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Ghost notes - how do YOU use them?

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by unbrokenchain, Jan 23, 2020.

  1. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    Just curious about other folks' views on ghost notes, and where you put or don't put them in music. Thinking mostly in the roots/Americana vein, hence the bluegrass forum. That's the term I've always heard for them anyway, I'm sure there are other words for it. You know, that little percussive pluck of a muted string just before the beat of the actual note.

    My experience has been something like, I started doing it unwittingly when I was cutting teeth and overdid it, playing them all the time. Had some folks tell me to back off at some point and just play the notes, too much rhythmic clutter. So I cut it out entirely. Then I threw it in on some country and bluegrass numbers just to see what the bandleader would say (various groups) and had them say "YES! That's the feel!" As if the ghost notes were what made the whole thing swing.

    So now I'm very aware of them and selective. At this point I put them in tunes mainly when:
    It's a duo, and the song swings
    Other instruments who were previously holding rhythm parts take a break (and the song swings..)
    Old school country with drummer, when drummer is just holding down a very basic part

    I don't put them in, or at least rarely, when:
    All the players in the group have very solid rhythm together
    Ballads, dark minor songs
    Anyone else is playing on that beat

  2. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    I use ghost notes to emphasize the following note (usually a downbeat). Obviously, you want to use them sparingly, e.g., to go from a bridge back into a verse, or from a verse to a refrain. If you're emphasizing too many notes, you're emphasizing nothing, and it just sounds like an annoying musical tic.

    In Bluegrass music, there's little use for ghost notes because the music is fairly dense. My exception might be waltzes, subject to the conditions above as well as whether anyone else is playing a coincident note.
    unbrokenchain likes this.
  3. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    Perhaps it's worth mentioning using ghost notes to your band mates too; I use them all the time on banjo and mando to be able to continue playing my normal line but muted to a volume level where you can easily hear subtle vocals. This also, coincidentally, makes the bass easier to hear.
    unbrokenchain likes this.

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