Bluegrass is a fun and social style of music that first emerged in the 1930's as a hybrid of Appalachian old-time music, Irish and Scottish folk songs, and American country and blues. Since the bluegrass canon is made up of mostly traditional songs that are relatively simple to play, it is a great form of music for informal jam sessions and playing with friends of varying skill levels. Learning the techniques and styles of bluegrass guitar has never been easier with so many resources available both online and off.
Instructional Bluegrass Flatpicking Sites
These online communities offer bluegrass guitar instruction including lessons, tips, tabs, and more.
- Banjo Ben Clark: Ben Clark, aka Banjo Ben, is an excellent Nashville musician who has played with a number of country and bluegrass stars including Taylor Swift. Ben's quirky video lessons are a great resource for learning rhythm techniques, lead ideas, and fiddle tunes, as well mastering the all-important G lick. Ben's site offers both free and premium videos, tabs and a live chat feature.
- Watch & Learn: Freeguitarvideos.com, produced by Watch and Learn, has a selection of very helpful free lessons and tabs for beginning pickers. Subjects covered include using a flat pick and how to play in open position scales. If you sign up for the premium membership, you can gain access to more advanced lessons along with some very cool play-along jam tracks for download.
- Academy of Bluegrass: The Academy of Bluegrass offers high quality, interactive lessons with the some of the most accomplished and well-known bluegrass musicians in the country. Bryan Sutton, teacher for the Academy's School of Guitar, is a virtuosic guitarist who is regarded by many as the finest bluegrass picker on the scene today. In addition to access to instructional videos covering a variety of techniques, site members can also utilize forums, study materials, online chats and video exchanges with teachers. While the Academy is not free to join, the high quality instruction is worth the price. You can sample a few lessons before signing up to make sure it's right your your needs.
- Sean Ray: Sean Ray is Midwest musician whose free videos are great for learning fiddle tunes on guitar. In each video, Sean gives you a close up view of his fingerings as he performs the melody at both full and half speed. You can view all of the videos for free and buy tabs of his demonstration from the site.
Videos of Bluegrass Techniques
Like most guitar styles, bluegrass relies on a number of techniques to produce its signature sound. If you're a visual learner try some of these videos to nail down your bluegrass techniques.
- Intro to Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar: Learning to play a mean bluegrass rhythm will make you everyone's favorite picking partner.
- How to use a Capo: Using a capo is essential for playing bluegrass guitar. When you learn how to use a capo, you are able to play songs in different keys using the same open chord shapes you already know.
- How to Improvise using Easy Bluegrass Licks: Some easy licks to start improvising your own solos.
- Learn to play Red Haired Boy: This Irish traditional is called out at almost every bluegrass jam. A great tune to learn to become familiar with playing leads from an open position.
If you prefer to get your bluegrass guitar instruction offline, there are still plenty of options available.
- Mel Bay's Parking Lot Picker Song Book: A great anthology of bluegrass standards to learn for a picking session. The book comes complete with chords, lyrics and tabs for each song.
- Homespun Music Instruction: Homespun boasts the best catalog of instructional flat-picking DVD's with lessons from bluegrass greats like Tony Rice and David Grier.
- Manzantia by Tony Rice: A must-own for every bluegrass guitar player. This album is great mix of traditional bluegrass as well as some blazing instrumentals that showcase Tony's virtuosity, and hearing the music as it's meant t be played can help you with your own bluegrass skills and techniques.
Network and Jam with Others
The best part about playing bluegrass music is playing with others. Once you've got the hang of a few tunes, don't be afraid to find a local bluegrass jam at coffee house or open mic. Although it might be intimidating at first, joining in a jam session is a great way to build your chops and make some new pickin' buddies. In the immortal words of Tony Rice, "Jump on it son!"