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Thread: Soloing - Bluegrass style

  1. #1

    Question Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Hi everyone,

    Need some help. I can solo arpeggio style (basic) and can hold my own in a open mic in a general genre type setting where the songs aren't bluegrass. But I really want to solo bluegrass style. I noticed that the mandolin player in a bluegrass group starts out their solo with a type of intro and then the rest is a blur...somewhat, since their fingers move so quickly across the fretboard that I find it hard to follow in order to learn. I am self-taught.

    So, how do I achieve such a solo? What is the magic that makes that solo? What do I need to do to get close to those types of solos?

    Thanks...

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    I learned by learning a bunch of fiddle tunes in different keys. Then I learned a lot of my favorite solos note for note . And then would just sit and jam along with my favorite recordings. The amazing slow downer is an awesome app which slows those tunes down but maintains pitch. That's a great way to learn to play stuff slow and clean before you speed up. I play by ear. I can't read music. It also helps to listen to the music when you are not playing it. It took a few years before I could do it well. Just takes time to build you music vocabulary. Have fun.

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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Pentatonics. Rhythm. The rhythm. Also, not playing blues (but paradoxically realising that bluegrass is about 49%blues)'

    Starting, finishing and landing in the right beat using pentatonics and hexatonic scales.

    Don't start with Monroe. Start with Rennie McCoury or Sam Bush.
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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    I'm up with goose 2. I listened a lot to the top bands & listened to the way their mandolin players put a solo or intro.together.I use I/net radio stations a lot for my daily dose of Bluegrass, & i learned mainly by trying to pick along with the bands on there. I'd chop along until the solo came up & tried my hand at playing along.Sometimes i got it,sometimes i didn't.I had a look to see if i could find the tune / song on YouTube & if i could find it,i copied a shortcut to my PC so i could play it over & over &.........
    As goose 2 says,it takes time,but the more you do it,the more you can do it,
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    Mandolin Dreams Unlimited MysTiK PiKn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    I play along w radio stuff also. Also any tune I really like - you have to really like it, cos you will be chasing lightning for a long time. Slow down app is a great idea - life in slow motion - but then you have to make it fly, and that's nothing but difficult. Knowing basic scales will help - but the monster players break all the rules - it's just not fair.

    There is a tendency for the first round to resemble the melody; but then the second round adds every trick possible. It can also have slow points in it.

    I find it useful to play slowly - with that sound. And just finding that sound is hard enough. But you can capture a few notes that are part of that sound, and just play that, until you own it. And then try to do it faster, and try to add more of the magic notes.

    And I agree, it's not blues - but it is bluesy with a truckload of "country corn" mixed in.

    Mostly I just chase tunes on the radio. And my other thing is trying to play clean notes, gradually going faster. But the study part is pretty much slow.

    I chased a song for over a year before I could get thru it and almost keep up the pace. That was a thrill, still is.

    And lastly, I have discovered that it's actually easy - I just can't do it yet. Strange but true; and that allows some leeway to keep at it. Ignoring mistakes helps too; just keep going; you can clean it up later.

    If you want to hear insane speed - check out "Grandpa's Cough Medicine". That stuff is totally illegal. Some folks have banned them cos they won't play gospel. (the bluegrass police).

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    Registered User David Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    We're all on the same page. It takes a lot of time and patience. Slowing everything down is a must and here are some others
    1. Learn the major scales in the keys I'd G,C,D,E,A,F, B, and Bb. Be able to play the forwards, backwards, cross picked etc.
    2. Learn the blues notes for each key
    3. Learn the minor notes in each key
    4. Learn the simple melody for each song.
    5. Take lessons from a very accomplished player who is also a good teacher. They are not always the same.
    Put all that in a big pot and stir for the 10,000 hours it takes to become proficient and the magic happens.
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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Try learning a simple solo that mimics the melody of a song, like Little Cabin Home on the Hill in the key of A. The advice of learning some fiddle tunes is also good. Try something simple like Old Joe Clark in the key of A. Good luck.

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Find someone to pick with, build speed together. It will come wth time. Most importantly, have fun while you learn!
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    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    There is good advice in all the above replies. Let me add a thought .... Bluegrass solos have several things in common ... they have a kickoff , a few tones that lead into the melody , they usually begin with a portion of the melody, you will regularly hear double stops at the chord changes, a technical device ie. crosspicking , tremolo or sliding into or out of tones is often used to add depth to the melody , tones are often doubled , ie while the melody is sung in quarter notes it is played in eighth notes. Then a flashy lick is used to close the break.
    Sooooo.
    1. Learn the chords
    2. Learn the melody
    3. Play the melody adding crosspickin and tremolo based on the chord forms
    4. Learn the pentatonic blues scale and dominant seventh arpeggio patterns and practice them by key
    5. Listen , practice with recorded music and go to as many jams as you can.........
    You are on your way keep up the good work and study....... R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    A good teacher can help you avoid pitfalls. Music camps like the Monroe Camp coming up are always a good concentrated dose of teaching. If you happened to be in the San Francisco Bay Area in October there is Walker Creek Music Camp with John Reichman is teaching Bluegrass soloing.
    http://www.walkercreekmusiccamp.org/...olin-bluegrass

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Being able to fluidly move through a scale will help, but also realizing what notes of the scale work with the chord progression. If a song is in the key G, and starts with a G chord any note in the G chord will sound right in a solo, like a G, B, or D. If the progression moves to a C chord you should probably be emphasizing the a C, G or E note. Experiment with different ways of playing through a scale while being concious of the the underlying chord structure.

    If you feel comfortable playing through a scale with the chord progression, adding slides, hammer ons and pull offs can add extra flare and style. Also bluegrass mandolin is all about training your right hand, so timing and rhythm are the most important part of achieving the right sound.

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Bluegrass doesn't mean fast, bluegrass means push the beat. The best example I can think of right now is classic Country Gentlemen they played fast and I mean really fast and they played slow but all had that push the beat drive.IMHO that is what makes a mandolin break BG whether it be Monroe Steffy McRenolds or who ever. The notes you play are not as important as the timing.

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Mandoplumb, you have made an extremely good point! It isn't always about speed but,"drive"!
    UsuallyPickin is giving good advice, just as I would hope for a Kentuckian
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    Mandolin Dreams Unlimited MysTiK PiKn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    I also tried playing along w the Kentucky Colonels.
    But usually by the time I grabbed my guitar and sat down,
    the song was over.

    I find keeping my mando in proper concert pitch, ready to go, usually helps when listening to radio.
    Most songs are in full concert pitch.

    There are some very good posts in this thread. I save stuff like this.

    Thanks to all you accomplished pickers.

    EDIT = also thanks to Tydees. A well worded question(s). Your wording indicates you are serious and have been paying attention. It's not easy to find such words. Great thread. Thx.
    Last edited by MysTiK PiKn; Aug-13-2015 at 2:33pm.

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    Registered User Drew Egerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Consider trying out some of the Homespun or Acutab DVDs. They're both different but good. There are videos available from Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury, Adam Steffey, Alan Bibey, etc. (those are my favorites).

    Also, just LISTEN A LOT. Listen in the car, listen at home, go to shows and watch and listen. You have to know what you want it to sound like before you can play it I think.
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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Usually Pickin gave excellent advice, my point is a lot of BG sounds faster than it really is. Don't get so hung up on speed that will come, someone suggested Little Cabin Home On The Hill, that song is not that fast, try mastering that before trying Rawhide.

  29. #17

    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    So I have been playing mandolin for about 3.5 years and this has been my primary objective. I spent countless hours taking lessons, reading, listening, playing, etc. and this is the information that I have absorbed distilled down as much as I possibly can:

    1. Any lead break is based on the basic melody of a song. So as a starting point you want to play "straight ahead and strive for tone". If you are at a jam and you play the straight up melody tastefully and precisely people will know you are atleast decent. That is miles better than shooting off a bunch of random notes or playing an uncoordinated scale break. In most situations where you here the pros play some crazy lead it is someway tied to the original melody. You may have to deconstruct why slowly and methodically, but it is typically there unless they are just faking a melody, which they are 100% capable as well. That crazy stuff Thile does is related to the melody, although he may shoot for the most abstract, technically challenging interpretation possible that is beyond my brain to comprehend.

    2. The next step once you know it pat is changing phrases that aren't essential to recognizing the tune. Mike Marshall says there are target notes- notes that make the song really what it is, maybe related to a chord change, or otherwise important to make a song what it is. These are not all of the notes in a song. So when you are traveling between these notes you can pick different ways of getting there or you can add other ornamentation different from the straight melody. For Example: The bolded letters may be target notes in 9 Lb Hammer.

    This 9 pound Hammer is a little too Heavy For my Size, buddy for my Size

    All that other space can vary and you can go as far afield as you want and it will usually sound decent as long as you get to the target notes in time with the song. Of course the pros will leave out a bunch of target notes and come in and out as they please and if you have mastery of the tune and time you can do that. Which leads me to filling the space

    3. When you fill this space that is where your technical and theoretical knowledge will come into play. That is also where you can borrow from other styles. You can play Monroe style with multiple downstrokes and some blue notes or you can play so real fast 1/16 notes like Thile (I wish), or you can play some double stops, tremolo, etc. This is where vocabulary comes into play. I took a lesson from Andy Statman and he said you need to speak the language. That means playing exact passages like the masters. Or atleast listening enough to understand some of the concepts that they are using and incorporating them into your own music. This may mean going back and listening to and even better transcribing original sources. That is how you truly master bluegrass- learning what your options are and implementing them with your own creative spin.

    4. As you go through these processes you will start to develop your own style based on what you prefer and what you gravitate too. Grisman has his own style but it comes from many different influences and he started by trying to play like Bill Monroe. There are many people who have a similar story that are crazy pros. So when your hear some crazy lightening fast or super off melody sounding lead it is not that it is some garbled something or other, it is just the best of the best doing what they do and that level of mastery can be very confusing.

    That's what I have learned so far... Sorry for the long post, but it felt like good to get all of that info down on paper. By the way I am still working on step 1.



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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    As I struggle along with getting competent at taking a decent break here are a couple of things that have helped and I strongly suggest you focus on first... Learn to sing the song! Get the melody in your head and then into your hands so you can play it. Pretty much at the same time you need to get the chord changes down so you don't have to think about them. Until you can do these two things it really isn't going to help to worry about all the other fancy parts. All the other tips are great and you can use them to build on once you get these two basics down. It really is a long process, but it can be done.
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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Good thought John, I used to tell students:
    "Get the tune in your head and then tell your fingers where to go." Basics first, dress it up for a party after you know the roots.
    Of course, I use the patented "Professor Harold Hill, "think" method."
    "Think the minuet in G, play the minuet in G"
    With apologies to the author.
    Go to the sources, the early ones, Monroe, Red Rector, Roland White. Listen, listen,listen.
    Think "up and down" for right hand as much as humanly possible, it will make a difference. It will all come into focus one afternoon and you will wonder how. I say this a lot though, "HAVE FUN!" If it's not fun then it becomes a job. Doc Watson once said
    "When it feels like work, I will stop." Words to pick by!
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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Peg Head Nation

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Quote Originally Posted by JWalterWeatherman View Post
    1. Any lead break is based on the basic melody of the song..
    While everything you said is real good, your very first point is really gigantic - only because it is missed oftener than it should be.

    I used to see a bunch of questions of the sort: what should I play if I don't know the tune? Which is not too different from: What path should I take if I don't know where to go?
    Indulge responsibly!

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Thanks @johnmarkva. It is funny that you say to sing it. Before I started learning mandolin, about 4 years ago, I was a hand percussionist...well still am. I also played African drums (djembe) and the way I was taught by some of the drum masters was by using the same method you suggested. If you can sing it...or hum it...you can play it. I put this into action now on mandolin. I can solo well if I first know the song and can sing it. My solos are basic, similar to what many have suggested here on this thread. I call it 'noodling' and I stick to the arpeggio (?) notes in a scale....nothing fancy. But I guess I am at a stage that I am ready to take it further but feeling frustrated. How does one sing a solo part in bluegrass when often with the masters, you can't even keep track of their fingers? Hmmmmm.....

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Quote Originally Posted by Tydees View Post
    Hi everyone,

    Need some help. I can solo arpeggio style (basic) and can hold my own in a open mic in a general genre type setting where the songs aren't bluegrass. But I really want to solo bluegrass style. I noticed that the mandolin player in a bluegrass group starts out their solo with a type of intro and then the rest is a blur...somewhat, since their fingers move so quickly across the fretboard that I find it hard to follow in order to learn. I am self-taught.

    So, how do I achieve such a solo? What is the magic that makes that solo? What do I need to do to get close to those types of solos?

    Thanks...
    This book will be very helpful to you...don't mind the reviews...it's a good approach especially given your request outlined above

    http://www.amazon.com/How-Improvise-.../dp/158496040X

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    I read somewhere to listen to a tune "22" times back to back....then it will be in your head and you can play it on the mandolin. I tried that a couple times but I always fell asleep around #9.

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    Default Re: Soloing - Bluegrass style

    Here is what's been working for me lately. I use the common chop chords as a home base and find notes around that chord form to play off of. Niles Hokkanen's book "Bluegrass Up the Neck" and Joe Carr's "Play Like a Legend Bill Monroe" both touch on this. Since I will be moving to the chord anyway during the progression, the notes are always underneath my finger tips. This was a "light bulb moment" for me. Of course, your mileage may vary. I still have a lot of work to do with this to get fluid, but it makes sense to me. With all the other great info above, hopefully this will get you on your way.

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