Compendium of Fiddle Styles/Bluegrass fiddle

Kenny Baker-fiddle.jpg

Bluegrass fiddling burst into national view during the folk revival of the 1960's with the first televised documentary Bluegrass Roots: On The Road With Bluegrass Musicians shot in the Mountain of North Carolina. Old Man Bascom Lunsford took center stage at the Asheville Mountain Music Festival, itself a trail blazing event. which (also the first such event). It is aptly described by a publicist as "the hard scrabbling, dirt road real people sounds that dominated the back country of the southern mountains 40 years ago." [1] Other trends have brought renewed interest in bluegrass fiddling: major mainstream performers have recorded bluegrass albums, and the Coen Brothers' released the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? in (2000), with an old-time and bluegrass soundtrack, and the Down from the Mountain music tour.

History and developmentEdit

Kenny Baker is perhaps the most famed early bluegrass fiddler; he met Bill Monroe and cut a record with the Bluegrass Boys in 1957.[2] Kenny Baker served more years in Monroe's band than any other musician and was selected by Monroe to record the fiddle tunes passed down from Uncle Pen Vandiver. After leaving the Bluegrass Boys in 1984,Baker played with a group of friends, Bob Black, Alan Murphy, and Aleta Murphy

Distinctives of the styleEdit

Bluegrass fiddling is commonly confused with old time fiddling, from which it derived, but they are quite distinct. Bluegrass is certainly the product of Bill Monroe, who was aware of old time but also of jazz, swing and other traditions. [3]


In an essay with the short title Why Old TIme is Different from Bluegrass,[4] Allan Feldman argues against the proposal of an "inclusive cover name that would bring oldtime music, bluegrass, clawgrass and dawg music under the same umbrella in order to attract new audiences. The unfortunate trend in this country is to homogenize things. I think oldtime music stands against homogenization. Having thus staked ground out for himself as a purist, he continues that "he for one celebrates the fact that oldtime music is not bluegrass or dawg music or new grass or even claw grass".[5] Nevertheless old time influence is strong, even reflected in lyrics such as the reference to old time, actually Scottish/Irish Soldier's Joy, in Uncle Pen. [6]


Bluegrass fiddlers combine from many genres and tend to be highly skilled with strong roots in fiddle rather than violinistic traditions. As such, they can be seen to disregard the rules that violinists follow: they hold the fiddle the "wrong" way and don't necessarily use the chin rests, shoulder rests. [7] Kenny Baker is famous for a "long-bow" style which is reputed to add a smoothness and clarity to the music.[8][citation needed] Notes are often slid into, a technique seldom used by Celtic-influenced stylists outside of bluegrass. [9] Double stops and open tunings are used adeptly as is the full panoply of technique from jazz players such as [{Stuff Smith and Joe Venuti as well as Western swing technique of players such as Bob Wills.[citation needed]


Famous songs from Bluegrass Roots include Groundhog, Johnson Boys, East Virginia Blues, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Blue Ridge Mountain Blues, and Heavenly Light is Shinning On Me. Orange Blossom Special is often performed by bluegrass fiddlers. See also

  • Rocky Top,
  • Blue Moon of Kentucky
  • Uncle Pen

Bluegrass fiddling in fusionEdit

Bluegrass and its fiddlers have influenced other genres. Acts such as "The Carolina Chocolate Drops", and "Cabinet" incorporate bluegrass fiddling into old time and other styles in emergent variations of the canonical idiom established by Bill Monroe. File:Carolinachocolatedrops.jpg|800px|center


  • Vassar Clements - Fiddle: Bluegrass Masters Series, Matt Glaser (Editor)
  • Kingsbury, Paul (2004). The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517608-1.
  • Rosenberg, Neil (1985). Bluegrass: A History. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-00265-2.

Videographic documentationEdit

Great fiddle licks Bruce Molsky solo Three Forks of Cheat/Pickin' the Devils Eye

See alsoEdit

Bill Monroe


  1. filmmaker=David Hoffman|date=1964|production=New York|
  2. Rosenberg, Neil V.; Wolfe, Charles K. (1989). Bill Monroe: Bluegrass 1950-58. Holste-Oldendorf, Germany: Bear Family Records GmbH. ISBN 978-3-924787-13-4. 
  3. haught
  4. Dwight Diller - Reflections on how bluegrass music is different from old time Appalachian music
  5. Ibid
  7. filmmaker=David Hoffman|date=1964|production=New York|
  8. Kenny baker article Citation needed