The song of the week is 'Are You Missing Me' in the key of G.
Jim & Jesse - key of G
The progression for the verses and breaks is:
The progression for the chorus is the same as that for My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains, and the verses of How Mountain Girls Can Love and Columbus Stockade Blues:
Notice that the verse and chorus progressions differ from each other only by two measures. For helping to get the song off to a strong start at the jam, the main thing to remember about the verse progression is that there is a change to the 4 chord in the second measure of lines 1 and 3.
Melody & Harmony
The melody for the chorus has little in common with the melody for the verse, and is not nearly as straightforward as the melody for the verse. Each line of the chorus starts with a different melody note (disregarding the nonessential grace notes that the first and third line begin with). The melody for lines 1 and 3, which one might expect to be similar, are significantly different from each other, and line 4 begins with a uncommon starting note for a line, the 7th note of the major scale (F# note when in the key of G).
On the recording, the harmony part is prominent in the mix, and in certain spots, most notably the beginnings of lines 2 and 4, the harmony notes form wide intervals with the melody notes (a major 6th for the beginning of line 2 on the word 'with': the notes are separated from each other by 9 half steps: A is the melody note, and the F# above it is the harmony note; a minor 6th for the beginning of line 4 on the word 'are': the notes are separated from each other by 8 half steps: F# is the melody note, and the D above it is the harmony note).
For all these reasons and more, it is very easy to misidentify many of the melody notes for the chorus. So, in addition to the melody sheets for the verse which are intended to give people a good starting point for coming up with melody-based breaks on their instruments, I have also included in the attachments a chorus melody and harmony sheet for the benefit of singers which is based upon the first chorus on the recording. The lower of the two parts shown on the sheet is the melody, and the higher of the two parts is the harmony. Special thanks to Kathy Allyn and to my wife Renee for their time and assistance in helping me to produce a much more accurate transcription than what I could have done on my own.
The song of the week is 'Wildwood Flower' in the key of D.
Flatt & Scruggs - key of D instrumental
The Carter Family - key of Bb: original recorded version with vocals
Mother Maybelle Carter - key of F# with vocals
key of F: instrumental
The chord progression for Wildwood Flower is:
Notice that the 1st, 2nd, and 4th lines of the progression are each 5 measures long.
Vocal or Instrumental?
Before moving to Boise, I was much more accustomed to playing Wildwood Flower at Bluegrass jams as an instrumental rather than as a song with vocals. But, despite the difficulties involved in singing Wildwood Flower, due to the wide range of the melody and the nature of the lyrics, there have been enough people at the beginner and intermediate jams over the past few years who like to sing Wildwood Flower that it has rarely been played as an instrumental when called at the jams. So, in making Wildwood Flower a song of the week for the intermediate jam, I have chosen to sing it rather than leading it as an instrumental.
When played as an instrumental at a bluegrass jam, Wildwood Flower is most often played either in the key of C or the key of G, with guitar players tending to prefer C and banjo players tending to prefer G.
When Wildwood Flower is sung at a jam, one can expect it to be played in any of the 8 standard bluegrass keys: G, A, Bb, B, C, D, E, or F. Because the melody of the song has an unusually wide range (it spans an interval of a major 10th: that is, one whole octave plus a third of an octave), one may find it difficult to find a key that one can comfortably sing the song in, and once one has identified a comfortable key to sing it in, one may discover that that is the only key that one feels comfortable singing the song in.
Since my early childhood, I have been familiar with set of lyrics for Wildwood Flower on the classic 1928 Carter Family recording (a recording that has greatly influenced most subsequent versions of the song), but have found the lyrics difficult to memorize, as some of the lines make little sense. As far as I can tell from listening to the old record, the lyrics on it are as follows:
Oh, I'll twine with my mingles and waving black hair
With the roses so red and the lilies so fair
And the myrtle so bright with the emerald dew
The pale and the leader and eyes look like blue.
I will dance, I will sing and my laugh shall be gay
I will charm ev'ry heart, in his crown I will sway
When I woke from my dreaming, my idols was clay
All portion of love had all flown away.
Oh, he taught me to love him and promised to love
And to cherish me over all others above
How my heart is now wond'ring no misery can tell
He's left me no warning, no words of farewell.
Oh, he taught me to love him and called me his flow'r
That's blooming to cheer him through life's dreary hour
Oh, I long to see him and regret the dark hour
He's won and neglected this pale wildwood flower.
If one compares these lyrics with the original set of lyrics published in 1860, one can see the full extent to which some of the lines got butchered in the transmission process that eventually resulted in the Carter Family version. The original lyrics are:
I'll twine 'mid the ringlets of my raven black hair
The lilies so pale and the roses so fair
The myrtle so bright with an emerald hue
And the pale aronatus with eyes of bright blue.
I'll sing and I'll dance, my laugh shall be gay
I'll cease this wild weeping, drive sorrow away.
Tho' my heart is now breaking, he never shall know
That his name made me tremble and my pale cheeks to glow.
I'll think of him never, I'll be wildly gay
I'll charm ev'ry heart, and the crowd I will sway.
I'll live yet to see him regret the dark hour
When he won, then neglected, the frail wildwood flower.
He told me he loved me, and promised to love
Through ill and misfortune, all others above
Another has won him, ah! mis'ry to tell
He left me in silence, no word of farewell.
He taught me to love him, he call'd me his flower
That blossom'd for him all the brighter each hour
But I woke from my dreaming, my idol was clay
My visions of love have all faded away.
The way I sing the song is based on the original set of lyrics, but is influenced by my familiarity with the Carter Family version. For instance, I sing only 4 verses, by combining verses 2 and 3 together into a single verse. I omit the last three lines of verse 2 and the first line of verse 3.
Guitar & Banjo Melody Tabs
Without a capo, the key of C works much better than the key of D for working up either a Carter-style or a crosspicking guitar break for Wildwood Flower, which are the two main traditional approaches to playing guitar breaks for the song. For this reason I have not included a guitar tab melody sheet written in D in the attachments. To play a break in D based upon the key of C guitar melody sheet provided here, you will need to capo the 2nd fret of the guitar.
Two banjo tabs of the melody are given in the attachments, one written in the key of C with the banjo tuned to C tuning (GCGBD): capo 2 for D, and one written in the key of D with the banjo tuned to D tuning (F#DF#AD). These are the two options that I believe work best for working up basic Scruggs-style breaks for Wildwood Flower in D. (For clawhammer players, I advise tuning to double C tuning: GCGCD, capo 2 for D. To convert the C tuning melody sheet to double C tuning, all you need to do is to change the 1s to zeros on the line that represents the 2nd string.)
Here's the original recording of Earl's Breakdown:
Flatt & Scruggs
The song of the week is Steel Rails in the key of G.
Alison Krauss - key of E
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.
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 chord progression for the verses and breaks of Nellie Kane was:
(x2 for a full length break)
The chorus uses the same progression as Gold Watch And Chain, Way Down Town, Back Up And Push, and the chorus of How Mountain Girls Can Love.
Hot Rize - key of E
John Hardy was played as an instrumental. The progression was:
Flatt & Scruggs with Doc Watson - key of G
The song of the week is 'Cryin' Holy (Unto The Lord)', a.k.a. 'On The Rock Where Moses Stood', in the key of G.
I closely associate 'Cryin' Holy' with 'I'll Fly Away' and 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken', but really for no other reasons than that all three use the same chord progression (at least in most versions of the songs): V3 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout), and they are all Gospel-themed songs. However, unlike 'I'll Fly Away' and 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken', 'Cryin' Holy' tends not be all that well-known outside Bluegrass circles. When I feel the need at a jam to call a song that I think everyone will find fairly easy to follow along with, and songs like 'I'll Fly Away' and 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' come to mind, I will sometimes choose 'Cryin' Holy' instead, because, although it is a less obvious song choice, its progression can be readily explained in terms of the other two songs, parts of its melody are closely related to 'I'll Fly Away' and other songs that use the same or a similar progression, and people tend to catch on quickly to the lyrics for the chorus, so as be able to sing harmony on the choruses. And, I am one of those people who likes to collect jam-friendly songs that are not among those that tend to get played to death at many jams.
Ever since I can remember, I have known the Carter Family version of 'Cryin' Holy':
My grandmother had this version on an LP called 'The Original and Great Carter Family', that I recall listening to quite often when I was a child, and this record is now in my collection.
In Bluegrass circles, the music of the Carter Family is often categorized as 'pre-Bluegrass'. Outside Bluegrass circles, people variously label their music as 'Hillbilly', 'Old-Time', 'Country', 'Folk', and even sometimes as 'Bluegrass'.
Shortly after I discovered Bluegrass, I came across a Bill Monroe live Bluegrass Gospel cassette tape in a friend's tape collection, and borrowed it. This was the first time I had heard Bill Monroe, and Cryin' Holy was one of the first songs on the tape. (Being new to Bluegrass at the time, I was happily surprised at how many of the songs on the tape I already knew from non-bluegrass recordings of the same songs.) I recall liking that it was played much faster than on the old Carter Family record, and with my three favorite instruments taking turns playing breaks on it: fiddle, banjo, and mandolin. I also remember finding it interesting that the lyrics were noticeably different than what I used to from the Carter Family record.
Here is a Bill Monroe live version that is similar to the one that was on the tape:
'Cryin' Holy' starts at 8:50 (key of B)
For comparison, here is a much older and more well-known Bill Monroe recording of the song (key of A) that has a different feel to it than the one given above. The following recording is from the early 40's, which is part of the short time period that I think of as being the transitional phase in Bill Monroe's music from his unique brand of 'Old-Time' music to Bluegrass proper. Although it is anachronistic to say this, one could retrospectively describe this version as Old-Time with strong leanings towards Bluegrass.
Cryin' Holy Unto My Lord - Bil Monroe
(Notice that on this recording the ending line of the progression is, at least on the breaks, 5511 instead of the 1511 that is on the live version and on the Carter Family record, and in the version coming up below.)
Most songs that use Prog. V3 (or the closely related Prog. W3) have melodies for their second line that are similar enough to be interchanged with each other. Thus, one could play line 2 of a melody based break for I'll Fly Away or Will The Circle Be Unbroken (or Mountain Dew, Sitting On Top Of The World, When My Time Comes To Go, Long Gone, Won't You Let Me Be Your Friend, Riding On The Midnight Train, etc.) for line 2 of Cryin' Holy and it would not sound out of place in the song. The melody for the 4th line of Cryin' Holy is identical to the melody for the 4th line of I'll Fly Away.
Notice that the 2 pickup notes built into the melody, descend, rather than ascend, to the first melody note of the first measure proper. (Same scenario as for 'Columbus Stockade Blues' and 'Little Maggie'.) For this reason, it is better to use a descending pickup phrase for leading into one's breaks, rather than the more typical ascending pickup phrases that lead up to the root note of the 1 chord. (Other good options, but that are sometimes instrument specific, can be found on the breaks on the recorded versions provided here.) To make an appropriate 3-note pickup phrase out of the 2 melody pickup notes, all one needs to do is to play a Bb note after the B note and before the A note, thus resulting in the chromatically descending note sequence: B, Bb, A.
The melody for the third line of 'Cryin' Holy' is the only really distinctive part of the melody of the song. Some Bluegrass players like to have fun with this line by syncopating in various different ways the timing of melody, which as usually sung is very straight (consecutive half-notes for its first three measures, in the choruses). For good examples of this, check out the banjo breaks on the version recorded by J.D. Crowe & The New South (key of B):
For contrast, here are Earl Scruggs' breaks on Cryin' Holy - key of A (from 'Songs Of The Famous Carter Family': the Flatt & Scruggs record mentioned earlier in this email), which are similar to J.D.'s breaks, but without the syncopation in the third line:
How Mountain Girls Can Love
Here's the original recording of How Mountain Girls Can Love:
The Stanley Brothers - key of A
Notice the beginning of the arrangement: 2 breaks using the verse progression and melody are played before the first verse is sung.
Break (based upon the melody for the verses; progression starts with the 1 chord)
Chorus (progression and melody differs from the verses; progression starts with the 4 chord)
Break (based upon the melody for the verses; progression starts with the 1 chord)
Here's 'Cumberland Gap' on the Foggy Mountain Banjo album:
Flatt & Scruggs - key of G
At the jam last night we used the form AABBAA for all breaks, but there is no consistent form on the recording:
She's More To Be Pitied
The verses and breaks for 'She's More To Be Pitied' use the familiar 'Canaan's Land/Gathering Flowers From The Hillside/Fireball Mail' progression:
But, the chorus progression is very unusual. As it was played at last night's jam, the progression for the chorus was:
It helps to keep track of where you are at in the last 2 lines of the chorus if you play a fillin lick in the second to last measure of line 3 and in the second to last measure of line 4, which then allows for either one or two (but not three) quarter note pickups to be played in the last measure of the chorus to lead into your break.
The Stanley Brothers - key of A
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