The people who started migrating into America and the music that was brought with them was said to have paved the way for the beginning of bluegrass music. These music include dance music and ballads that came from Ireland, another would be music from Scotland and England plus African American gospel music and blues. In fact, the design for the banjo actually came from the African slaves. The banjo now plays a significant role in creating bluegrass music.
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As the Jamestown settlers started spreading to different areas such as Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky and the Virginias, they were able to come with new songs conveying day-today experiences in their new area. The songs reflect mostly life in the farm, living by the hill among others. This music later on came to be dubbed as country music”. The roots of bluegrass music could be traced to this.
Bluegrass is basically a fusion old-time music, blues, ragtime and jazz. Although tracing who invented bluegrass music could not necessarily be properly rooted, the beginnings of the genre of bluegrass music could be traced back to one band. It was Bill Monroe’s band that started playing this kind of music. Until today, Bill Monroe is still known as the founding father” of bluegrass music. Bill Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys was founded in 1939. This is where the name for blue grass was attributed to. One of bluegrass’ key moments came with the dawn of the Scruggs Style”. “Scruggs style came with the banjo player Earl Scruggs who played with a three-finger roll” (Kingsbury, 2004).
Although designed by Snuffy Jenkins, through time it has come to be known as the Scruggs style.
The bluegrass music was arguably just the unique sound introduced by the bluegrass voice. Bluegrass’ becoming of a musical genre and style now came when other bands started adapting the same kind of music. “This occured when the Stanley Brothers recorded a traditional song entitled Molly and Tenbrooks” similar and in line with the Blue Grass Boys’ style” (Kingsbury, 2004). This could be considered as the beginning of bluegrass music as a musical style.
Although bluegrass music share and have some similarities to that of folk music it cannot be classified strictly under folk music. Bluegrass’s tropical and narrative themes are highly suggestive to that of folk music. Although there has been line, there have been studies now between the interplay of folk music and bluegrass music. This is for the reason that most professional players of bluegrass music are familiar with traditional folk song and even old time music.
For this matter, bluegrass just like in jazz, takes a twist playing the melody and inventing around it. Others usually revert back to it. This style clashes with that of old-time music because usually in old-time music, the instruments get to play together at the same time or one particular instrument gets to play and carry the melody while others offer accompaniment to it.
Bluegrass has three sub-genres namely: traditional bluegrass, progressive bluegrass, and blue grass gospel.
The traditional bluegrass puts focus and emphasis on the traditional elements. They only make use of acoustic instruments. Generally, they go after Bill Monroe’s and the Blue Grass Boys’ pattern of music.
The earlier traditional bluegrass has made use of instrument such as the washboard, jaw harp and harmonica. These instruments are no longer accepted in the mainstream bluegrass music. Usually, traditional bluegrass bands use instruments in their own ways. In this type of sub-genre, the guitar does not usually take the lead and there is a remaining rhythm instrument.
The melodies and lyrics in the traditional bluegrass genre come simple. The chord pattern is also simple.
The second sub-genre of bluegrass music is progressive bluegrass. Progressive bluegrass came into place in the late 1960s and 1970s. This type of genre has four key distinguishing elements. These four distinguishing elements may not exist at all times. The first one is instrumentation.
Instrumentation most of the time include electric instruments, drums, piano, and the like. “The other distinguishing elements of progressive bluegrass music are as follows: songs imported or imitated styles, from other genres, chord progressions, and lengthy ” jam band “-style improvisation. Progressive bluegrass music offers twist in its type such that it puts together elements that preceded bluegrass like old-time string band music and bluegrass music itself” (Rosenberg, 1985; Kingsbury, 2004)
The last type of sub-genre bluegrass music has is the gospel bluegrass. Even with how most bluegrass musicians had incorporated a lot of gospel music with bluegrass, the gospel bluegrass still emerged as a sub-genre for bluegrass. “Gospel bluegrass could be distinguished with the way it includes lyrics about Christian faith and theology, soulful three or four part harmony singing and even sometimes subdued instrumentals” (Rosenberg, 1985; Kingsbury, 2004). A cappella choruses could also be associated with gospel bluegrass.
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Kingsbury, Paul (2004). The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music. Oxford University Press.
Rosenberg, Neil (1985). Bluegrass: A History. University of Illinois Press.
Van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
IBMA. Bluegrass Music: The Roots.