Bluegrass music was born when country music met jazz. In 1945, when Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys were fully formed, jazz music was in its heyday. Sometimes we like to think that bluegrass music is its own entity, raised from the dirt in the hills and hollars of Kentucky and Tennessee. It's just not true. It's the blending of styles that created bluegrass music. Old-time country, square dance fiddle tunes, blues, gospel, ragtime, and yes, jazz.
Just look at these early Bill Monroe titles:
Honky Tonk Swing
These are all reflective of what was on the radio and records in the 1930's. Bluegrass owes much to "hillbilly" musicians being heavily influenced by jazz. Listen to the walking bass lines in "Tennessee Blues," the polyphony of sounds in "Heavy Traffic Ahead," and the joy of adventure in Bill's playing on "Little Cabin Home on the Hill." It's absurd to think that these country boys from the south somehow never heard Louis Armstrong or Benny Goodman.
I would go so far to say, as that Earl Scrugg's rolling banjo style would not have developed without the influence of Benny Goodman, who was on NBC radio every Saturday night for awhile in the 1930's. Here's "Bugle Call Rag," first by Benny Goodman, then by "Flatt and Scruggs."
Link: Benny Goodman - Bugle Call Rag
Link: Flatt and Scruggs - Bugle Call Rag
When did you know you were going to play mandolin? I'll tell you when I did: the day I saw Don Steirnberg sitting in with Special Consensus. I was 13, and was blown away by the fresh sound, endless technique, and comedy (yes, comedy). That was a Saturday, I started playing mandolin the next day. What was it that registered inside of me? I don't know, but it seemed like it would be fun, and easy to carry!
What got you playing mandolin?
Link: Don Stiernberg Trio - "There Will Never be Another You"
Hamilton de Holanda is a bandolim player from Brazil. He reminds me of the bluegrass virtuosos I grew up listening to. Like Bela Fleck, Mark O'Conner, Edgar Meyer, or Jerry Douglas, his playing is technically perfect and emotionally rich at the same time. Incidentally, I've found putting "Hamilton de Holanda" into Pandora gives me a fun and relaxing mix of Brazilian Music!
Link: Baiao Brasil - Hamilton de Holanda
February 5, 2018
Here is David Grisman doing what he does so well: playing beautifully. No, I mean it. Really making beautiful music. The David Grisman Quintet of the 1970's defined what acoustic instruments sounded like, and His Tone Poem series in the 1990's did the same for CD's. I love his tone, the bounce he puts in his 8th note lines, and the taste with which he plays. A true great!
My favorite David Grisman albums are "Home is Where the Heart Is," and "The David Grisman Rounder Album." What's your favorite Grisman album?
Link: "Cinderella's Fella" by Tommy Emmanuel and David Grisman
What is a tone monster? He or she is a person whose playing is defined by their tone. They are the musicians you can recognize after only a few notes. Many players who are learning get caught up in trying to play fast, or trying to cram 1000 notes into every solo. But, what does a few well-placed notes sound like? Sure, it's great to have the chops to play whatever you want, but it's that rich sound that I'm after, more than anything.
How do you sound like a million bucks? Is it the instrument? The hands? The mind? The ears? In my opinion, it's a little bit of all those things. I'd suggest having a "tone model:" a player you love to listen to. Soak up recordings by that person; hear them play in person. Let their sound become deeply imbedded in your subconscious. Let that be the sound you are striving for. It may involve a different instrument, but just as likely, small adjustments to the way you play will yield just as great of results. Experimenting with picks, pick angle, distance from the bridge, etc all have a huge impact on your sound. Tone is 95% in the right hand.
You'll never sound exactly like another player, but the journey to copy another player's tone that will help make you sound better, and ultimately help you sound more like "you."
Andy's tone models on mandolin are Adam Steffy, David Grisman, Butch Baldassari, and Dempsey Young. Who are yours?
January 29, 2018
Here is The Lost and Found's "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," At a blazing tempo, "The Lost and Found's" Dempsey Young plays a solo that is organized and clever. While most modern mando players would string together a barrage of 16th notes, Dempsey's solo is sparse and to the point, but no less virtuosic. Unfortunately, we lost Mr. Young a few years back. There are only few videos on YouTube, but many great recordings. One of my favorites is The Lost and Found's album, "Endless Highway." Check it out!
DOUBLE-STOPS COME FROM ARPEGGIOSWhen I was first learning to play mandolin, I learned a few songs by slowing down the music to half-speed (at that time, it was done by transferring the song onto a old reel-to-reel tape machine my dad kept in his den). However, I hit a snag when I wanted to learn a song where the mandolinist was playing two notes at once, commonly called "double-stops." It wasn't until I learned a little bit of music theory that the secret to this became clear: Double-stops are just two notes from the arpeggio played at the same time.
Say you play a C major arpeggio (the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the scale). Pick any two that you can play at the same time, and it will be a C double-stop. You can use a C double-stop anytime the band is playing a C chord. Here's a tab example.
From the western Indiana border where the Wabash River runs, comes two-time national champion mandolinist Solly Burton. Solly is one of the smoothest mandolin pickers in the country. He takes a little bit from different genres of music and incorporates it into his own swinging style. Bluegrass, Jethro Burns-influenced jazz, Eastern-European folk music, and brazilian tunes all add up to a sound that's unique to Solly. Enjoy hearing him play the Brazilian tune "Noites Cariocas" with Brent McPike on guitar.
I recently heard somebody say this: "You can think of mandolin like an upside-down guitar. "
What? Who plays guitar upside-down? I know they are referring to the tuning (guitar tuning from low to high starts out E A D G, mandolin is G D A E). This idea looks good on paper, but honestly, falls pretty short in practice.
If you are a guitar player picking up a mandolin as a second instrument, the best advice is to learn it as a new instrument. Learn the chords on mandolin without trying to think of them through the guitar. Learn the scales on mandolin, without comparing them too much guitar scales.
There are plenty of similarities. Fingering notes and picking strings are basically the same on either instrument.
When it comes to chords and scales, though, just learn the new ones on mandolin.