Wreck Of The Old '97
The song of the week is 'Wreck Of The Old '97' in the key of D.
The chord progression is:
In the key of D: 1=D, 4=G, 5=A.
The D chord consists of the notes: D, F#, and A
The G chord consists of the notes: G, B, and D
The A chord consists of the notes: A, C#, and E.
Together, these notes make up the D major scale: D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, and the melody of Wreck Of The Old '97 uses all the notes of the scale.
Wreck Of The Old '97 has no chorus. There are 6 verses for the song, but it is common for only 5 verses to be used for the song.
While Wreck Of The Old '97 uses a very common chord progression - the most common of all progressions in bluegrass, there are some things about its melody that are uncommon in bluegrass. For instance, in the second line, at the point where the change to the '5' chord occurs ('A' in the key of D), the melody hangs on the 7th note of the scale ('C#' in the key of D), whereas it is far more common in songs for the melody to go the 2nd note of the scale ('E' in the key of D) at this point instead when the second line of the progression for a song is 1155.
Here are some good bluegrass versions of 'Wreck Of The Old '97' to listen to:
Flatt And Scruggs: key of Bb
The Osborne Brothers: mandolin intro break and verses in the key of E; fiddle break in the key of A; banjo break in the key of B
Mac Wiseman: key of D
In the attachments, I have included 2 guitar tabs of the melody: one written in the key of D, and one written in the key of C. The locations of the melody notes on the fretboard in the 'C' tab make the 'C' tab more conducive than the 'D' tab to working out a Carter-style break for the song. If for this reason, or some other reason, you choose to work with the C tab instead of the D tab, you will need to capo the 2nd fret in order to be playing the song in D. I have also included 2 banjo tabs of the melody, one in D and one in C. Since the lowest note of the melody is the 1st note of the scale (a 'C' note in the key of C, a 'D' note in the key of D), you will need to tune the 4th string of the banjo down to a 'C' note if you choose to work with the key of C banjo tab of the melody given here. Capoing to the 2nd fret will then raise the pitch of the 4th string back up to a D note.
Additional Points of Interest
If you are interested in learning about the history of the song, here is a good article on Wikipedia to check out that deals with both the historical event that the song is about, and with the history of the song itself:
For those who are interested, here are a couple of non-bluegrass versions of 'Wreck Of The Old '97' that I was familiar with before I got into bluegrass music. The second one is the second-oldest recording of the song, dating from 1924, and was the first million-seller 'Country' record. It has been many years since I have seen a copy of the old '78 record, but I recall that the B-side of the record was 'The Prisoner's Song', another old 'pre-bluegrass' classic that has been adopted into the standard bluegrass repertoire.
Johnny Cash: key of Bb
Vernon Dalhart: key of D
Down In A Willow Garden
The chord progression that was used last night for Down In A Willow Garden was:
Here;s a good version of the song that uses almost the same progression (the only difference is that the beginning of the 2nd part is 4414 instead of 4416m)
Lonesome River Band - key of B
Ole Slew Foot
The chord progression for Ole Slew Foot is:
Jim & Jesse - key of A
The song of the week is the Bill Monroe classic from the 50s 'On And On' in the key of G.
Bill Monroe - key of G
Tony Rice - key of G
Tempo and Feel
The Tony Rice version is noticeably faster than the original Bill Monroe recording. (I like to play On And On somewhere between the two tempos), but notice what the two versions have in common: the playing and singing is crisp, clear, and punchy. In Bluegrass, all these elements are important in the delivery of a song. Listening frequently to good quality Bluegrass recordings, and playing and singing along with them can go a long ways to help develop the right feel for playing and singing Bluegrass.
Sing and play your breaks on top of the beat, keep a driving and percussive rhythm going when playing backup, don't allow your notes, strums, syllables, etc., to blur together. In traditional Bluegrass, there are no drums: to keep a steady pulse and well-defined beat going during a song requires that all the instruments and the vocals do their part to fill this percussive 'void'.
Attack the strings sharply and swiftly, and play close enough to the bridge to avoid a mushy tone. Finding just the right distance from the bridge to play on your instrument to get the desired amount of percussive element in your playing can do a lot for eliminating mushiness from the sound of your playing. (The closer to the bridge you play, the more percussive your playing will tend to sound, but if you get right up to the bridge, you will lose tone and volume.) Aim to get from your instrument the same quality of sound and feel that you are familiar with from listening to good Bluegrass records.
Progression, Melody, and Breaks
'On And On' uses one of the most common chord progressions in Bluegrass:
...and its melody has a fair bit in common with many other songs that use the same progression. Of songs that have been played regularly at the jam, Foggy Mountain Top has the most similarities to On And On. For recordings and melody tabs of Foggy Mountain Top, go to:
If you already familiar with Foggy Mountain Top, try coming up with a melody-based break for On And On by listening to the recordings of On And On before taking a look at the melody sheets for On And On provided in the attachments.
The challenge here is to come up with a way of recycling a lot of the same moves/licks you use for a melody-based break for Foggy Mountain Top but without your break for 'On And On' sounding like it is a break intended for Foggy Mountain Top.
For melody-based breaks that do not follow the melody slavishly, the first deviation between a melody-based break for 'On And On' and a melody-based break for 'Foggy Mountain Top' need not occur until measures 4. Take advantage of the deviation between the melodies for the two songs that occur in measures 4 and 5 to distinguish what otherwise might be nearly identical breaks.
Harmony and Lyrics
On the standard recordings of 'On And On', harmony is sung on both the verses and the choruses, rather than only on the choruses. At a jam, there is no need to sing harmony on the verses, but if one wishes to do so, it would not be out of place, given the precedents for this on the standard recordings of the song.
But you need to be singing the same set of lyrics as the lead singer, and these need to be sung from memory, so you can watch the lead singer to make sure you are lining up with his phrasing. (Make a cheat sheet consisting of the first line of each verse to help jog your memory in the moment as to what the next verse is: if and when you need to, look at this cheat sheet before the verse in question begins, not while singing the beginning of the verse.)
You might have noticed that there are a few slight differences in the lyrics on the two recordings given here. As I sing them when leading the song, the lyrics are:
Trav'lin' down this long lonesome highway
I'm so lonesome I could cry
With mem'ries of how we once loved each other
And now you are saying goodbye.
On and on I'll follow my darlin'
And I wonder where she can be
On and on I'll follow my darlin'
And I wonder if she ever thinks of me.
I've cried I've cried for you little darlin'
It breaks my heart to hear your name
My friends they all so love you my darlin
And they think that I am to blame
I had to follow you little darlin
I can't sleep when the sun goes down
By your side is my destination
The road is clear and that where I'm bound
She Left Me Standing On The Mountain - A
The chord progression for She Left Me Standing On The Mountain is:
Here is the Jim & Jesse recording of the song:
Nine Pound Hammer
The song of the week is 'Nine Pound Hammer' in the key of B.
Here are a couple of good performances of Nine Pound Hammer to listen to:
Lonesome River Band - key of B
Tony Rice - key of A
The chord progression for Nine Pound Hammer is:
In the key of B: 1=B; 4=E; 5=F#
The B chord consists of: BD#F#; the E chord: EG#B; the F# chord: F#A#C#
Breaks, Improvisation, and Scales
While the intro break for the song should follow the melody closely enough to make it clear what song is being played before the first verse is sung, Nine Pound Hammer lends itself quite well to lick-oriented improvised breaks that may deviate considerably from the melody. (See especially the second youtube link above for examples of this.) This is a good song to use as a means for practicing any licks that you may have in your repertoire that fit over a line of 1144 or a line of 1511 for the key that you are playing the song in.
On mandolin and fiddle, a good place to get started with finding suitable notes on your instrument to make use of in licks for improvising over Nine Pound Hammer in the key of B is to run through the B Major, B Major Pentatonic, and B Dorian Scales:
B Major Scale = B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B
B Major Pentatonic Scale = B, C#, D#, F#, G#, B
B Dorian Scale = B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A, B
On guitar, banjo, and dobro, run through the equivalent G Scales with the capo on the 4th fret to raise your key of G playing up to the key of B:
G Major Scale = G, A, B, C, D, E. F#, G
G Major Pentatonic Scale = G, A, B, D, E
G Dorian Scale = G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F, G
When playing without a capo in keys that have a lot of sharps in their key signature, I tend to try to find more spots than usual in my breaks for where I can make good use of 'blue notes': flatted 3rds and flatted 7ths (observe that these are the two notes in the dorian scale that differ from the notes in the major scale) but only to the extent these suit the song. The reason for this is that in these keys, flatted 3rds and flatted 7ths end up being notes that frequently occur in the more 'user-friendly' keys of C, G, D, and A. In the key of B, the flatted 3rd is a D note, and the flatted 7th is an A note. Unlike the 3rd and 7th scale degrees of the B major scale (i.e., D# and A#), both of these 'blue notes' (D and A when in the key of B) are part of the major scale for all the keys that I feel most comfortable playing in without a capo.
Nine Pound Hammer lends itself especially well to the use of blue notes in breaks, so even when playing it in keys that don't have a lot of sharps, I still tend to use about just as many blue notes in improvised breaks for the song. In the key of G, the flatted 3rd and flatted 7th notes are Bb and F respectively.
Closely related to the use of blue notes is the use of 7th chords. One can make good use of 7th chords in improvised breaks during a measure of the 1 chord that is followed by the 4 chord, and also during a measure of the 4 chord that is followed by the 1 chord. 7th chords are created by flatting the 7th major scale degree of the chord being played and adding that note to the chord. E.g., the 7th scale degree of the B major scale is an A# note. Flatting this note (i.e., lowering it by a half step) gives the A note. Adding the A note to a B chord results in an B7 chord. The 7th scale degree of the E major scale is a D# note. Lower this note by a half step and you have a D note. Add the D note to an E chord and this creates an E7 chord. Adding an F note to a G chord makes it a G7, adding a Bb note to a C chord makes it a C7, etc.
Practicing with a Capo
For guitar, dobro, and especially banjo players who have much less experience playing in B than in G and A: I suggest making it a point to spend some practice time playing with the capo on the 4th fret (with the 5th string, on banjo, spiked/capoed at the 9th fret), for although the fingerings for playing in B will be the same as those for playing in G, the instrument will feel different to play: the frets will be closer together, and the strings will feel a bit tighter; and on banjo, it can get a bit confusing to see the 5th (short) string being located directly above one's left hand when one is playing in first position if one is not used to this.
Turkey In The Straw
Song of the Week
The song of the week is the old-time fiddle tune 'Turkey In The Straw' in the key of G. The melody sheets attached here show the form (AABB) and chord progression for the tune.
Here is an excellent Bluegrass performance of 'Turkey In The Straw' to listen to: some pretty advanced playing going on here at a relatively high speed (in excess of 140 beats per minute) for a fiddle tune played with so many melody notes per measure.
Intermediate Level Breaks
The melody sheets attached here for fiddle, mandolin, and guitar do not require anything to be added to them to make intermediate level breaks for Turkey In The Straw. They contain a good balance of quarter and 8th note, and very few of the melody notes are lingered on long enough to lend themselves well to the typical Bluegrass embellishments. The version of the melody given here, played as is as a break, is suitable for an intermediate level player to work with for getting his playing on the tune 'up to speed'. Aim to get up to 120 beats per minute. (2 clicks, not 4 clicks, of the metronome per measure). While you may need to eliminate a few notes here and there at first in order to be able to play your break up to speed, be careful not to take too many notes out: otherwise, your break will start to sound more like a beginner level break rather than an intermediate level break. With enough repetitions through the break, isolating and looping the passages you find most difficult, paying attention to your right and left hand technique, seeking to eliminate any and all unnecessary motions of the fingers that could slow you down, and pushing your speed with the help of a metronome, your ability to play at faster tempos will improve.
The first banjo tab attachment contains almost all the same notes that are given on the melody sheets for the other instruments. It is a melodic-style arrangement. Unless you already play in melodic style, I recommend referring instead to the second banjo tab attachment which contains a skeletal version of the melody that can be used as a guide for creating a Scruggs style break by putting rolls and left hand techniques (slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs) around the most essential or main melody notes of the tune.
Strong Beginnings & Endings
Also in the attachments is a chart of 8 potato intros and double endings that will work well for Turkey In The Straw, since the use of these types of beginnings and endings are the most effective ways to begin and end most fiddle tunes in the context of a Bluegrass jam.
Since it is crucial to get a tune off to a good solid start, for this affects how the whole song will be played, be sure to practice not only your 8 potato intros, but also the transition from the 8 potato intro into the beginning of your break. It is important to be aware that if you choose to begin your break with the two 8th note pickups written on the melody sheets, you will need to play these in place of the last quarter of the last measure that makes up your 8 potato intro, otherwise your timing will be off and the tune will get off to a bad start.
In practicing 'tack-on' endings (e.g., the double endings given in the attachments) that are played after the last note of the tune proper, be careful to hold the last note of the tune for exactly the right length of time before starting into the ending. And the same goes for the last note of the first half of a double ending. For otherwise, your timing will be off, and there are few things more anticlimactic at a jam than people being out of time with each other in playing their final note or chord for a song.
For Turkey In The Straw, this means, among other things, that the last melody note played needs to be held as a half note before starting into the double endings given here. The reason why this melody note is written on the melody sheets as a quarter note instead of a half note is simply because the melody sheets show how long the last note would need to be held if one were to go into the beginning of the break again after playing the last note. They do not show what needs to happen in order to transition into a tack-on ending, for no tack on endings are given on the melody sheets.
For figuring out the timing involved in going from an 8 potato intro into the beginning of a break, and the timing involved in going from the end of a break into a tack-on ending, just remember that, with the exception of specific spots in 'crooked' tunes (e.g., Down The Road, Clinch Mountain Backstep), all measures of a song, from the first full measure onward, need to be of equal duration.
Intermediate Bluegrass Jam
Jason will resume leading the Intermediate Bluegrass Jam at the Pioneer Building this coming Thursday (Sept. 7).
New Song List
Among the many suggestions made last Spring for ways to help improve the quality of the jam was the idea of having a rotating list of songs to be played from for the first half of the evening (much along the lines of how the beginner jam operates). I would like to try that and see what happens. So, for the first half of the evening we will play only songs on the list attached here titled "IBJ - Sept. - Dec. 2017". As the title implies, I intend this list to be current for the jam until the end of the year, but, depending on how things go at the jam, we may find it desirable to change the list at some point before the end of the year, or abandon the idea of having a song list to play from entirely.
The attachments titled 'Songs p.1, p.2, p.3, and p.4' contain the chord progressions for songs that have been played at least once at the jam since January 2017 that have either uncommon or otherwise hard to predict chord progressions.
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