The song of the week is 'Wreck Of The Old '97' in the key of D.
Flatt & 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
Progression & Melody
Wreck Of The Old '97 uses the most commonly recurring chord progression in bluegrass, the 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow/I'll Still Write Your Name In The Sand' progression.
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, with the lowest note in the melody being a D (the root note of the key), and the highest note in the melody being the E that is one octave plus one whole step higher than the lowest note in the melody.
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.
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.
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. The B-side of the record is '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
Reiteration/Clarification of Wednesday Evening's Teaching Segment
The line of perfect 5ths (most commonly represented as a closed circle and called 'the circle of 5ths'): ...Dbb Abb Ebb Bbb Fb Cb Gb Db Ab Eb Bb F C G D A E B F# C# G# D# A# E# B# F## C## G## D##... groups together in close proximity with each other the notes and chords that most frequently go together with each other in music (e.g., the notes of the Root-5 backup pattern for each chord; the 1,4,and 5 chords for each key, which can be expanded to include the b7 and 2 chords, then the b3 and 6 chords, etc.; the notes making up the Major Scale for each key, as well as the 'Old Joe Clark/Red Haired Boy' Scale, i.e., the Mixolydian Scale, the 'Little Liza Jane'/'Down In A Willow Garden' Scale, i.e., the Major Pentatonic Scale, the 'Clinch Mountain Backstep Scale', i.e., the Minor Pentatonic Scale, etc.) because, other than the perfect unison and the perfect octave, perfect 5ths and perfect 4ths (the inverses of perfect 5ths - read the line of 5ths backwards and you get 4ths instead) are the most fundamental intervals in music.
[By contrast, the Chromatic Scale (line, or circle, of half-steps): e.g., ascending: C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B (C); descending: D Db C B Bb A Ab G Gb F E Eb (D) widely separates many of the notes and chords that most frequently go together with each other in music.]
The line of 5ths also groups together the keys that are most closely related to each other. Any two keys adjacent to each other on the line of 5ths share all but one of their scale notes (no matter whether the scale type being used for comparison of the two keys be the Major, Major Pentatonic, Mixolydian, Dorian, Minor Pentatonic, etc.), and all but one of their 1,4, 5, etc., chords, in common with each other.
This has several significant implications when transposing from one key to another. For instance, on mandolin and fiddle, the line of 5ths lays out which keys have the most similar fingering patterns on the fingerboard as each other, and which ones have the least similar fingering patterns as each other, and everything in between the two extremes, in precise order of similarity and difference. For example, on mandolin, the open and fretted locations in first position for the notes of the G Major Scale are 0245(7) on the two lowest pairings of strings, and are 0235(7) on the two highest pairings of strings. The order of 5ths shows us that the C and D Major Scales will have more similarity in fingering patterns to the fingerings for the G Major Scale than any other keys: C Major (same fingerings on the 4th and 2nd strings as for G Major, but 0235(7) on the 3rd string, and 0135(7) on the 1st string); D Major (same fingerings on the 3rd and 1st strings as for G Major, but 0246(7) on the 4th string, and 0245(7) on the 2nd string). The more to the left of G you go on the line of 5ths, the lower the sum of the numbers become for each string, until you reach a certain point (it differs on each string) where the whole process starts over again due to the fact that on a fretted instrument, keys pairings like B and Cb, or F# and Gb, or C# and Db use identical sets of pitches for their respective scales (just with the notes being named differently). The exact opposite of all of this happens the more you go to the right of G on the line of 5ths.
For bluegrass banjo and bluegrass guitar, especially banjo (since it is most often tuned to the notes of a G chord), the key of G is 'home-base', the main 'go-to' key when a capo is not being used. Therefore, since C and D are the most closely-related keys to G, these are the two other keys that bluegrass banjo and guitar players will tend much more often to make use of than any other keys when playing without a capo, and then from these 3 keys: G, C, and D, with some favoring G and C over G and D or vice versa as their two main go-to's, will tend most often to capo from to arrive at any of the other Major keys they might need to play in. Notice that the relations of G & C, and G & D, to each other involve the perfect 4th and perfect 5th intervals. So, nearly all necessary manual transpositions (i.e., transpositions that do not involve moving the capo from one fret to another, or putting it on versus taking it off) on these instruments in bluegrass involve transposing in 4ths and 5ths. Being able to transpose from G to C and from C to G, or from G to D and from D to G, allow one to play in all the Major keys without ever needing to capo past the 6th fret, or rather, since the keys of F#/Gb and C#/Db tend to be entirely avoided for the sake of the non-capoed instruments like mandolin and fiddle, the 5th fret.
Use of the order of 5ths for transposing in 5ths and 4ths allows one to completely bypass the laborious process of counting up or down the chromatic scale, or some other scale.
The question came up right near the beginning of the teaching segment as to why I prefer to write the order of 5ths in a straight line instead of in a circle. A relevant to the point answer would have been that it helps to ensure that one is naming one's notes and chords correctly, for failure to name the notes and chords correctly in context obscures the simplicity of the patterns involved in relating one key to another, which when obscured can easily result in making transposition a much more difficult, if not an utterly confusing, process. E.g., the line of 5ths makes it clear that F#, not Gb, is the proper name for the 5 chord in the key of B, and for the 5th note of the B Major Scale, for, on the line, F# is to the immediate right of B, whereas Gb is 11 fifths removed from B on the line. When arranged in a circle, F# and Gb are both shown in the same position as each other on the circle immediately next to B. But B and Gb do not form an interval of a perfect 5th. They do not form an interval of any kind of 5th at all, for they span 6 letters of the musical alphabet (BCDEFG), rather than 5. They form an interval of a diminished 6th (=one half-step narrower than a minor 6th), which while this involves the same number of half-steps as a perfect 5th, its musical functions are radically different than that of a perfect 5th.
For the same reason, the line of 5ths can be useful to refer to to check back that one has correctly named the notes when doing other transpositions, for instance, transposing in whole-steps. Notice the pattern of whole-steps on the line of 5ths: it skips over every second 5th:
...Abb Ebb Bbb Fb Cb Gb Db Ab Eb Bb F C G D A E B F# C# G# D# A# E# B#F## C## G##...
Instead, I made reference to a case in which notes like F# and Gb are not just conceptually different or, within a given context, functionally different, but involve a real difference in pitch: e.g., justly tuned stacked perfect 5ths compressed into a single octave, for 12 justly tuned stacked 5ths (3:2 vibration ratio for each fifth: just like the interval formed by the 12th fret harmonic on a fretted instrument with the approximately 7th fret or approximately 19th fret harmonic) form a wider interval than 7 octaves (2:1 is the vibration ratio for an octave).
My answer raised questions that go well beyond the scope of the practical subject of transposing in whole-steps, 4ths, and 5ths in the context of playing bluegrass (the intended focus of the teaching segment), especially on a fretted instrument. But, since I opened up this can of worms, and a few people at the jam seemed interested in the subject, then for those of you who may wish to pursue the matter further, I can suggest some key terms to google search: 'Pythagorean Comma', 'Just Intonation', 'Equal Temperament', 'Intervals', 'Harmonic Series'.
15 songs were played at last night's jam:
Angel Band - Bb
Canaan's Land - F
Cherokee Shuffle - A
Clinch Mountain Backstep - A
Down In A Willow Garden - G
Gold Watch And Chain (played twice) - C & Bb
Little Liza Jane - D
Old Joe Clark - A
Temperance Reel - G
Turkey In The Straw - G
We'll Meet Again Sweetheart - A
Will You Be Loving Another Man - A
Wreck Of The Old '97 - D
Banjo Riff - D https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xx4CBNfWSXE
Cryin' Holy - B https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NR_nrt5xqKg
Jason's Intermediate Jam Blog 2019 - 2020
Weekly on Thursdays
Songs regularly called at the Beginner Bluegrass Jam and links from Jason's "Song of the Week" emails. (from Renee)
in alphabetical order