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Note choices

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by TDAN, Jan 4, 2012.

  1. TDAN


    Dec 15, 2011
    Seattle, WA
    I have been attending some bluegrass jams and have really enjoyed learning some of the repertoire. Playing without a drummer is new for me and I have been playing straight root/fifth two feel and focusing on tone and rhythm.

    are most of you playing these kinds of parts from the half position? I have been playing alot of open strings and choosing notes from the higher end of the register because they project better.

    where on the neck do you like to play and why do you choose to play there?
  2. M Ramsey

    M Ramsey

    Mar 12, 2005
    North Carolina
    Sounds like you've got the right thing happening with the root/five. In bluegrass, less is more.

    As for positions, most of us camp in the first positions and utilize open strings whenever possible. Possibly these patterns developed due to the early players (and most current ones) playing on plywood basses, which can get a good thump out of the first position.

    As for me, I tend to stay as low as I usually can and here's why.

    The bass is at the bottom of the spectrum of the 5-6 instruments involved in bluegrass (bass, guitar, mandolin, banjo, dobro and fiddle). The mandolin, fiddle and banjo usually camp in the high mids to upper registers, with the guitar (for rhythm) and the dobro taking care of lower mids to midrange. I feel the bass contributes best, trying to stay out of the other instruments ranges (mainly guitar and dobro) and in the lowest range, for contrast.

    Addressing the lack of a drummer, lock up on the 1 & 3 with the 2 & 4 of the mandolin chop. He's your snare.

    Other opinions expected and respected.
  3. I hear what Mike is saying about the various frequencies of the instruments, but I agree with the OP that the higher octave sometimes cuts through better, especially on the faster fiddle tunes. I find it also works well behind the vocals on the verse.

    For variety, I often save the E string as a "special weapon" for the end of verse or chorus. For example, if the song is in G, play most of the song on the G, D and A strings and end on the low G (on the E string) at the end of the chorus.

    In bluegrass the bass rarely goes higher than the high D on the G string unless in a bass solo.

    At the end of the day, no one is going to scold you for one approach or another. It often comes down to personal preference.

    Happy pickin.
  4. gprigge


    Dec 19, 2007
    Rice Lake, Wis.
    Sounds like you've got the idea. I play open A,D,G strings, and usually the fretted E on the D string vs. the open E, but I'll go there when it's cool.
    I hang around first position, and only throw in an octave C or D if it's really going to add to the tune. I'm not concerned about cutting through the mix. That's for the fancy boys up top.
  5. TDAN


    Dec 15, 2011
    Seattle, WA
    Thanks for all of your input. open strings really cover a lot of ground in the usual keys. I also appreciate having a reference point for intonation. I guess I just felt lazy using so many easy notes. Aways interested in how other people approach the basics.
  6. speedster


    Aug 19, 2005
    Ontario Canada
    I usually play as Mike does, although I do slide up to the higher register notes occassionally depending on the tune and what the other guys are playing.

    I try and stay away from the others and fill in the holes with the low end.

    Sometimes I'll start a run from the high register notes and go thru the scale ending on the low and other times go from the low to the high, again depends on the tune and holes available.

    It's easier for me to add a lick starting on the higher notes but hey I love playing in the Key of B.............really is there any other bluegrass Key............LOL

    Timing, tone and taste are the most important parts the rest is just your feeling and interpretation in my view anyway.

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