American culture: bluegrass music

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Bluegrass is a kind of folk music and is generally considered a sub-genre of country music. The two forms share the same roots in the traditional music of the Appalachian region of the U.S, which was influenced by Irish and Scottish ballads, and later by the music of African-Americans through the incorporation of blues and jazz elements. The songs composed often reflected life on the farm or in the hills.

The feature that distinguishes bluegrass from mainstream country music is its “high lonesome sound”, a vocal style that often gives even happy songs a suggestion or undertone of bleakness (sadness).

Bluegrass music’s distinctive sound is characterized by other specific traits as well:

1. Its focus on vocals. High-pitched and close-harmony vocals dominate over the instrumental accompaniment with a notable "high lonesome" lead voice as the focal point.

2. Another important feature of this style is the use of acoustic instruments over electric ones, which often include the mandolin, fiddle, guitar, banjo, and bass guitar. In fact, slaves from Africa brought the design idea for the banjo--an instrument now integral to the bluegrass sound.

3. Finger picking of rapid notes and improvisation by the musicians is another recognizeable element of bluegrass where each musician takes a turn in playing the melody, much like in jazz music.

Enough reading, how about listening? For an example of excellent bluegrass, click here and enjoy the music by the Dillards, an American bluegrass band, singing the song “Dooley”. (Dooley is a mountain man who made illegal alcohol.)

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