The song of the week is 'Homestead On The Farm' (a.k.a. 'I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home') in the key of A.
'Homestead On The Farm' was recorded by the Carter Family in 1929, but in bluegrass circles, this song tends to be more closely associated with Mac Wiseman, who first recorded the song more than 20 years after the Carters. On the points where Mac Wiseman's arrangement differs from the Carter Family's arrangement of the song (chord progression, melody, etc.), bluegrass players have tended to follow Mac.
Mac Wiseman, who at the age of 91 is still active in music, played guitar and sang harmony on Flatt and Scruggs' Mercury Sessions recording of 'Someday We'll Meet Again Sweetheart', which was one of the very first records Flatt and Scruggs made together after they left Bill Monroe's band. And, in the role of lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Mac Wiseman was Lester Flatt's immediate successor in Bill Monroe's band. Mac, for instance, is the lead singer on the original 1949 Bill Monroe recording of the popular bluegrass standard 'Can't You Hear Me Calling'.
Here are two of Mac's recordings, and one live performance, of 'Homestead On The Farm':
A Great American Folk Singer: Mac Wiseman sings "I wonder how the old folks are at home." - key of Bb:
I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home - Mac Wiseman - key of A:
Mac Wiseman: Old Folks At Home: Live 1978: - key of A:
The chord progression I use for Homestead On The Farm is the same as the one that Mac Wiseman usually used:
(In the key of A: 2 = B. The '2' chord is a whole-step higher than the '1' chord, so in the key of Bb: 2 = C; in the key of G: 2 = A, etc.)
Notice that the verse ends on the '5' chord, instead of the '1' chord. This requires the verse progression to be followed by the chorus progression in order for the song to sound resolved. Since the verse ends with one being left hanging on the '5', the chorus may easily come across as though it were simply the second half of a really long verse. For this reason, the parts of the song (breaks, verses, choruses) are usually arranged in such a way that the verse progression is never played twice back to back without the chorus progression intervening.
A typical jam arrangement of the song is:
Intro break - played over the chorus progression, (so that the intro break sounds resolved)
Break - played over the verse progression
Break - played over the chorus progression (by a different instrument than the one that played the immediately preceding break)
Break - played over the verse progression
If more breaks are needed than this, another break over the verse progression followed by another break over the chorus progression may be inserted right before Verse 2, and/or another break over the chorus progression followed by another break over the verse progression may be inserted right before the final chorus.
Although two weeks have gone by since 'Little Cabin Home On The Hill' was the song of the week, I am including in the attachments the sheet music that Kathy wrote that shows the melody and tenor harmony for the chorus together for those of you who may still be working on learning the harmony part. Also, here is a live version of the song from the Osborne Brothers in which Bobby Osborne sings the same tenor part that Bill Monroe sang on the old classic recording of the song, and all but drowns out the other parts.
Osborne Brothers: key of B
In last week's song of the week email, I said about the records that Bill Monroe recorded in 1946 and 1947: "These are good records to learn bluegrass harmony from, for Bill's voice is easy to distinguish from Lester's and is usually at a high volume in the mix."
In trying to apply my suggestion to what was then the current song of the week ('Little Cabin Home On The Hill'), some questions arose about what notes Bill sang on the old record in the first line of the chorus, so, in addition to the melody sheets for the now current song of the week, I have included in the attachments a tenor harmony sheet for the previous song of the week, 'Little Cabin Home On The Hill'. I don't guarantee that what I have written corresponds with 100% accuracy to Bill's singing on any of the 3 choruses on the record, but hopefully you will find that it comes close enough to be of some help in your attempts to learn to sing Bill's harmony part on this song.
In a previous recent song of the week email ('I Can't Feel At Home In This World Anymore'), I discussed the '2' chord at length - if you would like that email to be sent again to you, just ask me and I will resend it to you - but there is something more that I would like to add to that, and it concerns the use of dominant 7th chords in place of major chords.
Just as one may substitute a dominant 7th chord (usually called just simply a 7th chord) in place of a major chord for a '5' chord (e.g., D7 in place of D when playing in the key of G), so the same is also true for '2' chords (e.g., B7 in place of B when playing in the key of A)
Notice on the Mac Wiseman live performance included here, Mac is playing a B7 instead of a B: and this is common practice for bluegrass rhythm guitar when a B chord shows up when playing in any key without a capo in which the B chord functions as a '5' chord (key of E), a '6' chord (key of D), a '3' chord (key of G), or, in this case, as a '2' chord (key of A).
However, B7 in place of B would not work well if the B chord were functioning as the '1' chord (key of B), except when used as a transitional chord to lead from the '1' to the '4' (in the key of B, one might for instance play the first half of the I'll Fly Away progression as: BBBB7EEBB), and would not always work well for the '4' chord either (key of F#), and would almost never work for the b7 chord (key of C#). Most bluegrass rhythm guitar players need not concern themselves with this since most of them would never consider playing in any of these keys without a capo, and the two latter keys are not among the 8 Major keys that bluegrass songs are commonly played in at jams. But, it is good for all to be aware - regardless of which instruments they play - that there are only certain chords for which it is 'safe' to habitually substitute dominant 7ths in place of a majors.
When playing in the key of G in standard G tuning, banjo players may often automatically play a dominant 7th in place of a major for the 2 chord (in the key of G, an A7 chord in place of an A chord) without being consciously aware that they are doing so, for the 5th string - the short string - on the banjo is tuned - when in G tuning and when not capoed - to a G note (banjo players rarely ever fret this string), and this is the very note that when added to an A chord makes it into an A7 chord. (This same A7 chord will also often show up in place of an A for the '6' chord when banjo players are playing in C without a capo.)
To make any major chord a dominant 7th chord, all that one does is add to the chord the note that is a whole step lower than the note that has the same letter name as the chord: this is the b7 note/scale degree on the Nashville Number System Chart handout.
I think it sounds best if only some of the players at any given time, rather than all at the same time, in a band, or at a jam, use the dominant 7th in place of the major when playing over '2', '3' and '6' chords. On '5' chords, I like to hear the dominant 7th used even more sparingly.
Whiskey Before Breakfast:
Doc Watson (ft. Bryan Sutton) - "Whiskey Before Breakfast"
Whiskey Before Breakfast - Scott Vestal feat.
Chord Progression for 'Whiskey Before Breakfast - D':
1 1 4/1 5 1 1 2m 5
1 1 4/1 5/1 1/5 4/1 4/1 5/1
Red Haired Boy:
Tony Rice All Star Jam-Red Haired Boy
Chord Progression for 'Red Haired Boy - A':
1 1/4 1 b7 b7 4 1 b7
1 1/4 1 5/1 1 1/4 1 5/1
The song of the week is 'Little Cabin Home On The Hill' in the key of A.
The progression for the verses and breaks is:
(V6 on the basic progressions chart)
The progression for the chorus is:
(X6 on the basic progressions chart)
This a common combination of chord progressions in bluegrass songs.
Here is the original recording of 'Little Cabin Home On The Hill', as performed by the first bluegrass band: 'Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys':
Bill Monroe - key of A
Bill Monroe had been recording since 1936, first with his older brother Charlie, under the name 'The Monroe Brothers', and then, from 1940 onward, with his own band 'The Bluegrass Boys', but it wasn't until 1945 that all the essential components that would eventually make it possible to classify Bill Monroe's music as belonging to a genre (now known as Bluegrass) distinct from any other genre of music that preceded it, all came together in his band.
So, within the context of this perspective on the origin of bluegrass, a perspective that is shared by many scholars and fans of bluegrass music, the first bluegrass band was Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys in its 1945 - 1948 line-up, consisting of Bill Monroe (Sept. 13, 1911 - Sept. 9, 1996) on mandolin, and tenor harmony (and sometimes solo lead vocal), Lester Flatt (June 19, 1914 - May 11, 1979) on rhythm guitar and lead vocal, Earl Scruggs (Jan. 6, 1924 - Mar. 28, 2012) on 5-string banjo, Chubby Wise (Oct. 2, 1915 - Jan. 6, 1996) on fiddle, and Howard Watts, a.k.a. Cedric Rainwater (Feb. 19, 1913 - Jan. 21, 1970) on upright bass. And the first bluegrass recordings were the 28 songs recorded in 1946 and 1947 by this line-up of The Bluegrass Boys.
These first bluegrass recordings remain to this day an indispensable point of reference for defining the bluegrass genre as a whole. This is true even though not every component that we now take for granted as being a characteristic part of bluegrass music is represented on these records. There are no guitar breaks on these records. There is also no dobro in the band. None of the Gospel songs on these records are sung acappella. All the various ways of stacking three-part harmonies which are now commonplace in bluegrass are not accounted for. These were all later developments in bluegrass music. There are no flashy instrumental banjo-feature tunes. Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, and Ralph Stanley hadn't composed these yet, (or at least, had not yet recorded them.)
Many of the songs feature two-part harmony on the choruses, with Lester singing lead, and Bill singing the tenor harmony part which is higher than the lead part. These are good records to learn bluegrass harmony from, for Bill's voice is easy to distinguish from Lester's and is usually at a high volume in the mix. Be careful, though, when trying to learn the lead part from the records, for Bill's harmony part could be mistaken for the melody at certain points simply because it is so dominant.
If Bill's harmony parts are too high pitched for your vocal range (and this will be the case for many men; many women, on the other hand, will find that Bill sings in a range that is close to their own vocal range) to duplicate while singing along with the records, trying singing the same notes an octave lower. The resulting harmony part is known as the 'low tenor', and is lower than a baritone harmony: that is, it is two parts lower than the lead part.
Here is a live version of 'Little Cabin Home On The Hill' performed by Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt several years after they originally recorded the song together:
Now back to more 1946 - 1947 classic bluegrass records from the original bluegrass band. These are all well worth listening to closely:
Heavy Traffic Ahead
This was the first song recorded by the original bluegrass band. It is solo vocal number, with a swing feel to it, written and sung by Bill Monroe. It starts with each instrument in the band other than the bass taking a turn playing a. now quite typical and cliche, 1-measure bluegrass fillin-lick.
I'm Goin' Back To Old Kentucky
This song conforms perfectly to what has become one of the most standard types of arrangements for bluegrass songs when played at jams: full-length intro break, chorus, break (on a different instrument than the one that played the intro break), verse, chorus, break, verse, chorus, break, verse, chorus, break, chorus, with a solo vocal on the verses and harmony on the choruses.
This is mandolin-feature break-neck speed bluegrass instrumental composed by Bill Monroe. It is the first of its type, and it blew audiences away when they first heard it. It is also the immediate precursor of Earl Scruggs' famous banjo-feature tune 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown'.
Wicked Path Of Sin
This is a Gospel song that features 4-part harmony with sparse instrumental accompaniment (mandolin and guitar), and only short 'turnaround' breaks on the mandolin. This type of arrangement has been used on countless bluegrass recordings of Gospel songs.
Mother's Only Sleeping
This is a good example of the type of fast 3/4 (or 6/4) time song that The Stanley Brothers would shortly thereafter become especially known for.
Blue Moon Of Kentucky
A slower 3/4 time song that, under the influence of Elvis, Bill Monroe would later record again with a cut time (2/2) section coming after a 3/4 time section.
It's Mighty Dark To Travel
Along the same lines as 'I'm Goin' Back To Old Kentucky'.
Will You Be Loving Another Man
One of the 2016 Beginner Jam 'B-List' songs.
Sweetheart You Done Me Wrong
A moderately slow song with a distinctive feel to it that has been popular at some times at the various incarnations of the Pioneer Building beginner and intermediate jams.
My Rose Of Old Kentucky
Molly And Tenbroooks
A trad. song that Monroe liked to use as a banjo-feature song.
The Old Cross Road
A Gospel song with bluesy/mountain minor note choices.
Blue Yodel No. 4
A solo vocal Jimmie Rodgers yodeling song that has a similar feel to an earlier Bill Monroe song, 'Rocky Road Blues' which is played often at our jam.
When You Are Lonely
The 12 remaining songs recorded by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys in 1946 and 1947 are:
Why Did You Wander
Summertime Is Past And Gone
Mansions For Me
How Will I Explain About You
I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling
That Home Above
Remember The Cross
Little Community Church
Along About Daybreak
Shine Hallelujah Shine
I'm Travellin' On And On
Most of these 28 songs are Bill Monroe and/or Lester Flatt originals written with this line up of The Bluegrass Boys in mind, rather than traditional songs that pre-date this first bluegrass band.
If you wish to listen to more recent bluegrass recordings of many of these 28 songs, mixed in with many other slightly later bluegrass classics, in arrangements that sometimes include some of the additional bluegrass components that are absent on the original recordings (e.g., guitar and dobro breaks), an excellent place to start is with 'The Bluegrass Album Band' (a.k.a., California Connection) records, and with 'Ricky Skaggs', esp. with his band 'Kentucky Thunder'.
The song of the week is 'Banks Of The Ohio' in the key of G.
While there are many murder ballads, and other types of songs involving murders, in bluegrass, country, and old-time music, I place 'Banks Of The Ohio' in what I consider to be a special category of murder ballads that also includes, among others, 'Down In A Willow Garden' (played at the last two intermediate jams), 'Pretty Polly', 'Poor Ellen Smith', 'Omie Wise', and 'Knoxville Girl'.
All these songs are either about real murders - in some cases murders that were committed more than 200 years ago - or, failing that, are put together in a way that make them sound as if they were. At least 2 of the 3 following elements are present in all these songs: they dwell on 1) the details of the murder; 2) the preparations made for the murder (or sometimes, more generally, just the premeditated aspect of the murder); 3) the consequences that follow for the murderer.
Most examples of this type of song are sung, at least in part, in the first-person, from the perspective of the murderer. 'Banks Of The Ohio' is entirely in the first person. However, it does not follow from that, that since the song is about a man killing a woman, that it would be odd for a woman to sing the song. Just as one need not be a murderer to sing Banks Of The Ohio, so for precisely the same reasons, one need not be a man to sing the song. 'Knoxville Girl' is also sung entirely in the first person from the perspective of a man who murders a woman, and the same is true of 'Poor Ellen Smith', except for a verse or two here and there narrated in the third person, yet I know that over the last 25 years or so, I have heard women more often than men sing these songs at jams. Some of the first-person verses of 'Pretty Polly' are sung in the person of Willie, while other first person verses in the song are sung in the person of Polly, yet it doesn't take two people to sing the song: most versions of the song are sung solo. (While all the songs I listed are about a man killing a woman, there are, of course, traditional murder ballads in which a woman kills a man: e.g., Willie Duncan, a.k.a., Cruel Willie.)
None of the songs listed here were written by the pioneers of bluegrass (Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Carter and Ralph Stanley, etc.). These are pre-bluegrass songs that were part of the traditional music culture that the pioneers of bluegrass grew up with (one time, when asked about the music he remembered from his childhood, Ralph Stanley mentioned 'Pretty Polly' and 'Omie Wise' as songs that his dad sang). Ralph Stanley introduced 'Pretty Polly' into the bluegrass repertoire, and Bill Monroe introduced our song of the week 'Banks Of The Ohio' into the bluegrass repertoire. Both these songs have become bluegrass standards.
The chord progression for 'Banks Of The Ohio' is V9 on the basic chord progressions handout, which is also used to play 'Love Me Darling Just Tonight', 'Ninety-Nine Years And One Dark Day', 'Take This Hammer', 'Wild Mountain Flowers For Mary', 'Give Me My Flowers While I'm Living', and the chorus of 'In The Sweet By And By':
There are only 8 important melody notes in Banks Of The Ohio: the first note of each odd numbered measure. See how many of these you can catch by ear by listening to the song before looking at the attached melody sheets. All the other melody notes in the song are connector notes: they function to create smooth transitions from one of the 8 main melody notes to the next main melody note. It makes little difference whether one uses transitional notes that ascend into the next main melody note or transitional notes that descend into the next main melody note. Even singers differ among themselves on which set of transitional notes to use to get from one main melody note to the next in this song, so even more so for the instruments, there is a lot of leeway for choosing transitional notes without this resulting in making the song unrecognizable. For instance, in place of the B A G notes in measure 2 that lead to the A note in measure 3, you could use G F# G instead. And, in place of the G A B notes in measure 10 that lead to the C note in measure 11, you could use D E D instead.
Here are a couple of links to listen to:
Tony Rice (key of F)
Notice that the intro break on the mandolin grabs notes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8 of the 8 main melody notes, but overshoots main melody note 5 (measure 9) going temporarily into the tenor harmony, and also overshoots main melody note 7 (measure 13) in the process of using a non-melody based 1511 break ending lick that would work for any number of songs played in the key of F (and, for any other key, if one transposes the notes) that have a progression that ends with 1511 Are you able to tell which of the main melody notes are preserved and not preserved in the other 3 breaks on the recording?
In the future, I may sing 'Banks Of The Ohio' in F instead of G. You might find it to be a good exercise to come up with, or learn, a break in F for this song, and then try to transpose it up to G, or vice versa. Or, since the song will be played in G while it goes through the 'song of the week' cycle, you might find it helpful to tune your instrument down a whole step to play along with the recording (playing in F, but using the same fingerings you would normally use for playing in G) to be influenced more by what you are hearing on the recording while still playing with the sets of fingerings that you will have immediate use for, or put the recording through a software program like the Amazing Slowdowner to change the key of the recording from F to G.
Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, and Alison Krauss (key of E)
I like to play this song around the same tempo as on the second link, but with the very pronounced 'swing' or 'bouncy' feel that is on the first link. This 'feel' is created by delaying playing the second of two consecutive eighth notes, whenever the first of the two eighth notes occurs in one of the 4 strongest spots in a measure (but not delaying the note that comes after it that is in a strong spot in the measure). On the recording, this is particularly noticeable on the banjo, since quite often the banjo is playing a steady stream of eighth notes. In cut time, a measure consisting of 8 eighth notes is counted as: 1e&a2e&a. The 4 strongest spots are the '1', the '2' and the 'ands'. (boom-chuck-boom-chuck) To create this 'bounce', the notes occurring in these spots are held about twice as long as the notes occurring in the 4 weaker spots. The resulting pattern of note durations is thus: long-short-long-short-long-short-long-short. On rhythm guitar, this means that any upstrokes that are played (between the 'boom' and the 'chuck' or vice versa) will be delayed.
On most bluegrass recordings, this 'bounce' is ever-present to one degree or another; but on some songs, and as played by certain players, it is more pronounced, (or is just simply more readily noticeable,) than usual. Because playing with 'bounce' is so universal in bluegrass music, one can learn to play with bounce without even realizing that one is doing this.
Because there are a few songs that have been played at the last 2 jams that are not on any of the beginner or intermediate jam song lists and have chord progressions which can be difficult to relate to any of the progressions on the basic progressions chart, and these songs will likely be played again in the near future at the jam, I am including here the chord progressions that were used for those songs at the jam.
Down In A Willow Garden - sheet music in E - sheet music in G
Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys - Willow Garden
The Osborne Brothers(with Red Allen) - Down In The Willow Garden
1 1 1 6m 6m 6m 1 6m
1 1 6m 6m 1 1 6m 6m
1 1 1 4 1 1 1 4
1 5 1 1 1 5 1 1
Over The Waterfall - D (AABB form) - sheet music - web
The Mandolin Casefiles: Over The Waterfall - www.youtube.com/watch?v=akRSsTsTdDA
Over The Waterfall · Grandpa Jones & Family - www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRuDFS2cgGA
1/5 1 1/5 1 1/4 1 1/5 1
1/5 1 b7 4 1/4 1 5 1
Poor Wayfaring Stranger - sheet music - web
Bill Monroe - "Wayfaring Stranger" - www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMrBCJObQOk
Alison Krauss - Wayfaring Stranger - www.youtube.com/watch?v=brAXHYv-JYc
1m 1m 1m 1m b6 b6 b3 b3
4m 4m 1m 1m b6 b6 5 5
1m 1m 1m 1m 1m 1m 1m 1m
4m 5 1m 1m 4m 5 1m 1m
Shady Grove (the 'hippie version') - sheet music (pdf)
David Holt and Doc Watson: Shady Grove
Jerry Garcia and David Grisman - Shady Grove
1m b7 1m 1m
b3 b7 b7 1m
Cheyenne - (Melody sheet - pdf)
The Bluegrass Album Band - Cheyenne
- A Part in Gm, B Part in Bb
1m 1m 1m 1m 1 3 4 1
5 5 1m 1m 1 5 1 1
1m 1m 1m 1m 1 3 4 1
5 5 1m b7 1 5 1 1
Note: In Cheyenne, '5' in the A Part and '3' in the B Part are the same chord. Likewise, 'b7' at the end of the A Part is the same chord as '5' in the B Part.
See the attached Nashville Number Chart to translate the number names of the chords into letter names for whatever keys you wish to practice these progressions in. (E.g., banjo players may find it easier to work up a Scruggs-style break for Over The Waterfall in C rather than in D, and then just capo 2 to end up in the key of D. On guitar, It is far more convenient to learn Cheyenne in Em and G, rather than in Gm and Bb, and then just capo 3 to end up in Gm and Bb.)
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