2), one would count it as: 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,1,2.
(On the sheet music attached here, I have written the first line of the B-Part as 3 measures in 2/2, followed by a measure in which the time signature changes to 1/2, followed by a measure that returns to 2/2.)
Although the melody of Clinch Mountain Backstep consists only of the notes of the Am pentatonic scale, it is called at jams in A (Major) rather than Am because the '1' chord that is used in the chord progression for the song is an A Major Chord rather than an Am Chord ('1m'). To call Clinch Mountain Backstep in A Minor instead of in A (Major) at a jam would imply that 1m Chords are to be played in place of 1 Chords.
In the attached melody sheet for Clinch Mountain Backstep, I have used the key signature for Am (no sharps or flats, same as the key signature for C Major, the Relative Major of Am) instead of the key signature for A Major (3 sharps) to avoid the need to write natural signs in nearly every measure. I hope that my doing this makes the sheet music easier to read than if I had used the key signature for A Major.
The notes that make up the Minor Pentatonic Scale, or as I like to call it sometimes 'The Clinch Mountain Scale', are: 1, b3, 4, 5, and b7. Remember these notes, for these will be useful to know not only for playing 'Mountain Minor' tunes like 'Clinch Mountain Backstep' and 'Cluck Old Hen'. Any time when you wish to add a 'bluesy' element into a break or backup part for a Major key song, just remember to play your 'Clinch Mountain notes'.
To see what these notes are for A (or for any other key for that matter: G is an especially practical place to start for this if you are a banjo or guitar player who usually plays in A by way of capoing the 2nd fret of your instrument), refer to the Nashville Number System Chart in the attachments.
If you have ever played the melody for Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Amazing Grace, My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains, Shortnin' Bread, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, or Camptown Races, or any other melody that uses only 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 notes (Major Pentatonic Scale), then you are already familiar to a certain extent with the combination of notes that make up the 'Clinch Mountain Scale', although those melodies sound very different than the melodies for Clinch Mountain Backstep and Cluck Old Hen.
Notice, for instance, that 1, b3, 4, 5, b7 for E are the very same notes as 6, 1, 2, 3, 5 for G. G is the Relative Major of Em.
Every Minor has a Relative Major. To find the Relative Major of a Minor, treat the b3 of the Minor as the 1 for the Major. (Thus, C is the relative Major of Am - one uses the same notes for playing the melody of Will The Circle Be Unbroken in C as one does for playing the melody of Clinch Mountain Backstep in A; Bb is the relative Major of Gm, etc.)
Going in the opposite direction, that is, to find the Relative Minor of a Major, treat the 6 of the Major as the 1 for the Minor. (So, Am is the Relative Minor of C, Em is the Relative Minor of G.)
That 'Cheyenne' was played at the jam last night (A-Part in the key of Gm, B-Part in the key of Bb), also helps to illustrate the usefulness of knowing a bit about the relationships involved between Relative Majors and Minors. More tunes of the same nature as this one are more likely than not to come up at the jam as it continues to progress.
The song of the week is 'I Can't Feel At Home In This World Anymore' (a.k.a. 'This World Is Not My Home') in the key of G. This song was recorded by the Carter Family in 1931, and since that time has been recorded by numerous old-time, bluegrass, and country artists: some of the bigger names including Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Jim Reeves, Merle Haggard, and Ricky Skaggs.
The chord progression I use for 'I Can't Feel At Home In This World Anymore' is:
Jim & Jesse - key of F
Martina McBride (with Ricky Skaggs) - key of D: not exactly a bluegrass version of the song, but it has good mandolin breaks in it, and is played at a tempo that I prefer.
...but, alternatives for the 2nd line of the progression that I have heard on records and at jams include
Blue Highway - key of G
And, in some versions, line 2 is played one of these ways for the verses of the song, and in a different way for the choruses, with breaks in some versions following the verse progression and in other versions following the chorus progression.
Compare these progressions with Prog. V6 on the Basic Chord Progressions Chart:
...and with the 3 most common chord progressions used for playing 'Leaning On The Everlasting Arms':
1144 1144 1144
1115 11155 1115
1144 1144 1144
11511 11511 1151
'I Can't Feel At Home In This World Anymore' is the first of 3 songs that I intend on introducing into the Intermediate Jam within the next 5 months that has a '2' chord in the progression I use for the song (Notice that some of the alternative progressions for the song of the week do not have a '2' chord in them). The other two songs are 'Homestead On The Farm' (a.k.a. 'I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home') https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82_0ui4taWI (Mac Wiseman - key of A), and 'Cry Cry Darlin' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5ss64M_Z_E (Bill Monroe - key of A. I will lower this one down to the key of G to make it easier for me to sing it.)
Notice in the versions of 'I Can't Feel At Home...' provided here how the harmony part or parts are affected by the presence or absence of the '2' chord in line 2 of the progression. For, unlike the 1,4, and 5 chords, the 2 chord has one note in it that is not part of the major scale. In the key of G, this note is a C#. (The notes of the G major scale are: G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#.) Relative to the G major scale, the number name for the C# note is #4, which is the same note as what would be called b5 (in the key of G: Db) in certain other contexts.
If you find it doesn't come naturally to you to go to the C# note on the 2 chord measure when singing a tenor harmony part for this song in the key of G, try playing the following scale on your instrument: G, A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G until your ear becomes accustomed to hearing the 4th note of this scale in the context of the whole scale. (This is known as the 'G Lydian Scale': in place of the '4' in the major scale, it has a '#4'. The G Lydian Scale has the same notes as the D Major Scale, i.e., it has one more sharp in it than what the G Major Scale has.) The notes of the G Lydian Scale are the safest notes to play on your instrument during '2' chord measures that come up in a song that is in the key of G.
As the jam continues to progress, it is inevitable that more and more songs will be called at it that have chords in them other than the 1,4,and 5. This is happening already at the jam. 4 out of the 17 songs played at the last intermediate jam had one or more of these chords in them. And at the jam before that one, 5 out of the 19 songs that were played had one or more of these chords in them. Until recently, it was uncommon for more than 2 songs to be played at the jam on any given night that had chords other than the 1, 4, and 5 in them, and more often than not, at least one of those songs was either 'Down The Road' or 'Old Joe Clark'.
An informal name for chords other than the 1,4,and 5 that you will sometimes hear in bluegrass circles is 'off-chords'. The '2' chord is one of the two most commonly used major 'off-chords' in traditional bluegrass. The other one is the 'b7' chord. If you have not already done so, I suggest immediately making it a point to memorize the '2' and 'b7' chords for each of the keys that come up at the jam. Remember that '2' is a whole-step higher than '1', and that 'b7' is a whole-step lower than '1':
b7 1 2
Key of G: F G A (A = A,C#,E.)
Key of A G A B (B = B,D#,F#.)
Key of Bb Ab Bb C (C = C,E,G.)
Key of B A B C# (C# = C#,E#,G#)
Key of C Bb C D (D = D,F#,A)
Key of D C D E (E = E,G#,B)
Key of E D E F# (F# = F#,A#,C#)
Key of F Eb F G (G = G,B,D)
In each case, the middle note of the three notes that make up the '2' chord is the #4 note, which when substituted in place of the 4th note of the Major Scale creates the Lydian Scale.
Just as through experience with playing songs that have 1,4,and 5 chords in them, one learns to readily distinguish the sound of the progression 1-4-1 from the sound of the progression 1-5-1, and to detect when a chord is being played that is other than the 1, the 4, or the 5, so also, through experience with playing songs that have various 'off-chords' in them, one learns to be able to just as readily distinguish which 'off-chord' is being played. For starters, I suggest observing that songs that have only the '2' as an 'off-chord' in them tend to have a very different sounding type of melody than songs that have only the 'b7' as an off-chord in them.
Compare the three songs provided here that have '2' chords in them with songs that have been played at the jam that have 'b7' chords in them:
Songs with b7 chords:
Red Haired Boy
Cluck Old Hen
Old Joe Clark
Other songs with '2' chords that have been played at the jam include 'Left Over Biscuits', Old Home Place' (also has a '3' chord in it), and 'Salty Dog Blues' (also has a '6' chord in it.)
Another thing you might notice is that while the 'b7' chord is more often than not sandwiched between '1' chords, just like the '4' and '5' chord most often are, the '2' chord is almost always followed immediately by the '5' chord.
[Those of you who have studied music theory might point out that the '2' chord is functioning here as a 'secondary dominant', and some might not like it that I call it the '2' chord, but that it should rather be called 'the 5 of the 5'. (Rough translation: the chord in question has the same relation to the 5 chord that the 5 chord - a.k.a. the 'dominant' - has to the 1 chord: the '2' pushes to the 5 in the progression, which in turn pushes and resolves to the 1.) But, for our purposes here, and for the sake of simplicity, I will continue to call 'the 5 of the 5' the '2 chord'.]
The song of the week is 'Gathering Flowers From The Hillside' in the key of G.
'Gathering Flowers' is just one of thousands of simple and straightforward bluegrass songs that, for that very reason, tend to work well at almost any bluegrass jam, irrespective of how many people at the jam have ever played or even heard the song before. (If you opened the attachments in last week's Beginner Bluegrass Jam song of the week email, you may have noticed that I have included 'Gathering Flowers On The Hillside' on the new version of the Beginner Bluegrass Jam 'Top 20' list.) Keep your ears open for these types of songs if you are looking for ways to more rapidly increase your repertoire of songs to introduce into the jams you play at.
See if you can identify the chord progression for 'Gathering Flowers' by listening to the versions given in the links below, before you take a look at the attached melody sheets. What other songs do you know, or recall playing at the jam, that use either the same chord progression or a closely related chord progression? How much of the melody can you figure out by ear before looking at the attached melody sheets? Do you recognize certain parts of the melody as being the same, or almost the same, as parts of the melodies to other songs that you are more familiar with than this one?
Here are a few versions of 'Gathering Flowers From The Hillside' to take a listen to. The first one is just good old straightforward traditional bluegrass. The second one is from an old-school country artist I have always enjoyed listening to whose music could be described (albeit somewhat anachronistically) as somewhere between country and bluegrass. And the third one is the version that I learned the song from.
Earl Taylor & Jim McCall - key of G
Wilma Lee Cooper - key of C
Hylo Brown - key of F
As one gains experience, and advances beyond the beginning stages of being a bluegrass musician and jammer, this need not always entail looking for more and more complex songs to learn; it can also involve working on getting faster at expanding one's repertoire (and what better to start with for this than simple songs that already have a somewhat familiar sound to them?), and 'updating' your way of playing songs that you learned when you were first getting into jamming and playing bluegrass: adding more 'frills' to your breaks and backup parts when and if appropriate for the song. Even the classic so-called 'beginner' fiddle tune 'Boil The Cabbage Down', which you won't hear played at many non-beginner jams (and at many jams would be somewhat out of place to play) can be played (and has been recorded) in ways that have nothing 'beginnerish' about them.
Remember, the melody sheets provided here are just that and nothing more. They do not show you how to play bluegrass-style breaks on your instrument. So, why do I include the melody sheets in the song of the week emails? Because, to a significant extent, creating a break that sounds like it belongs in the song (and this is especially true of intro breaks, i.e., the break that is played before the singing starts and which identifies what song is being played even before the singing starts, or in the case of an instrumental, just simply the first break) involves surrounding the melody notes in the song with appropriate choices of other notes: and, in order to do this, one needs to have a fairly clear idea of what the melody of the song is.
There are countless ways to play a break for any given song, and how one plays a break for a song depends upon several factors, including stylistic preference, level of technical ability on one's instrument, and even things of the nature of what tempo the song is being played at. But, once one is past the very beginner stages of learning to play 'lead' parts, attempts should be made - with the help of a teacher if need be - to play in a way that involves more than just copying on one's instrument the melody of the song as sung. And, at the 'intermediate' level of bluegrass lead playing, one is well beyond these initial, not-always- successful, attempts to add 'stuff' around the melody: at this level, one has at least a few generally reliable, even if musically simple, ways to do this in one's musical 'bag of tricks'.
Disclaimer: Even at the most advanced levels, being a bluegrass musician or jammer does not always involve being able to play breaks. There are many top-notch bluegrass guitar players, for instance, who only play rhythm (backup). Becoming a great bluegrass rhythm guitar player can be just as challenging as - or possibly even more challenging than - becoming a great flatpicker.
Hand Me Down My Walking Cane
The song of the week is 'Hand Me Down My Walking Cane' in the key of G.
The progression is:
This progression is not one of the progressions on the Basic Chord Progressions chart, but, if it helps you to think of it in these terms, it can be thought of as a cross between two progressions on that chart: the 1st half of Prog. V5 (or W5) followed by the 2nd half of Prog. V4 (or V10).
Here are a couple of versions of the song to take a listen to:
Norman Blake: key of A
Flatt & Scruggs: key of G
In the version of the melody that I have provided in the attachments, the melody has a 'built-in' pickup phrase consisting of 3 quarter notes: D, G, and A. For the sake of ensuring that you are able to effectively kick off the song on your instrument, I recommend spending extra time practicing playing these three notes together with the B note that follows them that begins the first measure proper of the melody, paying attention to your timing and tempo. The notes need to be spaced absolutely evenly, and the B note that follows the three pickup notes needs to be played with a greater accent than the pickup notes.
Not all songs have a pickup phrase built into their melodies consisting of 3 quarter notes. Some song melodies have no pickup phrase at all. But, apart from 8 potato and 4 potato intros which should normally be reserved only for starting fiddle tunes, the use of pickup phrases consisting of 3 quarter notes tend to be the most effective way to start a song at a jam. Make use of your experience with songs that do have these 3 quarter note pickup phrases built into their melodies to guide you for selecting appropriate pickup phrases for songs that do not have such pickup phrases built into their melodies.
In the case of 'Hand Me Down My Walking Cane', we are dealing with a song that is being played in the key of G, that starts with a G chord, and has a 'B' note as the first note of the first complete measure of the song. So, try using the same pickup notes that are given here in the melody of 'Hand Me Down My Walking Cane', namely D, G, A, as pickup notes to use to start your breaks for other songs played at the jam in the key of G that start with a G chord and have a 'B' note as the first melody note of the first measure proper of the song: 'I'll Fly Away', 'My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains', 'All The Good Times Are Past And Gone', 'Beautiful Brown Eyes'. 'Blue Ridge Cabin Home'. 'I Still Write Your Name In The Sand', 'Leaning On The Everlasting Arms', 'Worried Man Blues'.
Raise each note in the pickup phrase up a whole step to E, A, B (either by capoing to the 2nd fret on guitar or banjo, or by manually transposing on fiddle and mandolin), and then you will be covered for kicking off these songs in the key of A. In the key of A, these songs will start with an A chord and the first melody note of the first complete measure of the song will be a C#. Go yet another half step higher and you will be set for the key of Bb: F, Bb, C, leading into a D note, etc.
Have a happy New Year!
At the intermediate jam, we will no longer restrict ourselves to playing only songs on the top 20 and additional 30 lists for the first half of the night.
For the initial phase of the intermediate jam, we will continue playing collective breaks for most songs, except for the 14 songs on the attached list titled 'the hits of 2016'. The 14 songs in question have all been played more than 24 times at the jam since Sept. 2015. 48 beginner jams have been held from Sept. 10, 2015 to the present. The closer to the top of the list a song is, the more often it has been played at the jam. Cripple Creek, which is at the very top of the list has been played 51 times at the beginner jam since Sept. 2015, and 18 of those times have been in just the last four months! (It has not been uncommon for Cripple Creek, and a few of the other songs at the very top of the list, to be played at the jam more than once in the same night.)
When any of these 14 songs are called at the intermediate jam, unless there is a special reason not to do this, we will play them up to speed and with individual, rather than collective, breaks. When I say 'up to speed', I have in mind the speeds that the songs have been played at at the jam on the nights when the songs have been played faster than on other nights. I don't necessarily mean playing all these songs as fast as they are played on the recordings I have sent out for the songs in the song of the week emails. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be a bad idea to take a listen back to some of those recordings with attention to the tempos the songs are played at on the recordings. For those tempos are for the most part the tempos that we should be working towards being able to play the songs at at the jam.
On the same sheet as the 'hits' of 2016, there is another list titled 'B-List' songs of 2016. The 16 songs on this list are songs from the top 20 and additional 30 lists that I think would be most beneficial to play more often at the jam than what they have been played in the past. Since many of these songs have been played less than 10 times at the jam since Sept. 2015, we will for now continue doing collective breaks for them when they are called, and, for now, they need not be always be played 'up to speed'.
I have also included in the attachments a list of 20 songs that I intend on making 'songs of the week' within the next 6 months at the jam, and this week's song of the week is on that list, and is one of the 8 songs on that list that has been played at least once at the jam since Sept. 2015.
Many of the songs on the list are not as simple and straightforward as the songs on the top 20 and additional 30 lists. There is more of a variety of types of bluegrass songs on this list than on the previous lists used for the jam, and there is a higher concentration of songs that tend not to show up very much outside bluegrass contexts. Since it is usually easier to learn a song that one has already heard a number of times rather than a song that one is unfamiliar with, I recommend going to youtube to take a listen to the songs that are on the list that you are not familiar with before they are made songs of the week for the jam.
Since two or more songs may share the same title, and often a bluegrass song will have the same title as a non-bluegrass song, it can help to narrow down your search if you punch in together with the name of the song, the name of a well-known bluegrass artist or band. For 'Cry, Cry Darlin'',look for Bill Monroe's or Ricky Skaggs' version. For 'Homestead On The Farm' (a.k.a. I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home), check out 'Mac Wiseman'. For 'Cryin' Holy', try either 'J.D. Crowe and the New South' or 'Bill Monroe'. For 'Little Willie' and 'White Dove', punch in either 'The Stanley Brothers' or 'Ralph Stanley'. Search for 'Love Please Come Home', in connection with 'Reno & Smiley' or 'Bill Monroe', and for 'Why Don't You Tell Me So' as played by 'Flatt & Scruggs' or by 'Tony Rice'.
Jason's Intermediate Jam Blog 2017 - 2018
started as Beginner Jam in Jan 2015
Songs regularly called at Bluegrass Jams and links from Jason's "Song of the Week" emails. (from Renee)
in alphabetical order