#1
Hi all!

I recently began playing with a folkier outfit and I've been trying to change up my style to better suit the needs of the band. They play a good bit of bluegrass, and I'm trying to wrap my head around flat picking bluegrass leads. I've always been a blues-rock, alternative, indie guy (pentatonic, major, minor) and the bluegrass, country, rockabilly styles don't really make sense to me yet. It seems like runs change directions at odd times, color notes outside the key are thrown in here and there, and there are banjo-roll type techniques that I am unfamiliar with.

So my questions:

-Has anyone else switched it up, started playing bluegrass and had an epiphany that made it click? If so, please share your wisdom.

-Are there any specific songs that I could/should learn to get on the right track?

-Is there a, preferably free, place where I can find an abundance of bluegrass licks?

-Are there any specific techniques I should focus on or tricks that you have learned?

Thanks in advance for any insight you may provide!

-Cody
#2
-I play all the bluegrass instruments but mainly banjo. But for guitar, your primary role in the band is not to play lead. Guitar in bluegrass is the heart of the rhythm section and the foundation of the whole band.

Rhythm is a 2 step pattern consisting of bass notes on the 1st and 3rd beats (usually root and fifth respectively) and a higher chord chop on the 2nd and 4th beats. This is usually called the boom-chick rhythm and is based on the playing of Maybelle Carter. Bass run ups are done when changing chords, but get the basic rhythm down first.

For lead playing, bluegrass makes liberal use of certain accidentals, particularly flat 3rds and 7ths, but also sharp 4ths/flat 5ths. Be sure to read up on passing tones. Also learn to incorporate the Dorian and Mixolydian modes as well as the parallel minor pentatonic. So G minor pentatonic over G major progressions also works.

Certain non-diatonic chords are also very common such as bVII, II7, I7, VI, etc.

Also don't believe anyone that tells you that bluegrass soloing is heavily based on jazz because it really isn't. It's more based on blues, ragtime, and old time Appalachian music (which itself is based heavily on Irish music).

Soloing is based more on embellishing a melody with fairly little emphasis on chord tones (outside of the melody notes themselves) with elaborate scale fills in between.

-There are a lot of standards, but I'm guessing that you are looking more for flat picking lead type songs. Your best bet would be fiddle tunes like Black Mountain Rag, Beaumont Rag, Salt Creek, Arkansas Traveler, Devil's Dream, Lonesome Fiddle Blues, etc.

Like I said though, rhythm is more important, so learn standards that use common chord progressions such as Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms, Blue Moon of Kentucky, Cripple Creek, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, etc and learn how to play rhythm.

-YouTube. The most important lick to learn is the Flatt Run.

-Alternate picking, tremolo picking, cross picking, double stops, pulloffs to open strings, etc. Again, rhythm first though.

-For players, Doc Watson is the best place to start. Clarence White is also great to check out.
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Last edited by theogonia777 at Aug 9, 2015,
#4
Thanks!

My band isn't really a bluegrass band; we have the normal rock band set up, but play a few bluegrass standards. Our bass player is originally a banjo player, but doesn't pull out the five string often.

I've been playing guitar for more than 20 years, so the rhythms come easily. I'm just trying to break out of my blues-rock style when it's time for leads. Since we don't have banjo or mando most of the time, the leads often fall on me and our other guitar player.
#5
Quote by codyferrier
Hi all!

I recently began playing with a folkier outfit and I've been trying to change up my style to better suit the needs of the band. They play a good bit of bluegrass, and I'm trying to wrap my head around flat picking bluegrass leads. I've always been a blues-rock, alternative, indie guy (pentatonic, major, minor) and the bluegrass, country, rockabilly styles don't really make sense to me yet. It seems like runs change directions at odd times, color notes outside the key are thrown in here and there, and there are banjo-roll type techniques that I am unfamiliar with.

So my questions:

-Has anyone else switched it up, started playing bluegrass and had an epiphany that made it click? If so, please share your wisdom.

-Are there any specific songs that I could/should learn to get on the right track?

-Is there a, preferably free, place where I can find an abundance of bluegrass licks?

-Are there any specific techniques I should focus on or tricks that you have learned?

Thanks in advance for any insight you may provide!

-Cody


TONY RICE - he's the SRV of Bluegrass - learn a few of his leads and you will be somewhat functional on just about any simpler song because his licks are very fluid and in the pocket. He has an old instructional video that you can find on you tube - start there - he picks apart a bunch of stand alone standard flatpicking tunes and works out rhythm and solos. he's the reference point for bluegrass guitar.

Currently I would arbitrarily rate Chris Thile as the best soloist in bluegrass ( he's on mandolin, but it doesn't matter because he' s incredible). Julian Lage, primarily a jazz guitarist, has some incredible bluegrass work out there with Chris Eldridge ( also a great guitar player). If want to hear slower and more manageable phrasing, listen to Bill Frisell's bluegrass albums - he's amazing.

I would support the comments above that stress rhythm - the guitar plays an absolutely vital role in rhythm section and the first thing you need to get down is playing the bass note-strum patterns.
#6
Currently I would arbitrarily rate Chris Thile as the best soloist in bluegrass


lol nah
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#7
Couldn't resist addressing an old thread, because I'm going through the same thing. The key for me was to focus on rhythm and leads naturally follow.

I had the good fortune to play with a guy named John Carlini who has played with Bill Monroe, Tony Rice, Dave Grisman and many of the greats. His best advice freed up my rhythm technique, getting me to strum more on the up beat and loosening up my use of bass notes. I took five steps back in technique and literally sat down and subdivided the beats and practiced strumming in every possible combination of the one-e-and-a- count and sometimes throwing in bass notes for a boom-chic, boom-ka-chick, boom-ka-chick-ka, etc effect.

But my best progress was made concentrating on the timing of bass runs. When I started to get the runs to land right playing fast songs, knowing instinctively what beat to play chromatically up to the next chord root and what beat to use a major or minor scale, then I had the breakthrough. I really had to strip my playing back down to nothing and start over, and these bass runs where the most natural place to do that. Then you find yourself extending these runs in a break, really filling up the measures with even, rhythmically consistent runs going up octaves, using chord forms and throwing in a strummed chord in spots and its much easier to get that driving improvisation going and you can free up your note choices a little bit while keeping away for a heavy reliance on bends, trills and triplets that are so common in blues rock. You learn to play with more drive and precision required in garage band rock. Also, learn the melodies. Even the greatest bluegrass/country/old-timey virtuosos play variations on the melody.

I'm not virtuoso, but this got me playing a little more like a good ol' boy. Then you can get into learning open-string scales, banjo rolls and cross-picking, but you'll needs lots of time to practice. But growing out bass runs into full choruses and playing variations on the melody are pretty easy for someone with your experience.
#8
A few seminal guitarists to listen to:

Doc Watson
Lester Flatt
Norman Blake
David Grier

All of these guys can play rock-solid rhythm, and though Flatt was not known for lead lines his famous "runs" are still part of the bluegrass vocabulary.
Although it's true that traditionally the guitar functions primarily as the bass/rhythm instrument, this is no longer the case in contemporary bands and there are many fine lead players.
#9
Yeah, definitely focus on the basic rhythm first, bass runs second, and then solos, starting with just simple variations of the melody, come once you have that down. In bluegrass, guitar is traditionally much more of a rhythm instrument, and in fact the driving force of the rhythm section. Guitarists probably take the second least lead breaks of the main six instruments with only the bassist getting less.

A lot of people recommend checking Tony Rice, but I don't think he is a great place to start with bluegrass since he really is more of a progressive guy that incorporates more rock and jazz in his playing. It's definitely better to start with more traditional guys like Lester Flatt and Doc Watson. You gotta learn to walk before you can run, and if you try to learn all the fancy licks right away, you miss out on the fundamentals. You gotta learn the rules before you can go about breaking them, they say.
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.