Showing posts with label Bluegrass music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bluegrass music. Show all posts

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The MANDOLIN Sounds in the Roots of BLUEGRASS

Bluegrass music is traditionally played on acoustic instruments, which may include the banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, Dobro and bass. For readers unfamiliar with this musical genre, bluegrass music is the sound produced with particular acoustic stringed instruments like the Mandolin and the Debro. To understand bluegrass music is to realize and appreciate its musical roots. Bluegrass is an original American music formed from a number of varied influences including the early Old Time ballads, fiddle tunes and string band music with its proven roots to the homeland musical heritage of the immigrants who pioneered America.

Sweet By and By www.myspace.com/sweetbyandby I...
Sweet By and By www.myspace.com/sweetbyandby IMG_1143 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Above all, bluegrass music is acoustic, although there are plenty of vocal and instrumental microphones on the modern bluegrass stage. Bluegrass tends to use both vocals and instruments as an ensemble. It is distinctively acoustic, rarely using electric instruments. In bluegrass, as in jazz, each instrument takes a turn playing the melody and improvising around it, while the others revert to backing the lead. This is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carries the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment.

The various types of music brought with the people who began migrating to America in the early 1600s are considered to be the roots of bluegrass music. This would include the ballads from the Scots-Irish immigrants of Appalachia and England, as well as the African-American gospel music and blues which sprang up from rural America. This "Mountain music" held on and grew into today's bluegrass despite the pressures from more socially acceptable forms of popular music. The rural people of the south and other parts of the country clung tenaciously to the music which has grown into an integral contribution to American culture.

Though its inception was influenced by Scottish and Irish folk music, bluegrass music is a distinctly American form. And, its Scottish and Celtic connections mixed with its vibrant and undeniable American roots define a beloved genre of music. Bluegrass music is more of a synthesis of American southern string band music, blues, English, Irish, and Scottish traditions, wrapped up in a sacred country music form.

It is important to note that bluegrass is not and never was simply folk music under a strict definition; however, the topical and narrative themes of many bluegrass songs are highly reminiscent of "folk music". In fact many songs that are widely considered to be bluegrass are older works legitimately classified as folk or old-time performed in a bluegrass style.

While bluegrass is not folk music in the strictest sense, the interplay between bluegrass music and other folk forms has been looked at by many music authorities and scholars. And, it has since received separate genre recognition as a form of country music. By in large its status as a genre is a credit to the talented artists, musicians and bands of the twentieth century as proof of their devotion and optimism toward a music style intrinsic to their heritage and prodigy.

Performing bluegrass bands have included instruments as diverse as the Dobro resonator guitar, accordion, harmonica, Jew's harp, piano, drums, electric guitar, and electric versions of all other common bluegrass instruments, though these are considered to be more progressive and are a departure from the traditional bluegrass style.

Beyond instrumentation, the singing, which is central to bluegrass music genre, has become known as "the high lonesome sound," which gives the song, along with its typically sad lyrics, a haunting and mournful timbre. This distinguishing characteristic of bluegrass is vocal harmony featuring two, three, or four parts, often featuring a dissonant, modal sound in the highest voice. If you hear toe tapping music played mainly on a fiddle, mandolin, five string banjo, guitar or bass guitar followed by an emotionally compelling vocal solo, then it's probably bluegrass music.

The most famous contributor of the bluegrass genre was the legendary Bill Monroe. His main instrument, of course, was the mandolin for which he has developed a distinctive and very influential style, but he has always played with a guitar back-up. His earliest recordings were with his brother Charlie, and The Monroe Brothers, like other country groups, all of whom sang tight harmonies with Bill's mandolin taking the instrumental solos and Charlie's guitar keeping the rhythm and bass tones going behind him.

Today Bill Monroe is referred to as the "founding father" of bluegrass music. The bluegrass style was named after his band, the Blue Grass Boys which was formed in 1939. His singing and music was directly influenced by the mountain church singing and melodic harmonies of his youth in western Kentucky. On October 28, 1939 Bill Monroe introduced the world to his style of music by playing "Muleskinner Blues" during the Grand Old Opry's Saturday night show. They became popular performers on the Grand Ole Opry with many appearances throughout the mid to late twentieth century.

By some arguments, as long as the Blue Grass Boys were the only band playing this music, it was just their unique style. Their music could not be considered a musical genre until other bands began performing the same style. Debate rages among bluegrass musicians, fans, and scholars over what instrumentation constitutes a bluegrass band. Monroe had a unique sound but wanted to fine tune the sound into more of an amalgam of old-time music, blues, ragtime and jazz accompanied by the acoustic instrumentals. Early in the 1940s and not satisfied with their current sound, Monroe began searching for other musicians to give his band a fuller sound.

He formed a new group which featured a young Earl Scruggs on 5-string banjo, and the unusually complex three-finger picking, combined with Monroe's driving mandolin. Lester Flatt's guitar, and Chubby Wise's fiddle, gave the group a power and excitement not heard before in country music. As one musician put it..."Ultimately, the elements of bluegrass came together in Monroe's band as sacred and secular, black and white, urban and rural combined to form an altogether new strain of American music". A significant portion of the content we hear in Bluegrass music today is original Bill Monroe material.

In addition to what might be considered "mainstream" bluegrass, which has gradually changed over the last 60 years, there have been several major subgenres which have existed almost since the music's beginning. Although nearly all bluegrass artists regularly incorporate gospel music into their repertoire, "Bluegrass Gospel" has emerged as a major subgenre. Distinctive elements of this style of bluegrass music include lyrics focused on Christian faith and theology and soulful three or four part harmony singing mixed with an occasionally subdued instrumental solo.

In recent years, several modern country music artists have recorded bluegrass music albums. More recently, artists such as Ricky Skaggs, groups such as the Lonesome River Band and Alison Krauss have continued to spearhead a kind of country crossover that puts more emphasis on blues over that of pure bluegrass. Bluegrass music is now being played in venues all over the world. For bluegrass music fans, there are many summer bluegrass music festivals held annually throughout the United States, including Colorado's Telluride Bluegrass Festival which draws mainstream country artists like Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton.



Additionally, the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival and the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Ancramdale, New York are budding annual festivals. Today, bluegrass bands and concerts can be found in every state in America. With the bands getting younger and the styles getting more hip and slick, there's also a wide range of bluegrass music available.

Bluegrass music is experiencing some of the greatest success it's had in the past 60 years. Its pure acoustic sound with its down home appeal is winning new fans throughout the United States and abroad. It is now performed and enjoyed around the world. The International Bluegrass Music Association alone claims members in all 50 states and over 30 countries.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

5 String BANJO Setup - Making Your Bluegrass Banjo Sound Better

I've been picking 5 string bluegrass banjo for 26+ years, and I've been teaching for many of those years. I've seen many banjos come and go, and I know that the average student needs a couple of pointers for making their banjo sound as good as it can.

IMG_0847
5 String Banjo - Photo   by      deovolenti
If I were to have 10 new students start today, I know that 6 or 7 of those students would say to me: "I've had this old banjo in the closet for 20 years and I thought it was time to learn how to play it." What most don't know is that even just sitting in a closet, the banjo gets out of adjustment. Some tender loving care is needed!

*Important*: 
There is no substitution for a nice instrument. It's a fact that a low-end instrument is just harder to learn on. It's tougher to play, tougher to manipulate. If you play a low-end banjo for some time, then switch to a higher quality instrument, you'll be amazed at how much easier it is to play. Most students start out on the cheap instrument to learn with, then switch into the "Cadillac" a few years in. This is backwards. You should give yourself the benefit of learning on something that's easy to play, right from the get-go. Having said that, many people don't have the budget for an expensive banjo, plus they might have an old banjo already in hand, ready to be learned on. This article will help those people. Just don't fool yourself into thinking that we're going to make your cheap, $100 Japanese made banjo sound like a Gibson Mastertone. We'll make it sound better, but we aren't going to turn a Ford Escort into a Cadillac by any means.

Item #1: new strings
Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes you can make to the overall sound of your banjo is to change the strings. This is not tough, and you can do this at home. One big consideration is to watch your string gauge. Most of the string manufacturers label their string sets with words like light gauge, medim light, medium, etc. My recommendation is to go with medium light; you'll find mediums way too tough on your fingers. If you have slight fingers or are young, you might even prefer light gauge strings. You'll have to try different sets to develop a preference.

A good recommended string changing interval is to change the strings after each 8 hours of playing time. And if you are pulling the banjo out of the closet for the first time in many weeks, months, or years, definitely get them changed. Strings corrode, wear out, rust, become dull, etc., even if the banjo is just sitting in the closet. Consult the author's information to contact me with questions.

Item #2: set the bridge
The bridge is that little wooden piece that the strings pass over, just before they reach the end of the banjo. If the bridge is out of place, your banjo won't make the proper notes. The bridge is not fastened down; it's held in place by the pressure of the strings, and it can be moved around. To set the bridge, you'll need an electronic tuner.

Measure the distance from the nut to the 12th fret. Then, make the distance from the 12th fret to the bridge the same. Once this is done, tune your banjo. Once in tune, fret the 1st string (the higher of the two D strings) at the 17th fret, and see what your tuner is telling you. When the bridge is set right, this will be an in tune G note. If the tuner says the note is too sharp, then scoot the bridge back towards the tail piece just a little. Retune, then check again. If the tuner says the note is flat, scoot the bridge towards the neck just a little. Retune, then check again. Keep checking, moving, and retuning until the 1st string, when fretted at the 17th fret, is showing an in tune G note.

*Handy tip*: Once the bridge is set, then each time you do a string change in the future, just do one string at a time so that the bridge doesn't move on you.

Item #3: the head
This is an adjustment that tends to make quite a difference on the overall sound of the banjo. Most beginners are afraid of this one, but there's no need to be. All you need are some nut drivers or sockets, and maybe a screwdriver. It's fairly straight-forward. Coincidentally, the head is the white "skin" that you can play like a drum; the big white circle that makes up the face of the banjo. When the brackets that hold the head tightly work themselves loose, then the head becomes "mooshy" and "tubby" sounding. A crisp, tight head gives you that classic banjo zing!

The first step is to remove the back of the banjo (this is called the resonator.) Most banjos have 4 thumb screws holding the resonator on. Usually no tools are needed to remove these screws. Sometimes, you'll need a screwdriver to remove the screws holding the back on.
Turn the banjo upside down, and notice the "fingers", or brackets, ringing the banjo. At the bottom end of these brackets are bracket nuts. These brackets and nuts are just fancy nuts and bolts; nothing to 'em. Grab your sockets or nut drivers, and figure out which size will fit over your bracket nuts. 
Once you have the correct tool, start with one nut and tighten it. 

*Important*: don't crank down with all your might! Simply "snug" this bracket. It's possible to spit or crack the head if you crank on these nuts. Snug the nut with very little force, then move to the next one.

Most banjo repairmen say that you should do one nut, then move to the one directly across from it, on the other side of the banjo, and tighten it. Work your way around the banjo, tightening each pair this way. Remember to just barely snug up the nut.

Once you return to the one you started with, you'll likely find it loose again. It's very common to have to make 3 or 4 passes around the banjo before you get everything snugged down. When you have everything crisp and tight, put the resonator back on and enjoy!

In closing
With a little tender loving care, you can squeak some more life out of your old, low-end banjo. I always recommend buying the most banjo you can afford, but reality proves that we'll have to work with what we have available to us. Get your old banjo set up using these simple pointers, and you'll be happier with the overall sound and playability.

"Wunse, I coodn't even spel bango pikker...now I are one!"

My name is Banjo Paul. I'm a banjo teacher, a member of two bluegrass bands, a web designer, and a professional blogger. I have a banjo themed website and blog with lot's of good information about banjos, banjo humor, banjo lessons, banjo kulture...errr...culture...and lot's more. I'd love for you to stop by and say howdy sometime, and as I always say: pick 'em if ya got 'em!



Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Study In BANJO Lessons

Ah, I remember the good old days when I had my first banjo lesson. Actually, it wasn’t exactly my first lesson. I had been using the internet to improve my “skill” for a while, and I was slightly conceited since I thought I had some idea about what I was doing. I watched videos of a real expert playing the banjo while the tabs were available as well. I learned a few songs and techniques that sounded interesting, but that was about the extent of my knowledge.

Brooklyn Museum - The Banjo Lesson - Mary Cassatt
Brooklyn Museum - The Banjo Lesson - Mary Cassatt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I had my first real lesson, it broke down all those illusions I had of being a decent player. I tried to show off, but as soon as his deep eyes met mine I missed a chord. It was my first time to ever play any instrument in front of anyone, and I didn’t think I would get nervous. After all, I’ve always been a gifted public speaker. The only one in the room was my teacher, and I was having a terrible time.

I’m having a hard time seeing my future in banjo playing, especially since I can’t even whack up the ginger to play something in front of my own teacher. He’s a nice guy, and he can play the banjo like no other. He’s already taught me several exercise I can use for my next lesson. It’s also a great experience just to watch him play, since his skill far outweighs mine. I just hope I will sound at least slightly more decent the next time I have a lesson.

But if I always freeze up when I try to play at my lessons, I’m worried that my instructor will never be able to give me the help I truly need. It’s impossible to get feedback and constructive criticism if everything I play is absolute garbage. I think I will start recording my lone practice and playing it back for him. Hopefully I won’t freeze up just knowing that he will be listening to it soon…


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

BLUEGRASS

Bluegrass is a type of music that that is often mistaken for the blues. This type of music first emerged in the 1940’s during the time of World War II. The Blue Grass Boys are coined as being the founders of this type of music and that is where the name came from. There have been some changes in the forms of bluegrass that are offered though since then. Yet they all remain true to some common elements of the original type of bluegrass music. There are even forms of Christian bluegrass music out there. 

Nothin' Fancy bluegrass band.
Nothin' Fancy bluegrass band. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It has a sound that is quite similar but the lyrics and the flow of the songs sound very country as well. One element that makes bluegrass stand apart from other types is that it is acoustic in nature. You won’t find electrical gadgets hooked up to bands that are performing it. For this reason, bluegrass takes place in smaller and more intimate environments.

The main instruments found in bluegrass music all belong to the string category. You will find this sound is full of the fiddle, banjo, and various types of guitars. It has a very deep sound that is full of life and that is why people love it so much. Some of it doesn’t even have lyrics, just a very rich sound for people to enjoy.

The types of bluegrass music that does have lyrics also has several people singing them. There are different types of harmony that blend into one with this type of music. It isn’t uncommon for a bluegrass band to be made up of eight or ten members which is quite large compared to the bands for other types of music.





Bluegrass music may not be as popular as other types out there but it is still great to listen to. You may want to go online and hear some songs that are of the bluegrass genre. If you haven’t really listened to it before then you may find it every exciting to try something new. There are plenty of great bluegrass CD’s out there you can buy to listen to as well. Some of them are from one band or artist while others have a variety on them.



Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mandolin, Fiddle, BLUEGRASS Banjo, Clawhammer Banjo - Which One is Easier to Learn to Play

If you're interested in learning to play bluegrass or old time music, you have probably considered the mandolin, the bluegrass 5-string banjo, the open-back clawhammer banjo and the fiddle.

English: The Sparrow Quartet in performance. P...
The Sparrow Quartet in performance. Photo taken May 24, 2008 at The Asheville Music Jamboree in Asheville, North Carolina, United States. Left to right: Béla Fleck (bluegrass banjo), Abigail Washburn (clawhammer banjo), Ben Sollee (cello), and Casey Driessen (5-string fiddle).
(Photo credit: 
Wikipedia)

I would love to be able to plat the fiddle, but the fiddle is a harder instrument to learn. To be able to join in and play in jam sessions in no time (well, maybe not in no time, but in a reasonable time) you will find the banjo, mandolin much faster to learn. The base fiddle or upright base is another choice to consider and it's easy to learn, but not nearly as much fun as playing the banjo or mandolin.

Between the mandolin, the clawhammer banjo and bluegrass banjo, they are easiest to learn to play in the order given. That is, the mandolin is the easiest to learn, the clawhammer banjo is next and the bluegrass banjo (with the three-finger picking style) is the hardest of the three. But all three are much easier to learn to play than the fiddle.

The best way to start learning to play one of these instruments is to get your own instrument. You could rent one, but if you rent an instrument, you may find that you are not really committed to learning to play.

You need to start with a good instrument and some of the new low-priced instruments are not your best choice. The good news is that is fairly easy to find good quality used banjos and mandolins on eBay and other online sources. If you live in an area where bluegrass and old time music is popular, you may be able to get a good deal by checking your local classified ads.

The best way to get a good deal is to be informed. Do your research -- read reviews and check prices and know what banjos and mandolins like what you're looking for are bringing. Check eBay's completed auctions to see what instruments are really selling for -- not just what people are asking for them.

If you have a friend who plays the kind of instrument you're interested in, he or she can be a great asset in helping you find just the right instrument for you. Ask them to look at any instrument you are considering.

By looking at the instrument, realize that looking at the pictures and descriptions on eBay can be as good as (and maybe even better) than actually holding an instrument because on eBay, the seller will point out all of the scratches and defects, whereas when someone hands you an instrument to look at, they are inclined to just hand it to you and comment about how pretty it is and how much they have enjoyed playing it.

The most important part is to do your research, check prices on used instruments and then get your first banjo or mandolin and start learning to play. The banjo or mandolin you choose will probably not be the one you will want to play after you have played for a while, so look to spend a little more than you may have originally thought you would pay. Stay within your budget, but get as good of an instrument as you can afford.

Later you can sell your instrument on eBay or elsewhere and probably get most (if not all) of your money back. In fact, every time I have sold a used instrument I have been able to sell it for more than I paid for it.



How long will it take you to be able to jam with your friends will depend on how much you practice. Practice 15 minutes a day and you will make a lot more progress that trying to play for several hours once a week.

It will take a lifetime to master the mandolin or the banjo, but that is the best part. In my opinion the banjo and mandolin are two instruments you can learn to play in a reasonable amount of time and then continue learning for years to come.

    By Jerry Minchey
    Jerry Minchey is an engineer, author, researcher and a bit of a musician. He cuts through the hype and gets down to the bare facts to reveal secrets that are easy to understand using non-technical terms. He has written several books and produced DVDs as a results of his research.

    Article Source: EzineArticles