What Is Bluegrass Music - full definition

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What is bluegrass music - Definition
BLUEGRASS MUSIC is really more of a style of perfomance than a particular set of tunes or songs. Although there are pieces that have been written specificly as bluegrass numbers the bulk of material played by bluegrass bands is extracted from, or based on earlier American folk traditions. However, it is probably possible to take almost any song or tune and turn it into a "bluegrass" number. Bluegrass as a style is characterised by use of mostly un-electrified string instruments usually fiddle, 5-string banjo, acoustic bass, guitar, mandolin, and sometimes a Dobro (resophonic or Hawaiian) guitar. Better know examples of bluegrass music from movies and television shows include Deliverance(Dualing Banjos), The Beverly Hillbillies and Bonnie & Clyde. Vocals often include 3 and 4 part harmonies. Tempos used tend to be quite fast  (125 to 180 bpm) compared to other music types. The acknowledged Father of Bluegrass Music is Grand Ole Opry legend Bill Monroe, and the music took it’s name from his band The Bluegrass Boys. The Kentucky native based his music on the old time fiddle bands and balladeers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, playing and singing their rustic melodies in a new, but still traditional and exciting way.

Backround information & Definitions

Bluegrass Style Banjo

The banjo's association with bluegrass came with the stylistic innovation of Earl Scruggs in the mid-1940s, when he joined founding father Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys Band. Scruggs was one of many southern musicians who took up the instrument after it was reintroduced to the South by players on traveling minstrel shows and ragtime musicians. His arpeggiated, three-finger picking style is now commonplace among banjo players today and his breakneck playing in Monroe's band led to the inclusion of the banjo, along with mandolin and guitar, as the primary instruments of the bluegrass sound.

Banjo *

The banjo is a stringed instrument of the lute family, with an open-backed round body consisting of a circular wood hoop over which is stretched a vellum belly (formerly nailed on, now held tense by a screw mechanism); a long, narrow, fretted neck; and metal or metal-wound gut strings. The strings run from a tailpiece, over a bridge (a piece of wood that holds the strings off of the belly of the banjo) held in place by their pressure, up the neck to rear tuning pegs (machine screws on modern banjos). Five strings are typical: four full-length strings and a shorter fifth 'thumb' string running to a tuning screw halfway up the neck. A common tuning (beginning with the thumb string) is g1 d0 g0 b0 d1 (g1 = G above middle C; d0 = D below middle C). Often a five-string banjo body is suspended in a metal or wood resonator. It is the only Western stringed instrument with a vellum belly, the banjo originated in Africa and was brought to America in the 17th century by black slaves. Early banjos had fretless necks, a varying number of strings, and, sometimes, gourd bodies. Adopted by white musicians in 19th-century minstrel-show troupes, the banjo gained frets and metal strings. The five-string banjo, plucked with the fingers, is common in folk music and commercial bluegrass bands. The plectrum-plucked four-string banjo was popular about 1900 in vaudeville bands.

Guitar *

A musical instrument of the lute family, having a flat, waisted body with a round sound hole and a fretted neck along which run six strings. The strings are fastened at the top of the neck to tuning screws, and at the other end to a bridge glued to the instrument's sound board, or belly. The top three strings are usually made of gut or nylon; the others are metal. The strings are tuned E A d g b e1 (E = second E below middle C; e1 = E above middle C). The player's left-hand fingers stop the strings at the appropriate frets to produce the correct pitches; the right-hand fingers pluck the strings. Some metal-strung guitars are plucked with a small flat plectrum, or pick.

Guitar-like instruments have existed since ancient times, but the first written mention of the guitar proper is from the 14th century. In its earliest form it had three double courses (pairs) of strings plus a single string (the highest). The guitar probably originated in Spain, where by the 16th century it was the counterpart among the middle and lower classes of the aristocracy's vihuela, an instrument of similar shape and ancestry that had six double courses. The guitar became popular in other European countries in the 16th and 17th centuries, and by the late 17th century a fifth course of strings had been added below the other four. In the mid-18th century the guitar attained its modern form, when the double courses were made single and a sixth string was added above the lower five. Guitar makers in the 19th century broadened the body, increased the curve of the waist, thinned the belly, and changed the internal bracing. The old wooden tuning pegs were replaced by a modern machine head.

Guitars ranging from contrabass to treble and varying in their number of strings are played in Spain and Latin America. The twelve-string guitar has six double courses in standard tuning. The Hawaiian, or steel, guitar is laid across the knees of the player, who stops the metal strings by gliding a metal bar along the neck. The strings are usually tuned to the notes of a given chord. The electric guitar, developed for popular music in the United States in the 1930s, usually has a solid, nonresonant body. The sound of its strings is both amplified and manipulated electronically by the performer. American musician and inventor Les Paul developed prototypes for the solid-bodied electric guitar and popularized the instrument beginning in the 1940s. As an instrument of classical music, the guitar came to prominence largely through the efforts of the Spanish composer Francisco Tarrega and the Spanish guitar virtuoso Andres Segovia.[*ref]

Mandolin *

The mandolin is a stringed instrument derived from the lute about 1700 in Italy. Of several kinds made in different cities, the Neapolitan mandolin became most popular. It has a deep, pear-shaped body and four pairs of steel strings tuned like a violin (G D A E, upward from the G below middle C). It is played with a plectrum, which creates the illusion of sustained tones by its rapid tremolo between the strings of each pair. The strings, hitched to a metal plate at the base of the body, run over a bridge and along the fretted fingerboard to machine-head tuning pegs. The belly angles down from the bridge to the base, increasing string tension for more brilliance of tone. The oval sound hole is surrounded by a protective shell plate.

Around 1900 mandolin orchestras came into vogue, with families of mandolins ranging from soprano to bass. U.S. folk music also adopted the mandolin about 1900; a flat-backed version is played in bluegrass bands.

Double Bass *

The largest and lowest-pitched member of the violin family. Also known as the contrabass, the double bass is usually about 1.8 m (about 6 ft) high and has four strings tuned to sound EE AA D G (EE = third E below middle C; G = second G below middle C) and notated an octave higher. A low fifth string is sometimes added, tuned to the C below the E string. On some instruments the E string is extended at the head and fitted with a mechanism that clamps off the extra length; releasing the mechanism allows the string to sound the low notes down to C.

Three-stringed basses were common in the 18th and 19th centuries (often tuned A D G) and survive in Eastern European folk music. Early basses of the 16th and 17th centuries had four or five (or, rarely, six) strings. Modern dance-band basses occasionally add a high fifth string tuned to the C above the G string. Until the 19th century, bass players used bows with the stick out-curved in relation to the bow hairólong after the in-curved bow was standard for the violin, viola, and cello. The out-curved bass bow continues in use alongside two in-curved models developed in the 19th century. Virtuosos on the double bass have included the Italian Domenico Dragonetti, the Russian-American conductor Serge Koussevitzky, and the American jazz bassist Charlie Mingus.

Violin *

A bowed stringed instrument, the highest pitched member of the violin family. Other members of the violin family are the viola, cello, and double bass. The bow is a narrow, slightly incurved stick of Pernambuco about 75 cm (about 30 in) long, with a band of horsehair stretched from end to end of the bowstick. The violin has four strings tuned a fifth apart, to the notes g, d, a, e. On early violins the strings were of pure gut. Today they may be of gut, gut wound with aluminum or silver, steel, or perlon.

The main parts of the violin are the front, also called the belly, top, or soundboard, usually made of well-seasoned spruce; the back, usually made of well-seasoned maple; and the ribs, neck, fingerboard, pegbox, scroll, bridge, tailpiece, and f-holes, or soundholes. The front, back, and ribs are joined together to form a hollow sound box. The sound box contains the sound post, a thin, dowel-like stick of wood wedged inside underneath the right side of the bridge and connecting the front and back of the violin; and the bass-bar, a long strip of wood glued to the inside of the front under the left side of the bridge. The sound post and bass-bar are important for the transmission of sound, and they also give additional support to the construction. The strings are fastened to the tailpiece, rest on the bridge, are suspended over the fingerboard, and run to the pegbox, where they are attached to tuning pegs that can be turned to change the pitch of the string. The player makes different pitches by placing the left-hand fingers on the string and pressing against the fingerboard. The strings are set in vibration and produce sound when the player draws the bow across them at a right angle near the bridge.

Among the prized characteristics of the violin are its singing tone and its potential to play rapid, brilliant figurations as well as lyrical melodies. Violinists can also create special effects by means of the following techniques: pizzicato, plucking the strings; tremolo, moving the bow rapidly back and forth on a string; sul ponticello, playing with the bow extremely close to the bridge to produce a thin, glassy sound; col legno, playing with the wooden part of the bow instead of with the hair; harmonics, placing the fingers of the left hand lightly on certain points of the string to obtain a light, flutelike sound; and glissando, steadily gliding the left-hand fingers up and down along the string to produce an upward- or downward-sliding pitch.

The violin emerged in Italy in the early 1500s and seems to have evolved from two medieval bowed instruments o' the fiddle, also called vielle or fiedel, and the rebec o' and from the Renaissance lira da braccio (a violinlike instrument with off-the-fingerboard drone strings). Also related, but not a direct ancestor, is the viol, a fretted, six-string instrument that appeared in Europe before the violin and existed side by side with it for about 200 years.

The earliest important violin makers were the northern Italians Gasparo da SalÚ (1540-1609) and Giovanni Maggini (1579-c. 1630) from Brescia and Andrea Amati from Cremona. The craft of violin making reached unprecedented artistic heights in the 17th and early 18th centuries in the workshops of the Italians Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri, both from Cremona, and the Austrian Jacob Stainer.

Compared with the modern instrument, the early violin had a shorter, thicker neck that was less angled back from the violin's front; a shorter fingerboard; a flatter bridge; and strings made solely of gut. Early bows were somewhat different in design from modern ones. These construction details were all modified in the 18th and 19th centuries to give the violin a louder, more robust, more brilliant tone. A number of 20th-century players have restored their 18th-century instruments to the original specifications, believing them more suited for early music.

Used at first to accompany dancing or to double voice parts in vocal music, the violin was considered an instrument of low social status. In the early 1600s, however, the violin gained prestige through its use in operas such as Orfeo (1607), by the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, and through the French king Louis XIII's band of musicians, the 24 violins du roi ("the king's 24 violins," formed in 1626). This growth in stature continued throughout the baroque period (circa 1600-c. 1750) in the works of many notable composer-performers, including Arcangelo Corelli, Antonio Vivaldi, and Giuseppe Tartini in Italy and Heinrich Biber, Georg Philipp Telemann, and Johann Sebastian Bach in Germany. The violin became the principal force in the instrumental genres then current o' the solo concerto, concerto grosso, sonata, trio sonata, and suite o' as well as in opera. By the mid-18th century the violin was one of the most popular solo instruments in European music. Violins also formed the leading section of the orchestra, the most important instrumental ensemble to emerge in both the baroque and classical (circa 1750-c. 1820) eras; and in the modern orchestra - still the most important instrumental ensemble in Western music - the violin family continues to account for more than half the players. The predominant chamber-music ensemble, the string quartet, consists of two violins, viola, and cello.

During the 19th century virtuoso violinists of legendary fame concertized extensively throughout Europe. They included the Italians Giovanni Viotti and NicolÚ Paganini, the Germans Louis Spohr and Joseph Joachim, the Spaniard Pablo de Sarasate, and the Belgians Henri Vieuxtemps and EugËne Ysae. In the 20th century the violin achieved new artistic and technical heights in the hands of the Americans Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin, the Austrian-born Fritz Kreisler, the Russian-born Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, and Nathan Milstein (who became U.S. citizens), the Hungarian Joseph Szigeti, and the Soviet David Oistrakh.

Contributed by: Myron Rosenblum

Country and Western Music (or Country Music)*

A style of United States popular music rooted in southern traditional music and influenced by other popular music styles.

In the 1920s the new recording industry used the label hillbilly for records aimed at southern, rural, white audiences. Regional musicians such as the Carter family (most active 1927-43) recorded old ballads and sentimental songs, using traditional southern mountain vocal techniques and instrumentation; the more blues- and western-oriented Jimmie Rodgers introduced yodels. Radio helped diffuse the music, culminating in 1939, when the Grand Ole Opry show won a national network spot.

The music won national audiences during World War II, and Nashville, Tennessee, became a performance center. The outstanding figures were the traditional mountain-style singer Roy Acuff; Ernest Tubb, nurtured in the honky-tonk circuits; and Hank Williams, who had assimilated elements of both approaches. Two important women vocalists were Patsy Montana and Kitty Wells. One of the strengths of the style proved to be its lyrics, which often deal with topics avoided in other popular music, such as loneliness, poverty, homesickness. Other leaders during this period were the mandolinist Bill Monroe and the banjoist Earl Scruggs, who together established the driving, unamplified string sound of bluegrass music.

About 1955, with the rise of rock and roll, amplified instruments and slicker, pop-style arrangements were adopted. Record companies replaced the label hillbilly with the term country and western. In the 1960s and 1970s such singers as Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings reached national prominence. While bluegrass, honky-tonk, and other traditional styles persisted, hybrid forms evolved such as country rock, the most popular performers of which were Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

The Grand Ole Opry, Tennessee*

An American radio and stage show that broadcast and influenced country music, especially in the 1940s and 1950s, The Grand Ole Opry went on the air in 1925, launched by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, a Nashville, Tennessee, firm that owned radio station WSM. The Opry, originally called 'WSM Barn Dance, featured amateur rural musicians. However, 'WSM Barn Danceî proved so popular that program managers invited audiences into the studio. In 1927, the show assumed its current name, from an announcer's introduction: For the past hour we have been listening to music taken largely from grand opera, but from now on we will present the Grand Ole Opry.

The Opry began hiring professional musicians in 1930, and in 1938 signed Roy Acuff, a singer and fiddle player whose sentimental songs made him the first genuine country-music star. Acuff's presence on the show attracted the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), which began broadcasting the Opry nationally in 1939. This wide exposure made it the leading country radio show and, for performers, an important start to a country music career.

Through its early years, the Opry expanded from WSM's studios into a succession of theaters. In 1941 it moved to the Ryman Auditorium. While Acuff hosted every performance, other stars identified with the Opry's golden age include Uncle Dave Macon, a banjo virtuoso and vaudeville entertainer; bluegrass singer Bill Monroe; and Minnie Pearl, a comedian.

In 1974 the Grand Ole Opry moved to Opryland USA, an entertainment complex and theme park outside Nashville. The Opry is still broadcast and televised every Saturday night.

Acuff, Roy (1903-92)*

American country music fiddler, singer, and composer, born in Maynardsville, Tennessee. While recuperating from sunstroke, which put an end to a potential baseball career with the New York Yankees, Acuff developed a serious interest in music. He performed (1932) in a medicine show and formed a band eventually known as the Smoky Mountain Boys. He became a popular fixture at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, where he first appeared in 1938. During World War II Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys performed for U.S. armed forces throughout the world, helping to bring country music to other nations. Acuff remained true to the traditional string-band sound of mountain music. With Fred Rose he established (1942) the Acuff-Rose Publishing Company, the first such company devoted entirely to country music. He twice ran for governor of Tennessee; as a Democrat (1944), when he lost the primary, and as a Republican (1948), when he won the primary but lost the election. Acuff was the first living member elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame (1962). Among the perennial favorites associated with his name are "Wabash Cannonball," "Wreck on the Highway," "Great Speckled Bird," and "The Precious Jewel." In 1987 Acuff received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Garrison Keillor*

American writer and broadcaster, creator and host of "A Prairie Home Companion," a popular syndicated public radio series. Born in Anoka, Minnesota, Keillor was educated at the University of Minnesota. As a student he wrote for the literary magazine and was staff announcer on the campus radio station from 1963 to 1966. As a graduate he continued with the station while working on short stories and a never-published novel. Keillor realized his greatest ambition when The New Yorker magazine accepted a story in 1969. From 1968 until 1982 he was host of a classical music program on Minnesota Public Radio. While there he broadcast mock commercials for firms located in the mythical town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. The idea for his radio show "A Prairie Home Companion" came to him while researching a 1974 article on Nashville, Tennessee's Grand Ole Opry for The New Yorker. Like the Opry shows, "A Prairie Home Companion" blended music, comedy, and storytelling with a cast of rustic, fictional characters. It was first broadcast in 1974, over a network of 30 public radio stations in the Midwest. It was broadcast nationally as a radio special in 1979 and then was heard regularly on a few stations. With the creation of American Public Radio (1982) more than 200 stations carried it. The show, which won a Peabody Award (1981) and a Grammy (1987), ran until 1987, when Keillor announced his retirement. He was back, however, in 1989 with "American Radio Company of the Air," a similar program broadcast from New York. Keillor's books include Happy to Be Here (1982); Lake Wobegon Days (1985); Leaving Home (1987); We Are Still Married (1989), a collection of stories and letters; WLT: A Radio Romance (1991); and The Book of Guys (1993).

Doc Watson*

Country ballad singer/composer "Doc" Watson is probably best known for his accomplishments on the acoustic guitar. His fluid, flat-picking style (use of flat pick rather than a thumb pick) recalls that of blues guitarists from the southeastern region of the United States. This guitar style, reminiscent of pioneering country guitarist Maybelle Carter, is a distinct feature still found in modern country and western music today.

"Doc" is known for his performance of Anglo-American folk ballads as well as blues and country and western music. He grew up in a musical household in rural North Carolina singing songs passed down through the generations. He is probably best known for his accomplishments on the acoustic guitar.

[* = references taken from Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.]


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