The song of the month for May will be 'Down In A Willow Garden' (a.k.a. 'Rose Connelly') in the key of F. I'll be at the jam on Wednesday, May 11th to lead it.
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
Here are four youtube jam videos I have made for Down In A Willow Garden.
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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 is similar to how we almost always play Columbus Stockade Blues at the jams, 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.
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