Explanation of “When the Saints”

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After posting this clip earlier in the week, some of you have emailed me wanting to know what exactly is going on in that song.  One thing a few have mentioned is the absence of the melody for much the song.

Let me explain a bit. There are four musicians involved in this: me, an upright bass, a drummer and Andy on fiddle.  We are all playing a chord chart that looks like this.

Time: 4/4
Key: G
MM: 140 bpm

Chorus: G  Emin7 Amin7 –  D7  D/C Bmin7  Bbdim7 Amin7  D7
G  –  Dmin7  G7 C G   D7 G
Verse:           G Amin7  Cmin6 Bmin7  Emin7  Amin7  D7
G  –  Dmin7  G7 C G  D7 G

Before we started, we worked out the form.

C, V, C  (Greg lead)
C, V (Greg improvisation)
C, V (Andy lead)
C, V (Andy improvisation)
C, V (Greg improvisation)
V (Andy lead)
Tag

So in some verses or choruses, you hear the melody though it is usually fancied up.  In other places, you don’t hear any hint of the melody.  What is happening there is that we are still playing the chord chart but creating different music based on those chords rather than the traditional melody.  I usually have the melody going in my head so I don’t get lost.

This happens first after I play melody (sort of) for a chorus, verse and chorus.  At that point, I start playing the chorus chords again but with an improvised melody.  I then do the same for the verse. At that point, Andy knows that he is supposed to take the melody.  He knows when to come in either by counting bars (my improvisation section is 16 bars) or more likely just by feeling it.

I have been asked for sheet music to this and I am afraid it does not exist.  I purposely change what I play every time I play it.  It is actually important for me to do that for a few reasons.  Improvisation in a concert setting is getting more and more important to me because I just think it is more real than playing prearranged music as I usually do.

Many churches I go to are not interested in this kind of music because they are more on the conservative side.  But even if I don’t play this style, I am still more and more looking for ways to improvise (by taking requests, etc).

If you want to give it a shot, here is a track for “When the Saints” to play with.  It has a click in the right channel but you really don’t need it.  You can just turn off the right channel (play with the balance setting on your player) and listen to the bass player.

This track is slightly different than the one I posted on YouTube because it includes a mandolin.  Here is the form:

C, V, C  (Piano lead)
C, V (Piano improvisation)
C, V (Mandolin lead)
C, V (Fiddle improvisation)
C, V (Piano improvisation)
V (Piano lead)
Tag

Just use the chord chart above and play along.  Keep your hands higher on the keyboard to avoid interfering with the bass player (play rootless if you know how).  And play lightly.