Old Joe Clark
Excellent jam last night, everyone! The song of the week is 'Old Joe Clark'.
'Old Joe Clark' is a two-part fiddle tune traditionally played in the key of A. The form of the tune is AABB. This means that each part of the tune (called the A-Part and the B-Part respectively) is played through twice before going on to the next part.
The chord progression for the A-Part is:
1 1 1 5
1 1 1/5 1
The chord progression for the B-Part is:
1 1 1 b7
1 1 1/5 1
In the key of A:
1 = A
5 = E
b7 = G
With the capo in the second fret, the chord shapes become:
1 = G
5 = D
b7 = F
[Note: the way that many people, myself included, play the F chord on the guitar looks very similar to the fingerings used for the C chord. So, if you are following a guitar player for the chord changes for Old Joe Clark while at the jam, it can be helpful to keep in mind that there is no '4' chord in the progression.]
Here are some youtube links of good bluegrass live performances of Old Joe Clark that I hope you will enjoy:
Carolina Bluegrass Express: The fiddle breaks are my favorite part of this performance. The basic melody of the tune can be heard very prominently in the banjo break, since the banjo player not only accents the melody notes loud and clear, but also does not put quite as many extra notes around the melody as what a lot of other banjo players tend to do with this tune. In contrast to this, the guitar break is a good example of non-melody-based playing on a fiddle tune. For the final break, the fiddle is playing a harmony part while the melody is carried on the mandolin.
UK98 Bluegrass Band: good mandolin, banjo and guitar breaks; notice how in the guitar breaks, the A Parts of the breaks consists of little more than the basic melody carried on the low strings of the guitar, which is then contrasted with higher pitched non-melody-based playing for the B Parts.
Gravel Road Bluegrass Band: I really like the breaks these kids play: the basic melody always remains discernable in these breaks, even in the spots where there is a lot more going on than just sticking to the basic melody:
In the attachments, I have given not only a version of the basic melody, but also breaks for fiddle, mandolin, guitar and banjo in which notes are added around the basic melody. All these sample breaks are similar to each other, except for the banjo break, because the banjo break is a Scruggs-style break, and it is characteristic of Scruggs-style that it involve making use of certain patterns of note sequences that are very different from the types of patterns that are typical in bluegrass fiddle, mandolin, and guitar breaks.
Each break given here is just an example of one way in which one might play a break for Old Joe Clark that involves more to it than replicating a version of the basic melody. With the exception of the banjo break, I wrote these breaks with the beginner jam specifically in mind. Out of the many banjo breaks I have written for Old Joe Clark over the years, I chose the one that I think comes the closest to being at the same level of difficulty as the fiddle, mandolin, and guitar breaks. It also happens to be a break that I rarely ever give to my banjo students.
If you want to use one of the sample breaks given here as a basis for the break you play at next week's jam when Old Joe Clark is called, I suggest that if you come across a passage in one of the breaks that you don't see yourself as being ready to include in your break at the jam, that you either default back to the basic melody at that point in the break, or work up a way of playing that part of the break that is somewhere in the middle between the basic melody and the sample break.
For those who are interested in these kinds of things, here's a bit of music theory that relates to the tune Old Joe Clark:
The basic melody of the tune is based upon the mixolydian scale. This scale, which shows up frequently in the traditional music of the American South and the British Isles, and in Gregorian Chant, is in all respects like the major scale that we are all familiar with (do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do), except that the seventh scale degree ('ti') is lowered by a half step.
The result is that a mixolydian scale always has one less sharp (or one more flat) in it than the major scale that shares its same letter name. Since the A major scale has 3 sharps (F#,C#,G#), the notes of the A major scale being, in ascending order of pitch: A B C# D E F# G# A, the A mixolydian scale (like the D major scale) has 2 sharps (F#,C#), the notes of the A mixolydian scale being: A B C# D E F# G A. Since the G major scale has 1 sharp (F#), the G mixolydian scale (like the C major scale) has no sharps. The G major scale is: G A B C D E F# G. The G mixolydian scale is: G A B C D E F G.
For a melody in A mixolydian, I would usually write it with a key signature of 2 sharps (the same key signature that is used for music written in D major and B minor), which is how one will often see A mixolydian tunes written in Irish session tune books. In the case of the melody and fiddle break sheets for Old Joe Clark attached here, I have chosen to give the key signature for A major instead (3 sharps), because elaborations on the basic melody often make use of the G# note at some point in them that belongs to the A major, but not to the A mixolydian scale (see measure 7 of either of the parts of the tune as written in the attachment titled 'Old Joe Clark - fiddle/mandolin break'), and the prominence of '5' chords in the chord progression for the tune gives Old Joe Clark less of a mixolydian sound, and more of a typically major sound, than is the case with many other mixolydian tunes (e.g., Red Haired Boy, June Apple).
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