What Is Bluegrass Music?

Bluegrass is a style of music that began development in the late 1930s to mid 1940s. Its creation is largely attributed to Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys, after which the genre is named.

You won’t find a single definition of Bluegrass anywhere, but here are some common themes:

Acoustic Instrumentation

The most common Bluegrass instruments are the 5 string banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, fiddle, steel resonator guitar (“dobro”), and upright bass. Other instruments are sometimes used as well, and they are also usually acoustic.

Multi-part Harmonies

Harmonies play an important part in Bluegrass music. Commonly harmonies will take the shape of two to four singers, where one person sings the melody and the others sing above (and sometimes below) the melody.

Multiple Instrument Breaks and Improvisation

In live performances, studio recordings, and informal jams, you will most certainly hear multiple instruments take solo breaks while the other instruments play back-up. Similar to jazz, Bluegrass players will often improvise their playing while showing off their technical skills.

Standards and a Wide Variety of Styles

The Bluegrass music tradition has a wide collection of songs and fiddle tunes (instrumentals). A single Bluegrass performance can include elements of gospel quartets, old-timey fiddle tunes, pop, fast songs and tunes, slow waltzes, jug band songs, ballads from the British Isles, blues, country, yodeling, and swing music. Despite this variety, it’s still folk music at heart, and learning to play the basics is quite approachable.

Informal Jams and Festivals

In addition to listening to recordings and live performances, many Bluegrass fans also play at least one instrument. Bluegrass Musicians group up into informal get-togethers called jams, where players take turns picking songs and taking solos. They also attend Bluegrass festivals, which can last several days. These are generally held where people can camp, and people will play together, form and join jams, often until very late into the evening. Festivals happen mostly during the summer. They are located all over the US and even internationally.

Passion for Bluegrass Music

Bluegrass musicians are often very passionate about their music. There is a strong drive in the community to keep the style alive and to continue this appreciation throughout generations.