Lesson 14: Pilgrim's Progress

Posted March 1, 2008

Kris Kristofferson has been one of my favorite story tellers for most of my musical life.  Hits such as "Me and Bobbi McGee," "Why Me, Lord," "Sunday Mornin' Coming Down," and "Help Me Make It Thru the Night," have contributed to my musical interpretation of life and provided material for many a late night sing.  One of his recent tunes, "Pilgrim's Progress," I am bringing to you in this lesson.  In its folksy style, this song embeds a profound religious viewpoint and shows Kristofferson's penetrating insight. 

Listen to the complete song first, especially if you are not familiar with it yet.  We will play backup with the chord progression and then learn the banjo break to dress up the song in bluegrass style. 

Audio:  Edward Wing picks and sings "Pilgrim's Progress"

C to D Rhythm Lick

On the chorus backup, we have a split measure with C and D chords.  Neat trick here: since there's only 2 beats on the D chord, just move the C fingering forward 2 frets.  Not a complete chord, but enough to catch the quick D with a relaxed flow.

Audio:  Slow    Faster

Rhythm for Chorus

I like to block out a chord pattern in 4-measure lines.  It makes it easy to read at a glance.  Here we have 5 lines with a 2-mesure pickup and one extra measure tagged on at the end.  The C and D in parentheses indicates the split measure shown above.


Chorus with Rhythm

Rhythm for Verse

I have blocked out the verse in four lines, the 2nd and 4th line having an extra measure fill at the end.


Verse with Rhythm

Banjo Break: Phrase 1

A "banjo break" is a picking interlude based on the chorus of a song, but not exactly the same pattern.   Two simple phrases make an effective intro and break for Pilgrim's Progress.  Both use a forward roll followed by double thumb patterns.

Audio:  Slow    Faster

Banjo Break: Phrase 2

In the first measure, notice the 4th string instead of the usual 5th.  This anchors the sound of the D7 chord to its root note.

Audio:  Slow    Faster

Banjo Break for "Pilgrim's Progress"

Audio:    Slow     Faster

Let this lesson encourage you to explore the possibilities of bringing more quality tunes from country, popular and gospel styles into the bluegrass repertoire.  The appeal of the banjo extends well beyond the traditional bluegrass literature.  I am of the younger generation of bluegrass, and many of you are the ones who will carry on after my time.  Who knows what you might play.

Pick well and live long!

Edward T Wing

Pick'n'Grin, Knoxville, Tennessee