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.
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