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Thread: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

  1. #1

    Default Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    I've been playing mandolin for a whopping 3 weeks and have fallen in love with it! I'm a lifelong musician (pianist, vocalist, and percussionist), but this is my first string instrument to learn. I've always loved bluegrass music, but it wasn't ever anything my family listened to growing up, and that translated into me not really ever pursuing fandom. Learning mandolin has given me an excuse to dive right in, but I really don't know where to start. Any tips on groups to begin listening to, particularly those that feature mandolin?

    Also, I'd love to be able to find some videos that really show what the mandolin player is doing while performing. I've read a lot about the role of mandolin in a bluegrass group, but I've also seen that there are many different approaches to that. Having been a jazz drummer for years, I understand the importance of knowing what your place in the group is at any given time, and I want to be able to figure that out on mandolin. Thanks for any tips anyone can offer!

  2. #2
    Registered User g-mac's Avatar
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    Jul 2005
    SF Bay Area

    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    One answer to the question of "where to start" would be with Mike Marshall. Here's a favorite video that shows him trading solos on a fiddle tune:

    Mike also teaches mandolin on ArtistWorks, which is the company that put out this particular video. I have no connection to them & haven't taken lessons there, but it might make sense as a place to check out for online lessons, particularly since I know Mike to be a great teacher.

    Enjoy the ride, and good luck!

  3. #3
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Ottawa, Canada

    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    I'm not a bluegrass man, and don't have tips, but try Bill Monroe, the "father of bluegrass." There's plenty by him on YouTube. There's also a category, worth exploring, down the Forum page, entitled "Bluegrass, Newgrass, Country, Gospel Variants."
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  5. #4
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    Bill Monroe of course, Flatt and Scruggs, Larry Cordle, Dreadful Snakes, Nashville Blue Grass Band, Stanley Brothers, Band of Ruhks, James King, Red Allen, Don Rigsby, Claire Lynch, Lonesome River Band. Most of these are pretty straight ahead bluegrass. Also, Sam Bush, David Grisman, Del McCory, Jim and Jesse McReynolds. Good luck and have fun.

  6. #5
    Registered User QCS's Avatar
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    Pacifica, Calif.

    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    I think Denny filled up your plate pretty good. I think it’s important to become familiar and learn the “standards”. These are the songs you are going to hear the most in jams. I started out playing Banjo many years ago and went with a total immersion program. I listened to anything I could get my hands on, constantly. Figure out what you like and what you don’t. Once you have a handle on chord positions you will be able to chop or strum along with recordings. This will help you get a better feel for the rythem and structure of the music. Also will go a long way in helping you learn the lyrics. As for suggestions, let’s not forget the self proclaimed “King of Bluegrass”, Jimmy Martin. Have fun with the music, picking and singing these songs with you friends is the best time you will ever have.

  7. #6

    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    If you want to learn Bluegrass a great starting point is Monroe, as that is the roots. Early on that felt pretty inaccessible to me. A great entry point for me was Bluegrass Album Band. That is real traditional, but some of the best modern players. The music has been taken in many directions since Monroe, but familiarizing yourself with the roots of the tree is important. Also much of the repertoire that you see comes from Monroe, Stanley Bros, Flatt and Scruggs, etc. A great modern band playing "Hardcore Traditional" Bluegrass is the Po Ramblin Boys.

  8. #7

    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    Everyone has mentioned some great stuff so far. I will do what someone was eventually bound to do perhaps, and mention Chris Thile. The current host of Live from Here (formerly Prairie Home Companion) he is a mandolin master. His main band is Punch Brothers (not really bluegrass, but bluegrass instrumentation, and all incredible musicians) and they are amazing. His former band that brought him to the scene was Nickel Creek, very popular beyond the bluegrass world in the 90s/2000s. Finally, check out his solo albums as well, they are more bluegrass-based and just rip, super cool melodic playing going on.

    While perhaps not the best "introduction to bluegrass," Chris will show you the possibilities of what a mandolin can do, and it will really pump you up to pick! That being said, anytime Chris is playing a "bluegrass" tune, it's my favorite!

    Definitely will agree that you should check out: Sam Bush, David Grisman, Mike Marshall, and Bill Monroe. Some more modern players/bands to check out would be David Benedict from Mile Twelve (and the man behind Mandolin Mondays here on the cafe), Andrew Marlin from Mandolin Orange, Jacob Joliff, Matt Flinner, Jesse Cobb former mando for The Infamous Stringdusters. Have fun!

    PS-Heres a link of Punch Brothers doing a little Q & A session with a crowd that I feel is a must watch for anyone who plays music with other people. They play 3 or 4 songs I think but you really get to see some master musicians playing in a band setting. They are playing bluegrass instruments, but I think they only do 1 "bluegrass song," so you get to see the mando in a bunch of different roles. I go back every few months and watch this for inspiration/as a reminder to myself:
    Last edited by rivervalleymando; May-13-2020 at 1:26am. Reason: Adding content

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  10. #8
    Registered User Mando Mort's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    Good luck and enjoy the journey...
    "All of us contain Music & Truth, but most of us can't get it out." - Mark Twain

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  11. #9
    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    There is a lot of good video on YouTube, both for lessons as well as performances.

    This week I ran across a recurring Sunday Facebook Live session with some young bluegrassers, AJ Lee, Jesse Fichman, and Sullivan Tuttle of Blue Summit. (You can watch previous sessions on their Facebook page.) They’ve been working through some technical issues the last few weeks, but the Mother’s Day session was good enough that I’ve watched it several times.

    The sessions are VERY casual with some songs that they may or may not be too familiar with. Lots of reading lyrics from cell phones, lol. It is interesting to see them consider who will kick off, how to kick off, what key the song will be in, etc. AJ has a beautiful voice and is a talented mandolin player. Jesse and Sullivan generally provide lots of hot guitar picking (Jesse played banjo on one song) but are also good singers. Lots of very nice duets or trios. Highly recommended for the role of mandolin, both in leads as well as in rhythm.
    Doug Brock
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  12. #10
    Distressed Model John Ritchhart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    Johnson Mountain Boys, Seldom Scene, Country Gentlemen are some of my favorite bands. Listen to everything.
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  13. #11
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    Don't know where you're located, but another way to learn about bluegrass mandolin is to attend jam sessions, which bluegrass musicians love to put on. Also local festivals, where you can hang out in the camping areas long into the night, and watch and learn, eventually joining in.

    You can learn a helluva lot from recordings and videos, but I've never found a substitute for standing (or sitting) next to a good instrumentalist, watching what he/she does, listening to the sound of the mandolin and how it fits in (or, sometimes, doesn't) with the others on different kinds of songs and instrumentals. You don't have to play a note -- and probably shouldn't, when just starting out -- but the physical proximity and in-person interaction are really instructive. And you can always ask, "What was that thing you were doing on the third verse?"

    I think I've learned more from being around other musicians, than I've ever learned from lessons, recordings or vids. Maybe that's just me...
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  14. #12
    Registered User Tom Hart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    That gives you about four months to get ready for the 2020 Monroe Mandolin Camp, an excellent place for introduction to bluegrass and the man that created it. Don't be scairt, all abilities are welcome.
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  15. #13

    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    If you're interested in traditional bluegrass mandolin, you can't go wrong with any of Butch Baldasarri's material.

  16. #14

    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    I learned a heap of tunes from Butch Baldasarri's music and instructionals. (Not just bluegrass.)

    He's one of the very brightest mandolin stars imho. Good teacher.

    Have fun on your journey and stay aware of what sounds you like to hear from the mandolin.

    I like the idea of emulating others in the beginning; then,allow your own style to develop.

  17. #15
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    Have anyone to play with ? ..Or will you when opened up to allow that?
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  18. #16
    Registered User archerscreek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    For bluegrass music, buy the 2 CD set of Bill Monroe called Anthology. Less than $20. I’d advise caution on judging Bill Monroe by what you might find on YouTube. I’ve seen plenty of YouTube videos of an older Bill Monroe where his mandolin playing is noticeably below the high level he plays at in the Anthology CD set.

    For practice, Steve Kaufman did a Four Hour Bluegrass Workout book that includes mandolin Tab, regular sheet music, and 4 CDs of backing tracks (played at two speeds) for numerous fiddle tunes. The backing tracks are great because there’s no dominating upright bass, fiddle, or banjo covering up the mandolin‘s rhythm work. The Bluegrass Workout book is great for practicing and improving your rhythm and breaks.

  19. #17

    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    Thanks so much to everybody who responded. I definitely feel like I have a list of materials to check out. I live in the Texas Hill Country and think I've found a jam close by that I'm going to check out once things open back up. I definitely think that getting to sit around other musicians and watch them play will do a lot for me.

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  21. #18
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    “How many Bill Monroe albums have you listened to? You should wear the grooves out on several. I really mean a thousand hours of it. No joke. And then add in John Duffey, Jesse McReynolds, Bob Osborne before you dive into Grisman, Bush, and eventually land at Thile. Start with Bill and lots of it. Soak in that and you can’t help but take it in. (Since the Father is no longer on our mortal plane you can’t, obviously, go sit in the front row.)”

    This is what someone said to a related question on another thread. Go back to the beginning and then work forward is pretty good advice.


  22. #19
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    Above recs are good, and I’ll throw Mike Compton And Ricky Skaggs into the mix. They’re two monster Monroe influenced pickers who play both traditional and more modern music.

    As a jazz drummer, you may really appreciate Sam Bush and David Grisman. Also, Sam plays with Bela Fleck on the Bluegrass Sessions...some mighty fine listening...

  23. #20
    Registered User fishdawg40's Avatar
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    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

  24. #21
    Registered User cartershilts's Avatar
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    Madison, Wisconsin

    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    It's interesting, I've met more drummers turned mandolin players than I can count. Mando definitely offers a lot of interesting textures! Looking back at some of the greats and observing their rhythm playing is really beneficial. Even going back to the beginning of bluegrass, Bill Monroe used to play abbreviated melodies behind a soloist, which is something that came from New Orleans jazz. Sam Bush, David Grisman, Sierra Hull, Mike Marshall, and Chris Thile are some other rhythm masters.

    Mike Marshall talks about "lift" in a chop (how long you're letting the chord sustain before choking it off). That's probably a good place to start. The chop is somewhat like a hi-hat in the sense that you use two limbs to place the beat. Right hand strikes the strings, and left hand determines how long you let the chord float before you kill it. Good luck! The mandolin world is full of rabbit holes, enjoy the ride!

  25. #22
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Palmer, Texas

    Default Re: Beginner getting into Bluegrass

    As soon as festivals resume, find one and go to it. Bring your mandolin.
    "Life is short. Play hard." - AlanN

    HEY! The Cafe has Social Groups, check 'em out. I'm in these groups:
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