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Thread: Studying Bill Monroe

  1. #1
    Registered User LongBlackVeil's Avatar
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    Default Studying Bill Monroe

    I was reading an Andy Statman interview. And these two quotes stuck out to me.


    "If you want to learn to play the mandolin, you have to learn to play bluegrass and that means learning Bill Monroe."

    ence for his ability to play the multitude of styles that he now enjoys. "You need to know one style very well", he told our class, "If you play a lot of styles and don't know one really well, you will never learn to play the mandolin." Once you learn a style thoroughly, and he makes no bones that for mandolin that style should be bluegrass, you can go on and play other styles. To his mind Bill Monroe set the standard by using the full potential of the mandolin in his music and those innovations carry over to any type of music.


    They seem to apply directly to me. Especially the part about learning one style really well first, and then moving on. I'm constantly jumping around, and trying to learn all kinds of different styles. Bluegrass is no more a priority to me than dawg music, irish, jazz, and old time.

    I find myself wanting to emulate Grisman and Statman more than Bill Monroe.

    So I have a 2 part question here. Do you believe there is truth to what Andy says here.

    And 2. How do I really go about studying Bill Monroes style? I have the Bill Monroe homespun tapes, I feel like I didn't get a lot out of them. I guess the best thing I can do is just listen to his music and try to cop his licks. But is that all there is to it? its actually pretty annoying trying to do that anyway because he's usually tuned a little bit sharp, so I have to retune my mandolin to do it. I can get close to matching his tuning with the amazing slow downers pitch slider though

    What do you say? Or should I continue what I'm doing and keep trying to emulate my true mandolin heroes?
    "When you learn an old time fiddle tune, you make a friend for life"

  2. #2
    Registered User Fred Keller's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    Mike Compton. Google search and you'll find his site. He teaches skype lessons. He's currently one of, if not THE top player of this style.
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    Loarcutus of MandoBorg DataNick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    On learning "Monroe Style" mandolin, I would:

    1. Join the Monroe Mandolin Appreciation Society on Facebook. Lots of great resources, videos by members on playing technique relative to specific songs, and those involved are generally at the ready to answer questions.

    2. Be really sensitive to "The Blues" as far as feel and what's being accomplished. At his core Bill Monroe was a "Blues Guy"

    3. Investigate some lessons by a "Monroe Style" teacher like Chris Henry, Mike Compton, Roscoe Morgan, etc. Just a few lessons can get you well on your way.

    4. Consider attending Mike Compton's Monroe Mandolin Camp in Sept in Nashville: all things "Monroe Style" mandolin.

    I look at "Monroe Style" as an approach beyond simply note for note renditions of Bill Monroe's solos. It's more of a feel and an approach in "style" to playing the mandolin, much as for example Adam Steffey's style (though he can play any style) has a very heavy "classical" influence. Monroe's style is all about blues, using devices (double-stops with transitions, incessant right hand picking, staggered 16th notes strokes to name a few) to accomplish the feel he was after. I also feel it's a life-long process or endeavor for most of us, but you can get up to a reasonable speed with a few adaptations of techniques previously noted. Cafe member Shaun Garrity is a heck of a "Monroe picker" and he still takes lessons!

    It's my favorite style to play, and while I admittedly have only begun to scratch the surface, it's a lot of fun and I find that folks really seem to dig it.

    Best to ya in your "Monroe" journey...
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    I've been a professional musician for 51 years . I have yet to see a rule book telling me what I HAVE to learn .I'm doing a daily gig at the moment ( guitarist ) that covers probably a dozen styles of music from show tunes to classic rock to straight ahead bluegrass , jazz , Rand B , Blues , Reggae , movie soundtrack , kids tunes , etc..etc. I have a working handle on the styles just from throwing myself into the fire all these years . Key word is " working " I've never been out of work as a musician but I'm a master of NONE of those genres. For me , its the spirit of the gig , the genre and , of course , the journey itself . I used to be more concerned that I didn't have a particularly expert handle on a specific style . I realized after a time that I was having WAY more fun and working WAY more than most guys who WERE 'experts' ....especially in these tough times for live music . I do all the parts on demos for songwriters etc at my home studio....from drum programming to basic keyboard , guitars , bass , mandolin , vocals etc only because I've done so many kinds of gigs I've been able to learn the basics . Again ...I'm not concerned that I can't play mandolin exactly like Bill played it . I'm improving on all fronts by just DOING so I'm a happy guy .

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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    I can't see the point of immersing yourself in a type of music you're not naturally drawn to. You could really say the same thing to guitar players about jazz, but if they don't actually want to play jazz how much of themselves is actually going into the music?

    It's also possible to live a fulfilling musical life of which Mr Statman would not approve.
    Steve

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    Registered User LongBlackVeil's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve L View Post
    I can't see the point of immersing yourself in a type of music you're not naturally drawn to. You could really say the same thing to guitar players about jazz, but if they don't actually want to play jazz how much of themselves is actually going into the music?

    It's also possible to live a fulfilling musical life of which Mr Statman would not approve.
    Just to be clear I love bluegrass. But my style is very different from monroe's and I plan on keepin it that way.

    But when I look at all my mandolin pickin heroes, they've all closely studied him. I have to think there is something to that.
    "When you learn an old time fiddle tune, you make a friend for life"

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    Registered User John Gardinsky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    Another nod toward Mike Compton here, he's deciphered more of the Monroe style minutiae than anyone I've encountered. He has transcribed hundreds of Monroe's breaks.

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    The available resources now amaze me... forty years ago, it was buy some Bill and get going. Funny how things come full circle, no?
    Listen, get it in your head, make the fingers DO it. Easier said than done but,remember " The Music Man"
    Professor Harold Hill," I employ the "Think Method".
    Now we can listen so,much more carefully, keep thinking it! Then play like there is no tomorrow!
    Know where you started and then you may have a better sense of where to go.
    Last edited by Timbofood; Oct-26-2014 at 9:39pm.
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    Registered User Jim Adwell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    It almost seems like a truism to say that a player is going to be way more interesting to listen to playing in his/her own style within a given genre than imitating someone else's style. One can be influenced by various artists, and learn from them, but ultimately you're playing your own music, so revel in it, and have fun, because if you aren't having fun your audience won't be either.

    Also, what roysboy said.

  15. #10

    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    Quote Originally Posted by LongBlackVeil View Post
    To his mind Bill Monroe set the standard by using the full potential of the mandolin in his music and those innovations carry over to any type of music.
    Quote Originally Posted by LongBlackVeil View Post
    "If you want to learn to play the mandolin, you have to learn to play bluegrass and that means learning Bill Monroe."
    To say that any one artist ever unlocked the full potential of the instrument is highly debatable.
    To say that one has to play bluegrass in order to learn how to play the mandolin is codswallop.

    Learning bluegrass is a means of playing bluegrass mandolin, which is neither the only form of mandolin nor most important or most versatile form of mandolin. Furthermore, it does next to nothing in the way of helping one with Irish tripets and other ornamentation specific to that style, nor does it help with the more complex chordings and harmonizations of jazz.

    Monroe himself would probably advise against trying to directly emulate his or any other artists' sound and offer advice in favor of finding your own sound through a combination of various external influences and your own stylistic take on the instrument. Imitation may result in limitation.

    --Tom

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  17. #11
    Registered User Paul South's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    This a good one with Chris Henry teaching the Murphy Method.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xeh2TCzgH7Q

  18. #12
    Registered User Tim W's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    Pretty cheesy and mechanical. If you want to get immersed in Bill's style you can listen to him or for a more refined sounding Bill-ish player, go youtube Mike Compton doing solo stuff and re-watch them over and over and let em' soak in good. It's all about feel and rhythm and a lot less about defined licks. Get the feel down and the licks create themselves…

    I think Andy was just giving opinionated and reverent advice and meant it that way, not so much as it was the only way. Just a good way to learn.

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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    I've had a few lessons from Andy. This is the method of learning mandolin that he teaches. He says in order to play bluegrass mandolin you need to learn the language... You learn that by listening to and copying the masters. Eventually you start to create your own style.

    He literally listened to and learned every Bill Monroe Recording over the course of multiple decades. He would sit by the record player and play the songs over and over again, slowed down, until he could play the exact licks. This is what he suggested I do. I haven't yet taken the step to learn exact note for note recordings, but it is something that is looming. It is the elephant in my room. It seems intimidating to me and I am not confident in my ability to do it. But if you can successfully do it you are learning many things at once: The particular style and playing method of masters as well as how to match those notes to the sound of your mandolin. If you can start to learn how to play those by ear, you can begin to learn to play what you hear in your head by ear.... Lots of work to do.

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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    Certainly wouldn't hurt to learn Monroe style Bluegrass. After you learn those three chords, you could spend your next hour mastering jazz!!! Just kidding, friends, but having a good background in the basics of Bluegrass also prepares you for most country, folk, blues, and rock'n'roll. It's really just how you make it swing at that point.

    Most avant-garde musicians have a background in theory, melody, reading, etc. The old adage, you have to learn how to play it straight, before you can start deconstructing it, is true, IMHO. The exception might be a few superstar musicians who taught themselves one finger electronic keyboard chords to write songs and were at the right place at the right time and just got lucky. But, if you wanna jam with others, you need to learn the basics.

  23. #15
    Loarcutus of MandoBorg DataNick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    Josh,

    Andy is simply advocating the "old school" way of developing chops. Most of the guitar guys did it (Clapton for example), that's how I was admonished to learn licks growing up as a Trumpeter playing in an R&B cover band. I wish I had a dollar for every hour spent slowing down records to learn B,S, &T, Chicago, Tower Of Power, Kool & The Gang, etc horn licks.

    When it comes to Monroe these days I probably learn 85% of the original lick and take off from there...don't have the patience to learn it all the way, like the opening on "Roanoke" for example. I do have "Southern Flavor" and "Bluegrass Breakdown" wired but that "Roanoke" opening is something else! But that is a great way, I believe to get your chops.
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    If I wanted to be a strictly Bluegrass player, I think it would be essential to spend some time studying Monroe's playing, even if I wanted to move on from there, later on. It would be paying dues, like learning something about Robert Johnson's playing when learning how to play acoustic Blues.

    As it happens, I have no interest in playing Bluegrass, and I spent enough years playing Blues that I'm moving on (and managed to sidestep the natural progression to Jazz, somehow).

    The music I'm playing now is a process of listening to fiddlers, flute players, and pipers, and figuring out how the heck you can approach that music on the mandolin, and sound like you belong in a group of more genre-historical instruments.

    There is a quote from a famous Irish fiddler that I can't track down right now, so I won't quote the source, but it sounds similar to what Statman is saying about Bluegrass mandolin. The quote goes something like... "There are two types of Irish musicians, those who take it seriously, and the dabblers."

    I don't want to be a dabbler in this music. And it's different enough that I can't bring much of what I've learned in 40 years of Blues, Rock, and Folk playing into it. Harmony theory? Forget it. Western-style improvisation and solo breaks? Forget it. So I've been trying to figure it out for the last few years, to the exclusion of most anything else. I seem to be hooked on it, for the near future, and nothing I can learn from any other genre of music will help me get better at it. Diving deeper into this well is the only thing that helps.

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    Quote Originally Posted by LongBlackVeil View Post

    I find myself wanting to emulate Grisman and Statman more than Bill Monroe.

    So I have a 2 part question here. Do you believe there is truth to what Andy says here.
    I think it is hard to be inspired by something if it fundamentally does not "grab" you. I think it is probably even harder to study it systematically, seriously and effectively. Now... for myself, I love Monroe's style. Always have. Always will. So for me, studying it is no hardship at all... but if someone came along and said you have to study, say, Andy Statman's style, or Jesse McReynolds style, or that guy who keeps winning the IBMA mandolin player of the year award's style I would find that much harder to do. Not because these are not all FANTASTICALLY talented players.... they are all superb in their own ways, but simply because their sound and style does not move me like Monroe's music does. Put another way, Monroe is not for everyone, any more than say, John Reischman is for everyone... and if a player does not 'fire you up' to the extent you HAVE to dive deep into their style, learning it could be a real chore.

    You can probably still pick up bits and pieces from other players, other styles, but to immerse yourself in something, I do feel that has to come from deep within yourself, and not just because someone (anyone) says you should.

    Personally, I would take a relaxed view on this and listen to and play the music YOU like in the way YOU want to. That's really what matters.. I know enough classical players who tell of horror stories about being literally forced to listen to and play stuff they don't really 'get' to say that kind of situation is worth avoiding. It can take all the pleasure and fun out of it.
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  28. #18
    Loarcutus of MandoBorg DataNick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    +1 to Almeria...somehow I missed the OP's statement about wanting to play more like Grisman & Statman.

    Absolutely it shouldn't be a chore, and if I was told the key to Bluegrass mandolin mandates any study of someone I wasn't into, then it would be a problem, and as stubborn as I am, I would just follow my heart on that and say Oh Well!

    And the whole key here is to play what you want in the manner that you want to play it. Personally I play Latin, mild Jazz (Fusion), R&R, R&B, and Blues but am a total Monroe head; and that's what consumes me these days!
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    It's good to go through periods of immersing yourself in specific areas of study.
    Monroe has much to offer anyone who takes the time to study his playing,
    Not least would be the work of those who've put the time in before you.

    However there's a whole lot more to being a complete mandolinist than studying one player from one genre that popped up 1/2 way through the 20th cantury.
    "If you want to learn to play the mandolin, you have to learn to play bluegrass and that means learning Bill Monroe."
    Quite simply he's incorrect with the first part of his premise.
    But If you want to learn Bluegrass properly he's correct with the second.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    I heard a quote contributed to Monroe if memory serves. " learn every thing every one else is doing then do none of it" every thing you learn helps and to really learn one style or one artist teaches you what it is to really know a style. I have always thought that my right hand was my weakness, some time ago I set out to really learn to cross pick McReanoles stlye ( I already could do very simple straight forward crosspicking). The effort I used on cross picking helped my right hand on everything I do. I never wanted to cross pick everything like Jesse, just to have it in my "toolbox" but the ability to cross pick better made my right hand better. I'm still no Hershal Sizemore but there is a definant improvement.

  32. #21
    Emando lover David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    Quote Originally Posted by Fred Keller View Post
    Mike Compton. Google search and you'll find his site. He teaches skype lessons. He's currently one of, if not THE top player of this style.
    Seconded. Mike has improved my playing out of sight. A great player, a great teacher, and a lovely bloke.
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    Rush Burkhardt Rush Burkhardt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    To the OP's points:
    1. Interesting for Statman to make his definitive statement, as I see him as one of the Jack's-of-all-trades.
    2. I was an R&B guitar player who came out of the dark, in the mid-60's, and found bluegrass.
    3. I was thrust into a band as the mandolin player and needed to learn: #1 to hold the band in time (chop, chop, chop...); #2 to play breaks.
    4. I had many influences, at the time: John Duffey (somewhat avant-garde); Mr. Monroe (The Father; +1 on Mike Compton's teaching!); Dick Staber, Sonny Crisswell and Carroll Swam (friends and mentors)
    5. What came was a very eclectic "style" which exists to this day, although, as I play with others infrequently, the rust obliterates the "style". I know what I once did, and still want to do, but don't have the muscle memory (or any other memory) to assist me.
    6. I rarely wood-shedded on breaks or tunes of my own, and rarely played a tune, the same way, twice. Shameful...but
    7. Throw me in at the deep end, and I can swim.
    Whatever the hell that means!

  34. #23

    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    If you really are into Grisman and Statman, then you will enjoy studying Bill Monroe - it's fun, and the more seriously you take it, the more fun it is.

    But don't spend your whole life on it, the really good players study everybody, not just Bill.

    As to part two, I would definitely say the way to do it is to work with Bill Monroe's actual recordings. The old school guys did it using vinyl on a turntable, so I don't think we who have "The Amazing Slow Downer" or "Transpose!" can really complain about the effort involved.

    A lot of people talk about getting "close enough" to what Monroe played. It's very easy to miss a lot of what there is to learn from Bill by doing that. The devil is in the detail. Trying to figure out PRECISELY what Bill played is where you will really learn surprising new things.
    Last edited by OldSausage; Oct-27-2014 at 7:41am.

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  36. #24

    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    It obviously worked for Andy Statman. And he heard it from Grisman who was his first teacher. Like everything else, YMMV....
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    Default Re: Studying Bill Monroe

    As a non=professional player of some 40 years I guess I think you should play what you like. Practice is practice in my mind. If you play enough you will improve. Bill's style, as taught by Mike Compton, is difficult but not impossible to imitate. Most importantly, have fun no matter what style you land on.

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