Newsletter #4 • December 2003
News, Music, tablature, MPs, to download & learn!
Hello and welcome to our Musix Newsletter #4!
Five tunes for guitar & mandolin, with standard notation, chords, tablature, and lyrics, in .pdf and MP3 formats. You can download and print .pdfs of the music and listen to the MP3 examples. First, some news.
Jim Nunally and I, along with fiddler Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Bill Evans, and Todd Sickafose, just finished several new Bluegrass cuts for the latest version of the best-selling computer game The Sims. Watch for it after the first of the year. Jim and my latest CD Brothers at Heart from earlier this year is available online. FIX LINK
Jim has been travelling a whole bunch in Canada with John Reischman’s Jaybirds. Jim and I will be playing our favorite gig of the year at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, CA, on New Years Eve. Come by if you’re in the Bay Area.
I’ve been quite busy with two new book CD sets. One is amassive collection of bluegrass and old time songs — almost 250 so far — songs every picker and singer should know. The Parking Lot Picker’s Songbooks. Eventually there’ll be separate editions with tablature for guitar, mandolin, dobro, fiddle, bass, and banjo. Banjoist Bill Evans is writing the banjo TAB. The other set will be titled Getting into Bluegrass Mandolin and I’m having a ball writing out songs, solos, and exercises that I think Bluegrass mandolin pickers should know. “The First Nöel,” included below in this Newsletter in the key of B, will probably end up in the book.
I also have a few other projects percolating on the back burner including more BackUP TRAX that’ll teach solos in various styles, a co-author project with Bruce Bollerud on Scandanavian fiddle tunes, possibly a new BackUp TRAX fiddle tunes set (featuring John Reischman on mandolin), a guitar cross picking method, and a book or two on Bluegrass soloing. There! Now that I’ve officially listed them, I’ll have to finish them!
We’ve added some great new books to the website.
Jethro Burns Complete Mandolin will interest those who want to stretch their knowledge of mandolin beyond what was thought possible. Worth the price for the transcriptions of Jethro’s famous and revolutionary recorded solos on Back Up & Push, Mississippi Sawyer, Tennessee Waggoner, Old Joe Clark, Soldier’s Joy, Hell Amongst the Yearlings alone. Great tunes and exercises for any mandolinist.
Bill Monroe Mandolin Instrumentals. If you’re gonna play Bluegrass mandolin, you have to know the music of Bill Monroe. This book includes transcriptions of 25 Monroe classic solos including Bluegrass Stomp, Raw Hide, Big Mon, Cheyenne, Monroe’s Hornpipe, more.
Back in stock!
Just wanted to remind you that Elvo D’Amante’s wonderful three-volume, 11-CD ear training course is now available. If you’re serious about training your ears to hear scales, intervals, and chords, check it out!
Newsletter #4 Tunes
You can download the pdfs, print them out and then hear an MP3 recording of each of the following tunes.
When I record the accompanying CDs for my books, I always play each example or tune at both slow and regular speeds. In addition, each tune is recorded in stereo so you can isolate the parts. Unfortunately audio takes up a lot of space on the web site and we only have room to post our examples at one speed and in mono.
Jolly Old St. Nicholas
“Jolly Old St. Nicholas” is a relatively easy fingerpicking solo. I say “relatively” because all the notes of the melody fall on beats 1, 2, 3, or 4 of the measures. None of the notes fall on the “ands” in between the beats (1 AND 2 AND 3 AND 4 AND) so there’s no syncopation. In addition, if you hold the basic chords given and pinch with your picking hand thumb on the bass notes and your index or middle finger (I use my middle finger) on the treble notes, almost all the notes of the melody will lie within the chord. That means you’ll have very few fretting finger moves, other than for bass notes.
The pinch picking pattern is diagrammed in measure 1 (M1) with the italic letters “i” representing your index finger, “T” representing the thumb. The bass note on beat three of M1 is a sixth string, third fret G note. You’ll have to move your third finger from the fifth string, third fret C note over to the sixth string to play it. This is a typical move to fret an alternate bass note on the C chord. If you’ve flatpicked Carter-style backup on a C chord, you’ve probably already done this. See C chords 1 and 2 on the Newsletter #4 chord page.
The small numbers between the staves beginning in M2 represent fretting finger numbers.
The only unusual chord you’ll need to know is the G which is used in M 2, 7, and 15 to give you a D melody note at the second string, third fret. Use your fourth finger as shown in the chord diagram on the Newsletter #4 chord page.
Star of the County Down
Yes, I know this is not a holiday tune, it’s just a beautiful old Irish melody. But I’ve played it at Christmas time for about twenty years and just love it. It does have a “star” in the title. If you learn it now, you can perform it year ’round.
This arrangement can be played with a flat pick, like I do it, or with bare fingers. Try it both ways.
I think of this type of playing as kind of an arpeggiated chord melody. All that means is that we place the melody on the last note of a quickly arpeggiated chord. In this way a soloist can play both the melody and the chordal accompaniment at the same time.
The fretting hand work is pretty routine, especially if you keep your hand in the basic position of the given chord as you play through the tune. You will have to play some out of chord notes and if it wasn’t obvious which fretting finger to use, I put a small number representing the finger between the staves. As you play these other notes, try to keep as much of your chord shape in tact as possible. That’ll make it easier for you to move in and out of the chords and to play the melody smoothly.
You may find the hammer on-pull offs in M 5, 8, 13, 22, 25, and 30, labeled with an “h p,” a bit challenging. The difficult part is in keeping the notes ringing through both the hammer and the pull.
M 7 & 24 have a string bend “b.’ Just fret the string at the given fret and stretch it.
Chord forms are shown on the chord page and identified by the fret in which they occur. “M4” = “measure four.”
As you can hear on the MP3, I play “Star of the County Down,” at a very relaxed, almost rubato tempo.
This arrangement of “Silent Night” makes use of two of the mandolin’s most endearing features: double stops and tremolo.
A double stop on the mandolin is when we fret and pick two notes at the same time. Usually these notes are in harmony so the effect is the sound of two voices.
Tremolo is the mandolinist’s version of the fiddler’s bow. By smoothly picking a continuous stream of notes, we can give the illusion of one sustained note and hold it for ever, just like a bowed violin.
First play the arrangement without tremolo so you learn the locations and fingerings of all the double stops. Fretting finger numbers are shown between the standard music staff and the tablature. Where there are two stacked numbers, the upper number tells which finger to use to fret the higher of the two notes. The lower number tells what finger to use on the lower of the two notes.
In M 8 you’ll see a D+ (“D augmented”) chord. In the melody we are raising or augmenting the tone of the chord, from A natural to A sharp so the accompaniment reflects it with a D+ chord.
Once you’re comfortable with the double stops, add in the tremolo. Try it on all notes longer than quarters. Then try continuous tremolo throughout.
Since this arrangement has no open strings, you can move it up and down the fingerboard to different keys. After you can play it from memory, try moving it up to the key of E and down to the key of C#, and beyond in both directions. You won’t be able to move this position of the melody down to the key of C because you’ll run out of room on the fingerboard.
“Ja-Da” is an old pop song from 1918 and we’ll use it to learn some closed position chords with a I-VI-II-V (one-six-two-five) progression. The I-VI-II-V progression is one of the most common in pop, jazz, and swing music. There are hundreds of thousands of songs that contain a I-VI-II-V or a variation of it. So, if you want to play pop, jazz, and swing music on the mandolin, you need to be familiar with I-VI-II-V.
You can see a picture of the original 1918 sheet music cover by clicking here. I collect old sheet music and this is one of my first finds. You can’t tell from the scan, but this version of “Ja-Da” is printed in a much smaller than usual size. As far as I know, this was a effort to conserve paper during WW I. Of course, a big hit like “Ja-Da’ sold so many copies, they didn’t save much paper. What was the point? Anyway, I knew “Ja-Da” from hearing my mother play it when I was kid. Incidently, if you have any old sheet music you want to get rid of, let me know. Dix@musixnow.com
Play through the music for “Ja-Da” and get familiar with the melody and chords. Then try the chords shown on the Newsletter #4 chord page. As I mentioned, they’re all closed position chords which means that they have no open string notes and can be moved up and down the fingerboard to make ten or twelve different chords from each form. In addition, you can move the whole progression around, in tact, to a variety of different keys up and down the fingerboard.
The diminished is a unique chord. It’s made up of all minor third intervals, that is, the interval or space between each of its notes is a minor third. Because they are all minor thirds, any note can name the chord. A C diminished chord has the notes C, Eb, Gb, A. An Eb diminished chord has the notes Eb, Gb, A, C. The Gb and A diminished also are made up of those same notes. A C diminished is also an Eb diminished, a Gb diminished, and an A diminished.
The order of the notes makes no difference. That means that there are really only three different diminished chords: the C/Eb/Gb/A diminished; the B/D/F/Ab; and the Bb/Db/E/G. After that, each one is a different spelling and inversion of one of these three. This has interesting implications for us fretted instrument players. If you play the C diminished shown below and then move it up or down by three frets, it’s still C diminished, or Eb, Gb or A diminished. Move it up three or six more frets and, you guessed it, it’s still a C diminished.
Keep in mind that any chord with a sharp or flat (Gb, C#, Eb) can be also be described as its enharmonic equivalent. For example, an Eb diminished is the same chord as the D# diminished.
Most of the chords shown on the Newsletter #4 chord page are three string chords. On the mandolin we often leave out a tone or two. Usually these missing tones are provided by some other instrument in the band. But it’s OK to leave notes out even if you’re playing solo, like the great Jethro Burns often did. The missing notes are merely implied. A small “x” below a string means that you should not play it. I mute unplayed strings with my fretting hand.
The second C chord is a four string chord. Use it for a chordal variation at the beginning of the progression and “walk” it down the fingerboard, one fret at a time, from C to the A7, I to VI. Listen to the MP3 example.
As you’ll also hear in the MP3 examples, the rhythm is a kind of pulse. We play on all four beats in a measure, but mute beats two and four, the backbeats, to emphasize the swing of the groove. The muting is accomplished by simply loosing the fretting hand grip slightly to stop the sound.
The First Nöel in the key of B
If you’re an experienced bluegrass mandolinist, playing in the key of B is probably not much of a challenge for you. Bluegrass musicians often play in the key of B since Bill Monroe, the inventor of the style, played and sang in B.
For most non-mandolin musicians, especially horn players, the key of B strikes fear into hearts. It’s not that the key of B is all that difficult, when you get down to scales and chords it’s like all the other keys, it’s just unusual because those players rarely play in B.
Here’s a simple Christmas tune, “The First Nöel,” arranged in a closed and thus moveable position in the key of B. If you’re not used to transposing melodies and chord progressions up and down the mandolin fingerboard, you may find it to be a challenge. But I urge you to give it a chance and stay with it because learning this skill will be invaluable in your mando future.
Fretting finger suggestions are shown between the two staves. Using these will help you scope out the position of this melody on the fingerboard and in the B “region.” The B chord shown on the Newsletter #4 chord page will give you the basic fretting hand position that you’ll move in and out of. If you hold this basic position, all the melody notes, even those not contained in the B chord, will be easily reachable.
Once you memorize the fretting hand position of the melody, try moving it up one fret to the key of C, down two frets from B to A, down two more from A to the key of G. When you’re comfortable doing this, move the melody down a whole octave. Here the melody will use a whole new region and position. Play your first D# note with your index finger on string three, fret one.
Don’t expect this to be accomplished in a day or two. It may take months. You should have a pretty good handle on it by Fourth of July, if not sooner!
By the way, I love typing the “ö” with the two dots, I guess it’s an umlaut, in “Nöel.” Here’s how I do it on my Mac: I hold down the option key and type a “u.” Then I type the “o” and the result is the cool “o” with the two dots. Ain’t that slick?
Bonus MP3 for the holidays
Give this one a listen! It is uplifting, morally right, and dead serious.
That’s all for this issue of the Musix Newsletter. I hope you’ll enjoy playing along and listening.
Happy Holidays 2003!
© Copyright 2003 by Musix