Mandolins in the Bluegrass Family

Mandolins in the Bluegrass Family

Mandolins in the Bluegrass Family

The rather small, eight stringed mandolin with its fairly  poor stage projection seems an unlikely source of  modern Bluegrass music. Yet this magical instrument has become one of the best markers of Bluegrass.

While Bluegrass is largely an American form of music, it is also derived from Irish and Scottish music.  In the early portion of the twentieth century, in the Appalachian mountains, people of  a wide variety of nationalities found entertainment and comfort playing the music of their homelands.  Many of these people were tenant farmers and relatively recently freed slaves.

Instrumentation was taken care of by what was available.  In large families, like Bill Monroe’s,  instruments were played by whomever was not playing an instrument by the time a child was old enough to learn to play the instrument well.  For many families (including Monroe’s, Rhonda Vincent’s and the McCoury family), the youngest and smallest player got the mandolin.

From this, we get the challenging sounds of Bluegrass.  After moving off the front porches of Appalachia, and onto the stages of local and national stages, Bluegrass became an audible force in American music.

This meant some change for traditional music.  The addition of amplifiers to the mandolin ensured that its high powered and high tunings and playings could be heard in every concert, and on nearly every radio in the United States during the early twentieth century.

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