of a Typical Bluegrass Song
Songs generally begin with an instrumental kick-off. Usually
it is played over the chord progression to the verse of the
song. Pickup (or lead-in) notes are played ahead of the first
measure by the kick-off instrument to cue the rest of the
band as to the tempo and starting point. These notes would
normally start on the 2nd beat of the lead-in measure, (2+3
4) prior to the first full measure, or the 8th note before
that (+2 3 4). All the instruments would join in on the first
beat of the first full measure. The kick-off lasts for the
16 measures of the verse, but then additional measures (about
2) are inserted before the singing starts, as the soloing
instrument finishes on a run or fill.
The lead singer would then sing the first verse, which consists
of 4 vocal lines, (16 measures) in which the first and third
lines have the same melody. Then the verse would go into the
chorus, without extra measures in between, and harmonies would
be added, usually a tenor above the melody and perhaps a baritone
part below the melody. Very often the last two lines of the
chorus would have the same melody as the last two lines of
Another instrument would then play a verse break in the same
fashion as the kick-off break, complete with extra measures,
and the lead singer would now sing the second verse (all new
words) and a second chorus (same old words) with harmonies.
Now a third break would be played by a third instrument and
singing would continue as before, with the third and final
verse and last chorus. The last line of the chorus is sometimes
sung twice and one or more instruments would play a fill lick
to end the song with all instruments ending on the 3rd beat
of the last measure of the last line.
There are tons of exceptions to this structure and mental
notes should be taken of the exceptions. For example:
Some songs play breaks over the chorus.
Lots of songs have the same melody for the verse and chorus.
Some songs have extra measures built into the melody.
Sometimes on slow songs, only the last line of a verse
is played as a break, although that's more common on recordings
than in jams.
Another common option for slow songs is to split the break
into two lines per instrument.
Some songs sing the chorus first and then go either to
an instrumental. or the first vocal verse.
Sometimes an additional break is played which then leads
into one extra chorus, usually to lengthen a short song.
The extra measures after the breaks can vary in length
from zero to four.
Songs can have as few as two verses or as many as four
Some songs have no choruses.
And so on....