This week we’re going to cover a standard song and a standard progression with Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms by Flatt & Scruggs (RIMSBA for short). Aside from being a very standard bluegrass jam tune, the progression is used in a wide variety of other tunes making it a useful tune to get down.
Here’s a chart with the melody for this breakdown – Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms and a generic chart good for jamming. While I use the key of G for the breakdown, this song is played in a lot of different keys. Aside from G, it’s pretty common to hear this tune called in A and Bb but given how simple the tune is, you should be comfortable playing it in pretty much all positions. Remember, the vocalist always gets to choose the key – so be prepared!!
Learning any tune starts with listening to it a lot. With standards like RIMSBA, there’s a lot of recorded versions. I suggest listening to a bunch of them and find one you like and focusing primarily on that variation.
Below are a few recordings I like for reference:
- Flatt and Scruggs
- Nashville Jam at Music City Roots Live From the Factory on 6.15.2016.
- Billy Strings Live
- Chris Thile & Michael Daves from Sleep with One Eye Open
- Ricky Skaggs from History of the Future
As I mentioned, RIMSBA is a great song to learn because the progression is so common. To that end, here’s a few examples of tunes that use the same (or really similar) progression to RIMSBA. There’s a lot more though – feel free to post another RIMSBA tune in the comments.
Scales and practices
Playing the G major scale, the G major pentatonic and, the G minor pentatonic are good ideas on this tune. When hitting the G | G7 and C | C7 parts (I | I7 | IV | IV7|), playing the b7th note in your solos can be really fun – for that, the mixolydian mode is always a fun choice.
Of course, if you’re playing the song in a different key, then just learn the same scales in that key.
The song is essentially AB form which means there’s a verse followed by a chorus and repeat. That said, since the chords and melody for the A and B parts are the same, you could just think of this as a repeating form. You can break this up into 4 phrases per part. So measures:
- Phrase 1 is measures 1 – 2 and is simply four measures of G (or the root)
- Phrase 2 is measures 3 – 4 and is two measures of G (Root) and two of D (V)
- Phrase 3 is measures 5 – 6 and is one measure of G, one of G7, one of C and one of C7 (or I I7 | IV IV7)
- Phrase 4 is measures 7 – 8 and is two measures of D (V) and two of G (root) basically the opposite of Phrase 2.
Breaking it down like this can make it really easy to remember.
As normal, I encourage you to learn multiple positions of any song you learn. In the PDF chart, I have 2.5 ways of playing the tune.
- First verse and chorus are in a more open position. While I’m using “closed” chords like the Big G Chop, you can simplify this to using 2 finger chords if you wanted.
- For the second Verse, I use closed position chords starting on the 5th fret.
- For the second Chorus use closed position chords starting on the 7th fret. Ideally, you should be able to move between these different positions pretty easily.
Of course, you can play these chords in a variety of ways aside from what I’ve listed. Go check out my Major Chord lesson here for some additional options.
I provided two different ways to play the melody in this song in the main chart for this song. I recommend learning each melody variation straight through first so you can play each correct at tempo. Once you get them both down, start to blend them a bit to see how that sounds. Blending melody positions is a great first step to crafting melody-based solos – which are perfect for bluegrass tunes like RIMSBA.
Since this tune is so popular at jams I recommend working up a harmony break. Below is a simple idea that’s a 3rd above the melody.
I also included double stops that could be used to further the harmony aspect to get an even fuller sound. When using the double stops, you can also include the harmony notes in the chord to get a “chord melody” feel. For example, in Measure 1 the double stop hits the D and G notes and the D is the harmony note. In beat 4, the harmony note moves to C and then to B. You could play a double stop with C and G followed by another B and G.
RIMSBA is a great jam tune – so it’s worth taking the time to study on its own. Simple tunes like this that have been play thousands of times may seem boring but they can offer a lot of potential for subbing out chords, playing harmonies, and generally getting a little weird. Try playing with the melody and chords a bit – maybe use a common note for all the chords like D which is in G (it’s the 5) and of course in D (the root) but it would make the C and C7 chords in to Cadd9 and C9 chords.
If you’d like to take a deeper dive into this song or any other tune click here for information on private coaching. If you like this free content and would like more of it, considering donating to my site here – donations really help keep things going!
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