Bluegrass instruments: Fiddle (content template)

America has birthed a number of musical styles. And not just the musical genres themselves, but whole new ways of playing instruments. One such example is in bluegrass where fiddle players have developed a style of playing that is distinct to the genre.

Bluegrass instruments: Fiddle

The fiddle is a stringed instrument played with a bow. It is in the violin family and this has lead to having a classical instrument sort of stigma attached to it – slow and somber like the classical music of old.

Bluegrass fiddle players, however, play the upbeat and danceable music that is defined by the distinct sound of a fiddle being played in the genres bluesy yet bold style. You’ll never mistake a classical violin song for a bluegrass song – the two are vastly different.

What techniques do bluegrass fiddle players use?

A true bluegrass fiddle player is usually one who is highly skilled in specific fiddle traditions and has few ties to the violin. This is most noticeable by how they hold the fiddle in comparison to how a traditional violinist will approach the instrument:

  • bluegrass players will hold the instrument without regard to traditionalist stances
  • they rarely use the chin rest
  • they rarely use the shoulder rest
  • different bowing styles, such as the “long-bow,” create different levels of smoothness and clarity

These little differences free musicians to create a type of music that does not lend itself to the stiffness of a traditional violin player.

As far as how they play it goes, you will typically hear bluegrass fiddle players ‘slide’ into notes. This is seldom heard outside of bluegrass and Celtic style music. Frequent use of double stops is also a musical characteristic of bluegrass.

The history of Bluegrass fiddle

The first person to be considered a bluegrass fiddle player was Kenny Baker. He was an original member of Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys. He was with the band for more than any other person, besides Bill himself, and did more for fiddle players in the genre than any other.

While with The Blue Grass Boys, Kenny recorded many pre-written songs that had been passed down over the years. These songs formed the basis for the tunes that he and Bill would write together – the songs which now form the basis for all fiddle players and bluegrass players of any instrument.

Other well known bluegrass fiddle players include Vassar Clements, Michael Cleveland, Vernon Derrick, Jim van Cleve, Ricky Skaggs, Jana Jae and Mack Magaha.

Bluegrass as a bridge between genres

The Blue Grass Boys defined Bluegrass music as one which used frequent instrumental solos. This was a departure from the earliest musical styles in America, which were based almost purely on vocal arrangements. Even other genres used instruments more as accompaniment, blandy strumming out chords.

Bluegrass helped pave the way for the pop music we listen to today, for blazing guitar solos, and seeing instruments as stars as it developed the early vocal only styles into full bands that played instruments in an exciting fashion.