Bill Monroe is rightly credited for creating the original Bluegrass sound in the late 1940s – taking elements of what was then called Hillbilly Music and infusing it with elements from African-American blues.  Part of his genius was to determine that the five “standard” instruments of a bluegrass band (not including Resonator Guitar or Dobro™) create a perfect blend[1].  The timbres of each instrument – Guitar, Bass, Fiddle, Banjo and Mandolin – are distinct enough to be clearly recognizable in the ensemble, but similar enough to blend easily with each other. 

Another part of Bill’s genius was to infuse the music with a powerful driving backbeat, providing a foundation onto which many different variations in rhythm and groove have been built.  Infectious melodies, innovative variations, multiple types of syncopation, and a ton of heartfelt lyrics complete the picture of Bluegrass music as performed since about 1945.

In this book, we will go beneath the surface of this incredible music, from a musician’s perspective, and examine how it works… what makes it so potent… why some jams are just fun, and others are simply magical… what the underlying elements are that allow pro players to get a professional sound out of their instruments…  and what to listen for when playing with other musicians in a band setting…

We will also look at some of the musical fundamentals in depth, starting with the basic physics behind how sound is produced.  We will build on that for our description of chord and melody theory and cover how three-part harmonies work.  There are chapters on each of the bluegrass instruments, covering the fundamentals of sound production as well as some words on technique for each instrument.  Another chapter covers the basics for harmony and lead singing and how to get the most out of your voice.

We will cover many of the other essentials necessary for survival in a bluegrass world, including sound reinforcement systems and a basic primer on various influential roles in the bluegrass community such as promoters and agents.

I hope that this book will give you an overview of some elements of bluegrass important for all musicians – both as a performing musician as well as in non-performing areas such as dealing with promoters and sound technicians.  In addition, it will provide a technical foundation on such as things like timing and groove – topics not generally covered in other instructional books on Bluegrass music.  You’ll also gain knowledge specific to a particular instrument, such as how a bow really causes a violin string to sound a note. 

Note that it is not necessary to read the chapters in order.  For example, if you are a guitar player and singer, you may want to go directly to the chapters on guitars and singing – exploring other chapters at your leisure. 


Introduction (you are here)

Section I: Bluegrass Primer 

Section II: The Five Bluegrass Instruments + the Bluegrass Voice:

– Bass

– Guitar

– Mandolin

– Banjo

– Fiddle

– The Bluegrass Voice

Section III: Skills Development

Section IV: The Bluegrass Band

Section V: Bluegrass as a Business

Section VI: Sound Reinforcement for Bluegrass Bands

[1] I am only covering the instruments with which I have direct learning and performing experience.  This includes the bass, guitar, mandolin, banjo and fiddle.  The only standard bluegrass instrument that I will not cover is the Resonator Guitar (or Dobro™).