Methods For Instruments
Often plays backup in a similar style to lead to impart the drive but
sometimes plays a vamping pattern using closed chords with a percussive
chop on the 2nd and 4th beats of a measure. Relentlessly puts fills in
vocal holes and also plays a lots of up-the-neck licks, usually based
on those by Earl Scruggs. Banjo is the most active backup instrument and
in that respect has a unique role in bluegrass as an almost ever-present
instrument from a backup perspective. Even when it is playing a passive,
quieter back-up, one can usually hear fill licks.
problem areas: Some banjo players often over play, playing too much
or too loud, but beginners usually play too little, failing to impart
the necessay drive.
Mostly chops on the 2nd and 4th beat during backup, with occasional extra
upstroke hits just ahead of the beat. On ¾ time pieces, the mandolin would
usually chop on beats 2 and 3. It sometimes fills in the vocal holes on
fast songs, and even occasionally it will play right over the singing.
On slow numbers, the mandolin becomes a bit more prominent when actively
backing up, filling vocal holes or playing tremolo behind the singer.
problem areas: Some mandolin players over play the rhythm, strumming
too often. Also, some mandolin players fill too much.
Uses very dynamic strumming with surprisingly quiet normal (but solid)
strumming, with aggressive swells at the ends of lines. Special emphasis
is added by occasionally strumming on the downbeat instead of playing
a single bass note. Bass runs are common, with G runs at every opportunity
during fills. Some players use lots of bass runs while other are more
sparing. Some use highly syncopated bass runs.
problem areas: Most common problem is over-strumming, resulting in
a thick, thrashing sound that makes the other instruments and vocal sound
muddy. Also, many beginners don't use enough dynamics or enough variety
in their strumming patterns.
Fills actively in the vocal holes at times, usually playing blues based
licks. Will also play right under the vocals adding a subtle texture,
usually on the lower strings, but occasionally up high. Often a fiddle
will vamp right with the mandolin, either while holding a double stop
or sometimes just hitting muted strings with the bow for a percussive
sound. Sometimes the fiddle will disappear entirely from the sound.
problem areas: Playing too much or too loud or phrasing too much with
the melody. This can distract a singer, especially if it's in the upper
Good groove for bluegrass most often consists of a fairly simple bass
line - root and 5th of the chord on the 1st and 3rd beats of a measure.
Bass runs connect one chord to another and are used on successive beats.
Walking bass lines, where the bass plays on each beat using mostly arpeggio,
scale or chromatic passages, is used for bouncy numbers with a swing feel,
or to change the feel of a song, often during instrumental breaks, somewhere
along the way. On ¾ time songs the bass normally would play just on the
1st beat of the measure, except during bass runs, but may play an additional
offbeat note just ahead of that beat.
problem areas: Playing out of time, out of tune, or not getting good
tone. It's not usually a problem to play simple lines, but good bass runs
are a plus.
When actively backing up, it plays bluesy fill licks on slow songs with
lots of slides. On faster songs, it tends to play more punctuated lines.
Often vamps on the off-beat in a mandolin style or can just be silent.
problem areas: Playing too many fills, thus squeezing out equal chances
for other instruments to fill.