Have you ever been told to learn a song in every key? It’s often talked about but rarely done. Few things can improve your knowledge of the fretboard more than working out all your favorite licks and tunes in as many keys as you can. For this article I’ve taken a simple melody version of “Whiskey Before Breakfast” and arranged it in literally EVERY key!
Sometimes when I play a slower song, a single-note melody can seem pretty sparse. Chord melodies are a great way to fill out a tune. Sometimes we bluegrassers might think of chord melody as a complex jazz guitar technique, but once you’ve learned the process, you’ll find that it’s not difficult to create rich-sounding chord melodies on bluegrass, country, and folk songs.
The concept of chord melody is simple: you add a chord, or sometimes just a part of the chord, to the melody of the song. In the jazz tradition, the melody is always the highest-pitched note, and I find that this practice works well for bluegrass too.
We’ll create a chord melody to the song, “The House of the Rising Sun.” This song is familiar to most, and has an interesting chord progression. You need two things: the melody under your fingertips, and knowledge of the chords. For this example, I wrote a lead sheet with both melody and chords, available here.
I’ve been attempting to play traditional jazz and bebop ideas in a bluegrass context for a long time. To me, these styles are very similar in that they both require improvising over chord changes. The differences are in the way the licks are played, the note choice, and where on the neck the ideas are played. For this article I’ve chosen to use the standard 12 bar “jazz’ blues form in the key of G to compose three jazz blues solos for you to learn. What makes these solos unique is the use of the open position on the guitar. Jazz players do not utilize the open position the way bluegrass flatpickers do.
The last few weeks have been interesting to say the least. And if you’ve had a meltdown or cried during a work meeting or angrily taken 4-5 neighborhood walks a day during quarantine, you’re not alone, my friend. I, too, have done all of these things. But today, we’re not going to focus on all …
I’m a bluegrass musician. So you can imagine I spend a lot of my time explaining to people what bluegrass is because no one seems to know. One of the most popular misconceptions is that bluegrass is traditional Appalachian music (sometimes called mountain music) or some other older American folk style. Most folks are surprised to learn that bluegrass is a much more modern genre. A lot of musicologists point to the 1945 Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys lineup with Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt as the first fully formed bluegrass band. You can contrast that with the release of the single Rocket 88 in 1951 which marks the start of rock and roll just six short years later.
The sixth interval seems to be a a breakthrough concept for many players, for some it might be hard to remember a time before you knew a couple little sixth phrases. If your new to the idea, its more simple than you think. Starting on C, let’s count six notes in the major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A. That means C and A are a sixth apart, its that simple. You might think recognizing two notes that are a sixth apart might be harder on the guitar but that’s not too tough either. You see sixths on the guitar are characterized by skipping a string. In all of these licks if I jump from one string to another and skip one in-between, that’s probably a sixth.
Bluegrass chord changes can be a source of confusion, but let me drop this bomb on you: the changes are simple, you can make them infinitely more complicated or less complicated. It’s all up to you, all you need to know are some simple rules to get started. In this article we’ll be focusing on dominant seventh chords and when they make sense in a chord change and the consequences and benefits of including them or leaving them out.
The first recording of “True Life Blues” come from the 1945 sessions that produced other singles such as “Footprints in the Snow”, “Rocky Road Blues” and “Kentucky Waltz”. I was first drawn to this era of The Bluegrass Boys because of the bluegrass girl, Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester on the accordion. Key of A for those of you keeping track at home.
If you read my recent article, Why Kentucky Waltz Is About Time Travel, you may know I have a soft spot for Bill Monroe fan-fiction. This unfortunately is not fan-fiction. Many of the original tape masters of Bill Monroe records were lost in a fire that ravaged the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood in 2008. We’re just learning the extent of the damage now in 2019. In fact, 11 years ago when asked about the…
I know, I know. You might be saying to yourself, “Open strings up the neck!? That just means floating!” You’re not wrong, however I did avoid that word when I titled this article because ‘floating’ isn’t an agreed upon term in the flatpicking community. Some folks still call these licks ‘open string licks’ as opposed to ‘floating licks’. Even more confusing is the idea that some pickers might confuse this ‘open string floating’ with the way some people describe an unanchored pick grip as a ‘floating right hand’.