I'll be at the intermediate jam on Wednesday, Feb. 8th. The song of the month is 'Homestead On The Farm' (a.k.a. 'I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home') in the key of A.
Bluegrass History and Recordings
Homestead On The Farm was recorded by the Carter Family in 1929, but in bluegrass circles, this song tends to be more closely associated with Mac Wiseman, who first recorded the song more than 20 years after the Carters. On the points where Mac Wiseman's arrangement differs from the Carter Family's arrangement of the song (chord progression, melody, etc.), bluegrass players have tended to follow Mac.
Mac Wiseman played guitar and sang harmony on Flatt and Scruggs' Mercury Sessions recording of 'We'll Meet Again Sweetheart', which was one of the very first records Flatt and Scruggs made together after they left Bill Monroe's band. And, in the role of lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Mac Wiseman was Lester Flatt's immediate successor in Bill Monroe's band. Mac, for instance, is the lead singer on the original 1949 Bill Monroe recording of the popular bluegrass standard 'Can't You Hear Me Calling'.
Here are two of Mac's recordings, and one live performance, of Homestead On The Farm:
key of Bb:
key of A:
key of A:
Progression, Form, and Arrangement
The chord progression I use for Homestead On The Farm is the same as the one that Mac Wiseman usually used:
(In the key of A: 2 = B. The '2' chord is a whole-step higher than the 1 chord, so in the key of Bb: 2 = C; in the key of G: 2 = A, etc.)
Notice that the verse ends on the 5 chord, instead of the 1 chord. This requires the verse progression to be followed by the chorus progression in order for the song to sound resolved. Since the verse ends with one being left hanging on the 5, the chorus may easily come across as though it were simply the second half of a really long verse. For this reason, the parts of the song (breaks, verses, choruses) are usually arranged in such a way that the verse progression is never played twice back to back without the chorus progression intervening.
A typical jam arrangement of the song is:
Intro break - played over the chorus progression, (so that the intro break sounds resolved)
Break - played over the verse progression
Break - played over the chorus progression (by a different instrument than the one that played the immediately preceding break)
Break - played over the verse progression
If more breaks are needed than this, another break over the verse progression followed by another break over the chorus progression may be inserted right before Verse 2, and/or another break over the chorus progression followed by another break over the verse progression may be inserted right before the final chorus.
2 Chord Review
The root note of the 2 chord is one whole step higher than the root note of the 1 chord, and is named using the letter of the musical alphabet that immediately follows the letter that is used to name the 1 chord. Therefore:
In the key of A, 2 = B
In the key of Bb, 2 = C
In the key of B, 2 = C#
In the key of C, 2 = D
In the key of Db, 2 = Eb
In the key of D, 2 = E
In the key of Eb, 2 = F
In the key of E, 2 = F#
In the key of F, 2 = G
In the key of Gb, 2 = Ab
In the key of G, 2 = A
In the key of Ab, 2 = Bb
In chord progressions, the 2 chord is almost always followed by the 5 chord.
More on the '2' Chord
Just as one may substitute a dominant 7th chord (usually called just simply a 7th chord) in place of a major chord when a 5 chord is called for (e.g., D7 in place of D when playing in the key of G; G7 in place of G when playing in the key of C), so the same is also true for '2' chords (e.g., B7 in place of B when playing in the key of A; D7 in place of D when playing in the key of C; E7 in place of E when playing in the key of D).
Notice on the Mac Wiseman live performance included here, Mac is playing a B7 instead of a B: and this is common practice for bluegrass rhythm guitar when a B chord shows up when playing in any key without a capo in which the B chord functions as the 5 chord (key of E), the 6 chord (key of D), the 3 chord (key of G), or, in this case, as the 2 chord (key of A).
However, B7 in place of B would not work well if the B chord were functioning as the 1 chord (key of B), except when used as a transitional chord to lead from the 1 to the 4 (in the key of B, one might for instance play the first half of the I'll Fly Away progression as: BBBB7EEBB), and would not always work well for the 4 chord either (key of F#), and would almost never work for the b7 chord (key of C#). Most bluegrass rhythm guitar players need not concern themselves with this since most of them would never consider playing in any of these keys without a capo, and the two latter keys are not among the 8 Major keys that bluegrass songs are commonly played in at jams. But, it is good for all to be aware - regardless of which instruments they play - that there are only certain chords for which it is safe to habitually substitute dominant 7ths in place of majors.
When playing in the key of G in standard G tuning, banjo players may often automatically play a dominant 7th in place of a major for the 2 chord (in the key of G, an A7 chord in place of an A chord) without being consciously aware that they are doing so, for the 5th string - the short string - on the banjo is tuned - when in G tuning and when not capoed - to a G note (banjo players rarely ever fret this string), and this is the very note that when added to an A chord makes it into an A7 chord. (This same A7 chord will also often show up in place of an A for the 6 chord when banjo players are playing in C without a capo.)
To make any major chord a dominant 7th chord, all that one does is add to the chord the note that is a whole step lower than the note that has the same letter name as the chord: this is the b7 note/scale degree on the Nashville Number System Chart handout.
I think it sounds best if only some of the players at any given time, rather than all at the same time, in a band, or at a jam, use the dominant 7th in place of the major when playing over 2, 3, and 6 chords. On 5 chords, I like to hear the dominant 7th used even more sparingly.
Homestead On The Farm - Melody in A
Homestead On The Farm - Banjo tab
Homestead On The Farm - Guitar tab
Homestead On The Farm - Mandolin tab
Jason's Intermediate Jam Blog