collapse

* Member Info

 
 
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

* Like Us on Facebook

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence - Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)

Author Topic: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes  (Read 4840 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 11716
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« on: October 12, 2015, 05:42:58 PM »
Hi all,
This subject, putting chords to Appalachian pentatonic melodies, is one that I've been thinking about for a couple of years.  What first got me thinking about it was a post that Pan did on the song "Troubles", as sung by the autoharp player, Kilby Snow, in the thread at:  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=7665.0 .  When I first heard Kilby's rendition, it sounded simultaneously familiar and different.  It took me a while to realize that Kilby was singing the same pentatonic melody that Dock Boggs used for "Sugar Baby" and that other musicians have sung as "Red Rocking Chair", but Kilby had set altogether different chords to the melody than what I was accustomed to hearing.  I've since realized that there are a number of Appalachian pentatonic tunes for which there are a couple of different ways in which they're played, with the melody not notably different in the two versions, but the harmony and over-all sound quite different.
The pentatonic scales used in Appalachian music derive from a "parent" major pentatonic scale.  The major pentatonic scale, as expressed with G as its root, would consist of the following notes:
   G-A-B-D-E-G
Expressing the scale as the notes of the G major scale, you would say it consists of I-II-III-V-VI-I, and you can see that the two notes of the major scale that are voided in the creation of the major pentatonic scale are the IV note and the VII note.  Interestingly, those two notes are "rub" notes in the major scale, and sit on one side or the other of a half-step in the major scale--in the case of the IV note, on the upper side of the half-step between III and IV, and in the case of the VII note, on the lower side of the half-step between VII and I.  In any event, there are no half-steps in the major pentatonic scale, only whole steps, between I and II, II and III, and V and VI, or minor thirds, between III and V and VI and I.
Appalachian pentatonic melodies do not always start and end on the I note, though.  They can start and end on any of the notes of the scale, and especially to the extent that they end on a note other than the I note of the parent major pentatonic scale, that ending note stands a very strong chance of being heard as the key center.  So, for instance, a melody like "Shady Grove", that starts and ends on the II note could be said to consist of the following pentatonic scale (assuming we started with the G major pentatonic scale):
A-B-D-E-G-A
To the extent that the melody resolves to the II note and the II is heard as being the key center of the melody, the mode of "Shady Grove" could be designated the Dorian pentatonic mode, since the Dorian mode of the major scale is the mode built off of the II note of the major scale which runs from II to II.
The melody of "Shady Grove" is:
Shady Grove, my little love, Shady Grove, my darling, Shady Grove, my little love, goin' back to Harlan
   A        A       B      A     G      A        B       D    E  E        G         E      D  B A    G      B      D    B  A   A
The way the melody is most often harmonized nowadays is with the A as the key center.  When done this way, it ends up not being necessary to add chords to the melody at all; simply droning on scale tones supplies all of the harmonic information necessary.  I've attached an example of that harmonization of the melody to this message, labelled "Shady Grove, Dorian 2".
But Kilby Snow and some bluegrass bands, like the Stanley Brothers, have done versions of "Shady Grove" with the very same melody using the very same notes which they have harmonized differently.  Basically, what they have done is to continue to treat G as the key center of the melody, despite the melody beginning and ending on A.  Here is the melody again, with the harmony indicated below, in bent brackets:
 A         A     B      A    G     A    B    D     E      E       G      E    D     B     A    G    B     D     B      A        A
[D chord ]   [G chord                        ]   [C chord                ] [G chord                               ]    [D chord  ]
In this harmonization of "Shady Grove", the heavily emphasized II note that the melody begins and ends on is harmonized as the fifth of the V chord, D, and when you come to the part of the melody that emphasizes the VI note, E, it is harmonized as the third of the IV chord, C.  The peculiarity of this harmonization is that it has the melody beginning and ending on a V chord, so that it never sounds resolved.  One other consideration involved in setting up the harmonization so that the melody has a less ambiguous, very major sounding harmonization that keeps the melody in the parent major pentatonic scale is that harmonizing anything with the V chord and the IV chord involves a certain leap of faith, because in order to do that, you have to use notes in the harmony that are not in the pentatonic scale.  For the V chord, its third, the VII note of the scale, is not a part of the pentatonic scale, and for the IV chord, the IV note itself is not in the pentatonic scale.  The sound of these chords is not exactly jarring because it is still a pretty monochromatic harmonic sound that is very familiar to us, but it does involve a certain degree of "lawyering" of the harmony, since it it requires the use of notes that are not in the scale.  This happens quite a lot in Blues, too, so it's not exactly disturbing to the ear.
Anyhow, I'll post another song in the next post, and we'll see how the two different harmonizations work out there.
All best,
Johnm     
« Last Edit: October 13, 2015, 12:16:33 PM by Johnm »

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 11716
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2015, 06:09:20 PM »
Hi all,
The second song we'll look at is an old hymn called "I Will Arise" which I first heard performed by Kilby Snow.  Let us assume that the parent major pentatonic scale for "I Will Arise" is the C major pentatonic scale:
C-D-E-G-A-C
Here are the lyrics to the chorus of "I Will Arise", with the melody indicated below the words, and Kilby's harmony indicated below the melody, in bent brackets.

I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in his arms, in the arms of my dear Savior, oh there are 10,000 charms 
A A   C  A  G A  C   C AGE    G   G    G     A    GA C  CD   E      E  G   E D   C  D     E    CAG     A    C     AG   EDEG     A
[F major                     ][C major        ]  [F major        ] [C major               ][G        ][F ][C  ][F                 ][ C    ] [F      ]

Looking at the melody, you can see that it begins and ends on the VI note of the C major pentatonic scale, A.  Kilby's harmonization is akin to the major harmonization of "Shady Grove", in that it keeps a melody which does not have the I note of the parent major pentatonic scale as its key center nonetheless in the key of the parent major pentatonic scale.  Where the melody leans heavily on the VI note of the scale, it is harmonized with the IV chord, F, the third of which is that VI note, A.  Where the melody leans on the V note of the scale, it is harmonized with the I chord, C, the V note of which is the fifth of the I chord.  Where the melody lands briefly on the II note of the parent major scale, D, it is harmonized with a G chord, to which D is the fifth.  As with the major harmonization of "Shady Grove", you end up with a harmonization that puts the melody in the parent major scale, but which has the melody beginning and ending on a chord other than the I chord, in this case the IV chord, so it once again sounds unresolved.

The second version of "I Will Arise" uses the very same melody notes, but treats the VI note of the parent major pentatonic scale as the key center of the melody, so that the melody, in terms of key center is in this scale:
A-C-D-E-G-A
This scale turns out to be exactly the same as the pentatonic scale most often called the "Blues Scale":
I-bIII-IV-V-bVII-I
I'm calling it the Aeolian pentatonic scale, just because it runs from VI to VI, and the corresponding scale that runs from VI to VI in the major scale is the Aeolian mode (or Natural Minor).  As with the Dorian version of "Shady Grove", no harmonization is needed for the Aeolian version of "I Will Arise"; simply droning on scale tones seems to provide all of the harmonic color necessary or desirable. 
I should add in conclusion that these sorts of possibilities for harmonizing or re-harmonizing pentatonic melodies abound in this music, Blues as well as Old-Time.  Listen for pentatonic melodies in the music you hear, and maybe you'll be inspired to come up with a different treatment of a familiar melody.
All best,
Johnm     

Offline alyoung

  • Member
  • Posts: 337
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2015, 04:40:48 AM »
Most interesting ... thank you very much for this information, John. (Now, the challenge is to get it working on an autoharp...)

Offline Pan

  • Member
  • Posts: 1906
  • Howdy!
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2015, 08:13:30 AM »
Thanks for a very interesting post, John!

I think I grasped the basic idea of what you are describing. I need to re-listen with an instrument at hand, and reread carefully to be sure!

One thing that I noticed while trying to figure out "Troubles", was that many old time/bluegrass musicians preferred to play the song harmonizing the low VI note of the melody with a VI minor chord, instead of the IV chord Kilby uses. Is this what you are describing on your 2nd post?

Personally, I very much prefer Kilby's IV chord against the low VI note. Just my opinion, though.

Cheers

Pan

Offline Lastfirstface

  • Member
  • Posts: 384
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2015, 08:43:46 AM »
Really interesting. Thanks for posting this.

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 11716
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2015, 04:54:06 PM »
Thanks, Al, Pan, and Lastfirstface for the good words.  Your assessment of the harmony as it applies to "Troubles" is spot on, Pan, and prior to hearing Kilby's version, all of the versions I had heard of that melody just rocked from the VI minor chord to the I major chord (with the exception of Dock Boggs "Sugar Baby", on which Mike Seeger accompanied Dock with a droning I7 chord).  It is amazing to me how very different these pentatonic melodies end up sounding with different harmonizations, though I guess in a way, it's not all that surprising.
All best,
Johnm

Offline frankie

  • Member
  • Posts: 2439
    • DoneGone.net
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #6 on: October 14, 2015, 12:19:03 AM »
Interesting topic... strangely, I've been experimenting with setting Dock Boggs' "Country Blues" relative to its parent major key - F. It's very strange how it changes the overall sound.

Offline banjochris

  • Member
  • Posts: 2245
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2015, 08:40:27 AM »
Interesting topic... strangely, I've been experimenting with setting Dock Boggs' "Country Blues" relative to its parent major key - F. It's very strange how it changes the overall sound.

I'd like to hear, that, Frankie -- somewhere on the Back Porch here I did a version of "Drunkard's Lone Child" that I overdubbed guitar on, and did it with D, G and A chords just for the heck of it, it turned out not bad.
Chris

PS Great topic John!

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 11716
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #8 on: October 14, 2015, 03:59:05 PM »
I'm glad you're enjoying the topic, Chris!  Incidentally, Chris's performance of Dock Boggs' "Drunkard's Lone Child" can be found at:  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=813.msg6035#msg6035 .

A thought occurred to me driving down to Seattle today with regards to this topic.  There is absolutely no requirement that a melody note of these pentatonic tunes be harmonized with a chord that includes that note, even or especially when the melody note is strongly emphasized and held, as opposed to being a passing note in the middle of a line.  For an example, think of Washington Phillips singing "What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?"  The chorus begins on a very strongly emphasized VI note from the parent major pentatonic scale, under the words, "What are they do--", and then keeps returning to that VI note.  If we assume that you must harmonize a melody note with a chord that contains that VI note, you'd probably harmonize it with a IV chord or a VI minor chord. . . and yet, Washington Phillips harmonizes that VI note with a I chord, and the effect is magical--the sound really sends me, at least.  There is something special about a strongly-emphasized melody note being harmonized with a chord that doesn't include that note, sometimes.  That bit of tension grabs the ear.
All best,
Johnm
 

Offline frankie

  • Member
  • Posts: 2439
    • DoneGone.net
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2015, 05:37:10 PM »
I'd like to hear, that, Frankie -- somewhere on the Back Porch here I did a version of "Drunkard's Lone Child" that I overdubbed guitar on, and did it with D, G and A chords just for the heck of it, it turned out not bad.

I remember that post - love it! Here's a quick and dirty example of what I've been messing with:

   
the bare link:

https://soundcloud.com/frankie12string/docks-country-blues-same-melody-in-two-different-keys
« Last Edit: October 15, 2015, 10:05:12 AM by frankie »

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 11716
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2015, 06:15:16 PM »
Wow, that's a treat to hear, Frank!  That second version sort of ends up in the Kilby Snow "I Will Arise" territory, starting and ending on the IV of the major pentatonic.  Cool.
All best,
Johnm

Offline banjochris

  • Member
  • Posts: 2245
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #11 on: October 14, 2015, 07:38:03 PM »
Wow is right! It's a whole new song -- thanks for posting that Frank!
Chris

Offline Lastfirstface

  • Member
  • Posts: 384
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #12 on: October 15, 2015, 07:49:57 AM »
Thanks for posting that one Frankie.

Offline frankie

  • Member
  • Posts: 2439
    • DoneGone.net
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #13 on: October 15, 2015, 10:06:44 AM »
Thanks, fellas...  I included a bare link to soundcloud, too since it seemed like some browsers and devices didn't know what to do with the embedded link..

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 11716
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Harmonizing Appalachian Pentatonic Tunes
« Reply #14 on: October 16, 2015, 08:34:49 AM »
Hi all,
I've always thought Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford's "Willie  Moore" had a very beautiful melody.  It's unusual in starting its first two melodic phrases (after pick-up notes) on the II note of the parent major pentatonic scale, really leaning on it.  And the melody concludes each verse on a low V note.  Dick Burnett pretty much tracks the melody in his thumb-lead banjo accompaniment, and does not acknowledge any chord changes along the way.  Were you to back this melody up on a guitar, accompanying a singer and fiddler, how would you choose to harmonize it?




All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: December 07, 2015, 05:14:02 PM by Johnm »

 


SimplePortal 2.3.7 © 2008-2021, SimplePortal