Frailing Strum, Basic Technique, cont’d

Playing and Singing

Let’s look at what we’ve done up to this point. We have looked at the basics of the frailing strum, rhythm in 4/4 time, forming chords and changing chords. Up to now we have practiced each of these things individually and blended one or two items together for some exercises. Now we are going to put it all together and add your voice into the mix.

Let’s break a song into its basic framework. For our first example we’ll look at the old fiddle tune “Cripple Creek”.

“Cripple Creek” is a song in 4/4 time. For this example we are going to play it in G.

We are not going to play the melody right now. What we are focusing on here is keeping a steady frailing strum (rhythm) along with the chord progression in order to create a back up for your voice.

Cripple Creek 4/4 Time Key of G

cripple creek tab

All we are doing here is playing a simple frailing strum along with a chord progression while singing the lyrics.

That’s easy to say , but in practice this can be a real challenge because your frailing strum, rhythm, chord changes and singing have to be right on the money. There is no time to think about what you are doing or to remember anything.

That’s why the basic skills we looked at earlier are so important. If you put the effort into getting the frailing strum down and keeping a steady rhythm through the chord changes you can look at this tab for “Cripple Creek” and start playing and singing without a lot of fuss.

And right about now the odds are pretty good that you are saying to yourself, “But I can’t sing!”

Yeah, you can sing. Anybody with a voice can sing. The trick is to relax and actually allow yourself to sing. Most of the problems that people have with singing revolve around the fact that they get so uptight about what people might think that they tense up. Once that happens they can’t even play so singing goes out the window.

Just sing. You won’t sound like a professional vocalist at first, but that’s because you haven’t had a lot of time to work with your voice just yet. It’s like anything else, the more you do it the better you get at it.

The plus side to singing is that you can’t really think and sing at the same time. Singing will force you to start listening and interacting with the flow of the music instead of trying to remember what note to hit. This is the first step to improvising.

Let’s look at another tune. “Little Maggie” is a bluegrass and old time favorite that’s a lot of fun to play and sing.

Little Maggie 4/4 Time Key of G

little maggie tab

The first time I seen little Maggie She was sitting by the banks of the sea. Had a forty-five strapped ’round her shoulder and a banjo on her knee. Now she’s marching to the station with a suitcase in her hand. She’s going for to leave me She is bound for some distant land.

Now compare the tab for Little Maggie To Cripple Creek. You will see that we are just playing the same picking pattern to a new chord progression.

Now think about this for a second. We have two completely different songs but when we break them down into a simple back up pattern we find that they share a basic structure. If you pick up a book of folk, bluegrass or old time songs you will find that this approach will work for a pretty wide range of tunes in 4/4 time. All you have to do is play the chord progression along with an appropriate picking pattern and you’re good to go. In fact, if all you ever learn is how to change a few chords and play a simple rhythm you can sing thousands of songs.

Understanding this, “seeing” this, is essential if you want to jam, learn songs or improvise. Get a songbook and start experimenting.

I know, I know. Right now you’re thinking, “What about the melody?” Well, melody is important, but it’s actually the last thing you want to worry about right now.

A lot of people make the mistake of trying to learn songs by memorizing the melody. As we discussed earlier in regards to changing chords you don’t have time to stop and remember anything when you are playing a song. Now, if there isn’t time to think about how to make a chord then how could there be enough time to remember every note in the entire song?

In the next chapter we are going to explore the building blocks of music and look at ways we can blend them with our basic frailing skills. Until then, spend some time working on the basics. Then kick back and play rhythm while you sing a few tunes.