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Bluegrass Mandolin Lesson: Tag Endings


Bluegrass, like many musical traditions, is a primarily improvisational art form. When bluegrass tunes are performed, there is a common song structure that is typically followed in order to keep all the musicians organized and on the same page. A song typically begins with the band performing the tune’s predetermined melody. From there, each member of the band typically performs an improvised solo over the tune’s chord changes. After most, if not all, of the band members have performed their solos, the tune’s melody is performed once again and the band then prepares to end the song. But, how do all of the musicians end the performance in a smooth and coordinated manner? The answer: tag endings.


In this online mandolin lesson, Grammy Award-winning musician, 4-time IBMA “Mandolin Player of the Year,” and ArtistWorks master bluegrass mandolin instructor, Sierra Hull, explains the concept of the tag ending and teaches a few of the most common tag endings that you can incorporate into your next bluegrass jam session. While Sierra does teach how to play these endings on the mandolin, these tags can be applied to any instrument. This lesson is helpful for any aspiring ‘grasser, regardless of your preferred instrument.


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play bluegrass mandolin from a master musician like Sierra Hull? Try some free online mandolin lessons now!


“If you’re sitting in a jam session and it’s time to go ‘this is the end of the song,’ what do you do? What is the process?” Sierra asks. “In bluegrass, we usually insert what we think of as a tag ending to let the listeners and other musicians know that we’re going to wrap up the tune.”


What is a tag ending?

To signify the ending of a song, many musicians will play a specific series of notes that are referred to as a “tag.” The phrases that make up these “tags” are all deeply ingrained in the bluegrass musical vocabulary, and are instantly recognizable to both seasons bluegrass musicians and listeners alike. One very common tag ending is the melodic line that accompanies the old phrase, “shave and a haircut, two bits.”


“In this lesson, I want to plant the idea of how tag endings work, and what to expect when you come to the end of a song—because it can vary,” explains Sierra. “But, there are some simple, general rules to follow that can make learning this process quite a bit easier.”


To learn how to incorporate tag endings into your next bluegrass jam session, dive into this online mandolin lesson from Sierra Hull:


Tag Endings with Sierra Hull:




Have you always wanted to learn how to play the bluegrass mandolin? Through our comprehensive mandolin lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Sierra Hull, and get personal feedback on your playing.


Sierra’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner mandolin to advanced performance techniques, music theory, classic bluegrass tunes, and more. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as mandolinists and musicians.


Sample some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



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