I've recently gotten interested in learning to play bluegrass and need some direction for how to use previous knowledge and experience to pick up this style as quickly as possible. A summary follows to help the answerer know my starting point:

  • I have good music theory knowledge, a good ear for learning songs by listening, can read charts, but have very rusty sightreading skills.
  • I have played guitar for over 30 years including classic rock, pop, blues, new country, contemporary jazz, and soul/funk, and I studied classical guitar for 3 years but have all but lost that skill. I hybrid pick. -I listen to bluegrass classics as well as more modern pieces.

While most songs seem to be in Major keys, it is the melodic phrasing and improvising that are puzzling me, despite my experience. In addition, the number of beats per measure seems to vary, or just when I expect the song to go back to the top of the verse, another measure is inserted. It's befuddling!

I'm starting to think that my blues/rock roots might be getting in the way of my picking up this more traditional music form.

1 Answer 1


Bluegrass comes from the American Oldtime tradition.

American Oldtime music sprang from folk music and ballads of England in the 1600s. Oldtime was learned strictly by ear, usually by playing a tune over and over and over again.

Bluegrass is often also learned just by ear.

For the above two reasons, Oldtime and Bluegrass often stray from the 32-bar form.

The only advice I can give is record the versions of tunes that are played by the people you play with and then play along with those versions until you understand where the bars are. What I personally do is sing or hum along with a tune while playing backup. Then I can use the tune as my roadmap for rhythm and solos.

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