May 05, 2002

#25: What makes it bluegrass?

Kent, whom I met in August at Bluegrass at the Beach in Oregon, asks:

Just what is it that makes a song or an arangement truly Bluegrass? For years now I have been thinking that it was mostly due to the timing, rhythm, and pulse.

Dear Kent,

This is a toughie that lots of people would answer differently. If you have my Bluegrass Songbook, that question gets addressed by quite a few of the singer/writers I interviewed for the book. A lot of it has to do with the pulse, but waltzes and slow songs can also be fit into bluegrass just fine if they don't sound too "heady" or "complicated". Pete Rowan said it well in the Songbook when he referred to bluegrass as one of the kinds of music that is made in a state of energy and simplicity. That's why a bluegrass band can borrow certain songs from other genres and still make them work. The instrumentation and the vocal style is part of what makes the song sound "bluegrass". Or you could take a bluegrass classic and do it in a way that would sound quite un-bluegrass. Remember, energy and simplicity!

Good luck with all the music,

Pete

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