Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fireball Mail

Back to Basics

The five string banjo sounds beautiful when playing bluegrass. It's a perfect pairing, but sometimes I find myself neglecting bluegrass in favor of my own music. When this neglect comes to mind, I realize that I need to get back to basics.

With this in mind I present to you three variations of a well known tune, Fireball Mail. Fireball Mail does indeed have lyrics, but I've mostly heard this preformed as an instrumental. 

Variation 1

The first variation stays fairly true to the basic Scruggs version with two exceptions to note. The first is the non use of the 5th string as a drone. All three versions replace the 5th string with the 3rd string as a drone nearly all the way through.

The second departure is the use of chord substitution. To stay true to standard bluegrass banjo I use this sparingly in the first version. See the image below for the first chord substitutions played against the D chord in the first half of song.

Starting half way through measure eight I start walking up the scale from the initial F#. This takes me through the Em, Am, and then finally a short stop on the Ddim7 chord that leads to the G in measure 10. At this point I feel that I haven't strayed too far from the traditional sounds of bluegrass, and with exception of the Ddim7 chord, everything in these two measures fits with the tonality used in the key of G.

Variation 2

The second variation leads us slightly further astray on paper than it sounds when played. Take a look at measure 23 in the image below. In this case I am playing the notes of an E7 chord against a G chord. An E7 chord is constructed from the following notes: E, G#, B, and D. It's not too outlandish, and it leads down to the D chord in measure 24 quite nicely.

The last real chord substitution is at measure 31. This comes on the tail end of a bluesy passage that starts in measure 26. Take a look at the image below. In this case I am substituting the last D chord in the song with an F chord. This serves to link the long bluesy run in the previous measures to the standard bluegrass banjo G ending in measure 32.

Variation 3

The third and last variation is just straight bluegrass banjo. It's not quite the way that Earl played it, but it doesn't stray far from tradition at all. 

I hope you enjoy this. Don't forget that you can find the tab in the section below or on my tablature page. I have two versions for you. One is PDF that most people should be able to read, and the other is GPX. GPX is used with the latest version of Guitar Pro.

Thanks for reading!

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