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Thread: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

  1. #26
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by John Soper View Post
    ...Or a couple of slugs of moonshine...
    Pretty much, yeah
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Likely at IBMA, Loo-ville, 1998. And CH looked and sounded just like that till the day roll call was called up yonder.

    Indeed classic.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    I tried ..... I couldn't watch it. R/
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    If that does not settle all debates about music theory I cannot imagine what possibly would.
    Yes and here is proof that he knew what he was talking about:

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    What's lost in the translation of CH's mannerisms and dental features is this: Bluegrass music properly played has distinct tonal registers that each instrument needs to stay in as their "role", otherwise the sound becomes muddy noise.

    This is particularly true of guitar players that come into bluegrass from folk, r&r, indie, country, etc. and don't do their homework. Bluegrass guitar is playing in a picking fashion the bass strings (E,A,D) in a series of runs that complement and counterpoint the bass, without STRUMMING like a typical r&r guitar would! This ensures that the guitar does not compete with the banjo which is essentially rolling on the G,B,D strings and higher drone G; otherwise if the guitar is strummed, banjo and guitar are essentially in the same tonal register, or as CH puts it, "octave".

    When CH is talking about the tonal frequencies of the instruments being uniquely in their own "octave", this is exactly what he is talking about.

    It is extremely frustrating to play bluegrass with guitarists who don't get it, and want to STRUM their guitars instead of picking the bass notes/strings and complementing the picking with a light "brush" across the strings and then playing the G-run after 16 beats; as bluegrass guitar should be played!
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by UsuallyPickin View Post
    I tried ..... I couldn't watch it. R/
    Had no trouble watching it. Now, the video Bernie posted OTOH ... probably not even with moonshine could I watch it
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Nick, you are correct about Carlton explanation of the role of the various instruments which “we” should try to impress on musicians dipping their feet in the bluegrass pool. That is a wise little piece of shareable information.
    But the ”Pythagorean mathematics” of the Bass A string beating at 55 bps, made me drop a whole handfu of mashed potatoes and gravy!
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    To be fair Tim I think he reffered to hz, not BPM, but I feel ya!
    More than the exact frequencies of the instruments,
    Bluegrass is interesting in that 4 instruments played in this style complement each other's tonal registers in a real unique melodic and rhythmic way, with the mando as the 5th instrument chopping the rhythm...as long as you follow the formula that Monroe set.
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by DataNick View Post
    It is extremely frustrating to play bluegrass with guitarists who don't get it, and want to STRUM their guitars instead of picking the bass notes/strings and complementing the picking with a light "brush" across the strings and then playing the G-run after 16 beats; as bluegrass guitar should be played!
    I understand completely what you're saying, Nick...and I agree, BUT....there are guitarists out there, good ones, who don't follow this exactly as written, which is a bit too didactic (and perhaps limiting) for being an effective and complementary guitar picker in a bg band.

    That said...(sung to the tune Blues Stay Away From Me):

    Strummers, stay away from me
    Strummers, why don't you let me be
    Don't know why, you keep a-hauntin' me...

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by DataNick View Post
    To be fair Tim I think he reffered to hz, not BPM, but I feel ya!
    More than the exact frequencies of the instruments,
    Bluegrass is interesting in that 4 instruments played in this style complement each other's tonal registers in a real unique melodic and rhythmic way, with the mando as the 5th instrument chopping the rhythm...as long as you follow the formula that Monroe set.
    I’ll buy that Hz over Bps but, it I’m not sure he knew of Hertz as any more than a car rental.
    I do agree with the harmonic distribution of instrument voicing, it really makes it very easy to explain the duties of each musician (in the Monroe (band) doctrine)much easier.
    Sorry the doctrine bit was just waiting to be used, sorry.
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    The only time Haney was stumped was when Jimmy asked, "Where did Bill Monroe record "Blue Moon of Kentucky"? He should said, "In the studio!"
    Never say "bouzouki" to a TSA agent...

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanN View Post
    I understand completely what you're saying, Nick...and I agree, BUT....there are guitarists out there, good ones, who don't follow this exactly as written, which is a bit too didactic (and perhaps limiting) for being an effective and complementary guitar picker in a bg band.
    I agree, but I think any aspiring bluegrass guitar player should probably spend several months with boom-chuck/G-runs/walk-ups before they try to get beyond it. It's not the way I and a lot of others learned how to strum the guitar, but it's the foundation for good bluegrass rhythm. Dan Crary, in his Flatpicker's Guide book, wrote that the boom-chuck was probably the most effective accompaniment "lick" of all but was "almost never heard."

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  20. #38
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanN View Post
    I understand completely what you're saying, Nick...and I agree, BUT....there are guitarists out there, good ones, who don't follow this exactly as written, which is a bit too didactic (and perhaps limiting) for being an effective and complementary guitar picker in a bg band.

    That said...(sung to the tune Blues Stay Away From Me):

    Strummers, stay away from me
    Strummers, why don't you let me be
    Don't know why, you keep a-hauntin' me...
    I hear ya Alan; but what invariably happens (at least out West) is that guitarists coming into bluegrass strum everything and the sound just becomes unbearable noise as the sonic conflicts with banjo happen; it's really no fun at all, and hence you rather would not play with a lot of folks, and so the "private" jams come into being, which is in a sense a shame, but necessary if your bluegrass palette is sensitive.
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    I agree with Alan and DataNick. Yes there are good guitar players that don’t play like we’ve said, but they ain’t playing bluegrass and if they want to they need to learn how. I’ve heard great claw hammer banjo players but they are out of place playing Foggy Mt. Breakdown, Rawhide or Cabin Home on the Hill. Why? ‘Cause they ain’t bluegrass.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by doublestoptremolo View Post
    I agree, but I think any aspiring bluegrass guitar player should probably spend several months with boom-chuck/G-runs/walk-ups before they try to get beyond it. It's not the way I and a lot of others learned how to strum the guitar, but it's the foundation for good bluegrass rhythm. Dan Crary, in his Flatpicker's Guide book, wrote that the boom-chuck was probably the most effective accompaniment "lick" of all but was "almost never heard."
    Fully agree. I don't hear near as much of a solid G run as I'd like to in the jams I hit. And I don't know why that is. If a picker is going to learn bg guitar, that is just such a big part of it, why wouldn't they learn it? As bg mandolin pickers, we learn to chop, pretty much right off the bat.

    I'm fond of picking New Camptown Races, the Wakefield number. I've come to start it out the way he does on End Of The Rainbow. He plays a short closed-position line, then the guitar plays the G lick (in Bb, of course; capo on 3). Simple, simple, simple...and perfect. Yet, many of the guitar pickers at the jam won't/can't do it. They do not hear that thing. I don't get it.

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  25. #41
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    I agree with Alan and DataNick. Yes there are good guitar players that don’t play like we’ve said, but they ain’t playing bluegrass and if they want to they need to learn how. I’ve heard great claw hammer banjo players but they are out of place playing Foggy Mt. Breakdown, Rawhide or Cabin Home on the Hill. Why? ‘Cause they ain’t bluegrass.
    I'm with you on your sentiment, and I understand Alan's perspective.

    If I could invoke a "master" as an example: Tony Rice.

    Certainly progressive enough for someone like Alan, but listen closely to his playing on Rounder 0044, or the BAB, or All-Star configurations like Live at MerleFest, etc. You don't hear Tony when he's playing rhythm except on that G-run or single strum G chord for end-phrase emphasis. Why? Because he's picking bass notes in runs/phrases complimented by a light "brush" across the strings; it's there but you have to listen for it; it doesn't jump out at you like a R&R strum would. And when he solos, everybody shuts up except bass; otherwise everyone else just chucks. He's a prime example of when he played Bluegrass, he did it right!....Carry On!
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Yep, Nick. TR had the rhythm down, in spades. And nobody, I mean nobody ended a solo with a definitive G run like he did. Man, I miss him...

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  28. #43
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Go to 4:09 of this video where the Rounder 0044 lineup plays the Old Home Place and you get a perfect example of what I'm talking about...

    Last edited by DataNick; Oct-30-2017 at 4:02pm.
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    "If you wanna get soul Baby, you gots to get the scroll..."
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    "Perfection is not attainable; but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence" Vince Lombardi
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Have to put in my 2 cents worth. Tony Rice was good and played a great BG rythem guitar player. But the guitar player that followed the spirit of the rules but made it is own and I always tell guitar packers wanna be listen to Clarence White. For as I’m concerned he leaves em all in the dust.

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    No argument from me on CW. He was the 'first' (of the modern breed), Doc notwithstanding. But Tony had a certain essence that CW lacked...and vice versa. Plus, Clarence could rock out. Never have heard Rice in that context.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    And I think to sum up where we've been headed: it is precisely this style of playing BG rhythm guitar that keeps the guitar in the tonal register (CH "octave") that does not conflict sonically with a Scruggs style banjo rolling on the banjo G-B-D and drone G string; thus each BG instrument played in their own distinct manner keeps a distinctiveness/separation to the tone, note fabric, and rhythm of Bluegrass as Monroe set in his formula when Earl walked thru the door in Dec '45

    This is essentially what CH was referring to I believe in his rather "ambitious" description of Bluegrass "mathematics"
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    "If you wanna get soul Baby, you gots to get the scroll..."
    "I would rather play music anyday for the beggar, the thief, and the fool!"
    "Perfection is not attainable; but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence" Vince Lombardi
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    I think that’s pretty good Nick, pretty fair assessment.
    I feel the same about the Clarence White statements of “early innovation” but then there’s Riley Puckett and His synchopated style from years before. It’s all “in process” still.
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  36. #48
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by DataNick View Post
    To be fair Tim I think he reffered to hz, not BPM, but I feel ya!
    More than the exact frequencies of the instruments,
    Bluegrass is interesting in that 4 instruments played in this style complement each other's tonal registers in a real unique melodic and rhythmic way, with the mando as the 5th instrument chopping the rhythm...as long as you follow the formula that Monroe set.

    And what exactly is that formula? If you listen to the Columbia recordings you'll find very little chopping. Monroe ofen twinned with the fiddle - there is at least one example (I forget which) with the mandolin leading and the fiddle seconding. He also played a lot behind Flatt's vocals. It's natural for the fiddle and mandolin to alternate in that role as they're in the same range. The switch to chopping on the afterbeat came about the time Monroe took to singing lead on the verses to most songs. Also, the basic groove in the early recordings was often 4/4, rather than 2/2, and the chopping strengthened the 2/2 character of the songs: 1-and-2-and rather than 1-2-3-4. The chop was probably inspired by the sock rhythm guitar in country music, or possibly by Ernie Newton's slap gadget.

    I'd rather hear more of that (twinning on interludes and fills, playing behind the vocalist) in today's BG. With a fiddle in the band, and a good bouncing in guitar, the mandolin today is actually the most dispensible instrument.

    And, on a couple of occasions when I watched Monroe, he sometimes hardly touched his mandolin while singing.

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  38. #49
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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Quote Originally Posted by DataNick View Post
    What's lost in the translation of CH's mannerisms and dental features is this: Bluegrass music properly played has distinct tonal registers that each instrument needs to stay in as their "role", otherwise the sound becomes muddy noise.

    This is particularly true of guitar players that come into bluegrass from folk, r&r, indie, country, etc. and don't do their homework. Bluegrass guitar is playing in a picking fashion the bass strings (E,A,D) in a series of runs that complement and counterpoint the bass, without STRUMMING like a typical r&r guitar would! This ensures that the guitar does not compete with the banjo which is essentially rolling on the G,B,D strings and higher drone G; otherwise if the guitar is strummed, banjo and guitar are essentially in the same tonal register, or as CH puts it, "octave".

    When CH is talking about the tonal frequencies of the instruments being uniquely in their own "octave", this is exactly what he is talking about.

    It is extremely frustrating to play bluegrass with guitarists who don't get it, and want to STRUM their guitars instead of picking the bass notes/strings and complementing the picking with a light "brush" across the strings and then playing the G-run after 16 beats; as bluegrass guitar should be played!

    With such a limiting view of the guitar in BG maybe you don't need a guitarist but a prerecorded track. I realy don't understand how anyone can attach such importance to an overused cliché. My favorite among rhythm guitarists in BG is Benny Williams Listen to his backup to Monroe on Danny Boy, or some of the numbers featuring Bill Keith - do we really need a G-run there?

    Not sure I agree about that "light brush" - to me it's the guitar that really gives the bounce in BG. Have you heard Monroe's album Mr. Bluegrass? Either the guitarist is very weak or poorly recorded, and there's no bounce, really, and the mando chop in no way makes up for that.

    By contrast, listen to the first Victor session, with Monroe playing guitar on two songs - Monroe claimed that this session was the beginning of BG (he probably wanted to minmize Scruggs' role) and that he played the guitar to establish the authentic BG groove (those numbers were also his first two vocal solos on record). His playing is quite vigorous - not what I would call a "light brush". But he did instruct one of his first guitarists to play runs in the style of brother Charlie - other guitarists contributed in different ways. Jack Cooke, Mac Wiseman, Jimmie Martin, or Edd Mayfield didn't sound that much like Lester Flatt.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass Music Theory (?)

    Bluegrass must drive to be bluegrass. That can be accomplished in a number of ways, certainly as Martin explained and if that works for him so be it. His music had the bluegrass drive, for the most part, but so does a lot of others that didn't do it that way

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