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Steve Rogers
sjrogers@woolenmillstudio.net
    

2012.09.02

BLUEGRASS HAS NO SHEET MUSIC

No self respecting bluegrass musician would be caught with sheet music, music stand or admit to reading music (at least not in a performance - I don't know what goes on in the kitchen or garage). One thing you should know about bluegrass is that it has no beginning or end (a problem brought about when you don't use sheet music). Classical music doesn't have this problem. They use sheet music. They start with a proper beat count followed by the first note and every note thereafter until you run out of notes upon which you stop. Bluegrass music is different, you 'commence to play' (‘just jump in when you can and hold on’), after which all sorts of chaos and mayhem ensue.

Since there are no proper notes to feature the different players it's customary (if not polite) to let the next fellow know when you are about to steal the spotlight. They'll announce their intention by scrubbing a few notes a little louder to let the current lead know that they may be good but not as good as what they are about to play (one upping each other). On other occasions they will nod in the direction of another and pass it off to them. This goes on and on until everyone gets a say at playing a little louder than the rest.

In a rare instance the current lead gets caught up in a finger twisting lick that would be impossible to unknot even if they played the song backwards. In times like this they do the only thing they can -- they holler out "someone take it back" (most have been there themselves and gladly jump in and rescue them).

Just about the time you are really enjoying the music, bluegrass musicians will end the song. But before they do, someone in the group must signal the intent (remember there are no notes to tell them when the song is over). They do this using a variety of techniques. The most common is the foot or leg lift. Other musician’s look for this to be ready to play that cool ending they've been practicing (they aren't ignoring you -- they're keeping an eye on Jesse’s foot). Sometimes it’s subtler like a nod, a wince, a rearing back, a tic or a mere plucking of a nose hair. Whatever the method, some of the best music you ever hope to hear comes to an end followed by a proper ‘we're through playing now’.

If it doesn't go cluck, pluck or twang I probably don't listen to it.





"Is that a real tune, or did you write it yourself."

- Doc Watson





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