Defining Bluegrass Music

Bluegrass music can be defined in a couple of ways, including technical dictionary definitions along with the opinionated perspectives of many individuals who consider themselves lovers of the genre. Most dictionaries will define bluegrass music as a traditional American style of music played with string instruments. It’s easy to argue that this is true considering many bluegrass artists compose their bands of musicians equipped with banjos, fiddles, mandolins, guitars, Dobros, and other stringed, acoustic instruments. However, to many people, bluegrass is so much more than this technical aspect of the genre. It is a way of life! It’s the twang infused sound of a Sunday morning and the rowdy upbeats of a barn dance on a Saturday night. Bluegrass music ties together stories of family, community, religion, emotion, and home.

According to the film: High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music, this genre is most likely to be heard throughout the Appalachian region in places such as North Carolina , Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. It was said to have been brought about by Scotch-Irish settlers in the early 1800s and with the introduction of the banjo from Africa in the 1870s. Bluegrass music has a strong influence of place and the idea of home. Many bluegrass artists came from small rural Appalachian areas that have influenced the style in which they sing. For example, Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, was born in Rosine, Kentucky. This probably was a major influence for songs such as Rocky Road Blues, Kentucky Waltz, and many others.

While for some, bluegrass music is about sticking with the traditional old-time sound that has been passed down through generations, there are many who accept newer more modern versions of this type of music. In my personal opinion, it is unfair to associate bluegrass music to only tunes from the early bluegrass day. Like all music, it grows and develops due to outside influences. New technology and opportunity allows for this music to get more exposure and be exposed to influence. I believe there is no clear-cut definition of bluegrass music but rather that it has a foundation of style that can be open to interpretation for those who listen and play bluegrass music.


3 thoughts on “Defining Bluegrass Music”

  1. I appreciate and agree with your viewpoint that bluegrass cannot be held to a single set of strict standards. A song that is bluegrass to one person may not be bluegrass to another. Maybe we should evaluate bluegrass based on the feelings it evokes in the listener instead of on the technical aspects of the music.

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