Courses  Instructors  How It Works Plans & Pricing Blog Resources 

Log In

Log In 
Don't have an account? Sign Up

Reset Password

An email has been sent with instructions on how to reset your password.

Sign Up For Free

Then join a course

Our store is currently undergoing maintenance. Check back in a few hours.
Already have an account? Log In

Exploring the Styles of Bluegrass

On the next episode of our live streamed series “Live Dispatch from Home,” ArtistWorks’ CEO and Co-founder Patricia Butler hosts and iconic banjo players Tony Trischka and Béla Fleck, as well as multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Sierra Hull! They will be discussing the historical and evolving popular styles of bluegrass music that these three musicians have directly influenced. 

The Beginnings of Bluegrass

Bluegrass derives its name from the band Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, who were among the first musicians in the 1940’s to combine European folk music with traditional African-American blues and high-octane jazz. Featuring acoustic string instruments, rapid tempos that emphasize the off-beat, and blazing instrument virtuosity, bluegrass differs from other varieties of country and western music in its driving rhythms, as well as in the very prominent place given a three-finger banjo picking style, now call “Scruggs style.”

Earl Scruggs three-finger style of playing was radically different from the traditional way the five-string banjo had previously been played. When done skillfully, the style allowed any digit to play a melody, while the other two digits played arpeggios of the melody line. His playing can be heard on the immortal “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” which was used in the Academy Award winning film Bonnie and Clyde, and in the theme song for the long-running television show The Beverly Hillbillies.

Want to learn from a Banjo master like Tony Trischka? Try a free bluegrass Banjo lesson now!

Enter “Newgrass”

In the 1970’s the New Grass Revival, featuring young, hip, long-haired musicians like mandolinist Sam Bush and banjo playing Fleck ushered in a more progressive and modern style of bluegrass that has kept the genre alive and thriving. “Newgrass,” as it is now commonly called, incorporated new sounds in three ways: songs might be pulled from other genres like rock or pop; arrangements often included jazzier progressions and chord voicings; and performances were more akin to current jam-bands in that they included extended improvisations.

The great Tony Trischka, another “newgrass” legend, also used the banjo and bluegrass as a launching pad to synthesize a wide variety of modern music’s most interesting sounds. His landmark Bluegrass Light, released on the Rounder label in 1974 fused folk with rock and avant-garde jazz, and many other milestone albums followed.

Both the New Grass Revival and Trischka’s Skyline made bluegrass accessible to audiences accustomed to rock festivals and jam-bands like the Grateful Dead, and their live outdoor shows were often just as celebratory and wild.

Patricia’s third guest—singer-songwriter and mandolinist Sierra Hull—represents a new generation of contemporary bluegrass superstars. In 2018 she was recognized as the International Bluegrass Music Awards Mandolin Player of Year, and in 2020 Hull appeared as one of the musicians on Cuttin’ Grass, the widely hailed bluegrass album by outlaw country superstar Sturgill Simpson.

Instrumentation and the “high, lonesome sound"

While bluegrass has changed through the years, the instrumentation has stayed pretty much the same. Most bands usually consist of fiddle, five-string banjo, guitar, mandolin and upright bass, but sometimes they are joined by the resonator guitar (or Dobro) and the harmonica. As in jazz, one or more instruments each takes its turn playing the melody and improvising around it, while the others perform accompaniment. Another distinguishing characteristic is vocal harmony featuring two, three or four parts, often with a dissonant or modal sound in the highest voice, a style described as the “high, lonesome sound."

Have you ever wanted to learn how to play music? Try out a free music lesson from an ArtistWorks instructor and get started on the right path. You’ll quickly see what makes ArtistWorks some of the best online music lessons around. 

Read More:
Tony Trischka Banjo Lesson: Rattling Clog
20 New Banjo Lessons from Tony Trischka

Banjo with Noam Pikelny is Here!




Affordable Plans

Each subscription is for a single school. Pricing and features can vary slightly per school.

1 Month membership
renews monthly
Unlimited Access to Lessons
Unlimited Video Exchanges
Exclusive Content
$35/month (prepaid)
3 Month membership
renews every 3 months
Unlimited Access to Lessons
Unlimited Video Exchanges
Exclusive Content
$30/month (prepaid)
12 Month membership
renews every 12 months
Unlimited Access to Lessons
Unlimited Video Exchanges
Exclusive Content
$20/month (prepaid)