Archive for January 12th, 2010

So far so good! Day two of the experiment is going as planned. Today, I tackled Shady Grove, a tune I’d known from hearing it often enough but had never really assimilated.

According to my Internet sources, this song’s origins can be traced back to the 18th century, explaining in part why it has found its way into both Celtic and American musical traditions.  The other part of the explanation is that it’s simply a very pretty song. Unfortunately, Wikipedia doesn’t tell me what key it traditionally is played in, in its bluegrass incarnation.  So I tried a few different sources, and practiced it in Em, Dm, Gm and *gasp* Ebm (that attempt was short lived, though for my own conscience’s sake, I’ll try again tomorrow).  Since it’s a song, I’ll take A.D.’s advice and learn it in “every key”, that way I can accompany a singer no matter what they choose to sing it in.

So after learning the straight melody (a few different versions of it which, after more practice, will be nicely combinable) I played along some of the aforementioned recordings, stopping every once in a while to listen more attentively to the different improvisations and try to absorb (some might say steal) musical ideas.  I have a midi backing track, which I unfortunately don’t remember the source of, and I played along with that, waning in and out of interesting breaks. I noticed that if I took a few minutes to listen again to someone else’s recording, my breaks would be re-inspired. Hmm, I think there is a larger lesson in this that points to active listening on a regular basis…

Notes on Shady Grove: Apart from the ambiguity in my mind of which key I should focus on (if at all?), I’m thinking there are a couple things Shady Grove is good for pointing out (if you’re going for a bluegrass rendition):

  • The Chop: A little rythm when the singing is going on sounds cool.
  • Singing: Why not? Fiddlers, let’s use those vocal chords! It’s a long song with a bunch of verses (300 according to one source) that tell an nice story with twist.
  • Combining accompaniment and singing:  Crazy you say? I agree. It’s hard, but figuring out simple, long notes (like the root or root + fifth, for example) to play while singing the chorus is  a nice touch, that with some practice will hopefully sound musical.

I’m appreciating what a good exercise this daily accounting is. This has helped me to figure out how to practice Shady Grove tomorrow.

Since I don’t have a recording of it in my music library, I looked up a few different versions on youtube:

Tony Rice, David Grisman and Jerry Garcia – I suspect having Jerry Garcia play  Shady Grove made it famous beyond the bluegrass and Old Time folk  circles.

Youtube John – I think he may be more confortable improvising on the melody than playing it straight! I would trade my handicap (playing everything exactly the same) for his uncertainty about the original melody just about anyday. Though I think it’s entirely possible to overcome both those weaknesses. Anyways,  this was helpful for me and perhaps it could be of use to you, too.

FiddlinRed – An Old Time version of certain youtube fame, it seems. For the sake of fluidity and versatility, I will learn this version too in the next days (but not as its own tune! This is part of Tune 2.) A thought: how will widely available internet versions of old time tunes affect their transmission in terms of versions that survive? In fifty years, will everyone be playing Shady Grove like FiddlinRed? Will we even have survived our modern world that long for this to be a relevant question?!

Tim O’Brien and The Chieftains – Bluegrass-Irish version? Yes.

Today’s conclusion: more practice. Tunes on the chopping board (pun intended) are 1 – Jerusalem Ridge and 2 – Shady Grove.   JR certainly feels better on day number two. According to neuroscientific research, it should feel even nicer on day ten.  And will tomorrow Shady Grove feel like JR did today?

PS: Matt was the inspiration for this one. Let’s pick it next we meet!


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