Getting Into Bluegrass Music: 4 Acclaimed Musicians Share Their Insights

Invaluable insights and expert advice from Brandon Johnson, Lewis 'Burner' Pugh, Marcel Ardans, and Martin Gilmore on the rise of bluegrass, its community spirit, priceless tips for aspiring musicians, and much more!

By Magesh MageshContributing Author

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Bluegrass music is known for being technically difficult. This is because of its vocal harmonies, fast tempo, and complex guitar and banjo parts. In recent years it has made its way into the mainstream with artists like Molly Tuttle being a favorite at Bluegrass festivals.

I spoke with 4 Bluegrass musicians to help understand what makes this music so unique.


Brandon Johnson

Brandon Johnson is an in-demand session guitarist. His Bluegrass jam band Kind Country has toured for over the last decade. He has also shared the stage with such world-class musicians as Pat Metheny, Béla Fleck, and Victor Wooten.


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Bluegrass seems to be becoming more popular if you look at how many are learning Bluegrass guitar online. What do you account for the rise of people wanting to play Bluegrass music?

Yes, bluegrass is becoming more popular and is experiencing a bit of a resurgence similar to the 1970’s. I attribute this to the rise of some really great bluegrass artists in the last 10 years, namely Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle. Billy Strings in particular has had a big influence on people wanting to play bluegrass guitar.

I also think bluegrass is a great style of music for the acoustic guitar. Players get a lot out of the instrument playing this style of music, especially the dreadnought-style guitar. You can also play it in a wide variety of contexts, whether alone, with a small group, or with a large band.

Bluegrass guitar has a rich history and includes many different guitar techniques including rhythm, soloing, and fingerpicking.


Do you feel Bluegrass music can be taught online or do you feel people need to be involved in jam sessions with other musicians?

Learning guitar both through online or in-person lessons is a great way to develop an understanding of the fundamentals of guitar. Playing with other pickers allows you to apply what you learn in a real-world musical setting.

You can also learn valuable skills playing with other musicians like how to keep time and transition between solos and rhythm playing. You also learn how to deal with mistakes on the fly and how to deliver a song or piece of music effectively.


Bluegrass guitar has a distinctive sound due to flat picking. What do you think is the best way for people to learn this technique?

Bluegrass style flatpicking often uses what are called ‘open position’ scales. These scales are played out of the first position on the guitar neck and make use of open strings. These open-position scales are what give bluegrass flat picking its distinctive sound.

Also, like blues music, bluegrass music uses a common chord progression called the I-IV-V. So a good way to practice bluegrass flatpicking is to learn the open position scales for G, C, and D. This will cover you for most situations where you have to solo over a chord progression.


I think one trap that people fall into when learning how to improvise is relying too much on scales


How did you learn to improvise music?

Improvisation is a complex topic. The best improvisers are jazz musicians and guitarists of any style can learn a lot from them. I think one trap that people fall into when learning how to improvise is relying too much on scales. While it is important to learn scales, one should focus more on the ‘language’ of bluegrass guitar.

In other words, the little things that make bluegrass-style guitar sound distinct from other styles. This includes using the flat 3rd in your pentatonic scales to give you a bluesy sound and the famous ‘G-Run’ which is almost universal in bluegrass music.


Do you feel it is important for musicians to read music? TAB is popular because you can learn quickly although it has its obvious limitations.

I don’t feel that guitarists need to be able to sight-read music notation. The guitar is one of the hardest instruments to sight read for.

TABs make music easier for the beginner or intermediate guitarist to learn as they map out the fretboard much more directly than sheet music does. You will rarely if ever be required to read sheet music note-for-note in a bluegrass setting.


What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently focusing on teaching guitar on my website brandonjohnsonguitar.com and playing with my bluegrass band The Johnson Brothers with my brother Mitch.


Connect with Brandon Johnson
Facebook / Website / YouTube


Lewis 'Burner' Pugh


Lewis 'Burner' Pugh is an artist from Leeds influenced by everything from bluegrass and country through to skiffle and punk. Brought up on bluegrass and folk music, he plays traditional music and his own songs which are often political. He also plays with The Burner Band.


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Bluegrass seems to be becoming more popular if you look at how many are learning Bluegrass guitar online. What do you account for the rise of people wanting to play Bluegrass music?

I think there's a huge appeal to many types of folk music. Firstly, it's often quite immediate music that hits the listener straight away. It's also story music; bluegrass and country music have always sung about the big topics of love, loss, heartbreak, betrayal, murder, etc. Maybe that's part of it - it certainly is for me.

From my observations, artists such as Billy Strings, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Sierra Ferrel have exposed more people to bluegrass, country, and old-time music with their hard work and success. I was at the Rotterdam Bluegrass festival in 2023 and I must have seen 500 Billy Strings t-shirts! To me that's great.

I was lucky enough to be brought up on this music (my dad plays banjo and my mum used to play double bass) but most people haven't had that - so anything that broadens the appeal is wonderful in my view.


Do you feel Bluegrass music can be taught online or do you feel people need to be involved in jam sessions with other musicians?

Almost anything can be taught online, to a degree. There's no substitute for getting out there and playing with others, but I totally understand that people might be a bit too shy to do this at first.

My advice is to go for it - any session worth its salt will include 'new players' as well, but it's important to be aware of some of the etiquette such as playing softly during breaks, etc.


Bluegrass guitar has a distinctive sound due to flat picking. What do you think is the best way for people to learn this technique?

Listen to Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Tony Rice, and modern players like Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle. Learn a few rudiments. It's a world of fun and I'm definitely not in the same league as any of those players! I can step on the accelerator a little but I'm rough around the edges - but I'm OK with that.

It also depends on what you want out of playing - for me, it's fun and expression, I've no ambition to be "the fastest" or any of that stuff. And listen to other styles!


What I feel has far more value is training our ears; listening, noticing, practicing, copying to a degree, and then developing your own style


How did you learn to improvise music?

Again, I think a lot of this comes down to personal expression. Jazz probably does it best, but that doesn't mean you can't do it in other styles. A decent tip is to learn a few scales, play to a backing track or a metronome (or even, over a few chords someone is playing for you), play around with the scale, and just have fun with it.

There aren't any wrong notes, it's just that some sound better than others.


Do you feel it is important for musicians to read music? TAB is popular because you can learn quickly although it has its obvious limitations.

I personally don't feel it's important at all to read music. Humans have been playing music for millennia and Western musical notation is relatively new. Plus, "standard notation" was really meant for classical, so is often limited in its use for other styles, particularly folk.

What I feel has far more value is training our ears; listening, noticing, practicing, copying to a degree, and then developing your own style. And ultimately enjoying it, and if others can enjoy it too, then great. TAB can be really useful, but for me, it's a huge turn-off. But then I prefer songs to tunes! (instrumentals)


What projects are you currently working on?

I released my 3rd solo record in March 2024 'Bullets for Bread' on the small Leeds-based indie label Shed Load Records. It can be heard here, and in most other places you listen to music: at www.theburnerband.com. It's more in the country/folk realm but features some mean fiddle playing by Niles Krieger (The Often Herd) and excellent pedal steel by my good pal Steven Hicken Jr. (who also plays with The Burner Band). There's a bluegrass influence but don't expect Jimmy Martin.

I also play with The Burner Band, and we are working on our 3rd record together, which may be out this year or early next year. The best place to keep in touch is www.theburnerband.com but we're also pretty regular on Instagram and Facebook (links below).

I also teach music as a job and compose music for stock libraries, as well as play bass in the punk rock band The Yalla Yallas.

Connect with Lewis 'Burner' Pugh
Instagram / Facebook  

Connect with The Burner Band
Instagram / Facebook 


Marcel Ardans

Marcel Ardans is a guitarist, teacher, and YouTuber active in the Raleigh music scene. His time in the bluegrass scene began in the Pacific Northwest, where he wood-shedded and gigged extensively with local and regional acts. Rightfully earning the nickname “The Biggest Baddest Billy Goat In The Barnyard”.


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Bluegrass seems to be becoming more popular if you look at how many are learning Bluegrass guitar online.  What do you account for the rise of people wanting to play Bluegrass music?

Bluegrass has always been more of a fringe genre, not unlike jazz and various world music subgenres. I doubt Bluegrass will ever have heavy mainstream appeal but that doesn't keep it from having generational hot spots. For example, Flatt and Scruggs appeared on the Beverly Hillbillies in the '60s, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's album Will The Circle Be Unbroken in the '70s, New Grass Revival created hit songs with Garth Brooks in the early '90s, the hit film O Brother, Where Art Thou? in the 2000s. It's like a cultural amnesia and once in a decade, everyone remembers, "Oh yeah, this is good. Why don't people play bluegrass music anymore?"

I think the general public doesn't realize we've been here playing bluegrass the whole time. I think we're in another one of those bluegrass awakenings right now and we owe most of that to Billy Strings. I've had the pleasure of talking with Billy a few times in the last year and he's far too humble to acknowledge his influence but I think it's undeniable. Who was the last bluegrass act that could regularly sell out an arena or was invited to perform on TV during the Grammys? Maybe Alison Krauss and Union Station in the 90's, it's been a while.

If you look at the Google Trends data for the search term "Billy Strings" it spikes heavily through the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. That's the exact moment I began hiring more staff to meet the demand for bluegrass guitar students. So, thank you Mr. Billy Strings for waking this generation up and making them realize that bluegrass music is cool again.


Do you feel Bluegrass music can be taught online or do you feel people need to be involved in jam sessions with other musicians?

Well, I hope it can be taught online! That's my whole business! But I understand what you're asking, it's a very social and historical genre that's hard to replicate online. One of the difficult things about bluegrass is the heritage that comes with it.

Bluegrass music has roots in early America, Irish fiddle tunes and English ballads were brought over by settlers, and the banjo and African improvisational concepts and rhythms were brought to America by the slave trade. These fiddle tunes and ballads were Americanized in the American South, meanwhile, the Civil War ended, and freed slaves began playing blues in earnest in the South. The Sears catalog carries cheap mandolins, fiddles, guitars, and banjos that can be purchased by poor white and black Americans alike.

Eventually, these disparate influences and the instrumentation available to poor Southerners coalesced into Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys in the 1940s, and bluegrass the genre was born. That's a lot of cultural baggage and history to drag into 2024 to attempt to play this music authentically. Much of this genre's core ingredients are dated to the point that the modern guitar student isn't even aware these ingredients exist!

For instance, there are fiddle tunes that date back to the 1600s and 1700s that bluegrass musicians still regularly play. As you might imagine, the first thing I do with most students is a crash course through this classic repertoire, these older playstyles, and the traditional expectations at a bluegrass jam. Then when they have the basics down, if they haven't been already, I encourage them to play with other musicians.

Bluegrass is one of those genres where it doesn't hurt to do your homework and you can do that homework online. After all, you wouldn't show up to a jazz session not knowing how to play any jazz standards, right?


Bluegrass guitar has a distinctive sound due to flat picking. What do you think is the best way for people to learn this technique?

Yeah, the bluegrass guitar didn't start out as a lead instrument. You won't find many guitar solos (or as bluegrass musicians call them, breaks) on early bluegrass records. You can find some 50s and 60s flatpicking in breaks played by folks like Bill Napier and Don Reno. Their contemporary, George Shuffler, also played flatpicking breaks but was also known for his cross-picking (a style of bluegrass guitar that emulates the roll patterns of bluegrass banjo).

Eventually flatpicking became the most common sound of bluegrass guitar breaks due to the popularity of players like Clarence White, Doc Watson, Tony Rice, and a ton of other great guitar players through the 60's and 70's. I like to think the style is a response to the limitations of the acoustic guitar in a bluegrass lineup. Fiddles, mandolins, and banjos are louder and faster than an acoustic guitar. It can be challenging to be heard and keep up, even for the best players.

When you combine that with the relatively quick decay of a note played on an acoustic guitar, you have a difficult situation. The solution was to rely on large-body dreadnought guitars, thick guitar picks (normally 1mm-1.5mm), medium strings, and strict alternating picking (down on downbeats, up on upbeats).

If you want to get started, get the right thickness of the pick, grab whatever steel string acoustic you have handy, and start running some scales focusing on your pick strokes and clear loud tone production. When the mechanics start making sense, go online and find some music for a fiddle tune (Red Haired Boy, Salt Creek, Billy in the Lowground, Whiskey Before Breakfast) or learn a fiddle tune by ear. Play these tunes slowly and make sure your pickstrokes are correct! This will allow you to eventually crank the speed up to bluegrass tempos which tend to range from quite quick to scary fast.

This can be very hard to practice alone, you might want to find a teacher to help you along the way.


Who cares whether they're reading tab or sheet music? I don't, the quality of their performance isn't dictated by the type of musical literacy they possess. The quality of their performance comes from their musicianship


How did you learn to improvise music?

Early on in my playing, I struggled to improvise, especially in a bluegrass context. My bluegrass friends would give me a scale or a lick and ask me to improvise with it and all I could make was a jumbled pile of notes as I stumbled over the chord changes. I eventually realized my improvisations felt incoherent because they lacked a beginning, a middle, and an end. I needed to create a musical statement with purpose and intent, just using the right notes wasn't enough.

I began practicing creating small phrases instead of attempting and failing at full breaks. I think I started with a measure of eighth notes that ends on a target note at the beginning of the next measure. I started hearing the length of that phrase in my sleep and it provided enough structure for me to be creative within those confines. Eventually, I tried two-measure phrases and four-measure phrases.

I was trying to intuitively feel these larger groupings without counting, so I eventually stretched that exercise to sixteen measures and thirty-two measures. Constantly, maintaining the feeling of beginning, middle, and end. That's when improvising clicked for me. I was free to create phrases of any length and communicate anything inside of them without losing my place, and most importantly, with a deliberate intent for the listener.

This path probably won't be helpful for everyone but you can probably see now, I struggled with the concept of phrasing. Eventually, that whole process became second nature and I was able to improvise without overthinking. It's rarely, if ever, in my mind now as I play.


Do you feel it is important for musicians to read music? TAB is popular because you can learn quickly although it has its obvious limitations.

TAB and traditional sheet music communicate the same message (assuming your tab has rhythmic notation). Sure, TAB isn't a universal language it is constrained to one instrument at a time but it communicates fret hand position more clearly than sheet music ever will. They each have pros and cons that others have argued for decades at great length, they are simply different tools for different jobs.

At the age of seventeen, I composed a string quartet score for a stage production of Jane Eyre, I used sheet music. Throughout my twenties, I transcribed hundreds of famous bluegrass guitar breaks, and I used TAB.  At the very heart of it, reading either one of those systems is just a form of musical literacy. If you're reading this article you are literate, your literacy will not hinder you from writing an article of your own. It will likely aid you in the process of doing so. Similarly, if you can read written music, you are musically literate, this musical literacy will not hinder you from composing music of your own. It will likely aid you in the process of doing so.

Literacy is not our enemy, musical literacy creates more well-rounded musicians whether they be TAB readers or sheet music readers. The issue is that TAB is easily accessible and self-taught guitarists may become addicted to TAB. Switching to reading sheet music will not solve their problem, they will then be addicted to reading sheet music. In other words, the TAB-addicted bedroom guitarist and the classical guitarist accompanied by the symphony are both creating music by looking at the page.

Who cares whether they're reading tab or sheet music? I don't, the quality of their performance isn't dictated by the type of musical literacy they possess. The quality of their performance comes from their musicianship. My preference would be that musicians spend less time reading altogether and work on developing an ear and personal voice through improvisation. There are so many disciplines like jazz and bluegrass that are begging to hear your personal voice and your personal choices. You can be a composer and performer at once. Those spontaneous compositional choices move me more than someone performing a carefully rehearsed interpretation of a photocopy of a reissued piece of sheet music with a misprint in m.34.


What projects are you currently working on?

Well, 2023 was a whirlwind so I'm still recovering but I recently finished publishing about 50 pieces of content on my YouTube channel from the International Bluegrass Music Association's yearly festival and awards show here in Raleigh, North Carolina. I'll be doing a similar shoot this summer at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky for their yearly festival, ROMP.

We're also in the middle of wrapping up season one of Podcast With Marcel, a fully animated and voice-acted bluegrass podcast with a sci-fi setting. I have some big secret projects I'm trying to get done but you'll have to wait to hear about those.

I just moved into a new home and my wife and I are raising our one-year-old so most of my time isn't spent playing guitar anymore. If you want to keep up with me just follow me on Instagram and YouTube and check out lessonswithmarcel.com for even more info.


Connect with Marcel Ardans
Instagram / YouTubeWebsite


Martin Gilmore

Martin Gilmore is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist in Denver, Colorado. He is an instructor of folk and bluegrass music at the University of Northern Colorado where he teaches guitar, and vocals, and directs the bluegrass ensemble.


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Bluegrass seems to be becoming more popular if you look at how many are learning Bluegrass guitar online. What do you account for the rise of people wanting to play Bluegrass music?

This is an interesting question. I think bluegrass music’s appeal has always been how approachable it is for new players, and how high the ceiling is for advanced players. If you can learn a G-chord, C-chord, and D-chord on the guitar you can participate in bluegrass music. At the same time, the best players in bluegrass are some of the best musicians in the world. I have seen that be a big motivator for new students because it’s a genre that allows for quick participation.

Expanding on that, it’s a supportive community for musicians. Usually, new players are welcome to join in, and there is a lot of enthusiasm for people to come in and play the music. I have seen many students who joined because they wanted to play music and felt welcomed by the bluegrass community. I’ve seen students who started playing because they were lonely and looking for friends.

I’ve heard a lot of folks in the bluegrass world talk about how bluegrass music’s rise in popularity comes from people seeking connection with others in our digital age. I think that’s probably true for many people. Similarly, bluegrass music feels very “authentic”. By that I mean, it has roots, and people connect to it because it comes from common folk and it’s easy to “see yourself” in the music. Bluegrass repertoire often includes simple songs with lots of feeling and moving lyrics.

People who are drawn to the music can express themselves quickly and find like-minded folks who can bring songs into being. Those are things that have always brought people into bluegrass music, but they are especially poignant in the modern world when a lot of our interactions with other people are digital, and when so much that we see on social media or in our culture seems fabricated.

Bluegrass offers a connection with others and an earnestness that is hard to find. All of that is compounded with some fresh dynamic personalities playing bluegrass such as Molly Tuttle, AJ Lee, Sierra Hull, and Billy Strings. They all grew up in the bluegrass music community and bring that authenticity with them, but they connect with crowds in different ways than many previous bands.

They have shed some of the traditional customs of bluegrass, but the music still connects. Ultimately, I think people feel the connection in the community and the authenticity of the music which seems to be something folks are searching for in the digital age.


Do you feel Bluegrass music can be taught online or do you feel people need to be involved in jam sessions with other musicians?

Yes and no. There is a lot of technique and practice that goes into being a good bluegrass guitar player. Though it’s easy to get started playing bluegrass, to become proficient requires a lot of difficult technique, lots of stylistic and cultural understanding, and hours of practice.

Work on technique, culture, and practice can all be done in the practice room, and online resources can help with that. There are so many amazing YouTube teachers and social media instructors out there who can help students find their way. People like Jake Eddy and channels like Lessons with Marcel unlock a lot of secrets about style and technically difficult licks. Not to mention, lesson services offer amazing tutorials from some of the best players in the business like Molly Tuttle, Jake Workman, Bryan Sutton, Chris Eldridge, and so on.

It's so amazing to me that when I want to learn some lick or solo I can often find a lesson already prepared that breaks everything down and lays it out for me. That kind of accessibility brings a boost to technical ability, and I think that’s one of the reasons there are so many young shredders in bluegrass guitar these days.

Learning the technical aspects of bluegrass guitar is one thing, but learning musicianship is quite another. I don’t think that aspiring players can really fully develop as bluegrass musicians without spending significant time jamming and playing with other people. It is a participatory musical style. It comes from isolated communities in the Appalachians, and its purpose was to bring the community together.

I always think of it like this. The work of practicing at home is to “develop” and “sharpen” your tools so that when you are playing with others you have a lot of different things to work with. Jamming with others is a very in-the-moment activity. Every ensemble is different, every room is different, and every situation is different. Even if you are playing rehearsed material with a band, everyone feels different every day, your relationship with those people has changed or grown since the last time you played that music with them.

That means you need to be able to respond to those things with the “tools” you developed in the practice room. But that is only half of the equation. You also need to know how to use those tools and when to use those tools. That requires practice as well, and the only way to get that practice is to jam with others.

I can play a lot of different kinds of G-runs, and I could teach those to students, but developing the sense of when to apply each one requires a lot of knowledge, and it might change in different situations. So, I think you can learn how to play bluegrass online, but you learn what to play by jamming with others.


Bluegrass guitar has a distinctive sound due to flat picking. What do you think is the best way for people to learn this technique?

Get a pick with no flexibility. Anything thicker than one millimeter. Practice alternate picking on the eighth notes (quavers). Down-stroke on 1, up-stroke on the and-of-one, down-stroke on two, up-stroke on the and-of-two, down on three, upon the and-of-three, down on four, up on the and-of-four. Practice that with your scales, or any kind of made-up exercise. I have an exercise on my YouTube channel that can get people started. Just look up “alternate picking exercise – Martin Gilmore”.

Fiddle tunes are a great way to get started as well. They are technically demanding, and much more interesting to play than exercises or scales. If new pickers learn “Red Haired Boy” and “St. Anne’s Reel” or the more technically demanding “Blackberry Blossom” they will learn a lot about flatpicking and also have some tunes that they could play at any bluegrass jam session.

Flatpicking has a very specific groove or shuffle to it. That means it’s important to not just learn the tune off of a page but to also listen to some recordings of folks playing it to try to get the groove right. Learn the notes, learn the picking technique, and then learn the groove. Sometimes all of that goes hand in hand, but I guess that people new to the style will need to specifically focus on each element for a while before their hands get used to what they are doing.


How did you learn to improvise music?

Great question. Bluegrass is an improvisational style of music, but it’s not quite the same as jazz. I always feel like there’s a lot of freedom in jazz music to build a tonal atmosphere. There’s a lot of space to play with modes and reharmonization. There are certainly people in the bluegrass world who bring jazz ideas to the music, and I love a lot of that. But bluegrass, traditionally, uses a stricter framework for improvisation.

If you listen to a lot of traditional bluegrass instrumentalists, they usually have some element of the melody within their solo that they expand upon, or manipulate, but they sort of float around the established melody. When I learned to improvise this was the process I learned. First, I would learn the basic melody the best I could by ear, then I would start to play with rhythmic elements. As I expanded on rhythmic elements, I heard new melodic ideas emerge that matched the aesthetic of the tune. That’s the same method I teach to my students.

I think it’s important for a player to know the melody and have it memorized. That allows people to develop ideas anytime they have a moment. Sometimes I’ll walk down the street whistling a tune or humming a tune and start playing with the melody in the same way that I would with my guitar. That gives me new ideas to apply to the tune once I get the guitar in my hands. There’s no shortcut, just learning little bits here and there, playing with those things, and then learning to hear where they fit.

People are naturally great improvisers; we improvise all day long when we are speaking. We come up with things to say when we respond to stimuli in our world. The secret is to try to connect your hands to the same parts of your brain that create speech. So when you hear something in your head, in the same way, that you create what you are going to say, you can express it on your instrument rather than with your voice.

Making that connection comes from a fairly simple exercise. Players can sing something, then find it on their instrument and play it. It can be a familiar melody, random notes, simple phrases, single-note rhythms, etc. Just start singing and try to find what you are singing on the guitar. Then do it again. Then again. Then again and again. Sing something, then play it. If you do that enough your brain will start to find the relationships between what you are hearing in your head, and where the notes are on the guitar. Once you are good at it, you will be able to sing and play at the same time. That’s how I learned, and I’ve seen a lot of bluegrass pickers learn through the same methods.


If you want to be a bluegrass player, you must be able to learn tunes by ear, it’s the primary skill of the genre


Do you feel it is important for musicians to read music? TAB is popular because you can learn quickly although it has its obvious limitations.

Most bluegrass resources are written in TAB. Dozens of guitar books have great material that has varying styles of TAB, some of which are confusing! There are more books of bluegrass in standard notation these days, but the majority of bluegrass guitar material is still written in TAB.

I don’t believe that it is necessary to read music to be a great bluegrass musician. Most of the great bluegrass pickers learn by ear and can just hear what they need to play. That requires a great auditory reflex and a great memory. Learning by ear means you have to remember the tune right away. If you want to be a bluegrass player, you must be able to learn tunes by ear, it’s the primary skill of the genre.

Necessary and important are two different things though. If you can learn a tune by ear as well as learn it from TAB, and read standard notation, then there are no restrictions to your access to the musical world. Reading music allows folks access to very old music that might be relevant to bluegrass music. A lot of old fiddle tunes, hymns, and ballads were collected by people who wrote them down in standard notation. There are a lot of those collections that were recorded, but there was a lot of music collected before the development of recording technology.

Part of playing bluegrass is finding cool old songs and reviving them. Often, you will hear a reimagined old tune that finds its way back to the mainstream of bluegrass after centuries just because someone unearthed it from an old book. Usually, that means it was written in standard notation. So, if you think that history is important, then it’s probably important to know how to read standard notation.

I have had many students over the years who have been intimidated by reading music. I understand that. Before you know what everything means it can be intimidating. But I think anyone could get going reading music with just a couple of weeks of regular practice. You don’t have to be the world’s best sight-reader. Just start learning the notes on each string below the fifth fret. Learn to clap the rhythms. The guitar is written in treble clef, so you don’t have to learn a different staff or anything. Just go slow and give it a try. Be nice to yourself!

I’m not a fast-sight reader. I can read just fast enough to get the melody in my ears, and then I can play it once I can hear it. Consequently, I would be successful playing in a Broadway orchestra, or on a cruise ship. But I can read well enough to revive old songs.


What projects are you currently working on?

I just released an album of old music about the American West that is available on Bandcamp. Listeners can name their price for that record. I’m also accepting trades for that record if folks are inclined to mail me something. Some of the things I have received in trade for the record so far include food, books, an old burlap potato sack, a magic trick, and a Roman coin from the 3rd century. It’s called “Trade Songs: American West”.

I’m recording a new album of mostly original songs that will be available in the fall I hope. I don’t have a title for it yet, but people can follow me on social media or check in regularly at www.martingilmore.com to find out when that will be available.

I am one of the finalists in the Telluride Troubadour Songwriting Competition this year at the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I’m excited to meet all those great songwriters and be part of that legendary festival.

I also teach folk and bluegrass music at the University of Northern Colorado, Swallow Hill Music Association, and the University of Denver’s Enrichment Program. Folks can find music and lessons on my YouTube channel as well!


Connect with Martin Gilmore
Facebook / Instagram / YouTubeWebsite

About Magesh Magesh

Magesh is a musician and producer who has worked with Rihanna, Lionel Richie, Ricky Martin, Chris Brown, The Pussy Cat Dolls, Nelly Furtado, and Vernon Reid of Living Colour. He released an instructional drumming DVD called "Unique Beats" where he mixed the drum kit with electronics and Indian hand percussion. He recently moved from Australia to the UK to explore new musical opportunities.
Website: mageshdrumteacher.co.uk

Contact Magesh Magesh at magesh.magesh7@gmail.com

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