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Bluegrass music

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Bluegrass music is considered a form of American roots music with its own roots in English, Irish and Scottish traditional music. The name of the genre is derived from the Blue Grass Boys, the name of Bill Monroe's band. Inspired by immigrants from the British Isles (particularly the Scots-Irish immigrants of Appalachia), as well as the music of rural African-Americans, jazz, and blues. Like jazz, bluegrass is played with each melody instrument switching off, playing improvised solos in turn while the others revert to backing; this is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carried the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment.



Instrumentation



Bluegrass artists use a variety of stringed instruments to create a unique sound.Unlike mainstream country music, bluegrass relies mostly on acoustic stringed instruments. The fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin, and upright bass are sometimes joined by the resonator guitar (popularly known by the Dobro brand name). This instrumentation originated in rural black dance bands and was being abandonded by those groups (in favor of blues and jazz ensembles) when picked up by white musicians (van der Merwe 1989, p.62). Instrumental solos are improvised, and can frequently be technically demanding.



Debate rages among bluegrass musicians, fans, and scholars over what instrumentation constitutes a bluegrass band. Since the term bluegrass came from Bill Monroe's band, The Blue Grass Boys, many consider the instruments used in his band the traditional bluegrass instruments. These were the mandolin (played by Monroe), the fiddle, guitar, banjo and upright bass. At times the musicians may perform gospel songs, singing four-part harmony and including no or sparse instrumentation (often with banjo players switching to lead guitar). Bluegrass bands have included instruments as diverse as 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.

Vocals

Besides instrumentation, the distinguishing characteristics of bluegrass include vocal harmonies featuring two, three, or four parts, often featuring a dissonant or modal sound in the highest voice (see modal frame); an emphasis on traditional songs, often with sentimental or religious themes. This vocal style has been characterized as the "high lonesome sound." The "High Lonesome" sound can be credited to Shape-Note music where a high-pitched harmony, that can generally be characterized as having a nasal timbre, is sung over the main melody.




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