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Thread: Essential bluegrass repertoire?

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    As at best a bluegrass novice, I wonder whether there's anything like a consensus among seasoned BG pickers as to what the top 20 (or 50, or 100) BG tunes for a player to know are. Obviously, I have an ulterior motive: the improvement of my own bag o'tunes. Perhaps there's some reliable list of Most Recorded Bluegrass Tunes to draw from.

    Thanks as always

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    Got Buckstrips? Jerry Byers's Avatar
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    Here is an ongoing poll for the Top 10 Tunes.
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    jbmando RIP HK Jim Broyles's Avatar
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    Here's one list.



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    Great question, but I think it will be as subjective as there are different styles within bluegrass itself. But say if you limit to the real legends of bluegrass, such as Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers (let me know if I left out any of the big ones), then you may find that you could come up with a list that could be limited to 50 or so songs.

    I like this question though. It made me ask the question as to how many songs each of the above legends actually wrote throughout their careers. That has to be an enormous number, that is, in terms of songs. It also made me think that although I don't know every song that each of the respective legends wrote, I can't recall not knowing a great deal of them. When you are surrounded by the music from birth, it's like it becomes part of you or something. Looking forward to seeing what everyone thinks of as standards also.

    Added:

    After looking at the lists, I find that the majority of people are only talking about instrumentals. I never would have guessed that since most of the jams that I ever get involved in feature "vocals with intrumental accompaniment" with an instrumental thrown in once in a while. Of course, there is always that occassion when a drunk "b@%#o" player comes around and wants to play Foggy Mt. Breakdown so the folks in the next county can hear him, but that is very rare. Am I alone in thinking that the vocals, within the realm of bluegrass, are more important than the music behind them? Think of Bill Monroe. I know that he wrote many instrumentals, but he was really more defined by his vocal ability than his mandolin playing when he started (although he was very gifted at both). He wrote many more songs that told a story about things that he or someone he knew experienced. I'm sure this is true for the Stanleys as well as Flatt & Scruggs.



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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    What I find interesting about the full list at the site posted above is that there is a lot of consensus on the top tunes and then a huge drop off. So there are only 18 tunes with over 100 votes. Then 22 with 50 - 99 votes, then 28 with 25-49 votes. After that, it drops off rapidly and then there are dozens of tunes with only one vote. If I ever really get bored, I may graph it and I do a statistical analysis, but I have never gotten that desperate! However, what I would take from a thumb check of the list is that there is more agreement than disagreement out there. My guess is that if you learned roughly the top 70 tunes, you would have a high probability of knowing most of the tunes that might get called at a jam. I could be wrong, but given your objective, I think that list is a pretty good guide.




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    just know as many songs as you can, never stop learning them.

    now i was expecting how mountain girls can love being up there, however it was a poll of guitar flat pickers mostly. skewed!

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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    I've often thought about this question, especially from the perspective of a novice player wanting to get into jam situations. #When I started playing mandolin I would listen to jams and make notes of the songs that were being played. #I find this changes between jam locations and regions. #I also find that arrangements can vary as well.

    For example, a couple of years ago Jersulem Ridge was quite popular in our area (Pacific Northwest), but there are quite a few variations on the chord sequence where it walks down. #I think most here play Am - Dm - C - Am. #The melody is fairly straight forward.

    Point being is that you might check out the jams in your area and find out what other folks are playing. #I've been trying to introduce some newer tunes into jam lexicon here. #I made some CD's with tunes like Plum Tree by John Reischman and Grover Glen by Bryan Sutton and gave them to people I jammed with. #My hope was they would listen to these tunes and like them enough to learn them. #Once you get a few people playing them it just sort takes off from there. #I had real good luck with Reischman's tune Nesser a couple of years ago and now I hear it and Salt Spring quite often in jams.



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    About 10 years ago I was seriously looking into attending the BG program at Levelland, TX. I had gotten a series of 6 cassette tapes of "Bluegrass Models" used for the program from one of the instructors. It was a really super collecton of standard tunes with a nice sheet with bands and the musicians on the recordings. Monroe,Stanleys,Martin,Jim&Jesse,OsborneBros,Count ryGents etc and a number of "contemporary" players Krauss,Rice,Rowan etc playing standard tunes/songs.
    If I was suggesting to a student what tunes to know, I'd say get all the first generation stuff you can get your hands on and know (or at least be familiar with) all of the tunes. Don't limit yourself to 50 or 100 tunes.

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    If you want to learn the songs most likely to pop up in a jam, then it depends on your location. The Monroe and Flatt&Scruggs standards are around pretty much everywhere, but in some areas, you'd better bone up on the Stanleys, Reno & Smiley, or Jimmy Martin. You just gotta listen to the local jams and take notes on what to study. Otherwise, listen to some of the good box sets of the ist gen, and some of the more influential albums from the past few decades (like the Bluegrass Album Band Stuff, or JD Crowe and the New South, Tony Rice "Manzanita", Seldom Scene "Live at the Cellar Door", I'm leaving out a lot here).

    Those links are fine, but they are all instrumental tunes, and skewed by the fact that they come from a guitar list. Fiddlers or banjoists would probably have a different list of instrumental tunes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by (poymando @ Mar. 01 2007, 09:10)
    Don't limit yourself to 50 or 100 tunes.
    I sort of respectfully disagree. #One of things that makes this difficult and enjoyable at the same time is the infinite amount of variations in these tunes. #And by the term "tunes" I mean instrumentals or what is commonly referred to as "fiddle tunes".

    I think its better to concentrate on a core of tunes that you like and learn the melody and variations. #It's much more enjoyable at jam sessions to hear people who can do this. #I also find that it really opens your ears and mind to get inside a tune. #I spent close to year with Going Back To Old Kentucky by Sam Bush from the Bluegrass Mandolin Extravanganza and to this day I still think of the many ideas that were contained in just that one variation.



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    Quote Originally Posted by
    Quote (poymando @ Mar. 01 2007, 09:10)
    Don't limit yourself to 50 or 100 tunes.
    Better to know 50 tunes really well and be able to play them really well than 250 halfassed 'sort of forget most of the B part so i just make up stuff' versions IMHO.

    For bluegrass, it's not usually that what the chords are that is a problem, it's when they are...
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    I should probably amend my post as I think a couple of good points were brought up. I'd agree its probably a better idea to have a smaller core of tunes that you can do a good job on. I'll still push for the heavy listening though so you at least know the changes when somebody pulls something out of their hat.

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    im a bit past sixty fiddle tunes (dedicated to memory) on guitar and mandolin. i dont plan on stopping at 100. i know them all really well. dont limit yourself.:blues:

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    One of the things I've noticed is that there seems to be tendency for folks to avoid the essentials list. Its like everyone knows, and SHOULD know, those songs, but they are avoided as TOO well known and over played.

    The result is that I don't hear them much at in live performances. This could be just something I'm projecting onto the little slice I see/hear.

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    Find out what players in YOUR area play most, then learn those. How to do it? Go to jams, write the tunes down, take a recorder and record them, etc.
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    All good suggestions; thanks! I suppose it's not really an either/or situation, since mastering a finite number of tunes makes picking up unfamiliar ones easier. Another way in which music resembles languages. Back to "Forked Deer."

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    There's a difference between "tunes to learn for jam sessions" and "tunes your band should work up." #For the former, I think it makes sense (at least in the beginning) to stick with the "core" repertoire. #

    I agree with Deaf David that one doesn't hear a lot of the "core" tunes done by BANDS (in "live performances") very often, but in my experience that's due to the fact that the "core" tunes are played to death at jams.

    Check out Pete Wernick's "Bluegrass Songbook" for a nice selection of good songs. #Jack Tuttle (he teaches at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, CA) has two fine word books with bluegrass lyrics.
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    I'll throw my two cents worth in here since I'm learning mandolin and fiddle after playing guitar and bass all my life and since I was posting something on another forum and thought this forum looked interesting. I have found that learning some of the slower bluegrass ballads worked better for me in the beginning until I was able to develop a little speed. I like playing along with some of the "Third Tyme Out" CD's and Doyle Lawson CD's since they do a lot of the older, slower, beautiful bluegrass and gospel/bluegrass songs. For me it is a confidence builder and gives me a good base to build on to move on up to trying to learn some of the traditional, fiddle tunes and bluegrass tunes which are typically very fast tempo. Just a thought. Dan
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    IMO you have to really, really love the songs you want to do. I love traditional BG and play lots of material by Flatt/Scruggs, Monroe, Stanley Bros and Jimmy Martin. Also, for me the gold standard is Tony Rice playing first generation traditional tunes. For modern BG I do songs by Seldom Scene, Lost and Found, Larry Sparks, Old and in the Way and Hot Rize, among ohters. Listen to lots of BG and learn to play the songs that you love the best and that hit you the deepest. Cheers, Chuck
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    i also would have to reccomend learning "fiddle" tunes that are more popular with banjo pickers... or should i say banjo songs... that will make fast friends at a jam.

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    Quote Originally Posted by (cgwilsonjr @ Mar. 09 2007, 10:31)
    IMO you have to really, really love the songs you want to do. I love traditional BG and play lots of material by Flatt/Scruggs, Monroe, Stanley Bros and Jimmy Martin. Also, for me the gold standard is Tony Rice playing first generation traditional tunes. For modern BG I do songs by Seldom Scene, Lost and Found, Larry Sparks, Old and in the Way and Hot Rize, among ohters. Listen to lots of BG and learn to play the songs that you love the best and that hit you the deepest. Cheers, Chuck
    Along those same lines, I have a real hard time learning tunes that don't resonate strongly with me one way or another. I guess because I'm still fairly new to the instrument and learning a new song is a lot of work. Sometimes it's hard to get motivated to put forth the effort if it's "just another fiddle tune". For instance, Blackberry Blossom is one of my all-time faves but Red Haired Boy (which also tops the list if I remember correctly) is one I'm struggling with.

    I read in the liner notes of Unit of Measure that Tony Rice learned Beaumont Rag in one sitting. Must be nice! I plan to learn that one soon and it'll probably take me a few weeks.

  22. #22

    Default Re: Essential bluegrass repertoire?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandopete View Post
    I've often thought about this question, especially from the perspective of a novice player wanting to get into jam situations. #When I started playing mandolin I would listen to jams and make notes of the songs that were being played. #I find this changes between jam locations and regions. #I also find that arrangements can vary as well.

    For example, a couple of years ago Jersulem Ridge was quite popular in our area (Pacific Northwest), but there are quite a few variations on the chord sequence where it walks down. #I think most here play Am - Dm - C - Am. #The melody is fairly straight for
    Point being is that you might check out the jams in your area and find out what other folks are playing. #I've been trying to introduce some newer tunes into jam lexicon here. #I made some CD's with tunes like Plum Tree by John Reischman and Grover Glen by Bryan Sutton and gave them to people I jammed with. #My hope was they would listen to these tunes and like them enough to learn them. #Once you get a few people playing them it just sort takes off from there. #I had real good luck with Reischman's tune Nesser a couple of years ago and now I hear it and Salt Spring quite often in jams.
    ...did you mean to leave out the chord of (E maj.) ?

  23. #23

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    You do realise you’ve just replied to a thread from 2007!

  24. #24
    bass player gone mando
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    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny60 View Post
    You do realise you’ve just replied to a thread from 2007!
    Not that there's anything wrong with that!

    The question about that E major chord has been lingering for 11 years, and inquiring minds want an answer!
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  25. #25

    Default Re: Essential bluegrass repertoire?

    Agree with you Chuck 3 - nothing wrong at all - just didn’t know if the poster would get a response! And any E major help is always useful!

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