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Thread: southern flavor - key?

  1. #1
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    my band has a running argument with our banjo player that monroe's "southern flavor" is in the key of E, not Em as he insists. can someone help us settle this? it seems to me its one of these modal tunes that sounds minor but is played in a major key.

    thanks,
    david

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    Registered User Tom C's Avatar
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    I believe you are right.

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    Yep, listen to Dewey Farmer pick that one, no mistaking the key with him whackin' it

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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    You're having an argument with a b@*jo player? There's your trouble, right there.

    BTW, the tab by Mike Strangeland on AllTabs has it in E Major. To be fair, though, there are some old time/bluegrass tunes that by pure music theory should be in a minor key or a mode, but our musical forefathers, not knowing much theory, played the tune "as if" it were in a major key and passed the tune down that way. IMHO, sometimes these tunes do sound better, although less traditional, when they are played in accordance with the theory. A good example is the OT tune "Greasy Coat." The melody notes of the version we play in the Midwest exactly describe the the A Dorian mode. The root chord of A Dorian is Am and the 5 chord is Em, but most folks around here play it with an A Major and E Major. It creates a dissonance that some people like, but I think the tune sounds much more mysterious and interesting with the Am and Em. #

    I don't play "Southern Flavor," nor do I have any plans to learn it, so I have not analyzed it for the same phenomenon, but it would be an interesting exercise if you really want to get the bottom of your argument.




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    I haven't kept that album (it makes me sad) but
    as I recall at least one of the tunes is in e minor throughout,
    but ends on a major chord.

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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    Well, if you're in a jam situation, it's in the key of "depends". Seems like folks will alternately go in and out of major and minor (as did Monroe). If I recall the B part has a pretty major key feel to it.

    BTW- this is a fairly common occurance with bluegrass and old-time music. I've found it's good to ask people which way they want to play it, both ways have their appeal.
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    I've played this one a bunch & it is a favorite of mine, as it became for Bill Monroe as well. I play it out of Em. I also favor the later version, from the 1990 live recording, where Monroe plays it as a mandolin piece with the form A-A-B-A, as opposed to the original version, which was a fiddle tune in A-B-A form.
    I believe that Monroe liked the Grammy that the album of the same name won & moved up the tune in his rotation.

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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    You say "Minor"
    I say "Miner"
    You say "Major"
    I say "Mayeur(?)"
    Minor - Miner
    Major - Mayeur(?)

    Let's call the whole thing off!

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    Em is where I play it. I believe I learned it from a Monroe recording.
    MWM

    Mark in West Michigan

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    I'm with Johnny on this one. I had a simliar discussion about a song I play in Emaj, but where there are 'blue notes' liberally thrown into the melody.

    IMO ... just because there are accidental minor thirds, or flat sevenths happening in the single note lines (fills, breaks, and certain melody notes sung flat for effect) that doesn't change the key.

    When you put minor chords behind a bluesy, modal, or 'Ancient Tone' melody, you are actually reharmonizing the song, even if it sounds right to your ear.

    The trick is to get it sounding right using minor scales against the major chords (but to Johnny's point, I doubt anyone 'back in the day' thought much about the theory behind those 'Ancient Tones').

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    Thanks everyone for your replies. Here is an answer that our band's bass player/singer got from Mike Compton himself:

    "Monroe's band played it out of E minor. The note choices Monroe uses in the tune represent both major and minor, so you are both correct and incorrect. The tune, as you might have guessed by now, is actually more modal E than anything, which can be said for a lot of his work in the later years of his life. He also mixed minor notes into major keys. So you guys arm wrestle and then play it without the 3rds in the E chord."
    MC

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    I'm glad to see that Mike's come around and plays it in the right key. #
    MWM

    Mark in West Michigan

  15. #13

    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    Quote Originally Posted by David View Post
    my band has a running argument with our banjo player that monroe's "southern flavor" is in the key of E, not Em as he insists. can someone help us settle this? it seems to me its one of these modal tunes that sounds minor but is played in a major key.

    thanks,
    david
    ....certainly MAJOR not minor,...tell him to listen to the very last guitar chord strummed on Monroe's recording,...you can definitely hear that its an E maj.

  16. #14

    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    Quote Originally Posted by David View Post
    Thanks everyone for your replies. Here is an answer that our band's bass player/singer got from Mike Compton himself:

    "Monroe's band played it out of E minor. The note choices Monroe uses in the tune represent both major and minor, so you are both correct and incorrect. The tune, as you might have guessed by now, is actually more modal E than anything, which can be said for a lot of his work in the later years of his life. He also mixed minor notes into major keys. So you guys arm wrestle and then play it without the 3rds in the E chord."
    MC
    ...wrong,...listen to the very last chord that is strummed,...certainly NOT an E minor chord !

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    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    I play it in the key of E maj. It goes to the 5, B7,,but you can sub. Minor over the tune,giving it a,minor feel,,

  18. #16

    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    I think the band is playing major chords and Monroe plays minor bluesy stuff. Our group has an ongoing discussion of the walk down at the end of A...on the mando I play G, F#,Em...the guitars play a B7 in place of the F#...which works because they have more stings we haven’t really decided what is the “right” way because we think it all sounds good, do whatever you want it’s not wrong it’s music.

    BTW Chris Henry has a video for guitar and he throws a quick D chord in the walkdown so there ya go...anyone who says their way is right is wrong.

    I love, love this tune we play Watson’s Blues then seg into Southern Flavor...the retirement home circuit loves it!
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

  19. #17

    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    Quote Originally Posted by David View Post
    ... from Mike Compton himself: ... play it without the 3rds in the E chord."
    I like that E5 sound (just an E and a B, no G nor G# at all), it leaves more to the imagination - it's not major nor minor, but could work with either or those. Makes it sound kind of mysterious and haunting, like the one-five drones on some bagpipes. Seems like as good a way as any to get through an ambiguous tune.

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  21. #18

    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    Quote Originally Posted by JL277z View Post
    I like that E5 sound (just an E and a B, no G nor G# at all), it leaves more to the imagination - it's not major nor minor, but could work with either or those. Makes it sound kind of mysterious and haunting, like the one-five drones on some bagpipes. Seems like as good a way as any to get through an ambiguous tune.



    Yeh, I like the move at :55 to what sounds like a D major in the background. The one, four fives chords I can (seem to) hear are: A,D,E or E,A,B or D,G,A (if you hear it as E dorian) in different parts the tune.
    Itís cool because Bill there, for example, seems to slide from the G# note down to the G and itís the amount of time in that slide that makes the beginning part appear to be E minor, whereas the fiddle brightens the beginning part up a lot, that is, he uses a tiny, tiny bit more G#.
    Of course if someone says itís definitely in something, well itís a long debate...

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  23. #19

    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    I don't think I've ever heard this song played in a key other than E minor whether it be a recording or with local pickers.

  24. #20
    Registered User Drew Egerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    In my group we actually play the A part as an Em and then on the B part do an E major. I like the sound of it.
    Drew
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    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    In the video in post #18, you can clearly see the guitarist who's backing up the first part play an Em shape, not E. And the second part definitely has a major feel. So I'd say the first part is in in Em, then it modulates to E major for the second part (with a clear E major chord). And the whole thing is pretty modal, I agree.

  26. #22
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    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    If you are digging coal and humming it, it's definitely a miner....
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    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

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    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    Quote Originally Posted by mando-tech View Post
    ...wrong,...listen to the very last chord that is strummed,...certainly NOT an E minor chord !
    This was commented on in #5.

    To my ears Compton is right, at least as regards the original recording with fiddles. Note, e.g., that the bass line leading back from the bridge is b-a-g-f#, not b-a-g#-f#.

    If I were to play the tune I would do the outside in em, and phrase it more like the fiddles than Monroe's mandolin with all those repeated eighth notes. The D-E-D-B7 on the bridge. And I wouldn't play that silly F# chord, or whatever. But I much prefer its companion piece, Nothern White Clouds, with a similar bridge.

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    Default Re: southern flavor - key?

    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
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    Obviously that's a mandolin version, probably from some live recording.

    Monroe often did songs/tunes differently from the original recording. E.g., Wayfaring Stranger was originally recorded in Ab major, with the quartet joining in on the melody in the last two lines. He later took to doing the verse in gm and switching to G major on the chorus, in duet with the guitarist.

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