February 22, 2004

#72: The key to learning backup

Glenn on the AcuTab discussion board, asks:

I would like to here from some of you who have successfully used some of the backup videos, book, etc.

I am at an early intermediate stage, playing some by ear. I need some material that will not be beyond my level and that will be given in understandable terms. I am familiar with some of the material out there from the net, however I have never heard anything from folks who actually used the instruction material. In other words I am not interested in investing in another book for the sake of building a larger library. I want something that I can invest some time with and see results.


I am strongly of the mind that one doesn't learn backup from tablature, but from actually being in picking situations and doing whatever works.

Here is my one and only rule for backup:

"Of all the things you know how to do, do what best suits the music, moment to moment."


To elaborate: If you know how to roll and how to vamp, and how to play quieter and louder, and know the main chord positions both up and down the neck, you have a pretty full tool kit. If you know how to play a few short licks that go with a G chord, that you can use as "filler" licks during spaces between lines or after lines in the singing, that's a good extra. These can be the same G licks you find in many lead breaks.

Playing music with other people is like having a conversation. Once you know a little of the language you're trying to converse in, you can have a conversation. As you converse more and more, you'll learn to have a better conversation. You learn from experience, not from memorizing a big phrase book of phrases other people use.

Pete Wernick

Bluegrass Jamming, A Guide For Newcomers and Closet Pickers

140 Classic Songs!
The only book with instruction on bluegrass singing, including bluegrass harmony, and many pages of tips from the all-time greats.

Pete Wernick's Bluegrass Jam Camp


About Jam Camps

Play along with an all star band on 56 bluegrass favorites! Chords shown on screen, easy speeds, lots of jamming tips, band goes into backup mode to let you solo! Chords and lyrics included. FUN!!