Sunday, February 15, 2009

Doyle's break: On and On (key of G)

Here's an example of Doyle Lawson's break on the song "On and On" from The Original Band album. It's in TablEdit format - you can get a free reader for the format here. I very much recommend buying the full program if you ever want to write your own mandolin tab (or any other kind of music notation).

There are a lot of things going on in this break and plenty to learn. He starts out with some commanding strums, standing in loosely for the opening of the refrain line "On and On". The second bar has a bluesy fall from high Bb to low E on the second string. In bar 3 the chord switches to C, and the mandolin climbs back up to D for a shorter fall that echoes the first. Then we're in to some space filling in G again, until we have the standout G motif in bar 6, followed by a copy of the same lick but played in D. Notice how the short chromatic runs in each lick are placed differently: the first run seems like ornamentation, but it sets up the second run which leads the melody line into the D chord, taking it from E to F to F# - the defining note of the D chord.

There are lots more characteristic ideas in this break: some very useful stock phrases are run together so that each follows naturally from the last, and always respects the underlying chord structure, while giving cursory attention to the tune. But that's how it should be: Doyle's break is the second - the tune has already been stated by the banjo, and in this song the verse and chorus are the same, so this break creates the first relief.

When Bill Monroe recorded this tune, he took the third break and played a very bluesy and rhythmic improvisation which I'm sure Doyle had heard too.

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