Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs - Who Pioneered the Bluegrass Banjo

Stanley Brothers

Stanley Brothers - Bluegrass harmonies at their best

Bill Monroe

Bill Monroe - Need we say more...

Alison Krauss

Alison Krauss - Plus Union Station

What is Bluegrass?

Bluegrass music is really more of a style of performance than a particular set of tunes or songs. Although there are pieces that have been written specifically as bluegrass numbers, the bulk of material played by bluegrass bands is extracted or based on earlier American folk traditions such as old-time or old timey as it is sometimes called. However, it is probably possible to take almost any song or tune and turn it into a "bluegrass" number.

Bluegrass as a style is characterised by use of mostly un-electrified string instruments usually, fiddle, 5-string banjo, acoustic bass, guitar, mandolin and sometimes a dobro (resophonic Hawaiian) guitar. Better known examples of bluegrass music from movies and television shows include Deliverance (Duelling Banjos), The Beverly Hillbillies and Bonnie & Clyde. Vocals often include 3 and 4 part harmonies. Tempos used tend to be quite fast compared to other music types.

Bluegrass music has it's origins in the 1930's with the acknowledged Father of Bluegrass Music, Grand Ole Opry legend Bill Monroe. The music took it's name from his band "The Bluegrass Boys". Presumably, they chose this name from their native "Bluegrass" region of Kentucky, so called because of the bluish green Poa species grass often found growing there. Monroe based his music on the old time fiddle bands and balladeers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, playing and singing their rustic melodies in a new, but still traditional and exciting way.

Since those early days, bluegrass has kept going in more or less it's original form plus gathering a few off-shoots such as "Newgrass" along the way. Bluegrass, is today probably more popular than ever, with movies such as "Brother Where Art Thou" and "Cold Mountain" bringing traditional American music to public attention.

Fans of bluegrass music have a rather unusual profile compared with those of other popular music forms in that a very high percentage (probably 50% in a typical UK audience) of them actually perform as well. This I suppose, says something about the quality of a music genre, music good enough to make you want to learn an instrument must have something going for it.

Rod Smith


Download and Listen......

Earl Scruggs - Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms

The Stanley Brothers - The Master's Bouquet

Bill Monroe - Southern Flavor

Alison Krauss - I am a Man of Constant Sorrow