Sugaree – Grateful Dead

tldr: Sugaree is in B major, using the Mixolydian mode. The main verse and lines 1 and 3 of chorus are simply B and E (I to IV), with the E chord alternating in an A note to make an Esus4. The prechorus is F#m C#m A E (replacing the F#m with B the second time through), or v (I) – ii – bVII – IV. Lines 2 and 4 of the chorus call back to the prechorus with C#m A E. The solo is based in B mixolydian, really emphasizing the chord tones of the B and E as they change.

Sugaree Full Analysis

After going back and forth, I’m convinced that this song is in B major, mixolydian mode, rather than E major, which many people online identify as its key. This distinction doesn’t affect much because the notes are the same; the B mixolydian scale is simply the notes of the E major scale (the “parent scale”) played in the key of B major (that is, where B is the tonal center). But it does change the analysis of what the role of each chord is.

The reason I think the tonal center is B (and harmonic analysis can be subjective; reasonable people may disagree) is that ending the song with a B chord sounds much more complete than ending with an E chord. The Dead actually end with a B after an E chord. Try just ending on that E (“you know…”) and the sound is unstable, as if we are left hanging. Which is a fine way to end a song, if that is what you’re going for. But my ear, at least, “wants” a B. Now play that B chord (“me….”) and it sounds like a satisfying and complete resolution of the progression.

Once established as B, you immediately know that it’s in the mixolydian mode because (1) it has to be, if the parent scale of E major was the alternative, and (2) the A note added in with the E chord as a sus4 — from 022100 to 022200 back to 022100 – – is the signal for the mixolydian mode in a major key. That is, the B major scale normally has A# as its 7th degree. The only difference between the natural major scale and mixolydian mode is simply the flattening of that 7th degree, which in this case is changing the A# to an A.

Not only does this change one note; it also has the effect of changing the chords within the key that use that 7th degree note (if you don’t already understand, see the explanation in the Estimated Prophet post, in the California paragraph). So this adds into the mix the chord rooted at that A note (A major, instead of the A#dim); a minor v chord instead of a major V (F#m, instead of F#); and a diminished iii chord (D#dim instead of D#m). And, in fact, the first two of those feature prominently in the pre-chorus and chorus.

So, the intro and verses consist of the B major and open E major chords (I to IV), with little pentatonic riffs connecting the chords that are based off of the chords themselves. The lead-in to the B chord is the F# note at the 2nd fret of the 6th string. There are good tabs out there that give you the usual notes, but it’s less about the specific notes than doing your own embellishments by sliding between notes of the B major pentatonic off of the B chord leading to the E. For example, a basic one from the song itself:

-----2-------------------0-0-0
-----4-------------------0-0-0
-----4-------------------1-2-1
-----4-------------------2-2-2
--2--2-----2-2-----------2-2-2
2----x---2-----4-3-2-0---0-0-0

or

----2--------------------0-0-0
----4--------------------0-0-0
----4--------------------1-2-1
----4-----4h6p4----------2-2-2
--2-2-4/6--------6\4-2---2-2-2
2---x------------------0-0-0-0

You can also add the E note into the mix over the B chord and that has lots of possibilities too. Basic example:

-----2-------------------0-0-0
-----4--5p4--------------0-0-0
-----4------6-4-----4----1-2-1
-----4----------4h6------2-2-2
--2--2-------------------2-2-2
2----x-----------------0-0-0-0

Or how about working in that mixolydian A note?

-----2-------------------0-0-0
-----4-------------------0-0-0
-----4--4-4/6p4-2h4p2-1--1-2-1
-----4-------------------2-2-2
--2--2-------------------2-2-2
2----x-----------------0-0-0-0

The E chord really just has the sus4 A note added in the actual, but you could do a similar thing using the E major pentatonic:

-0-0-0-----------------2--
-0-0-0-----------------4--
-1-2-1-----------------4--
-2-2-2------2-4p2-4----4--
-2-2-2--2/4---------4--2--
-0-0-0-----------------x--

You get the idea. You can also throw an A chord as a transition between the B to E and back between the E to B. It isn’t in the original, but it works.

You may be wondering, what is with using the B major and E major pentatonics if the song is in B mixolydian? Well, first of all, there’s no clash because all of the notes in those pentatonics are included in the B mixolydian scale anyway. But more fundamentally, just because a song is primarily constructed with notes from a particular scale doesn’t mean that you are limited to those notes. Using different scales that work with I particular chords just brings different and interesting sounds. In fact, you can use the full B major scale, with its A# note that distinguishes it from B mixolydian, over the B chord and it works just fine. For example (A# bolded):

-----2-------------------0-0-0
-----4-------------------0-0-0
-----4--4/3-----1-3------1-2-1
-----4------4-1-----4-2--2-2-2
--2--2-------------------2-2-2
2----x-------------------0-0-0

Moving on, the pre-chorus is F#m C#m A E (v-ii-VIIb-IV), and then played again with the B chord replacing the F#m chord. In the chorus, lines 1 and 3 are the same as the intro and verse, just B and E, and lines 2 and 4 are the last three chords of the pre-chorus, C#m A E.

Finally, the solos are over the B and E chords. You could just switch between B major pentatonic and E major pentatonic, but I’d suggest stepping away from the pentatonics on this one and going with the B mixolydian scale all the way. Pay particularly attention to the chord tones, and perhaps centering around the B and E notes. Or, if you prefer to use the pentatonics as your anchor positions and add in the extra scale notes on top of that, you could think of it as B major pentatonic plus the E and A notes.

But this is really about feel, not scale patterns. In fact, you could do an entire great-sounding solo with a handful of notes in one tiny spot on the fretboard, not thinking about scales at all. I’ll try to update later with an example from the GBE strings, 9th through 14th frets.

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One Response so far.

  1. Arran Scott says:

    Great information. Just the kind of thing that I look for. I wish I could find information like this on every GD song!

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