The song of the week is 'New River Train' in the key of F.
Here are some youtube links to good versions of 'New River Train' to listen to:
First, here is the classic Bill and Charlie Monroe recording from 1936, with just mandolin and rhythm guitar and two voices - key of D. Notice how fast they play the song. In order to do this well, one needs to avoid all unnecessary motions in one's playing: e.g., keep your picking, strumming, - or on fiddle, bowing - motions short and compact so as to not overexert yourself, and don't allow your left hand fingers to fly away from the strings when taking them off the fretboard, keep them curled in towards the strings and have them anticipate the location on the fretboard where they need to go next.
Tony Rice and Norman Blake - also in the key of D, and quite a bit slower than the Monroe Brothers recording: good guitar breaks on this one:
Here are a couple of full band versions of the song (both in the key of E) in which - of the main bluegrass instruments - more than just guitars and mandolins are represented for the breaks:
The White Brothers - New River Train
Roland White - New River Train - Live at McCabe's
The lyrics of New River Train are quite repetitive and easy to memorize. For this reason, this is one of the songs I recommend learning to sing to those who wish to lead a song at the jam, but do not have much experience doing so. Other songs on the top 20 list and on the additional 30 list that are fairly easy to memorize include: Mama Don't Allow, My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains, Hand Me Down My Walking Cane, Lonesome Road Blues, Long Journey Home, She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain, This Little Light Of Mine, When The Saints Go Marching In, and Worried Man Blues.
For a song that has a chorus, 3 verses (in some cases, even just 2 verses) are plenty to sing for the song at a jam, and singing more than 4 verses is almost always too much, especially when songs are not being played up to speed.
For a song that does not have a chorus, 5 verses is often perfect, more than 6 is usually too many, and just 4 verses will sometimes be enough.
Note: In offering the preceding points about the number of verses for typical jam arrangements of songs, I have in mind songs in which each verse is 16 measures long and, if the song has a chorus, then songs in which each chorus is also 16 measures long. For songs in which parts of the song are shorter or longer than 16 measures each, the numbers given above should be adjusted accordingly.
The progression I use for this song is the same as the progression used on the recordings:
(W2 on the basic chord progressions chart)
Notice that the 4 is followed by the 5 without a 1 intervening between the 4 and the 5. Keep this is mind if it helps you to avoid confusing this progression with the closely related progression given below in which a 1 does intervene between the 4 and the 5:
This latter progression (V2 on the basic chord progressions chart) is the one used for playing 'Mama Don't Allow' and a few of the songs on the additional 30 list. (Notice that in one case, on the additional 30 list, I have offered the option of using at either V2 or W2 for Red River Valley: for that song, which progression is used should be determined by the version of the melody being used for the beginning of the 4th line.)
Key of F
In the key of F: 1=F, 4=Bb, and 5=C
For mandolin, fiddle, and bass players (and players of any other instrument on which capos are not commonly used): the two major scales that share the most notes and in common with the F major scale (one flat in the scale: Bb) are C (no flats or sharps), and Bb (two flats: Bb and Eb), so if you are more familiar with playing in Bb and C than with playing in F, you might find it helpful for finding your way on the fingerboard in the key of F to think of it as having a lot in common with playing in these other keys. (The F major scale differs by only one note from the C major scale, and differs by only one note from the Bb major scale.) As for the three most frequently used chords in the key of F (F, Bb, and C, the 1,4, and 5 respectively), you might notice that two of these chords are among the three most frequently used chords when playing in the key of C (C, F, G, the 1,4, and 5 respectively), and when playing in the key of Bb (Bb, Eb, F, the 1,4, and 5 respectively).
For New River Train in the key of F, some guitar players will prefer to capo to the 5th fret and play as if in C, while others will prefer to capo the 3rd fret and play as if in D. The C capo 5 option for F works well for doing a Carter-style guitar break for the song (i.e., a break in which the melody is carried on the bass strings of the guitar with strums in between the melody notes when there is time for them), for all the notes of the melody can be found within the first 3 frets on the 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings. Among other things, the D capo 3 option for F allows for lower-pitched fillin licks on the 1 chord that make use of the 6th string (e.g., the D chord equivalent of the famous bluegrass guitar 'G run'). I have included both a key of C and a key of D guitar tab melody sheet in the attachments
For beginner banjo players, I recommend playing this song as if in the key of D: capoing the 3rd fret and spiking the 5th string at the 10th fret to arrive at the key of F. This way you can find all the melody notes on the 4th and 3rd strings. (See the attached banjo tab of the melody.) If you, like myself, do not have a 10th fret spike on your banjo, use your 9th fret spike and then manually tune the 5th string up the extra half step to a C note.
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