By: Allen Newsom
Above all, bluegrass music is acoustic, although there are plenty of vocal and instrumental microphones on the modern bluegrass stage.
The various types of music brought with the people who began migrating to
Though its inception was influenced by Scottish and Irish folk music, bluegrass music is a distinctly American form. And, its Scottish and Celtic connections mixed with its vibrant and undeniable American roots define a beloved genre of music.
It is important to note that bluegrass is not and never was simply folk music under a strict definition; however, the topical and narrative themes of many bluegrass songs are highly reminiscent of "folk music". In fact many songs that are widely considered to be bluegrass are older works legitimately classified as folk or old-time performed in a bluegrass style.
While bluegrass is not folk music in the strictest sense, the interplay between bluegrass music and other folk forms has been looked at by many music authorities and scholars. And, it has since received separate genre recognition as a form of country music. By in large its status as a genre is a credit to the talented artists, musicians and bands of the twentieth century as proof of their devotion and optimism toward a music style intrinsic to their heritage and prodigy.
Performing bluegrass bands have included instruments as diverse as the Dobro resonator guitar, accordion, harmonica, Jew's harp, piano, drums, 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.
Beyond instrumentation, the singing, which is central to bluegrass music genre, has become known as "the high lonesome sound," which gives the song, along with its typically sad lyrics, a haunting and mournful timbre. This distinguishing characteristic of bluegrass is vocal harmony featuring two, three, or four parts, often featuring a dissonant, modal sound in the highest voice. If you hear toe tapping music played mainly on a fiddle, mandolin, five string banjo, guitar or bass guitar followed by an emotionally compelling vocal solo, then it's probably bluegrass music.
The most famous contributor of the bluegrass genre was the legendary Bill Monroe. His main instrument, of course, was the mandolin for which he has developed a distinctive and very influential style, but he has always played with a guitar back-up. His earliest recordings were with his brother Charlie, and The Monroe Brothers, like other country groups, all of whom sang tight harmonies with Bill's mandolin taking the instrumental solos and Charlie's guitar keeping the rhythm and bass tones going behind him.
Today Bill Monroe is referred to as the "founding father" of bluegrass music. The bluegrass style was named after his band, the Blue Grass Boys which was formed in 1939. His singing and music was directly influenced by the mountain church singing and melodic harmonies of his youth in western
By some arguments, as long as the Blue Grass Boys were the only band playing this music, it was just their unique style. Their music could not be considered a musical genre until other bands began performing the same style. Debate rages among bluegrass musicians, fans, and scholars over what instrumentation constitutes a bluegrass band.
He formed a new group which featured a young Earl Scruggs on 5-string banjo, and the unusually complex three-finger picking, combined with
In addition to what might be considered "mainstream" bluegrass, which has gradually changed over the last 60 years, there have been several major subgenres which have existed almost since the music's beginning. Although nearly all bluegrass artists regularly incorporate gospel music into their repertoire, "Bluegrass Gospel" has emerged as a major subgenre. Distinctive elements of this style of bluegrass music include lyrics focused on Christian faith and theology and soulful three or four part harmony singing mixed with an occasionally subdued instrumental solo.
In recent years, several modern country music artists have recorded bluegrass music albums. More recently, artists such as Ricky Skaggs, groups such as the Lonesome River Band and Alison Krauss have continued to spearhead a kind of country crossover that puts more emphasis on blues over that of pure bluegrass.