Known for its machine gun like stream of notes that provides
much of the "drive" in bluegrass, especially on fast pieces.
Lots of open strings surround melody notes made up of hammers,
slides and pull-offs. Syncopation is very common. Breaks are
occasionally played up the neck. Sometimes duplicates the
mandolin offbeat by vamping closed chords during backup, but
often plays backup in a similar style to lead to impart the
drive. Relentlessly puts fills in vocal holes. Earl Scruggs
Lots of blues influences in solos. Sometimes leads are played
in a closed chordal position. Often repetitive notes are played
with movement on the offbeat. Tremolo is common on slow pieces.
Mostly chops on the offbeat during backup, with occasional
extra upstroke hits just ahead of the offbeat. Occasionally
fills in the vocal holes on fast songs, but does it more often
on slow songs. All essential ideas come from Bill Monroe.
Solos are optional - not regularly done until the 1960s.
Solos are often based less on a melody than the other instruments.
Rhythm playing features bass runs and fills, especially G
runs at every opportunity. Very dynamic strumming with surprisingly
quiet normal strumming but very aggressive swells at the end
of lines. Some players use highly syncopated bass runs. Tony
Rice is the major influence since the 70s.
Solos are a mix of double-stops, slides and very fast single
noting. Traditionally it follows a melody of a song for the
first three lines, yet with lots of blues imparted into it,
and then departs from the melody on the last line. It fills
actively in the vocal holes at times, and sometimes adds a
texture right along with vocals. Frequently though, it is
silent during backup, or perhaps vamps percussively on the
offbeats. No one fiddler has been able to dominate historically,
but Stuart Duncan does now.
Good groove for bluegrass usually requires fairly simple bass
lines - root, 5th alternating on downbeats. Bass runs connect
one chord to another. In the early days, bassists tried way
too hard to walk. Now, walking is left for bouncy numbers
with a swing feel. Solos are rare but do happen, and usually
involve some slapping. There has been some acceptance of electric
bass in bluegrass. Rock steady timing is the key for good
bass playing. Cedric Rainwater has been anointed "the great
one" but this in reality has much to do with his being in
the original 1945 bluegrass band with Bill Monroe, Lester
Flatt, Earl Scruggs and Chubby Wise.
The least common bluegrass instrument. Generally uses lots
of slides, hammers-ons and banjo like rolls. On slow songs
it tends to play lots of chordal movements. Fills more actively
on slow songs and often vamps on the off-beat or is silent.
Josh Graves was the only guy for awhile, but in the 1970s
Jerry Douglas became the man.
Tempos for bluegrass range from slow waltzes to very fast
2/4 time. The slowest speed would be quarter note = 85 bpm
and the fastest I've ever measured (2/4) would be quarter
note = 195 bpm, but this is unusual and extreme.