The song of the week is 'Cry, Cry Darlin'' in the key of G.
Bill Monroe: key of A
Alison Krauss: key of C (starts at 0:55)
Ricky Skaggs: key of G
Dolly Parton: key of C
Notice how the last two versions, while falling within the parameters of the Bluegrass genre (at least as it is now commonly understood), lean the song in a decidedly Country direction. If one considers how many artists associated with other genres of music come from Bluegrass backgrounds, how many Bluegrass artists have been heavily influenced by other genres, and how many elements of other genres were put together to create Bluegrass in the first place, it should come as no surprise that the dividing line between Bluegrass and certain other genres is at some points quite thin, and that in many of these cases, it will not always be clear where the Bluegrass genre ends and another genre begins or vice versa.
The chord progression for the verses and breaks of Cry, Cry Darlin' is the most common of all progressions in Bluegrass:
The progression for the chorus is:
Notice that the last two lines of the chorus progression is the same as the last two lines of the verse progression.
Other songs that have 55112255 for the first two lines of their chorus progression which are then completed by the second half of their verse progression include 'Old Home Place', 'I'd Rather Die Young', 'Next Sunday Darling Is My Birthday', and some versions of 'My Little Home In Tennessee'. Other instances in which 55112255 shows up in songs include the first half of the third verse of 'Sunny Tennessee', and the first half of the pre-chorus of 'Tall Pines'.
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.
The 2 Chord in Cry, Cry Darlin'
In the two other songs on the current song list for the intermediate jam that use a 2 chord in their progressions ('I Can't Feel At Home In This World Anymore', and 'Homestead On The Farm'), the 2 chord is not necessary to use in the progression for the song: one can find recorded versions of these songs that do not use the 2 chord that sound musically correct (though perhaps not always quite as interesting), and the same is true of many songs that are commonly played in Bluegrass circles with a 2 chord. The main reason for this is that, for a song that uses no notes in its melody other than that of the Major Scale, no Major chords other than the 1, 4, and 5 are needed to harmonize the melody, for together, these three chords contain all 7 notes that make up the Major Scale, and they are the only Major Chords that contain no notes that are not part of the Major Scale.
In the case of 'Cry, Cry Darlin'', however, the main melody note in the 6th measure of the chorus (a C# note when the song is played in the key of G) forms a severely dissonant interval with the root notes of the 1, 4, and 5 chords, and also with one of the other notes in the 1 chord, and in the 4 chord. The note in question happens to be the one and only note in the 2 chord that is not part of the Major Scale.
When played in the key of G, the first half of the chorus of Cry Cry Darlin' uses in its melody all, and only, the same notes that make up the D Major Scale. The three chords that are used for that part of the song when played in the key of G also happen to be the same chords that are the 1,4, and 5 chords for the key of D, namely D, G, and A. (Conversely, the 1,4, and 5 chords for the key of G are the 4, b7, and 1 chords respectively for the key of D. G and D are closely related keys: the G Major and D Major Scales share 6 of their 7 notes in common with each other.) For these reasons, it is possible that some people might find it helpful to think of the first part of the chorus of Cry, Cry Darlin' as involving a modulation to the key of D when we play it at next week's jam.
20 songs were played at last night's jam:
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - Bb
Columbus Stockade Blues - Bb
Cry, Cry Darlin' - G
Down The Road - D
Homestead On The Farm - E
I'll Still Write Your Name In The Sand - G
Liberty - D
Little Cabin Home On The Hill - Bb
Little Liza Jane - D
Lonesome Road Blues - G
Mountain Dew - A
Nine Pound Hammer - B
Old Joe Clark - A
Turkey In The Straw - G
Lonesome Feeling - C
Hold Whatcha Got - B
How Mountain Girls Can Love - C
Cripple Creek - A
Bury Me Beneath The Willow - Bb
Keep On The Sunny Side - Bb
The song of the week is 'Blue Ridge Cabin Home' in the key of Bb.
Song of the Week Cycle
Starting this coming week, for the new intermediate jam, songs of the week will be played at 4 successive jams, rather than only 3.
What this means for next week is that Nine Pound Hammer will be played at the beginning of the jam, since it was the song of the week for the jam two Wednesdays ago. Little Liza Jane (yesterday's song of the week) will be played right before the intermission. Blue Ridge Cabin Home (the current song of the week) will be played after the intermission. And, finally the following week's song of the week (which will be Cry, Cry Darlin') will be played at the end of the evening.
This system worked very well for the previous incarnation of the intermediate jam, so I have decided to retain it for the new intermediate jam.
Blue Ridge Cabin Home was originally recorded by Flatt & Scruggs, but in many Bluegrass circles, the Bluegrass Album Band (Tony Rice - guitar, vocals; J.D. Crowe - banjo, vocals; Doyle Lawson - mandolin, vocals; Bobby Hicks - fiddle; Todd Phillips - bass) version of Blue Ridge Cabin Home, released in 1981, has replaced the Flatt & Scruggs version as the primary point of reference for the song.
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - The Bluegrass Album Band - key of Bb
For the phase that the Wednesday evening jam has just recently entered into (low intermediate), it is time for there to be more focus on observing and attempting to copy the nuances found on high quality standard bluegrass recordings of the songs that the jam group is already quite familiar with playing together.
Listen to the recording a few times, listening first for the tempo, feel/groove, and overall rhythmic pulse of the song. Pay attention to where each of the instruments and the vocals are sitting in the mix (i.e., relative loudness) at various times within the song, and where they sit relative to the beat. Also notice the tone of the instruments and vocals.
Play along with the recording (without slowing it down). Crank it up good and loud, so you can clearly hear it above your playing, without having to restrain yourself from digging in to your instrument. Sing along with it also, being careful to copy the phrasing of the lyrics as closely as possible. Make sure to allow your playing to be influenced by the recording as you play along with it. Here I have in mind not so much your choices of notes, but the manner and energy with which you play your notes.
Finally, turn the recording off, and play the song by yourself, seeing if you can still channel the same overall feel in your playing that you were able to achieve when you were under the direct influence of the record in listening to it and playing along with it several times over.
Some specifics worthwhile observing on the recording:
1) The pickup measure, together with the first few notes that come after it, played by the banjo at the very beginning of the song, with attention not so much to the choice of notes being played, but rather to how the notes are being played: timing, tone, attack, degree of sustain, etc.
2) How the band as a whole sounds together with the banjo when the band first starts playing after the pickup measure.
3) The melody-based nature of the banjo intro break.
4) How the banjo and the fiddle take turns being the dominant/featured backup instrument during the vocal parts of the song, and the types of licks that they use when being featured versus when not being featured.
5) Where the instruments overall sit in the mix on the choruses, and how this differs from where they sit in the mix on the verses.
6) What the guitar does during the verses and choruses when there is a pause in the vocals
7) Which parts of the fiddle, guitar, and second banjo breaks are melody-based, and what types of licks are being played in the non-melody based parts of these breaks.
8) What the banjo does at the end of the guitar break right before the last chorus starts.
9) How the band as a whole sounds in ending the song (the last 2 measures).
Other things worthwhile taking the time to do: listen to the recording all the way through with your attention focused on the chop rhythm on the mandolin; listen to the recording all the way through with your attention focused on the bass.
Key of Bb Review
In the key of Bb: 1=Bb, 4=Eb, 5=F
The notes that make up the Bb chord are Bb, D, and F.
The notes that make up the Eb chord are Eb, G, and Bb
The notes that make up the F chord are F, A, and C.
Together, these notes form the Bb Major Scale: Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, and A.
If you are fiddler or a mandolin player, and you already play songs or licks in the key of F, then, provided that these songs or licks do not require using the 4th string, you can take your same fingerings for F and move them all one string lower in pitch, and you will thereby be playing in Bb.
For playing chop chords on the mandolin that use no open strings, if you move the chords shapes you use for playing in the key of A up by one fret, this will put you in the key of Bb.
For playing in the key of Bb, bluegrass banjo and guitar players almost always capo to the 3rd fret, so that they can use the same fingerings that they would use for playing in the key of G. (In the keyof G: 1=G; 4= C; 5=D.)
Here are the corresponding notes of the G and Bb Major Scales:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
G, A, B, C, D, E, F#
Bb,C,D,Eb,F, G, A
Banjo players will need to raise the pitch of the fifth string to a Bb note (registers as A# on most tuners). For banjo players who do not have a fifth string capo or an 8th fret spike (that includes myself), spike the 5th string at the 7th fret, and then tune it up a half step to a Bb (A#) note. This is best done by ear by playing the 5th string with the thumb while playing the 3rd string with the index finger, turning the 5th string tuning peg slowly until the 5th string sounds harmonious with the 3rd string.
When playing up the neck on banjo in the key of Bb (capo 3, playing as if in G), you may find it helpful to use your 10th and 15th fret markers as your primary points of reference.
Progression & Melody
The chord progression for Blue Ridge Cabin Home is:
The notes that make up the melody for Blue Ridge Cabin Home are, from lowest to highest:
5 6 7 1 2 3 5
Key of Bb: F G A Bb C D F
Key of G: D E F# G A B D
17 songs were played at last night's jam:
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - Bb
Down The Road - B
I'll Still Write Your Name In The Sand - A
In The Pines - G
In The Sweet By And By - B
Liberty - D
Little Liza Jane - D
Lonesome Road Blues - G
Nine Pound Hammer - B
Old Joe Clark - A
Reuben - D
Turkey In The Straw - G
Wreck Of The Old '97 - D
Angeline The Baker - D
Soldier's Joy - D
A Memory Of You - Bb
Foggy Mountain Top - G
The song of the week is 'Little Liza Jane' in the key of D.
Alison Krauss: key of A:
The Nashville Grass: key of G:
Notice that in this version the order of the parts is the opposite of the Alison Krauss version. The order of the parts given in the attached melody sheets is the same as in the Alison Krauss version.
Little Liza Jane is a standard length two-part tune with an AABB form like 'Soldier's Joy', 'Liberty', 'Angeline The Baker', 'Turkey In The Straw', and 'Old Joe Clark'. That is, each part consists of 8 measures, and is repeated before going on to the next part.
The chord progression is identical for both parts of the tune:
The melody for Little Liza Jane uses only the notes of the Major Pentatonic Scale: i.e., the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th. and 6th notes of the Major Scale. In the key of D, this means that the melody notes are: D, E, F#, A, and B.
Transposing: Fiddle & Mandolin
Little Liza Jane is often played in the key of A, and sometimes in the key of G, but I prefer to play it in D. If you have a learned to play Liza Jane in A on the fiddle or the mandolin, grabbing the melody on the E and A strings, then by simply moving your same fingerings one string lower so that you are now grabbing the melody on the D and A strings, you will be playing it in the key of D.
If you are a banjo player, and you have learned to play Little Liza Jane in G, grabbing the melody on the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings, then by retuning your banjo to D tuning: F#DF#AD and moving your same fingerings one string lower, so that the melody is now being played on the 4th, 3rd and 2nd strings instead of the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings, you will be playing in the key of D.
As far as chords are concerned: the open strings of the banjo now make a D chord; and for the A chord measures in Little Liza Jane, you need not learn to form a full A chord in D tuning: it will suffice to simply zero in on starting your rolls with A notes for these measures (A notes are located in D tuning on the 2nd open string and on the 3rd fret of the 3rd string.) If you have never played in D tuning before, give it a try - it can be a lot of fun, and an easy way to start out with this tuning is to take songs you already play breaks for in G in which the melody does not require you to use the 4th string, for you can play these with the same fingerings you use when playing them in G, just by moving the fingerings one string lower in pitch.
Melody Sheets: Banjo & Guitar
I have included 2 melody sheets for banjo in the attachments, one written for D tuning, and the other written for G tuning (with the 5th string spiked/capoed up to an A note to make it more compatible as a drone string for the key of D).
I have also included 2 melody sheets for guitar in the attachments, one written in D and the other written in C (capo 2 for D). If you wish to work out a Carter-style break for Little Liza Jane (i.e., a break in which strums are used to fill up the space between melody notes that are of a duration greater than a quarter note), working it out in C and then capoing the 2nd fret to raise you up to D is easier on the left hand than playing it in D without a capo.
Don't This Road Look Rough And Rocky - E
Come Back Darling - C
Little Georgia Rose - D
The last three songs are not on the current main list for the jam, but there is no reason why they shouldn't be. They are bluegrass jam standards that are highly appropriate song choices for the new intermediate jam. For any of these songs that you are not already familiar with, I highly recommend taking the time to acquaint yourself thoroughly with them, starting with the youtube links I have provided, and then taking it from there.
The song of the week is 'Nine Pound Hammer' in the key of B.
Lonesome River Band - key of B
Tony Rice - key of A
The chord progression for Nine Pound Hammer is:
In the key of B: 1=B; 4=E; 5=F#
The B chord consists of: BD#F#; the E chord: EG#B; the F# chord: F#A#C#
Breaks, Improvisation, and Scales
While the intro break for the song should follow the melody closely enough to make it clear what song is being played before the first verse is sung, Nine Pound Hammer lends itself quite well to lick-oriented improvised breaks that may deviate considerably from the melody. (See especially the second youtube link above for examples of this.) This is a good song to use as a means for practicing any licks that you may have in your repertoire that fit over a line of 1144 or a line of 1511 for the key that you are playing the song in.
On mandolin and fiddle, a good place to get started with finding suitable notes on your instrument to make use of in licks for improvising over Nine Pound Hammer in the key of B is to run through the B Major, B Major Pentatonic, and B Dorian Scales:
B Major Scale = B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B
B Major Pentatonic Scale = B, C#, D#, F#, G#, B
B Dorian Scale = B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A, B
On guitar, banjo, and dobro, run through the equivalent G Scales with the capo on the 4th fret to raise your key of G playing up to the key of B:
G Major Scale = G, A, B, C, D, E. F#, G
G Major Pentatonic Scale = G, A, B, D, E
G Dorian Scale = G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F, G
For fiddlers and mandolin players who do not have much experience playing in B, I have included in the attachments a chart of double stops that will work well in breaks for many songs in the key of B. For best results when using these in a melody-based break, be sure that the melody note is the lower, not the higher, of the two notes in the double stop, and if lingering on a particular double stop, instead of using it merely in passing, be sure that it matches the chord that is being played at the time in the song. For this reason, I have written chord names above each double stop.
When playing without a capo in keys that have a lot of sharps in their key signature, I tend to try to find more spots than usual in my breaks for where I can make good use of 'blue notes': flatted 3rds and flatted 7ths (observe that these are the two notes in the dorian scale that differ from the notes in the major scale) but only to the extent these suit the song. The reason for this is that in these keys, flatted 3rds and flatted 7ths end up being notes that frequently occur in the more 'user-friendly' keys of C, G, D, and A. In the key of B, the flatted 3rd is a D note, and the flatted 7th is an A note. Unlike the 3rd and 7th scale degrees of the B major scale (i.e., D# and A#), both of these 'blue notes' (D and A when in the key of B) are part of the major scale for all the keys that I feel most comfortable playing in without a capo.
Nine Pound Hammer lends itself especially well to the use of blue notes in breaks, so even when playing it in keys that don't have a lot of sharps, I still tend to use about just as many blue notes in improvised breaks for the song. In the key of G, the flatted 3rd and flatted 7th notes are Bb and F respectively.
Closely related to the use of blue notes is the use of 7th chords. One can make good use of 7th chords in improvised breaks during a measure of the 1 chord that is followed by the 4 chord, and also during a measure of the 4 chord that is followed by the 1 chord. 7th chords are created by flatting the 7th major scale degree of the chord being played and adding that note to the chord. E.g., the 7th scale degree of the B major scale is an A# note. Flatting this note (i.e., lowering it by a half step) gives the A note. Adding the A note to a B chord results in an B7 chord. The 7th scale degree of the E major scale is a D# note. Lower this note by a half step and you have a D note. Add the D note to an E chord and this creates an E7 chord. Adding an F note to a G chord makes it a G7, adding a Bb note to a C chord makes it a C7, etc.
Practicing with a Capo
For guitar, dobro, and especially banjo players who have much less experience playing in B than in G and A: I suggest making it a point to spend some practice time playing with the capo on the 4th fret (with the 5th string, on banjo, spiked/capoed at the 9th fret), for although the fingerings for playing in B will be the same as those for playing in G, the instrument will feel different to play: the frets will be closer together, and the strings will feel a bit tighter; and on banjo, it can get a bit confusing to see the 5th (short) string being located directly above one's left hand when one is playing in first position if one is not used to this.
Have a happy New Year!
Nine Pound Hammer - banjo tab in B
Nine Pound Hammer - guitar tab in B
Nine Pound Hammer - mandolin tab in B
Nine Pound Hammer - melody in B
Attached here is the set of handouts for January - March 2019 for the Intermediate Jam, which includes two versions of the song list that we will play from for the first half of the evening: a large print list that gives the names of the songs without the progression used to play them, and a smaller print version that includes the chord progressions for the songs. No changes have been made to the Basic Chord Progressions handout. The Nashville Number System chart included here is the same as the one that I have used for the past 2 years for the Intermediate Jam, and is more comprehensive than the Nashville Number System charts that are part of the Beginner Jam handouts.
There are 6 songs on the song list that were not on any of the main song lists for the Beginner Jams from 2017 to 2018. I intend on making each of these a song of the week within the next three months at the new Intermediate Jam
Cry, Cry Darlin'
Homestead On The Farm
Little Liza Jane
Turkey In The Straw
Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
The song of the week is 'Silent Night' in the key of C.
Silent Night is played in 3/4 (waltz) time: 3 beats per measure; guitar rhythm = boom-chuck-chuck, i.e., bass note, strum, strum.
The first recording is to help with finding the melody of the song on your instrument. I suggest attempting to work with this (i.e., finding the melody by ear, either with or without the additional help provided by being able to see where the notes are being played on the keyboard: left = lower in pitch; right = higher in pitch) before taking a look at any of the melody sheets.
The next two recordings are examples of the song being played on bluegrass instruments. The final recording features harmony vocals.
Silent Night in C How to Play Melody on Keyboard
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF1_FcdeDqY (the melody, as played on piano, key of C)
Blue Mountain Boys - Silent Night/JingleBells
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDiJCb5vJZc (key of A)
Luke Lenhart Family and Friends -- "Silent Night"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7oUEpZHcaQ (key of G)
Reno & Smiley - key of Db (a half-step higher than C) - song starts at 5:13
The chord progression I use for Silent Night is:
In the key of C:
Banjo: to capo or not to capo
For banjo players, I recommend playing the song without a capo. This way all your melody notes can be found within the first five frets of the instrument. The highest note of the melody is the F note on the 3rd fret of the 1st string. The lowest melody note is the C note that results from tuning your 4th string down to a C. But, since this note occurs in the melody only once (at the very end of the form), and since it would make it inconvenient to get other parts of the melody if one were to tune the 4th string down to a C (C tuning), I recommend staying in G tuning and simply playing the last 2 notes of the melody (D note followed by a C note) an octave higher (i.e., open 1st string followed by 1st fret of 2nd string). The reason why I suggest playing the last 2 notes an octave higher, instead of just the very last note, is for no other reason than that it makes it less noticeable that one has jumped up an octave higher than where one would ordinarily expect the melody to be. If a banjo player were to capo on the 5th fret and play as if in G, then the highest melody note would be on the 15th fret of the 1st string! And there would be no melody notes on the 4th string. For banjo players who are unaccustomed to playing in the key of C without a capo, or are not quite sure what rolls, filler notes, or other Scruggs-style frills to put around the melody for playing a break for this song, I suggest just playing the melody as is for a break. (See the banjo tab melody sheet attached to this email.)
Guitar: to capo or not to capo
In contrast to what I recommend for banjo players, for guitar players who wish to work out a Carter-style break (i.e., strums added between some of the melody notes) for Silent Night, I suggest capoing to the 5th fret and playing as if in G. This way one can get all the melody notes on the 6th through 2nd strings - which tends to work better for most Carter-style breaks - instead of the 5th through 1st strings. But some may find it easier to play this type of break in the key of C without a capo, since all the melody notes can then be found within the first 3 frets instead of the first 4 frets. For this reason, in the attachments, I have included two guitar tabs of the melody, one in C and one in G.
In the mandolin tab of the melody attached here, the 3 lines written above certain (longer) melody notes indicate where one may wish to use tremolo as a way to embellish the melody.
The song of the week is 'Good King Wenceslas' in the key of G.
Here is a good bluegrass-style instrumental version of Good King Wenceslas:
Peter Schwimmer - key of G
I have not been able to find any good quality bluegrass versions of Good King Wenceslas with vocals, so, for a version with vocals to listen to, the following non-bluegrass version from the Irish Rovers will have to suffice as being close enough:
The chord progression I use for 'Good King Wenceslas' is:
1 1 4/5 1
1 1 4/5 1
1/5 1 4/5 1
5 1/5 1/5 1/4 1
(In the key of G: 1=G, 4=C, 5=D.)
Notice that the second line is the same as the first line, not only in terms of the chord progression, but also in terms of the melody (see the attached melody sheets). The chord progression for the third line is almost the same as the progression for the first and second lines. The fourth line can be a bit challenging to remember. It is a five measure line (like the last line of Leaning On The Everlasting Arms, and most of the lines of Wildwood Flower) that starts on the 5 chord, and in which the three middle measures of the line are split between two chords: 1 and 5 for the second and third measures of the line, and 1 and 4 for the fourth measure of the line.
The song has five verses and no chorus. At last night's jam, we played it as follows:
Except for the intro break, which I played on guitar, all the breaks were played as 'everybody' breaks, old-time style, instead of having each of the different types of instruments taking turns being featured. This worked quite well, and this is how I intend to arrange the song again at the jam next week.
If you have tried adapting Christmas carols to bluegrass, then you may have noticed that some carols adapt more easily and naturally than others. Like 'Away In A Manger', most of the ones in 3/4 time are good candidates for attempts to play them with a bluegrass feel; but of these, the ones that tend to adapt best have fewer melody notes (on average) per measure and fewer quick chord changes relative to the ones that don't adapt quite as easily. For example, Silent Night and It Came Upon The Midnight Clear are more 'bluegrass-friendly' than The First Noel and We Wish You A Merry Christmas.
The carols that are either in cut time (2/2) or in 2/4 (e.g., Jingle Bells, Good King Wenceslas) are natural candidates for being given a bluegrass treatment; while, on the other hand, most of the 4/4 carols (e.g., O Come All Ye Faithful, O Little Town Of Bethlehem) need to be converted to a cut time feel in order to be played as bluegrass songs; but this can be challenging to do if one is not yet very familiar with how this kind of conversion works, or if one has not heard enough examples of songs being played both ways.
The song of the week is 'Lonesome Road Blues' (a.k.a. 'I'm Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad) in the key of G.
Here is one of the first sung bluegrass versions of Lonesome Road Blues I remember hearing. It is a live recording of the Stanley Brothers, and it is played at quite a fast tempo:
The Stanley Brothers - key of G
Here is what is probably the most well-known instrumental bluegrass version of Lonesome Road Blues, played as a banjo-feature tune on the Flatt and Scruggs' album 'Foggy Mountain Banjo', and at a slower tempo than the Stanley Brothers' live version:
Flatt and Scruggs - key of G
Here is a sung version by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music
Bill Monroe - key of C
Finally, another sung version in a live performance, by a young Japanese band. Since there are breaks in this version played on four different instruments - banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, and they are all really good, I was happy to come across this version on youtube.
Bluegrass Police - key of G
The chord progression used in the versions of Lonesome Road Blues on the recordings given here is the same one that I use when leading the song:
(Prog. W4 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout)
...though, I have heard it played at some jams with the last line played as 1511 (Prog. V4 on the Basic Chord Progressions handout), and/or with the third line played as 4416m.
Notice the Bb note in measure 2 of lines 2, 3, and 4 on the melody sheets attached here. Relative to the key of G, the Bb note is the b3 (flatted third scale degree). Together with the b7 (for the key of G, an F note), making good use of this note will often add a 'bluesy' characteristic to your playing.
Lonesome Road Blues is one of those small handful of songs that at a typical bluegrass jam it would not be out of the ordinary for it to be played either with or without singing.
Lonesome Road Blues is also one of those songs that may be sung either with or without a chorus. Other songs that have been played at the jam that are also like this include: Down The Road, Handsome Molly, Amazing Grace, and Little Birdie. When sung without a chorus, the set of lyrics that make up the chorus in the versions of Lonesome Road Blues that use a chorus will usually be sung as one of the verses in the song - usually as the first or as the last verse, or as both.
For most of the songs that may be sung either with or without a chorus, I tend to choose to sing them without a chorus when I lead them at a jam, and this is how I sing Lonesome Road Blues. This arrangement allows more time for a greater number of breaks to be played without making the song unusually long.
The song of the week is 'Leaning On The Everlasting Arms' in the key of A.
The Grascals - key of G
Solid Blue - key of B
I suggest first listening to, and playing and singing along with, the slower and simpler arrangement by the Grascals to get the basics of the song down pat, before moving onto Solid Blue's faster and more complex version. But, be sure to listen to Solid Blue's version, since their arrangement of the song comes much closer to how it has been played and sung at the jam.
The chord progression that is used on the Grascals' version of Leaning On The Everlasting Arms is:
(In the key of A: 1=A, 4=D, 5=E; In the key of G: 1=G, 4=C, 5=D; In the key of B: 1=B, 4=E, 5=F#.)
The progression is a bit unusual when compared with the progressions for most of the other 1-4-5 type songs that are regularly played at the jam. The 5 chords all occur a measure later than what one would ordinarily expect to be the case.
For this reason, both lines 2 and 4 are often played as 5 measure lines in bluegrass versions of the song. This is how it is played on Solid Blue's version of the song, so as to allow for 2 measures of the 5 chord in line 2 (11155) and 2 measures of the 1 chord at the end of line 4 (11511), since this allows for fillin licks to be played by the instruments since a pause is thereby created in the vocal before the next line starts.
The pauses in the vocal that result from adding the extra measures also allow the singers a moment to catch their breath in preparation for the next line. The faster the song is played and sung, the more desirable it becomes to put in these extra measures.
The way that I like to play the song is to keep line 2 as a 4- measure line, while extending line 4 to being a 5-measure line. The resulting progression is:
This is how we played the song last night, and is how we'll play it when I lead it this coming Wednesday. So, when two or more breaks occur back to back, keep in mind that we are using a 17 measure form for the song instead of a 16 measure form; otherwise, the beginning of your break (especially if you play pickup notes into your break) will overlap with the fillin licks that others may be playing at the very end of their break (or at the end of the chorus that occurs before your break).
Notice that in Solid Blue's version, harmony is sung not only on the choruses, but also on the repetitive parts of the verses: i.e., lines 2 and 4 ('leaning on the everlasting arms').
Also ,notice that in the same version, on lines 1 and 3 of the chorus, the lyrics for the harmony parts are not the same as the lyrics for the lead part. While the lead singer sings: 'Leaning, leaning', the harmony singers sing: 'Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus'. Rhythmically, the way this lines up is as follows:
Lean - / ing / lean - / ing
Lean - ing on / Je - sus / lean - ing on / Je - sus
This is the way I like to hear the song sung when I lead it, and everyone at last night's jam who participated in singing harmony on the song at the end of the night did a great job on this, so I am especially looking forward to leading the song next week as the song of the week.
In case you have difficulty catching this from the recordings, the lyrics for line 2 of the chorus are: 'safe and secure from all alarms'.
Leaning On The Everlasting Arms has a particularly strong melody line. For songs like this, one should be careful about when and how one deviates from the melody when playing a break for the song. You might notice in the breaks on the recordings that deviations from melody-based playing are less frequent than what has often the case in breaks on the recordings for other previous beginner jam songs of the week.
For beginner level players, I advise them to base their breaks squarely upon the melody. (For help with finding the melody on your instrument, see the attached melody sheets.) This does not mean playing nothing but the melody: by all means one should put the usual frills around the melody notes that are typical in Bluegrass breaks to the extent that one knows how to use them: stuff like (depending on which instrument you are playing): double stops, slides, shuffle rhythms, fillin licks, rolls, hammer-ons, and pull-offs.
Notice on the recordings, that in the few spots where the players deviate from melody-based playing in their breaks in favor of lick-based playing, they do not linger on any one note for any length of time. Rather, in those spots, they play a rapid flurry of notes. The second half of the guitar break on the Solid Blue recording, for instance, consists mostly of eighth notes. The same is true of the last line (last quarter) of the fiddle break on the Grascals recording. In a song with a strong melody, dwelling on a non-melody note will sometimes work in a break, but more often it will sound out of place in the song.
The song of the week is 'Clinch Mountain Backstep' in the key of A.
'Clinch Mountain Backstep' is a bluegrass banjo tune composed by Ralph Stanley (Feb. 25, 1927 - June 23, 2016), who until his recent passing, was the last surviving of the great first-generation pioneers of bluegrass banjo playing.
(Ralph Stanley is the only first-generation bluegrass artist that I have met in person; I met him twice: once at a concert in a school gymnasium in Sedro Woolley, Washington when I was about 15 or 16 - after his concert, I played our current song of the week in his presence on a banjo he had with him for sale - and then again he spoke with me in 2004, during breakfast at the hotel that both of us were staying at for the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. Our conversation started by way of Ralph asking me questions about some of the other bands and artists playing at the Festival.)
There is a good documentary on Ralph Stanley available on youtube that is well-worth watching:
Ralph says that he came up with 'Clinch Mountain Backstep' by combining 'Cluck Old Hen' with 'Liza Jane'.
Here is my favorite of Ralph's studio recordings of Clinch Mountain Backstep:
Ralph Stanley - key of A
...and, when he was a bit younger, when his older brother Carter was still alive, here is Ralph playing Clinch Mountain Backstep on a live TV show:
The Stanley Brothers - key of A (no breaks on any other instruments, all banjo).
There are no mandolin, guitar, or dobro breaks in the preceding renditions of the tune. Here is one which has all three:
Blue Highway - key of A: live performance
The chord progression for the A-Part is:
The chord progression for the B-Part is the same, except that there is an extra 'half-measure' of the '1' before the first '5'. If one is counting the beats in the first line of the B-Part in cut common time (2/2), one would count it as: 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,1,2.
(On the sheet music attached here, I have written the first line of the B-Part as 3 measures in 2/2, followed by a measure in which the time signature changes to 1/2, followed by a measure that returns to 2/2.)
Melody & Key
Although the melody of Clinch Mountain Backstep consists only of the notes of the Am pentatonic scale, it is called at jams in A (Major) rather than Am because the '1' chord that is used in the chord progression for the song is an A Major Chord rather than an Am Chord ('1m'). To call Clinch Mountain Backstep in A Minor instead of in A (Major) at a jam would imply that 1m Chords are to be played in place of 1 Chords.
In the attached melody sheet for Clinch Mountain Backstep, I have used the key signature for Am (no sharps or flats, same as the key signature for C Major, the Relative Major of Am) instead of the key signature for A Major (3 sharps) to avoid the need to write natural signs in nearly every measure. I hope that my doing this makes the sheet music easier to read than if I had used the key signature for A Major.
The notes that make up the Minor Pentatonic Scale, or as I like to call it sometimes 'The Clinch Mountain Scale', are: 1, b3, 4, 5, and b7. Remember these notes, for these will be useful to know not only for playing 'Mountain Minor' tunes like 'Clinch Mountain Backstep' and 'Cluck Old Hen'. Any time when you wish to add a 'bluesy' element into a break or backup part for a Major key song, just remember to play your 'Clinch Mountain notes'.
To see what these notes are for A (or for any other key for that matter: G is an especially practical place to start for this if you are a banjo or guitar player who usually plays in A by way of capoing the 2nd fret of your instrument), refer to the Nashville Number System Chart in the attachments.
For more on the Am and Gm pentatonic scales, refer back to the song of the week write-up for 'Cluck Old Hen'. The first five paragraphs under the section 'Melody & Breaks' may be read as though written about Clinch Mountain Backstep instead of Cluck Old Hen.
Relative Majors & Minors
If you have ever played the melody for Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Amazing Grace, My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains, Shortnin' Bread, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, or Camptown Races, or any other melody that uses only 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 notes (Major Pentatonic Scale), then you are already familiar to a certain extent with the combination of notes that make up the 'Clinch Mountain Scale', although those melodies sound very different than the melodies for Clinch Mountain Backstep and Cluck Old Hen.
Notice, for instance, that 1, b3, 4, 5, b7 for E (E,G,A,B,D) are the very same notes as 6, 1, 2, 3, 5 for G. G is the Relative Major of Em.
Every Minor has a Relative Major. To find the Relative Major of a Minor, treat the b3 of the Minor as the 1 for the Major. (Thus, C is the Relative Major of Am - one uses the same notes for playing the melody of Will The Circle Be Unbroken in C as one does for playing the melody of Clinch Mountain Backstep in A; Bb is the Relative Major of Gm, etc.)
Going in the opposite direction, that is, to find the Relative Minor of a Major, treat the 6 of the Major as the 1 for the Minor. (So, Am is the Relative Minor of C, Em is the Relative Minor of G.)
weekly on Wednesdays
Songs regularly called at the Beginner Bluegrass Jam and links from Jason's "Song of the Week" emails. (from Renee)
in alphabetical order