Defining Bluegrass

This week’s post is meant to provide my interpretation of what defines the Bluegrass music genre based on sources such as “Bluegrass: A History” by Neil Rosenberg, “The Bluegrass Reader” by Thomas Goldsmith, and the music section of Ted Olson’s “Encyclopedia of Appalachia”, and the film “High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music.”

It can be difficult to narrow down the factors and features of what a particular genre of music is, especially since genres are subject to change overtime with styles, methods, and mixing between other genres. For example, in “High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music”, there is a section in the film where Bill Monroe discusses the influence of blues and rhythm into his style of Bluegrass. There was also some controversy over whether or not bluegrass instruments should be heard through amplifiers or if the music should stay acoustic. I am by no means an expert of Bluegrass or any other genre of music for that matter, so it should be noted that the following definition will be based on the information listed above along with my personal experiences with the genre from growing up in Southwest Virginia.

I define “Bluegrass” as a genre of music that utilizes acoustic, usually stringed instruments such as the banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, among others that typically play songs of up-beat tempos. Vocalists of the genre provide a harmony and “high lonesome sound” that is fairly unique to Bluegrass. I have found it common that Bluegrass songs tell a story. This story can be about a place, a person/loved one, or just an experience. Regardless of what it is about, Bluegrass music contains a raw sound that is hard to come by in other genres today. Perhaps it is in part due to the acoustic/non-electric traditions that give it this feeling.

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