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  1. #1

    Bluegrass Soloing

    Hey,

    From time to time i like it to play some Bluegrass Tunes.
    For me this kind of music has very much parallels to Jazz. There are Themes which everybody knows and the changes. But you can play this stuff in so different Styles and Techniques.

    Sure its a different kind of music, but i see much similarities in the philosophy.

    The harmonies of Bluegrass are pretty simple. Most of the time you have to handle chords on the first degree of the scale, the fourth and the fifth.

    But for my ears, it's not really enough to say "Ok play major Scale for soloing". In the lines i hear much conncetion to the chords. So i can see a similiar approach to jazz. Where i use Chord tones and add Scale tones etc.

    At the moment i tend to play mostly Major-Blues Pentatonic on the first degree. Mixolydian on the 5th Degree for dissolve to tonic.

    For the fourth degree i thought that its a good idea to play also Major-Pentatonic and adding Scaletones from the major Scale of Tonic -

    so my idea for Bluegrass Progression like --> A --- D ---- A ---- D--E--A

    A --> A-Major Blues Pentatonic
    D --> D-major Pentatonic as Targetnotes + A-Major Scale Notes as Approachnotes
    E --> E - Mixolydian Scale

    How is your thinking when Bluegrass soloing ?

    Some people maybe think i am crazy, because it's a simple 1-4-5 but i think to get the Bluegrass Sound, you need to handle this simple Progression like a Jazz 2-5-1 :-/ .
    Last edited by ginod; 06-06-2018 at 04:59 PM.

  2. #2
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    I'm in awe of bluegrass players' technique. I think the tune's melody can often be the most influential element in inventing a solo, as Del's band demonstrates...

    Last edited by cosmic gumbo; 06-10-2018 at 01:06 AM.

  3. #3
    Yeah. I'm really interested in other's takes on this as well. Have a kid who plays banjo reasonably well, and I am really not great soloing in the style . I'm not really interested in the ten thousand hour thing with bluegrass, but would like to be able to cover at more basic levels. My basic strategy at this point , when playing through tunes is just to work pentatonic of the moment , to warm up my ears to what I would consider "chord tones" for bluegrass.

    Beyond that, I really like the IV7-I targeting of major chord of the moment. One place that jazz based arpeggios seem to work reasonably well.

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  4. #4
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    the maestro!

    clarence white



    cheers

  5. #5
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    It's absolutely essential to learn 'cross picking' to play this style. Listen to Doc Watson, Tony Rice and Norman Blake.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher View Post
    Yeah. I'm really interested in other's takes on this as well. Have a kid who plays banjo reasonably well, and I am really not great soloing in the style . I'm not really interested in the ten thousand hour thing with bluegrass, but would like to be able to cover at more basic levels. My basic strategy at this point , when playing through tunes is just to work pentatonic of the moment , to warm up my ears to what I would consider "chord tones" for bluegrass.

    Beyond that, I really like the IV7-I targeting of major chord of the moment. One place that jazz based arpeggios seem to work reasonably well.
    to my ears, pentatonics sound great, with additional chromatic tones of #4 -> 5 and using the b3 in addition to the major 3rd. I don't really hear major 7ths often in this music, either in the harmony, or used by many soloists. Obviously the melody is of paramount importance and I personally get a lot of mileage out of ornamenting the melody with pentatonic runs and those couple of chromatic moves.

    One thing that is extremely different than jazz guitar is that bluegrass players use open strings heavily, sometimes as passing tones, actually this is similar to jazz bass in many ways.

  7. #7

    ...

    Yeah its really funny. Sometimes when i play in Guitar Duo, i like to play also some simple Folk, Country Bluegrass Tunes.

    Most of the guys i play, have no problem to play over complex Jazz Harmonys but if i put some simple Folk chord Progression, they seem to be lost a little bit.

    I found also myself in this spot. I think the reason is, that for a jazz player it's common to play many maj7 Arpeggio and big harmonies. In this Bluegrass Language its more based on Triads, Dom7, Major Scale and Pentatonic.

    So thats the reason, i thought about the major pentatonic as Targetnotes (also with Bluenote) and the Major Scale to filling it up. Because i think its very important not to point out the maj7 as a big chord tone.
    I think the major Pentatonic add good Chordtones - Root, Nine, Third, Fifth, Maj6. Sure simple Triad with Major Scale of the tonic is also a good way.

    I heard that many of these kind of player have learned CAGED System. I have no idea what this mean - but maybe i will search information for myself.

    Furthermore is have to say that i only talk about soloing over Bluegrass Tunes. I know that there are so many techniques for Arrangement a tune for Guitar like Carter Picking, Bass Runs and all this stuff. But i would like to focus on "How does a Bluegrassplayer think when soloing?"

    Thank you for posts

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by pcsanwald View Post
    to my ears, pentatonics sound great, with additional chromatic tones of #4 -> 5 and using the b3 in addition to the major 3rd. I don't really hear major 7ths often in this music, either in the harmony, or used by many soloists. Obviously the melody is of paramount importance and I personally get a lot of mileage out of ornamenting the melody with pentatonic runs and those couple of chromatic moves.

    One thing that is extremely different than jazz guitar is that bluegrass players use open strings heavily, sometimes as passing tones, actually this is similar to jazz bass in many ways.
    Pentatonic for each major chord for a couple of minutes will usually kind of warm my ears up for full diatonic, but those guys play full major scales in ways that target specific chords and chord tones.

    Beyond the chromatic stuff, "folded scales" are pretty important to this style. Basically scale sequences targeting chord tones diatonically. If you are down with major scale sequences, you can pick those up pretty easily, but resolving them takes some experience. Bert Ligon' s cyclical quadruples are basically folded scales. Four variations GABG, GBAG, BAGB, BGAB.

    Working on folded scales and learning fiddle tunes by ear seem to be kind of standard process for learning to play this style, (after major scales in CAGED positions). Pentatonics alone don't get you much mileage.

    I hear a lot of blue note approaches as being IV7-I type blues approaches: dominant IV (of the moment), targeting the chord of the moment. I know it's not the way bluegrass players think, but I'm not going to force myself to think one note at a time that way. Especially good for targeting the thirds. C7 to G to target G = E-G-Bb-C-B. I need to shed these type things more for sure. The thing is that they're used in jazz as well, so you're not "wasting"anything. I'm fine with the "suck it up, and learn some fiddle tunes" thing, but I think I'd be reverse engineering things the whole way as well, in a way that's probably different from traditional bluegrass approach.

    Nothing necessarily wrong with just using your ears and learning fiddle tunes, but this stuff is basic melodic devices like Bach or Bird. I see nothing wrong with leaving half your jazz brain turned on. Anyway, it's definitely more scale-based than arps. I tend to view pentatonic-of-the moment basically as arps outside of jazz.



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  9. #9
    I hope you don't mind me blundering in but all this isn't bluegrass at all, this is jazz-speak. No bluegrass player thinks like that, ever.

    Bluegrass solos are shape-based, lick-based, and the notes and scales aren't separated out like that. The whole bluegrass sound is everything thrown in together - major scale, pentatonic, blues scales, licks and tricks, etc. It's not separated. In many, many years I've never heard or seen this kind of jazz analysis applied to bluegrass playing, ever. Really.

    If things are separated then it would be particular techniques or things that stand out. The G-run, cross-picking, floating, hammer-on's, pull-off's and slides, the use of open strings to get from high up the neck to the open position again, and so on.

    Also, this particular progression A --- D ---- A ---- D--E--A doesn't look like bluegrass. Tunes for fiddle and mandolin may be written that way but not for guitar. Guitarists rarely play in A open. It's very, very rare. They play in G and C with a capo and open D occasionally.

    You can't get the right effects or scale fingerings in A, you need the open strings of G or C. Even D's a bit of a struggle but it can be done. A lot of blues effects can be played out of D and the odd fiddle tune but generally no. Certainly not A. An A shape could be played in C or G where it goes to an A7 but that's about it.

    But this analytical approach with target notes, approach notes, and all that? Sorry, that's jazz-speak, not bluegrass. It's just not thought of that way. The chord progressions are too simple for that and the solos are based on feel. There's a feel to it which a player can just play off. Most good players never play the same thing twice the same way, they don't need to. Intros and outros maybe, but that's about it. Some solos are very fast and complex so they may remember and use them repeatedly but it's rare.

    I could give you a ton of examples but this post's long enough. Here's Clarence White doing Alabama Jubilee. It's in D but it's played in C, capo 2, and starts on an A7.


  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    But this analytical approach with target notes, approach notes, and all that? Sorry, that's jazz-speak, not bluegrass. It's just not thought of that way.
    Fiddle tunes target the crap out of chord tones, whether you call it that or not. It's semantics as to whether you call it something or not. Still the stuff of Bach and co.
    Last edited by matt.guitarteacher; 06-07-2018 at 07:01 AM.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by ginod View Post

    I heard that many of these kind of player have learned CAGED System. I have no idea what this mean - but maybe i will search information for myself.

    Furthermore is have to say that i only talk about soloing over Bluegrass Tunes. I know that there are so many techniques for Arrangement a tune for Guitar like Carter Picking, Bass Runs and all this stuff. But i would like to focus on "How does a Bluegrassplayer think when soloing?"

    Thank you for posts
    well...if you want to know how a bluegrass soloist thinks, become one and see what you're thinking. word to the wise etc.


    I can give you very specific advice on how to learn bluegrass. Get the Tony Rice CD "58957 - The Bluegrass Guitar Collection". (58957 is the serial number of his guitar, it's not a catalog number for the disc). The disc is almost all standard fiddle tunes. Learn those, then learn the solos.

    Another good source is "Tony Rice Sings And Plays Bluegrass", almost all bluegrass standards.

    Transcribe (write down) the heads and solos. You really want to write them down, because you'll encounter picking/slur/open string combinations that are almost certainly not part of your current technique. Some will take quite a bit of practice, even after you've arrived at a solution.

    General tips: Almost everything will be played using C or G fingerings. If the tune is in A or D, capo second fret. Bb, capo 3rd fret. E, capo 4th fret. Deal with exceptions as you find them.

    Playing rhythm is essential. The backbeat in bluegrass is carried by the mandolin chop. Guitar plays strong bass, light chords.

    and...that's it. That and a year or two will answer your questions (and possibly raise new questions).


    CAGED is a mnemonic for the five movable major scale posistion fingerings. "C" for the C Major 1st position shape, etc. Nothing in particular to do with bluegrass. If you don't know them then by all means learn them, along with the seven three note per string stretch fingerings. That's just basic guitar.

    Bluegrass is closer to three chord blues than to jazz, and you're right that the simplified harmony presents new challenges.

    but, hmmm, how to say this... theoretical abstractions are useful, in their place. But what were useful introductory practice room exercises have been made into an insipid fetish on the internet, a wank-fest in HTML.

    Somewhere I have a video of Lee Konitz, who replies to the question "what are you thinking" (paraphrasing) "I'm thinking of the note I'm playing. There's not room for anything else".

    good answer, Lee

  12. #12
    If you really want a lick bible buy this. I jest not.

    0825602912 - Hot Licks for Bluegrass Guitar by Orrin Star - AbeBooks

    I'm loathe to answer the 'what do you think' question because the OP should have been back by now. I don't like vanishers. People put themselves out for nothing. Not my stryle.

    However, I'll tell you what they think. The bedrock is the chord. See a chord, play over it. You have a variety of licks and effects and you use them. Do it often enough and you're so familiar with the notes available and how to use them that you can create your own on the fly. All this, naturally, is within the context of the song/tune you're playing at the time. That's all. You may work out a solo in advance if the occasion demands something more dramatic but the principle us the same. Like I said in the other post, the notes are technically a combination of all kinds of things that meld themselves together under your fingers.

    The most important thing is to listen to bluegrass soloists, good ones that is. White for syncopation, Rice for sheer inventive brilliance, Watson for good solid reliable and melodic licks. There are the more modern players like Bryan Sutton and David Grier and they've become quite advanced, just like soloists in all branches of music. Complicated for a beginner though. You listen to absorb the style, the feel, the genre. To solo effectively it has to be part of you, in your blood, otherwise it becomes a mere technical exercise.

    Thereafter, practice makes perfect, etc. But analysis jazz-style? Not unless you're writing an academic thesis. Playing in the parking lot has zero relation to all that. Doing it for jazz is quite another matter. Jazz and its theory are very, very complex, it's not three or four chord tricks with simple melodies. You need to work it out and know what you're about otherwise you'll never make it. But bluegrass? Forget it, different ball game entirely.

    So feast on this. Apart from the actual tune these three guys are almost certainly doing it on the fly and off the cuff. As far as one does anything like that.

    Good luck, ginod.


  13. #13
    Melodic devices used by Bach and other composers throughout the ages are used in jazz, bluegrass and other styles. Labeling things or laying out organizational approaches is often talked about in the ways of SUPERSTITION on NON-jazz forums. People blow off and marginalize basic thought in the same way that's being done in this thread.

    If you want to be musical flat earthers, so be it. Musicians label things and are able to talk about music at certain levels, some more so than others. The amount of thought or lack there of described by musicians on the BANDSTAND in the MOMENT is a completely SEPARATE conversation. It's Internet red herring BS to imply that that's what's actually being talked about. It's tiresome enough on non-jazz forums, but to insinuate the same superstitious, flat earth, mumbo-jumbo HERE, where thought is actually allowed, is asinine.

    So much of this way of talking is addressing a 100% made-up, false argument which has NEVER been stated.

    Something like: "Learning a theoretical construct and understanding it on a purely COGNITIVE level will suddenly yield one the ability to immediately play better, without actually practicing anything on the instrument". Again, said by no one, ever. Not in this thread. Allusions to this are pure flat earth, witchhunt, BS IMO.

    Let us then ponder why original respondents are not joining in the discussion? Yeah. Right.
    Last edited by matt.guitarteacher; 06-09-2018 at 12:27 AM.

  14. #14
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    early fun clarence white...clarence & bros were of french canadian descent!! greats!!!



    cheers

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by ginod View Post
    But i would like to focus on "How does a Bluegrassplayer think when soloing?"
    From the horse's mouth. All questions answered.

    First time I've seen this. Must be sent from somewhere else... I didn't know he doesn't read music, doesn't practice, and listens to Coltrane, Dolphy, et al. Learn something every day.



    And here's the real deal. Listen to what he does with the chords to Little Sadie which is the first tune in. No searching required. Pure scrumptiousness. Wayfaring Stranger (with jazz chords) at 33.55.


  16. #16
    What does one "think"? This is among the most problematic questions posted on this and any other forum in my opinion.

    Most people read this as "what does one think (in words/symbols/labels etc)?". I don't think these are the same thing at all personally. Not mere semantics in my opinion. Thought is NOT synonymous with "WORD thought".

    Sorry to be bitchy last night, but this whole idea of "You're being too analytical" thing bothers me. You can play by ear, without consciously analyzing, by feel etc. etc., and then, still stop, break it down, analyze and discuss with other people. Both are ABSOLUTELY possible.

    The abstraction of concrete data into theories or even philosophies is largely what makes us human. We don't get to the moon and back by simply practicing and missing a few hundred times. The whole abstraction, creating theories, analyzing, discussing, evolving ideas and testing out theories overtime is what has given us the greatest achievements of humanity in my opinion.

    Anyway, I think it would be cool to just post that to some Fiddle tune, like redhaired boy or Arkansas traveler , and actually analyze what is going on melodically. I think looking at bluegrass idiom that way can be really valuable, especially because the devices are mostly different from jazz. Arpeggios are used, but not as predominately. Other types melodic sequences aremore predominant.

    Anyway, I like playing music and do a lot of it. But I also like talking music with people, analyzing, and breaking it down etc. They DON'T have to be mutually exclusive, and if you're not keen to one or the other, do whatever you like.

    Personally, I always view "playing by ear" as basically being "thought". You may have to press someone for it or get them to actually play a little something to find out what they're THINKING, but it's there all the same.
    Last edited by matt.guitarteacher; 06-09-2018 at 07:43 PM.

  17. #17
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    "Got time for breathing, you got time for music!"

    I always liked this tune.

    Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. Marcus Aurelius

  18. #18
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    A bluegrass guitar lesson, descending the neck

    Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. Marcus Aurelius

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher View Post
    What does one "think"? This is among the most problematic questions posted on this and any other forum in my opinion.

    Most people read this as "what does one think (in words/symbols/labels etc)?". I don't think these are the same thing at all personally. Not mere semantics in my opinion. Thought is NOT synonymous with "WORD thought".

    ...

    Personally, I always view "playing by ear" as basically being "thought".
    Nicely put. I have always interpreted music as a representation of thought (I include emotion as an important kind of thought). Classical and Jazz sound like the soundtrack of nameless thought itself, not the verbally named objects of thought... to me this subtle distinction is of hearing the sound of music as music vs hearing the sound of music as sound.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  20. #20
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    I know practically nothing about bluegrass playing but the keys and time signatures are easy, and I can flatpick pretty well.

    This is one of my all-time favorite records and bluegrass songs...the masters...you can hear the individual styles. Doc sets the tone and plays the first solo, then Norman, then a little more Doc, then Tony Rice. You can tell how Tony takes the playing to a different level, at least in terms of playing "out of the box."



    Norman is from my neck of the woods and lives just a short drive from where I grew up and my Mom still lives. My neighbor has played bass with him quite a few times.

  21. #21
    Absolutely.

    There are two Blake/Rice albums, each as good as the other. Doc Watson guested on the 2nd one. They're all on YouTube. Thing is, Blake could really write songs and Rice was the icing on the cake.

    I'm tempted to put up the usual fast flatpicking in G stuff but we probably all know what that sounds like. Here's an unusual one. Joan Baez recorded it as Geordie but here it's called Georgie. It's not the song I like particularly but the guitar work. Just floats beautifully by...


  22. #22
    I've always thought it was interesting watching Julian Lage play with "Critter" who is steeped in bluegrass whereas Lage just plays and has no problem keeping it musical within the genre. Maybe someone smarter than me can put up a video. Great stuff.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    Absolutely.

    There are two Blake/Rice albums, each as good as the other. Doc Watson guested on the 2nd one. They're all on YouTube. Thing is, Blake could really write songs and Rice was the icing on the cake.

    I'm tempted to put up the usual fast flatpicking in G stuff but we probably all know what that sounds like. Here's an unusual one. Joan Baez recorded it as Geordie but here it's called Georgie. It's not the song I like particularly but the guitar work. Just floats beautifully by...


    I know this as Spancil l hill.
    Bluegrass is dance music, irish and Scottish mostly. Cadences are in different places from jazz, like the third and fourth be at in the bar. Soloists who don't know this struggle, writing variations on the melody is the solution. In g Tony plays phrases that outline the harmony OR Bb blues resolving with the cadence to the correct part of the bar. I find it hilarious that he refused to explain this, it must be funny for him that so few people notice. Also hilarious that when asked to play slowly he takes a tune from one twenty all the way down to one fifteen. Wonderful player,awesome time feel,knows the history.

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Freel View Post
    I find it hilarious that he refused to explain this
    I doubt he 'refused', it's more likely he simply couldn't. He doesn't read music, he does it by ear.

  25. #25
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    Georgie (or Geordie) sounds very similar melody-wise to Shady Grove--the Doc Watson version of that song is a personal favorite.



    Doc has recorded it many times and plays it just as well on banjo as he does on guitar.

    The song Georgie is 400 years old! English/Scottish ballad with a very interesting history.

    Geordie (ballad) - Wikipedia

    Reading the Robert Burns version sure gets my auld Scottish blood a-bilin'...

  26. #26
    I'm not so sure, if the band were playing a tune at 80bpm and he knew breaks at 120 then I think he would have zero problem playing them, but if Happy Traum asks him he doesn't. But why not keep a little mystery ? He defined the sound of a style and didn't get paid as well as he deserved.

    Perhaps it is MOST important to remember that even if Tony couldn't describe it that don't mean that it can't be described.

    By the way thanks for the heads up on that channel with Tony's talk on I just watched this John Hartford and am completely blown away. The best time feel exercise ever is demonstrated at the start and then whenever he feels like it, I just gotta get some tap shoes and a sand board, I'm only about forty percent joking.

    It is amazing that Hartford has such complete control over and independence between the different levels of rhythm in music, his voice calm and slow soaring freely and his feet padding away at 140 in semiquavers. What a master he was !!!



  27. #27
    Spancil Hill, not Shady Grove. Shady Grove is bitonal ( six note scale Minor Tonic triad plus the magor triad on the flattened seventh) and So is Spancill Hill I think that is what you are hearing.

    There are more bitonal fiddle tunes than modal ones.

    Spancill Hil has a completely different Harmonic rhythm from Shady grove in fiddle tune rep, it's one of the things that makes seven note scalar theory inappropriate for Bluegrass, it violates of the melody by adding the sixth from either the dorian or aeolian mode.

    Lydian augmented fourth is nice though for variety (OOPS, I meant Dorian augmented fourth, sorry)

    I LOVE shady grove, play it most days, real challenge to improvise over without violating the form.

  28. #28
    Talking about Blackberry Blossom, anyone seen this? Don't just pop in, stick with it to the end. You'll see why.

    Heh heh


  29. #29
    David is a machine. One of the best at the style. This is most likely at their annual convention in Nashville in 2011. I remember seeing him jamming in that shirt in that hall.


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  30. #30
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