The song of the week is 'Liberty', an old-time fiddle tune that is traditionally played in the key of D.
Flatt & Scruggs with Doc Watson - fiddle, guitar and harmonica breaks
This contains a good example of harmonica being played in a bluegrass context.
Take note of the feel and timing with which the 4 potato intro is played on the fiddle at the very beginning of the recording. Also, notice the 4 measure double ending after the last fiddle break at the end of the recording which is split between the fiddle and the guitar.
Notice that Scruggs does not play a banjo break here, but contents himself with playing backup. And this is what I recommend that banjo players at the beginner jam do who have not yet learned to play in the key of D by way of playing as if in C, but with the capo on the 2nd fret. I advise against attempts by beginner-level players to try to come up with a banjo break for Liberty in D without a capo.
Now, to make up for the lack of banjo breaks in the recording, check out this live performance involving so many great banjo players:
Bill Keith, Tony Trischka, Greg Cahill etc.
For the next two weeks, I intend on kicking off Liberty at the extremely slow tempo of 72 beats per minute (2 clicks of the metronome per measure). That is 48 beats per minute slower than the standard square dance tempo (120). But after the tune has run through its song of the week cycle, attempts should be made to kick it off at increasingly faster tempos by those who call it at future jams.
The reason for such a slow tempo is to encourage fiddle, mandolin and guitar players to learn to make use of more consecutive 8th notes in their breaks than what the general tendency has been up to this point at the beginner jam, and at the same time to make it easier for them in doing this to focus on their technique, feel, and timing for playing passages that contain many 8th notes back to back.
Despite how they look when written on paper, and what their name implies, a string of consecutive 8th notes should not all be given equal time value when playing most Bluegrass breaks. Rather, they should usually be swung, so that the first 8th note in each pair of 8th notes lasts a bit longer than one-eighth of a measure, stealing time value from the second 8th note in the pair, which in turn takes up a bit less than one-eighth of the measure. The slower that consecutive 8th notes are played, the easier it is to detect whether they are being played in this manner (long-short-long-short, etc., often called 'lilt' or 'bounce'). To hear more clearly what this sounds like, slow down the youtube links provided here to half speed. To do this, click on settings, then click on speed, then click on 0.5.
As is the case with most traditional fiddle tunes, there are many versions and interpretations of the melody of Liberty, but most versions one will come across online (whether written or recorded) are compatible with the interpretation of the melody I have offered in the attachments. But, for fiddle, guitar and mandolin players to get the most out of playing Liberty for the next two weeks at the jam (very slow: 72 beats per minute), it is best for them to avoid playing a version of the melody that contains significantly fewer cases of consecutive 8th notes than the version I have offered here.
Guitar & Banjo Tabs
With ease of left hand fingering in mind, I have written the guitar and banjo tabs for Liberty in C instead of D. So, guitar and banjo players playing breaks based upon these will need to capo the 2nd fret to raise their playing up from the key of C to the key of D, and will need to make it a point to remember that Liberty is a 'D' tune, not a 'C' tune. (No guitar or banjo player should call Liberty at a jam in the key of C when there are fiddlers or mandolin players present.)
Banjo Melody Tab
The banjo melody tab in the attachments is not intended to be played as written for a banjo break, but is intended to serve as a guide for creating a Scruggs-style break. For tunes with fast-moving melodies like Liberty, Scruggs-style players tend to incorporate only as much of the melody into their breaks that is needed in order for the tune to be recognizable, and replace the rest of the melody with strategically selected filler-notes.that are compatible with the chord that is called for at the time, and that allow the player to make use of the right hand picking patterns that are typical of the style. In the attachments, I have provided examples of how a Scruggs-style player, using the melody sheet as a guide and following the basic principles of Scruggs-style, might choose to play the first two measures of the A Part and the first two measures of the B Part.
Note to Clawhammer Banjo Players
Clawhammer banjo players usually tune their banjos to double C tuning (GCGCD) for playing Liberty, and then capo the 2nd fret to raise their playing up to D. When tuned this way, in order to make use of the banjo melody tab provided here, one will need to add 2 to the numbers shown on the tab for the 4th string, and subtract 1 from the numbers shown on the tab for the 2nd string. (In the case of the open 2nd string notes shown on the tab, the 4th fret of the 3rd string will need to be used in their place.)
By transferring some of the melody notes shown on the first string in the tab to the 2nd string (and by transferring also the open 2nd string note to the 4th fret of the 3rd string), it is feasible, with the help of drop-thumb, hammer-ons, and pull-offs, for a clawhammer player to grab almost every melody note. However, most clawhammer players take a similar approach to Scruggs-style players in being selective about which melody notes to include in their playing of the tune, substituting filler notes in place of some of the melody notes in ways that allow them to make more use of the picking patterns typical of clawhammer style than what would be the case if they were to try to grab as much of the melody as possible.
8 Potato Intros
Since there is nothing more effective for kicking off most fiddle tunes at a bluegrass jam than 8 Potato Intros, I have included examples of these in the attachments for each of the 4 primary lead instruments played at the beginner jam: fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and 3-finger style banjo. Players of other instruments/styles can get ideas from these examples, and/or by listening to the 4 Potato intro on the Flatt & Scruggs recording of Liberty, for what to do on their instruments for an 8 Potato intro.
Notice that the last (4th) measure of the 8 Potato Intro includes the two pickup notes (or in the case of the banjo tab, just one pickup note) that lead into the first complete measure of the A Part of Liberty. If there were no pickup notes into the A Part of Liberty, then all 4 measures of the 8 Potato Intro would be identical with each other. This is important to keep in mind when kicking off fiddle tunes with an 8 Potato Intro. For, if one does not start into the melody at exactly the right time, then the 8 Potato Intro fails to serve its purpose.
I have also included in the attachments examples of double endings suitable for Liberty for the four primary lead instruments played at the jam, since it is customary at bluegrass jams to end fiddle tunes (and certain other types of instrumentals) with these kinds of endings.
When playing these endings, it is important to make sure that they start at exactly the right time relative to the end of the final B Part. The incomplete last measure on the melody sheets (2nd ending of the B Part) needs to be completed either by a quarter note rest, or by changing the last note from a quarter note to a half note before the first note of the double ending starts.
Since the last break played for Liberty at the jam will usually be an 'everybody' break, it makes sense for everyone who played that break to also play the double ending together. But, even if the last break were not an 'everybody' break, I would still encourage everyone at the beginner jam who knows how to play a double ending to do so, so as to let them get more practice and experience with doing this.
Those not playing the double ending should stop playing after the last note of the final B Part has been played, and then prepare themselves to do one final note, double stop, or strum that will coincide with the last note of the double ending. In order for them to be able to do this, and to do this confidently, it is important that those playing the double ending play it clearly and with the correct timing.
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