by Mike Compton
November 18, 2015
"Howdy Folks!" Welcome to Peghead Nation's Monroe Style Mandolin track. I'm glad you've stopped by to check us out! We'll be starting from the point in time right after the Brothers Monroe parted ways and Mr. Bill went off on his own to create what's become known as the traditional bluegrass style mandolin. From there we'll go forward toward the present, so I hope you'll stick around. There will be eye-openers along the way whether you're a newbie or seasoned player and want to get some more of that old time sound. My goal is to give you the ingredients and understanding to reproduce this exciting mandolin style. I will do my best to give clear, concise direction, but if you have questions please ask and I'll do my best to iron out the wrinkles. If you commit your time and emotions to this music it will be yours!
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Comments and Discussion
Ha! You caught me. On the recording I used originally to transcribe the song the pitch is a bit between B and C. Most everybody plays the song in B so that’s where I pitched it to write it out. But my transcription is an older one that I recently updated and when I was listening to the material to warm up for the Peghead sessions I was using a more modern reproduction and it sounds pitch to closer to C. So that’s where I played it. I used the transcription for fingering chart only and was looking at the intervals, not so much the note pitches. So that’s the deal. I will transcribe the notation into C major in a couple weeks when I get home.
Thanks for paying attention!
Thank you for the course. Its super fun. I'm just through to "It's Mighty Dark to Travel" (I try to do an new tune every other day or so). The course has been super productive. I started the course to improve my improvised playing and am glad I did. I especially like when there is an emphasis on phrasing and timing. The pace of the lessons is good, and I like how the tune selection progresses through Monroe's work; it helps understand the ground behind the playing a little more. I gotta agree with other folks on this message board that mentioning the dominant chord in your lessons, or in the notation, would help with transcribing ideas into other opportunities, situations, or keys, and increase my understanding of why what is played is played when it is. I've benefited most when there's more variety in the licks, to fuel my imagination, and think you've done a great job explaining the playing in an accessible but productive pace, so again, thank you for the helpful and fun mentoring.
Got a great batch of tunes/songs coming your way this year. If you've got questions, let me know. I'll be here...
Life is good.
Anyway, carry on - having fun here!
"How'dat feel? A little weird, huh?"
Thanks! Long live Monroe.
I'm heading out to San Rafael early next week to do the next round of sessions for next year's offering. Tunes/songs will cover:
Shine, Hallelujah Shine/Traveling On and On
Bluegrass Ramble (alternate tuning)
My Little GA Rose w/alternate solo
Memories of You w/alternate solo (alternate tuning)
I'm Blue, I'm Lonesome
Uncle Pen w/alternate solo
Letter From My Darlin
Heavy Traffic Ahead w/alternate solo
Ben Dewberry's Final Run
Sugar Coated Love w/alternate solo
There's some really fantastic stuff in these songs, so you will want to stay around. Some of these are outtakes that I think are more interesting than the released versions that everybody is familiar with. I know you will enjoy the alternate solos and find them to be an interesting and informative option. You'll want to learn you way around these!
Wish me luck on the filming! This batch is tough!
Life is good.
Thanks for your confidence in the series. I am doing my best to be accurate and informative. To answer your question...
Yes, we will get to that time period. I'm assuming you're referring to the transitional period from the '60's and on, yes? As I said to Al just now in a previous post, I am following Monroe's discography in order for the sessions and have just gotten to the beginning of the '50's. I reckon we'll be up to the material you're asking about in say 7-8 years. Of course it's understandable that we all may not want to wait that long. What specifically are you looking for?
Life is good.
No sir, you are the first to ask about "Wheel Hoss". There are quite a few versions of that tune at this point, the first being recorded in 1954. For the Peghead folks I am following the official discography on Monroe's music that was put out by Neil Rosenberg and Charles Wolfe. The next round of sessions (coming up the end of this month) will feature the first recordings from 1950. If I follow the order laid out in the discography then we will not get to "Wheel Hoss" for another couple years at least...Ha! But, if you are really hankering for it I think we can probably work something out.
Life is good.
Glad to have you on board. John Hartford was a HUGE fan of Monroe's, both his playing and as a friend. I find myself following tangents a lot too. Sometimes it's surprising where it winds up, eh? Let me know if you need anything.
Life is good.
This series continues to be wealth of information on how to play Monroe style. Plus I think it's an important document of Monroe's music. I don't believe there's a more thorough or deep analysis of his mandolin playing around!
Will you be getting into his later styles that used more sliding and seemed to have a different tonality (less bright and downstroke based and more dark and rumbly)?
Sorry if this has been asked before - any chance you'll be teaching Wheel Hoss down the road?
I was introduced to your playing through John Hartford's music and inadvertently to this series as well. I've known for a while I should study Bill's playing and a few days ago I found an interview of him by John. That inspired me to dig a little deeper and I ended up finding your videos on youtube talking about this course. Music has a funny and beautiful way of tying things together like that.
Glad you got some use out of that tidbit! I think that keeping your alternating strokes in synch with the beat is really the cornerstone of making all those syncopations and rhythms work out. I can't see any other way to make it work.
Holler is you need anything else. MC
I'm really glad to hear you're getting something out of it. Breaking these tunes down and playing them phrase by phrase and then putting the puzzle back together is a quite a bit of work and not something that feels real natural for me but if it's helping folks get a deeper appreciation of Monroe's style then it's worth the effort!
Life is good. MC
How's it going so far? Anything you folks need extra help with?
Life is good. MC
The angle you use when 'striking' the strings is crucial to your tone and volume as you have found out. I try to play the pick flat on the strings as much as possible to maximize the return on my effort, but the wear pattern on a well-used pick usually shows a very slight tilt to one side. So it appears I favor the edge a small degree. If you use a loose grip and 'rub' or push/pull the pick back and forth you will get less percussion. Yessir, the Monroe default appears to be predominantly flat.
Let me know how you're progressing with it!
Life is good. MC
First of all happy new year and thanks for teaching us Monroe. It is really exciting to learn this material from you as you are certainly an amazing picker. It will be fun when you start a Compton Style mandolin class on here too!
I was hoping to ask you a technique question about where you hold the pick in relation to how it strikes the strings. I am guessing as with most things in life it depends, but as a baseline do you keep the pick flat on the strings or do you pick slightly (for example towards the bevel of a beveled pick). I find flat gives a more percussive sound which seems to be part of the Monroe styling while tilting gives more of a rounder smoother tone. Given that I would guess the Monroe default is flat? Thanks again and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.
That's two 'attaboys' for you this Xmas. If it makes you feel better know that I'm working on tremolo too. And left hand positions, and tone, and etc...
I had no idea Mark Royal was such a brut. But worth every penny...
Life is good.
I haven't been putting chords on the notation because sometimes there are variations that may be applied to the chord progression. Plus, the notation gets a little overwhelming to look at the more one adds to the page. The chord changes often come on the downbeats of each quarter note in the measure so that's a good place to envision the chord changes/position shifts. Bill's style is built around playing out of chord positions or partial chords. It's not a case where he follows the notes in a given position exclusively but plays lines that connect the dots to chord tones. You can usually see the chord shapes unfolding as you play through the melody. It takes some practice, but it will become more apparent. If you really give it a go and can't come up with the answer send me a line and I'll shoot you the chord progressions.
Life is good. MC
I'm really liking these lessons. In the past I've always been a cherry picker, get through the lessons fast, learn an couple of things and move on. I'm practicing more and spending time on the little things I've ignored for years. I changed my right hand at Camp last September and haven't touched the top with my little finger since then. Thanks to you for the gentle prodding and Mark Royal for yelling at me about it for 5 days. The tremolo is almost there, who knew practice actually works??? Thanks for these lessons and your encouragement.
Old but no done, Clyde
Good to know I'm not doing a bad thing by using more wrist in my right hand.
Regarding the chords, I find it easier to locate and play the melody notes and double stops if I know what and where the chord changes are. And you have said that Monroe often plays out of chord positions so I was just curious why you don't show the changes in the notations. It's probably a good idea for me to figure them out for myself so I learn to hear them more easily.
Glad you're getting use out of the BG Breakdown lesson. There's a lot more where that came from!
Life is good.
Thanks for your questions.
I've been noticing that I'm using more arm than I'd like. The drive is supposed to come from the wrist with pretty much an up/down motion, but I can't get much speed that way. So, there's a little bit of a turn built in that feels more natural to me. I've had to rework my right hand technique over the last couple years due to wear and tear from bad habits so I've not gotten it all worked out yet. In my opinion your arm should work like a system from your shoulder all the way down with your wrist doing the bulk of the work.
So, you caught me in my current weak spot! Rats...
I could write in the chord changes, yes, but I'm not sure how that will help you. Will you tell me how you think it will be useful?
Life is good.
Nothing makes all this work like practice, but you know that. Everybody has demands on their time. If you don't have time to practice 4 hours a day just pick out one area to focus on for maybe an hour, 30 minutes, 15 minutes...having a goal helps you make strides in that area.
Holler if you need anything.
Life is good. MC
I just worked through some of the variations of BG Breakdown. What a treasure trove of Monroe style licks and ideas in context! I'll be returning to that section over and over to mine more Monroe/Compton gold.
Enjoying the lessons, struggling a bit to keep up with flow, but keep 'em coming. I do have a couple questions:
1. In watching your right hand it seems you use a straight up and down motion as opposed to the "turning the doorknob" wrist motion. More arm than wrist overall. Is that correct?
2. You've mentioned that Monroe often played out of chord positions. Would it be possible to indicate the chord changes on your notation sheets? I think it would be helpful.
Great, great stuff on here. While I play a lot of these tunes and songs, my interpretation is a little iffy. I like to call my style Bulldog mandolin. Very nice to clear up some of my wrong ideas. My tremolo is a problem, too much string, old, stiff hands and not enough practice. Playing along with these videos seems to be helping, kindly smooths it out a bit. I learned a lot at the '15 Camp and plan to come again when I can afford it.
It was great to meet some of you at the MonManCamp'16. Glad to put some faces on you followers of Big Mon. I have just gotten together again with the folks at Peghead Nation and recorded 14 more tracks for you, four of which are live Grand Ole Opry radio transcriptions from the original classic bluegrass ensemble of Monroe/Flatt/Scruggs/Wise/Rainwater. They are made up of similar components to some of the things we've covered so far with a few new twists. The rest are Monroe material leading up to the early 1950's. I can't wait for you to hear them. Lots of work to do and some tricky shifting, but worth the effort.
I'd love to hear from you on how everthing is going so far, so give me a holler.
Life is good.
I heard through the grapevine that there's something really special in the works for all us Monroe fanatics and hysterical historians. No, not a Peghead offering, but a set of CDs headed to market.
Hmmm...quite a lot to digest in one man's style, yes? Lots of changes over the years. Some I think were due to artistic vision, some maybe catering to the technology of the times. You know, some things just sounded better and stood out more than others over on the old machines. I'm sure some of that was taken into consideration.
Bill told me once that when he and Charlie played together he played really light because there weren't but the two of them and he didn't have to play loud/hard. I don't hear the hard strokes much really until Bill got the F5 and I think with that he could hear more possibilities and had an instrument that would deliver whatever he could come up with. To me the 40's went from Bill finding a new voice other than the one he'd used with brother Charlie to having an entirely new sound/style of his own. His early 40's band to me sounded like an early western swing band sometimes and a hillbilly band at others. By the time the 40's were coming to an end he had already been in one of the most powerful and popular bands in the music business and was changing his sound even then. The early 50's to me sound very experimental and sometimes bizarre. The material the records companies had him doing was from all over the place. He had electric guitars, organs, drums, etc. Some of his mandolin work during that time was WAY outside. You can hear different mandolins on recordings during the 50's too. I think by the mid/late 50's he had the 'high lonesome sound' really working with some of the strongest musicians he ever had. Lots of downstrokes, spirited and angry-sounding tremolos, playing close to the bridge. But ever ingenious, ever creative. The 60's brought the folk revival and a revival to Bill's career as well. I think at this point that F5 Bill had was at its peak sound. And Bill came at the music like the grand master he was being presented as. He was labeled as the "Father of Bluegrass Music" at that point and he acted like it. But still outside and oh so powerful. I have recordings of his performances from this time that defy explanation on songs like "BlueGrass Twist" "On and On". Pete Rowan told me that Bill Monroe played the wildest music he's ever heard, so considering Peter's background I'd say that's saying a mouthful!
The 70's brought the modal tunes, 3 and 4 part tunes, slides...I used to have a roommate that worked for Bill around '75. He said that Bill had his other Loar on the bus and when he played it he played all that slippery material on it, but when he played his trademark F5 he did other stuff. Apparently the action on his favorite Loar was so high that he couldn't play the slides much, but when he got the neck reset on the old mandolin he went to playing the new material on it then. Seems like lots of tunes about towns and people, Bill thinking back over the years, realizing he was getting on in years. There was always the 'implied note' thing, but to me there was more of it now, doing more with less. And so it went on. Bill seemed to be on fire and playing more than ever in those days and I've heard a few ex BG Boys say that Bill was practicing more than when they were in his band. So he was all over it and creating new sounds. Not so much downstroke material anymore, but still some.
And so on to the last of him. Not a full historical perspective. There are a lot of words written on Bill's music. Some good notes in the new discography. If you don't have it check it out.
Life is good.
I happened to think about another song/tune that would give you a good picture of some of Mr. Bill's rhythm. Check out the mandolin work on "Stoney Lonesome", the original cut recorded on January 30, 1959. You'll find Bill using chop chord shapes but more or less representing the melodic rhythm with it, not just playing offbeat chops.
Life is good. MC
Life is good. MC
Is there any chance you could provide tablature/notation for the verse of True Life Blues you play from about 1:00 - 1:22 on the 1st True Life Blues Solo lesson video?
Can't wait for more lessons...
Thank you very much for replying to my inquiry.
Yes, you have provided further insight regarding Bill's singing and rhythm style. I really appreciate your efforts to further Bill's musical legacy.
Thanks for your inquiry. All the lessons I have on PegHead have been recorded at an earlier date, so it will be quite some time before I will do another batch. It may be possible to start a list of desired topics for next time though.
One of the most significant aspects of Bill Monroe's music was gospel singing and the influence it had on his harmony style. I think that Bill learned how to sing harmony in church schools as did many people who lived in remote country towns. The clip you saw was not a rarity for Bill as he often closed his sets with at least 3-4 songs sung together and asked the crowd to join in with him. I still remember seeing waving his hands to the crowds inviting them "in". The medley approach lasted for quite some time and there was really no telling what songs might be included, although the ones you mentioned were often present. He might throw in "Blue Moon of KY" or "You've Got to Walk That Lonesome Valley" or "I'm on My Back to the Old Home" or whatever else came to mind. So, the segment was not just a selection of gospel songs. Usually Bill didn't take solos on many of the tunes either as did the fiddle and banjo.
As for the rhythm style you heard, yes, there was quite a bit more to Bill's rhythm than merely playing chop chords. He played all kinds of strums and punctuations to emphasize particular points in the songs he played. I think this aspect gets lost on most folks because it is not as up front and dramatic (although sometimes it could be) as his lead work.
Does this satisfy your curiosity regarding the topic? Let me know.
Life is good.
I am very excited with this opportunity to learn Monroe-Style Mandolin from you! I found your Monroe-Style Mandolin Basics to be very helpful and insightful. Also, I enjoy listening to your experiences with Mr. Bill.
Recently, I was listening to a live recording from November 11, 1980 of Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys at the Soft Rock Café in Vancouver, BC, Canada and was captivated by their performance of a medley of three “gospel songs”, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot/I’ll Fly Away/I Saw The Light”. Mr. Bill’s fondness for performing these songs really shines through in this performance.
Can you provide a lesson and share insight on Mr. Bills approach to perform these songs? I think this performance also demonstrates another aspect of Mr. Bill’s rhythm style that you alluded to in your lesson. It appears that he seems to approach the mandolin more like a folk guitarist on these numbers.
I look forward to your future lessons.
Thank you very much,
That tune is called "Tall Timber" and is not included in this round of transcriptions. Because I am presenting tunes in chronological order of recording, this one will not show up for quite some time. Maybe in a couple more years :-D...
Glad you approve. Stay tuned and tell your friends about Peghead Nation. I'll see you at Wintergrass. I'll be playing with Helen Highwater String Band and also will be doing a vintage instrument demonstration with Critter Saturday morning at 10:30a.
I just want to thank you for doing this. These are terrific lessons, just about the right depth to get me stretching a little, doing stuff I hadn't done much (or very well), and getting better at it. Hope to see you at Wintergrass and next September in Nashville.
I talked to the Peghead guys and they suggest I do a few short videos to send you regarding your question. Will iPhone or Quicktime videos work for you? Do you have specific songs you want to see demonstrated? As I understand it, you want to see chord substitutions that aren't those stretched out 'bluegrass' chop chords. Yes? Do you care for a little oldtime rhythm stylings too?
I agree about the right hand. It's ultra important to get it working. So many different aspects to making it work correctly. I think it's definitely an under-studied area. So many folks want to learn licks and that's cool, but the 'meat' of the sound is in the right hand attack.
I'll make a note of your suggestion and focus some time next time we record on the right hand technique as I understand it. Thanks for your suggestion! MC
Yessir, mostly downstrokes. I know it feels unbelievably fast, but that Monroe fellow really had quite muscle reflexes. I can barely keep up with the recording. Practice this slower and focus on staying relaxed or your wrist and forearm will tighten up and then you're sunk. Try using as short a stroke as possible, conserve motion. Let me know how it goes! MC
Amazing that that's what got your attention. It was a quick example to illustrate a point. I don't have 'Panhandle Country' noted in that fashion. I have Monroe's solo, but it's nothing like the double stop example you are referring to. Keep an eye out for "How Will I Explain About You" on this track. It uses the same ideas regarding tremolo and slides. Keep me posted on how it goes. MC
You've found the first vocal in the series! There are a number of vocals in this batch, so you wont be dissappointed. Stay in touch and let me know how it goes. MC
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