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I. Finding a Good Key

Sara Carter, the lead singer in the Carter Family, had an unusually low vocal range. They recorded the song in the key of Ab, which is actually a hair lower than the key that I’m teaching you the song in--the key of A. Even though I’ve raised the key a bit, this song will probably suit most men. Women, unless you have a low voice, you may want to raise the key, probably with a capo.

The lowest note in our version of the song is an “E3”, which is found on the 4th string, 2nd fret of the guitar. You sing it on the first word of the song, the word “I” in the line, “I was standin’.” Women, this could be too low for you. But try singing it with me.

The highest note is an “E4”, found on the open 1st string. You sing it on the syllable “roll” for example, in the line, “And I saw the hearse come rollin’.” Guys, you’ll need some oomph to hit this. Loud and proud. Try it with me.

Singing Higher, Option 1: Go Up an Octave

Guys, most of you should be able to hit that high note. More problematic is the low note for women with high voices. You could hop up a whole octave, which is a trick I recommend for the other songs, but in this tune, the high note would now be an E5, which is way up on the 12th fret, 1st string. Unless you’re an adult soprano or a six-year-old girl, that will probably be a little too chirpy for you.

Singing Higher, Option 2: Capo Up

If that’s the case, but the E3 is too low, capo up. You can’t play along with my backing tracks if you do this, so you may want to just do your best singing in the original key until you don’t need the backing tracks any longer. But once you’re ready to play on your own, you should really find a good key for your voice.

Here’s how you use a capo to find a good vocal key. Start at Capo 1, and try playing those original low and high notes, but now relative to the capo instead of the nut. So find the low note again by playing the 4th string 2nd fret (which is actually the 3rd fret now, but it’s 2 frets up from the capo) and try singing that, and your high note again is on the open 1st string. Keep doing this, moving up fret by fret, until you find notes you can hit comfortably.

II. Learn the Vocal Part Well

Your next step is to learn the vocal part well by listening to the Jam Track several times, and once you’ve got it in your ear, try singing along. Mercifully, the vocals in this tune has a very even, simple rhythm. This is a funeral song after all, and while it’s not a march, it has a little bit of a march feel to it, where the rhythms are simple and tend to land on the beat. This helps lend some heaviness and and soberness to the song, and also makes the vocals relatively easy to pick up. That said, you may want to listen to the song five or ten times to really get the vocal part in your ear.

III. One Strum Per Measure, Slowly

OK, now we’ll practice strumming just on Beat 1, called the Downbeat, while we sing. The downbeat is like landmark that helps oreint you as your’re singing. If you don’t know where that beat falls in relation to the singing, you’re lost. So we’re going to practice finding them, while eliminating pretty much everything else--We’re going to play slowly, and no busy strumming--just a single downstrum on the downbeat.

You’ll see I’ve put red arrows on the chord chart where the downbeats fall. When there’s a chord change, the chord is actually located right over the lyrics where the downbeat falls, so instead of putting a arrow right over the chord name, I kept things more legible by angling them in from the side. There’s a link to the chart below, so print it out if you like.

I’m going to play through the whole song. Follow along with me.

If you’ve learned either of the other songs in this course, you’ll remember that their vocal lines tended to shy away from the beat--often the vocal lines would end on the and-of-4 for example, instead of the 4 or the 1. But as I said, vocal syllables often land on the beat, which makes strumming and singing easier. That strum on the downbeat is often locked right in with a word you’re singing.

Feel to rewind and sing along with me some more. Up next, we’ll strum once per beat instead of once per measure.

[Pause Screen]

IV. One Strum Per Beat, Slowly

Now we’re going to add some difficulty--you’re going to be strumming downstrums once per beat instead of once per measure. This is gonna clarify the rhythm of the vocal line at a finer resolution--you’re going to see where every beat falls in relation to the singing. But we’ll keep a slow tempo, which will hopefully make those chord changes more manageable. Here we go.

V. Full strum pattern, Slowly

Now let’s bring in the full strum pattern. Remember, this is what it sounds like.

Strum: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +


VI. Full strum pattern to tempo

Keep working on that until you’re ready to play at full tempo. When you are, you can just use one of the jam tracks provided. There are several jam track options, depending on whether you want to play and sing along with me, which is easier, or do it yourself, which is harder but probably more fun once you’re up for it. Have fun!

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