The song of the week is Steel Rails in the key of G.
Alison Krauss - key of E
~ STEEL RAILS ~ Alison Krauss, full version
~ ~ ~ Lyrics ~ ~ ~ Steel rails, chasing sunshine round the bend Winding through the trees, like a ribbon in the wind I don't mind not knowing what lies down the track Cause I'm Looking out ahead, to keep my mind from turning back It's not the first time I've found myself alone and known If I really had you once, then I'd have you when I'm gone ...
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.
Steel Rails ends with a vocal tag that follows the final chorus. The progression for the tag is:
2m 5 5 5 5
4 1 1
and there is a stop at the beginning of the fifth measure.
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 song of the week will be 'East Virginia Blues' in the key of F.
The Country Gentlemen - key of G
Ralph Stanley - key of E
(Prog. W4 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout.)
East Virginia Blues may be sung either solo, or, as on the recordings, with harmony all the way through. The song does not have a chorus. The five verses that I sing when leading the song are:
I was born in East Virginia,
North Carolina I did go,
There I met a fair young maiden,
But her name I did not know.
Oh her hair was dark and curly,
And her cheeks were rosy red,
On her breast she wore white linen,
Where I longed to lay my head.
I don't want your greenback dollar,
I don't want your watch and chain,
All I want is your heart darling,
Won't you take me back again.
The ocean's deep and I can't wade it,
And I have no wings to fly,
I'll just get me a blue-eyed boatman,
For to row me over the tide.
I'll go back to East Virginia,
North Carolina ain't my home,
I'll go back to East Virginia,
And leave those North Carolinians alone.
Melody Sheets for Guitar and Banjo
For playing in the key of F, bluegrass guitarists usually either capo the 5th fret and play as if in C, or capo the 3rd fret and play as if in D. In the attachments I have included two melody sheets in guitar tab, one written in C, and one written in D.
For playing in the key of F, 3-finger-style banjo players are faced with many options, some of which are: 1) play in G tuning without a capo; 2) keep the four long strings in G tuning without a capo, but raise the 5th string to an A note; 3) in G tuning, capo the 5th fret, and raise the 5th string to a C note, and play as if in C; 4) in G tuning, capo the 3rd fret and raise the 5th string to a C note, and play as if D; and 5) in D tuning (F#DF#AD or ADF#AD), capo the 3rd fret, and raise the 5th string either to an A note or to a C note, and play as if in D. For playing East Virginia Blues, I favor the first, fourth, and fifth options. Accordingly, I have included in the attachments melody sheets in banjo tab written in F (in G tuning), and D (in D tuning and in G tuning). For the key of D in G tuning, I have given two melody sheets, the second of which is written an octave higher than the first.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!
The song of the week is 'Roving Gambler' in the key of A.
Here is my favorite version of Roving Gambler:
Peter Rowan - key of Bb
The progression I use for Roving Gambler is:
If it helps, you may wish to think of this progression as consisting of the first half of the progression for Long Journey Home (or Gotta Travel On) followed by the last line of the progression for Wildwood Flower (or Leaning On The Everlasting Arms. or Molly And Tenbrooks).
Other songs that have been played at the jam in which a three-line (as opposed to the much more common four-line) progression is used include Rocky Road Blues, Shuckin' The Corn, Molly And Tenbrooks, and the short form (12 measure) version of Worried Man Blues.
The progression given here is the same as that used for the breaks on the recording (minus extra measures of the 1 that go by between the ending of a break and the beginning of the next verse), but not for the verses. On the recording, there are extra measures of the 1 chord at the ends of both lines 2 and 3 in the verses. I keep the progression the same for both the verses and the breaks (once again, not counting any extra measures of the 1 that I might allow to go by between the ending of a break and the beginning of the next verse).
Form & Arrangement
The arrangement I use for Roving Gambler when leading it at the jam is based upon the recording: seven verses, no chorus, with two verses being sung back to back between breaks, with one verse left over to end the song.
Both the form and the arrangement I use for Roving Gambler are nearly identical with the form and arrangement used on the original Bill Monroe recording of Molly And Tenbrooks, a song that has occasionally been played at the jam, except that Molly And Tenbrooks is sung with 9 verses instead of 7, and makes use of a tack-on ending. See to what extent you can detect the similarities in form and arrangement between the two songs.
Molly And Tenbrooks - Bill Monroe
A third song with a similar form and arrangement to Roving Gambler and Molly And Tenbrooks is the version of McKinley's Gone (a.k.a., White House Blues) found on Flatt & Scruggs' Folk Songs Of Our Land album:
The practical advantage of learning to group songs together based upon similarity of form and/or arrangement is the same as the practical advantage of associating songs with each other that have similar progressions or the same progression as each other. It reduces the number of distinct pieces of information to keep track of when learning new songs, or when trying to follow along on new songs that come up at a jam, and this enables one to more quickly and easily expand one's repertoire.
The melody of Roving Gambler consists of the notes of the Major Pentatonic scale which are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes of the Major Scale (A, B, C#, E, and F# in the key of A; G, A, B, D, and E in the key of G, etc.) The first two lines (first 8 measures) of the melody of Roving Gambler are similar to the first two lines of the melody of Long Journey Home, except that the melody goes higher in Roving Gambler in measures 3 and 4 of line 1 than what it does in measures 3 and 4 of line 1 of Long Journey Home. The second lines of the two songs are similar enough that I often use exactly the same notes/licks in a melody-based intro break for the second line of Roving Gambler as the ones that I typically use for the second line of an intro break for Long Journey Home. Keep in mind that good melody-based breaks often do not follow the melody slavishly, but take some liberties with it.
Although Roving Gambler does not have a chorus, it does have repetitions in its lyrics. In these spots, namely, the third (last) line of each verse, it is common for harmony to be sung. The third line of any given verse repeats twice the lyrics that make up the second half of the second line of that verse. (Note: Molly And Tenbrooks has a similar type of repetition at the ends of its verses, but in that song it is not customary for harmony to be sung on the last line of the verses.)
The song of the week is 'Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms' in the key of B.
Flatt & Scruggs - key of Bb
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder - key of B
The chord progression on the recordings is:
(W2 on the basic chord progressions handout)
This progression is often mistaken for the closely related progression:
(V2 on the basic chord progressions handout)
The tempo is 166 beats per minute on the Flatt & Scruggs recording. The song is played even faster than that on the recording of the Kentucky Thunder live performance.
While we may not get the song up to the mid-160s as it goes through its song of the week cycle at the jam, I recommend practicing playing along with the recordings at full speed: for the faster we can play the song at the jam, the better. Last night, we attempted to play it at 150. The speed that I will kick it off at the next three intermediate jams will be determined by the size of the jam group and the combination of people and instruments that we have at each of those jams.
My intention is for us to play the song as fast as we can without getting the beat flipped around. For this purpose, it is important that the bass notes on the bass and the guitars be clearly heard above any chop/vamp rhythms on the off-beats played by the other instruments, and that those who are playing the chop/vamp rhythm make sure that they are playing on the off-beats rather than on the down-beats. If the song is being played too fast for someone to play their chop/vamp rhythm correctly, then that person should find something else to do on their instrument rather than play the chop/vamp rhythm out of time. Besides, the fewer people doing the chop/vamp rhythm at the same time as each other, the less danger there will be for the beat to get flipped around.
Key of B Review
In the key of B: 1=B, 4=E, 5=F#
The notes that make up the B chord are B, D#, and F#.
The notes that make up the E chord are E, G#, and B
The notes that make up the F# chord are F#, A#, and C#.
Together, these notes form the B Major Scale: B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, and A#.
The key of B is closely related to the key of E. The B Major Scale shares all but one of its notes in common with the E Major Scale. (The E Major Scale consist of the notes E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, and D#.) For this reason, of their 1, 4, and 5 chords, the keys of B and E share two chords in common. The 1 chord in the key of B is the same chord as the 5 chord in the key of E, and the 4 chord in the key of B is the same chord as the 1 chord in the key of E.
1 4 5
Key of B: B E F#
Key of E: E A B
For playing in the key of B, bluegrass banjo and guitar players almost always capo to the 4th fret, so that they can use the same fingerings that they would use for playing in the key of G. (In the key of G: 1=G; 4= C; 5=D.)
Here are the corresponding notes of the G and B Major Scales:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
G, A, B, C, D, E, F#
B, C#,D#, E, F#,G#,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