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Rick Albertson
Jan-05-2011, 11:40am
I recently started a monthly Bill Monroe-style jam/workshop with two goals: 1) for me to learn to play his music as he did: technique-wise and note for note, and to encourage others to do so; 2) to get more local jammers playing Monroe tunes and thereby preserve Monroe's heritage.

The jam has been attended by mandolin players, fiddle players, banjo players, guitar players, and bass players. So far we've learned: Blue Yodel #4, Bluegrass Stomp, Virginia Darlin', and Wheel Hoss (tunes for which I have very accurate transcriptions of Monroe's playing by Mike Compton and Butch Baldassari).

I've noticed that most of the players are not interested in learning to play tunes note for note as Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys did. Instead, they are satisfied with learning the gist of a tune (it's important notes, phrases, etc.) and then improvising the rest.

I find this frustrating, not sure whether or not to more strongly encourage learning these songs note for note. Perhaps, it's just each person to his own… Thoughts?

Scott Holt
Jan-05-2011, 11:52am
That's really cool that you guys have a Monroe jam once a month! I think trying to learn it note for note is a great goal, but often I end up just getting the "big picture" then try to make it my own. The most important thing is that you enjoy yourself and enjoy the music. Have fun!
Scott

sgarrity
Jan-05-2011, 10:12pm
Learning Monroe isn't about learning his songs/tunes note for note. He never played them the same way twice. Learn how to play in his style and adapt tunes to his style. Are you a member of the Taterbugmando Group on Facebook? It's Mike Compton's group and we share tunes and discuss Monroe's playing style.

Nelson Peddycoart
Jan-05-2011, 10:24pm
Shaun is right on the money. If you have 12 different recordings of a Monroe tune (possible with the live shows out there), you may well have a tune played 12 different ways.

Your title is correct....it is about Monroe-STYLE...playing a tune using the same elements that Monroe used.

Mike Bunting
Jan-05-2011, 10:50pm
Totally agree with Shaun and Nelson only to add that maybe the hardest part is to capture the fire and passion and directness of Monroe's playing (for me anyhow!).

banjoboy
Jan-06-2011, 12:27am
I wouldn't be to upset. I think it's great that people are wanting to learn Monroe style mandolin. Frankly, I believe that Monroe style may be a dying art. Seems like everyone wants to sound more like the modern stylists (i.e. Steffey, Thile, etc.) I think that it's ok for people to want to learn the style as opposed to the exact notes. Only Monroe can play like Monroe. Everybody else is just copying him, although maybe very closely. But unless you're in Monroe's mind, have his hands, reflexes and whatever, you can't play just like Monroe. But that's what makes us all different

Ivan Kelsall
Jan-06-2011, 1:36am
Rick - I for one am on your side. Some of the comments above are perfctly true,there's no definitive performance of many Bill Monroe tunes / songs,although there are the 'best known' versions.
I too try to play as 'close to home' as i can when playing 'classic' tunes / songs,they're 'classics' because of the way that they were played by Bill Monroe & the Boys. Very often i get the feeling that bands play the tunes / songs,but just don't get the 'feel' of them,mainly because they don't try / want to. Personally,when i hear a 'classic' tune / song,whether it's a Monroe tune or one by another artist, i want to hear it 'the way it was'. I've heard too many 'slick pickers' try to put their own mark on a classic tune,only to destroy it.
Re.your personal playing,i'd stick to what you want to do & learn the 'Monroe' styling that you want to,but,when picking with others,cut them a bit of slack if they don't / can't play the tunes the way they 'should' be played. It's frustrating when you have the 'sound in your head' & it's just not getting there because of the other pickers,but it won't harm your personal styling - stick to your own goal, for yourself,
Ivan;)

Mandolin Mick
Jan-06-2011, 3:04am
Rick-

I personally dislike jamming. I like structure and so I learn the official version note-for-note. It's always been that way but I didn't realize it until it was brought up to me by a band member about 5 or 6 years ago. He noticed that I rolled my eyes and got impatient when a jam would start. He was right. There's nothing wrong with jamming, if that's what you like to do, I just don't want to do it ... ;)

I understand that Bill did his songs differently, but I just prefer the standard version.

That's why I like classical music and was in a Beatles tribute band years ago. In these expressions you're judged by how close you get to the original. :)

Mike Bunting
Jan-06-2011, 4:10am
I like to get some of those tunes down note for note just to figure them out but why would I ask other people to do so, seems a little much.

Mandolin Mick
Jan-06-2011, 4:24am
Mike-

That's why it's more fun to play with like-minded people ... :)

Fred Keller
Jan-06-2011, 9:45am
A real good way to study Monroe is to find live versions of his music whenever possible. Quite often, Bill played "safer" versions of breaks and tunes for the recordings, presumably to not waste studio time. But on stage he left nothing in the tank. You can really get a sense of the possibility of the style listening to his live music, warts and all. And there are some goofs there: as a wise person once said, if you don't make mistakes you must not be trying.

AlanN
Jan-06-2011, 10:02am
Precisely why the 2nd gen pickers sat at his feet and recorded his solos, to learn just what he was doing on stage. Nobody picked it like Bill did in the 50s. I love those old photos of the snakey wires going to all those tape recorders.

Perry
Jan-06-2011, 10:22am
To learn a Monroe break note for note with the timing and tone intricacies is a lofty goal. The attempt will make us better. As I often fall short of exact recreation I don't beat myself up over it. Often it gets mutated my own way down the road shortly thereafter anyway. That's how we put our own stamp on things. But there is a lot to be gained in trying to duplicate the exact phrasing of a master even if we do fall short.

Markus
Jan-06-2011, 10:30am
Perhaps, it's just each person to his own… Thoughts?

We're playing for our own ears, and like with all things in life people have their own unique drummer they follow.

To my view of bluegrass, you are taking a `classical' play-the-notes-on-the-page attitude to a genre that many people [at least for solos] have started to liken more to jazz where the musician is free to go where they will.

I hear your criticism of modern bluegrass in that the melody can often seem completely discarded and the solo has little to do with that `tune' but only geared towards a chord or rhythm progression. Thile's rambles are impressive, but often [personally] do not really move me and while more notes can be nice, more notes does not mean better to my ear.

That all said, I think a lot of people see bluegrass as allowing the instrumentalists freedom to make the tune their own during the solo. Unlike something like Old Time or ITM where the only things added are elaboration, bluegrass [as Bill himself showed] drew upon the jazz/blues roots as well and gives a freedom to the player to `do whatever'.

Monroe himself wouldn't have played some of the hair-raising live performances of songs he did if he just played the recorded track.

Personally I think this should at least reference the tune itself - and while I'd like to learn his stuff note-for-note to understand what he's doing and reference it ... I don't think I'd ever try to perform one of his solos note for note, to me that has little appeal. For me, I want to sing the variant on the tune that's in my head - not the one that was in Bill Monroe's head .... my goal is to express myself with the old tune, not replicate a recording.

That's what I want to play ... if you want to take the next break and completely nail a Monroe solo and blow me out of the water, I can tell you that my eyes will be watching like an eagle and my ears smiling wide as I enjoy your playing.

Sometimes I like those jazzy rambles, I just call it something other than bluegrass, or at least traditional bluegrass.

Brent Hutto
Jan-06-2011, 10:50am
I wouldn't dream of saying anything that could be perceived of as disrespectful of Bill Monroe or of bluegrass music generally. But this thread has just crystallized for me an idea that I've been grasping toward for quite a while...

Bill Monroe playing a mandolin break in a bluegrass song is just about as good as it gets. Mike Compton or another uber-talented picker who has continued the development of that style into the current day is, if possible, even more awesome. Mike's work with NBB was pretty much my first meaningful exposure to mandolin. Monroe and Compton are basically the standards by which I can't help but judge bluegrass mandolin playing, whether breaks or accompaniment.

So I keep wondering why trying to listen in on a bluegrass jam session does nothing for me. Well, maybe not totally nothing but there are certainly a long list of other things I'd rather be listening to. And now I just figured it out, reading this thread. I only like that style of playing as a contributing element of a bluegrass song performed by a bluegrass band. In the bluegrass-song context it is so appropriate and, when done well, so thrilling that I could listen all day. In fact, I have listened to it all day. But take that same style of playing out of context and insert it into a endless series of breaks played over some simple chord progression (even if that progression was borrowed from a bluegrass song, allegedly) and it's not very good listening.

I really dig a lot of the so-called "New Acoustic" music. Something like the Philips, Grier and Flinner collaborations works as well in the listening-to-acoustic-instrumentals context as Mike Compton's Monroe-stylings work when the NBB is doing "Sittin on Top of the World". I don't want Matt Flinner doing breaks on a Monroe song and I don't want Bill Monroe's playing inserted into a jazzy Matt Flinner composition.

mandopete
Jan-06-2011, 11:00am
Yes, it does seem like a dying art. If you go to bluegrass festival and listen to a lot of bluegrass bands, you might hear one player that plays with that Bill Monroe style and it really stands out (and gets quite a bit of applause I have noticed). It's just not in vogue right now, but that could all change in heartbeat.

MOJOHAND40
Jan-06-2011, 11:19am
my 2 cents.

Over the years I've played a lot of different instruments and have occasionally learned what I considered a "great" solo or piece of music, at the time completely NOTE for NOTE as close to the recorded material I decided on as humanly possible (sometimes I nailed it other times...welll...I gave it a heck of a try..).
This process can take a LOT of work and time.
I did it with a few Mississippi John Hurt pieces on guitar..
I did it with a few songs on Pedal Steel guitar (Buddy Charleton stuff with Earnest Tubb)..(I am still not a decent Pedal Steel player...arrgh!)
I did it with a couple of Hank Williams tunes, getting as close as I possibly could to Don Helms' steel guitar breaks...
AND. NOW....I struggle to do the same on Mandolin and a few Bill Monroe breaks.
WHy?
In each case it wasn't to perform these songs like a weird Jukebox, but to REALLY delve into the nuances of the songs and styles. Dissect them..see what makes a musicians' style tick...
...After awhile, AFTER learning a piece note for note...I tend to start to play it with my own little spins on it..still close to the original, but a differences here and there. I make it my own and STOP trying to play it note for note.

Learning a piece note for note from a recording is a GREAT lesson. If you take the time to do it, it will reward your playing in a lot of ways, not just with playing that particular piece. It will make you pick ways and notes that you may not have with your own interpretation of a song.

CES
Jan-06-2011, 11:20am
I'm working through the Sam Bush DVD on Monroe style now (well, I'm on the first tune). The thing that strikes me about this process is that the real genius in his playing was not necessarily in the notes he played, but the rhythm and timing with which he played them. I feel the same way about Earl Scruggs. When I try to emulate their playing I can often hit all the notes reasonably well, and may even approach the correct tempo, but I just can't get it to sound like them. There's just something so distinctive about their styles...I love watching the Earl Scruggs and Friends video of FMB, because even though there are some phenomenal pickers up there, there's absolutely no doubt when Earl takes a break.

I'd say keep working on note for note versions if you like, but it's going to be tough to get everyone in a jam setting to do the same...

Markus
Jan-06-2011, 11:53am
The thing that strikes me about this process is that the real genius in his playing was not necessarily in the notes he played, but the rhythm and timing with which he played them.

I very much agree. Rhythm is so often ignored, yet is a key to his style if you ask me.

Also, on some of the live performances I have, Monroe appears to be toying with the beat - often playing the slightest fraction fast to lend to make the music seem to be speeding up and add a little extra `kick' to it.

That's what my ear gets from it, maybe I'm hearing things but I've heard this statement before and as I've heard a few other top musicians use this it's one of those "normal humans can't do that" things that I'll never perfectly replicate of Monroe's.

Tbone
Jan-06-2011, 3:23pm
I wouldn't dream of saying anything that could be perceived of as disrespectful of Bill Monroe or of bluegrass music generally. But this thread has just crystallized for me an idea that I've been grasping toward for quite a while...

Bill Monroe playing a mandolin break in a bluegrass song is just about as good as it gets. Mike Compton or another uber-talented picker who has continued the development of that style into the current day is, if possible, even more awesome. Mike's work with NBB was pretty much my first meaningful exposure to mandolin. Monroe and Compton are basically the standards by which I can't help but judge bluegrass mandolin playing, whether breaks or accompaniment.

So I keep wondering why trying to listen in on a bluegrass jam session does nothing for me. Well, maybe not totally nothing but there are certainly a long list of other things I'd rather be listening to. And now I just figured it out, reading this thread. I only like that style of playing as a contributing element of a bluegrass song performed by a bluegrass band. In the bluegrass-song context it is so appropriate and, when done well, so thrilling that I could listen all day. In fact, I have listened to it all day. But take that same style of playing out of context and insert it into a endless series of breaks played over some simple chord progression (even if that progression was borrowed from a bluegrass song, allegedly) and it's not very good listening.

I really dig a lot of the so-called "New Acoustic" music. Something like the Philips, Grier and Flinner collaborations works as well in the listening-to-acoustic-instrumentals context as Mike Compton's Monroe-stylings work when the NBB is doing "Sittin on Top of the World". I don't want Matt Flinner doing breaks on a Monroe song and I don't want Bill Monroe's playing inserted into a jazzy Matt Flinner composition.

Respectfully,

1. What about solo monroe style? Mike Compton playing some of the monroe stuff solo is pretty cool IMO.

2. Flinner actually does a bunch of Monroe stuff. I've got a version of him doing BG Stomp with Ross Martin & Eric Thorin that is amazing. You can download it from the Steam Powered Preservation Society. I've also got some PGF live shows, and they always play Monroe stuff.

3. Wasn't Bill Monroe the guy with bad technique, anyways? :grin:

Brent Hutto
Jan-06-2011, 3:33pm
1. The solo stuff works great when you're watching a bluegrass show. Stretch one of those instrumentals out to eight minutes and string a dozen of them back to back and I'm off to find somebody singing somewhere. Compton has that one longish solo number he occasionally does in NBB shows (or did last time they were around here) that's just awesome. But like when Bill would do a solo, that's a special treat in the context of the whole not. It isn't the whole show.

2. My only encounters with Matt Flinner have been a) on recordings and b) doing the non-Monroe type of thing. Not surprised he can knock it out like a champ in other styles, too.

3. Don't know about technique but the man had rhythm like nobody's business and knew harmony cold. That plus being able to write good fiddles tunes buys you an awful lot in my book!

JonZ
Jan-06-2011, 3:52pm
You can give it a try, but it is difficult to "control" others. You might peel off a few of the more like-minded players and start a smaller group. Smaller group means more "touches" for you.

farmerjones
Jan-06-2011, 5:42pm
i don't mean to sound terse, but if you want to hear Bill Monroe, buy a CD.
Personally, i think Bill Monroe gave us soul and emotion most importantly.
Peter Rowan said, "You stand by the fire, you get warm. Then you must leave that warmth and build your own fire."

Mike Bunting
Jan-06-2011, 5:49pm
i don't mean to sound terse, but if you want to hear Bill Monroe, buy a CD.
Personally, i think Bill Monroe gave us soul and emotion most importantly.
Peter Rowan said, "You stand by the fire, you get warm. Then you must leave that warmth and build your own fire."

Yes sir, that's it! To try to force others into your envelope is sheer folly.

Ivan Kelsall
Jan-07-2011, 1:58am
In learning Bill Monroe's styling,theres also the physical aspect of his playing that defeats many pickers. His right wrist must have been hellishly strong & powerful. All those down strokes that he so effortlessly pulled off cripple me if i try them for too long, & keeping the tempo right when playing down strokes,isn't all that easy.
One of the factors that Herschel Sizemore states re.his own styling,is that he couldn't do the down strokes like BM,so he expanded BM's 'other' style,his single note 'Fiddle' style.
Personally,i'm not a Monroe 'stylist' as such,but i feel bound to learn a few of his tunes that don't have the (or so many) down strokes in them,but i do try playing the occassional tune with them in,just to see how i get on.You have to pay a certain amount of homage to the master regardless of your own styling,& they are good tunes,
Ivan

Rick Albertson
Jan-07-2011, 4:14pm
Thanks for all of the comments... appreciate the different perspectives. The quotes below from Mike Compton (from his past Cafe interview) shed further light on this topic:


Question from GTG: you are known to mando players as the modern torch-bearer of the traditional Monroe style. How do feel about the balance between keeping this tradition alive vs. exploring newer sounds and styles? Do you consciously set out to maintain a certain sound in your playing, as a nod to the Monroe tradition, or do you just play the notes (and tones) that sound good to you?

Mike Compton: That's certainly a flattering comment. To think that I would actually be able to continue and represent the Monroe style would be admirable indeed. But I don't know that much about it. Time has proven that to me. The more I dig, the less I know. I can fake it well enough, but it only fools those who haven't sat down and taken a close listen to the style. I don't really play like Bill when I strap on a mandolin. I play at the style, but I can't repeat his work. Nor can anyone else.
I think that it is indeed possible to carry the style forward because it is an ingenious way of representing melodic ideas. The style's integrity and validity has not waned. The trend has changed, sure, and so Monroe style is not in style currently. No matter. It wasn't in style when Bill came along with it either. It has had it's time and will endure to some extent for a long time. I don't think that exploring new ground with it will diminish its strength or its link to the past. Monroe never stopped exploring new ground with it, did he?
Sometimes I do make an effort to maintain a "nod" as you say, to the tradition. But that is usually only limited to solos or songs and not as a general rule across the board. Most often I play what occurs to me to play without analyzing where it came from. You need to understand that I have followed a particular path for a long time and once the figurehead was not at the helm, my little ship was lost. I am making an effort to call my own shots now, to find my own way. It is based in the tradition, but I am exploring other traditions and bringing the Monroe style along. There is no other way I could do it because I've played at it this way for 38 years. It's mostly what I know, so it flavors everything I do.

Markus
Jan-07-2011, 4:32pm
Rick, that's a great quote. Thanks for posting it in here as he puts it really well [at least what he goes for].

Andy B
Jan-12-2011, 10:45pm
A lot of what Bill played was well thought out, and used techniques and ideas that he had developed because he thought they worked well for his music and for the old tunes that he grew up with. A tune like Bill's recording of "Paddy on the Turnpike" demonstrates how he applied many of the techniques that have become associated with him to an old fiddle number, such as ascending arpeggios changing notes on the up pick, bluesy slides from flatted thirds to major thirds, flat sevenths, syncopation. This is not to say that Bill's approach is the only way, just that it had certain defining characteristics that must be mastered in order to play it his way.

This is true despite the fact that he did not always play every tune the same way every time. I believe that if you want to play Bill's music right, you should pay very close attention to how he played it.

Andy