Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bluegrass music

Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music, and is a sub-genre of country music. It has roots in Scottish, English, Welsh[citation needed] and Irish[citation needed] traditional music. Bluegrass was inspired by the music of immigrants from the United Kingdom and Ireland (particularly the Scotch-Irish immigrants in Appalachia), and African-Americans,[citation needed] particularly through genres such as jazz and blues. In bluegrass, as in some forms of jazz, one or more instruments each takes its turn playing the melody and improvising around it, while the others perform accompaniment; this is especially typified in tunes called breakdowns. This is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carries the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment. Traditional bluegrass is typically based on a small set of acoustic stringed instruments including mandolin, acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, resonator guitar and upright bass, with or without vocals.

Bluegrass music has attracted a diverse and extremely loyal following worldwide. Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe characterized the genre: "Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin'. It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It's blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound. It's plain music that tells a good story. It's played from my heart to your heart, and it will touch you. Bluegrass is music that matters."


Unlike mainstream country music, bluegrass relies mostly on acoustic stringed instruments. The fiddle, five-string banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin, and upright bass are often joined by the resonator guitar (popularly known by the Dobro  brand name). This instrumentation originated in rural dance bands and was being abandoned by those groups (in favor of blues and jazz ensembles) when picked up by European-American musicians. Instrumental solos are improvised, and are frequently technically demanding. The acoustic guitar is now most commonly played with a flatpick unlike the style of Lester Flatt who used a thumb and finger pick. The style is known as flatpicking. The banjo players often use a three-finger style developed by Earl Scruggs.

Bluegrass musicians, fans, and scholars have long debated what instrumentation constitutes a bluegrass band. Since the term bluegrass came from Bill Monroe's band, the Blue Grass Boys, many consider the instruments used in his band the traditional bluegrass instruments. These were the mandolin (played by Monroe), the fiddle, guitar, banjo and upright bass. At times the musicians may perform gospel songs, singing four-part harmony and including no or sparse instrumentation (often with banjo players switching to lead guitar). Bluegrass bands have included instruments as diverse as the resonator guitar (Dobro), accordion, harmonica, piano, autoharp, drums, drum kit, electric guitar, and electric versions of all other common bluegrass instruments, though these are considered to be more progressive and are a departure from the traditional bluegrass style. These departures are sometimes referred to as "Newgrass".

In recent decades Bluegrass music has reached a broader audience. Major mainstream country music performers have recorded bluegrass albums, including Dolly Parton and Patty Loveless, who each released several bluegrass albums. Since the late 1990s, Ricky Skaggs, who began as a bluegrass musician and crossed over to mainstream country in the 1980s, returned to bluegrass with his band Kentucky Thunder. The Coen Brothers' released the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? in (2000), with an oldtime and bluegrass soundtrack, and the Down from the Mountain music tour and documentary resulting.

Meanwhile, festivals like the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Rocky-Grass in Lyons, Colorado and the Nederland, Colorado based Yonder Mountain String Band in the United States, and Druhá Tráva in the Czech Republic attract large audiences while expanding the range of progressive bluegrass in the college-jam band atmospheres, often called "jamgrass." Bluegrass fused with jazz in the music of Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Doc Watson, and others.

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