So, you want to learn how to play bluegrass guitar?
However you end up learning to play, you are in for an adventure and challenge! Bluegrass is a traditional form of music, but has taken all kinds of twists and turns in the past few decades. Any way you play it though, it will put a big smile on your face!
I tend to chuckle at those who claim to be “self-taught”, as if that is some kind of special honor that helps them stand out above the crowd. Everybody learns from others and, even it it is not an official lesson, it is still a learning process enabled by another player.
It is amazing how much is available these days: YouTube, online lessons, downloadable lessons, CD’s, DVD’s, jams, and official guitar lessons from a teacher. These amazing tools are just that, tools; you still have to put in the time and do the work of practicing.
A search on YouTube will provide numerous free and subscription based courses. Like most things, some are better than others, you just have to sample the free offerings to see if it might be a good fit. Be careful though, because three is nobody to correct you, it is very likely that you will develop some bad habits that can be hard to break later on.
Do This Before You Start On Any Guitar Lessons
Any way you look at it, you will never learn how to play bluegrass guitar unless you play, a lot. Daily practice is far better than playing every once in a while, even if your daily dose is only 20 minutes. But to truly master this style of guitar playing you must be dedicated and willing to learn correct technique.
You need considerable discipline and determination to really master this style of acoustic guitar playing. The good news though, is that, if you stick with it, you will soon surprise yourself and get that big grin on your face when it clicks.
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I think maybe impatience is the biggest obstacle to learn how to play bluegrass guitar. This is understandable; when you play along in a jam or listen to the accomplished players you naturally want to keep up with them. It just is not going to happen unless you put in the time and learn good practice skills.
8 Essentials For Playing Bluegrass Guitar
This is one of the most overlooked areas in learning how to play bluegrass guitar. Some people try to play so fast that the tone is destroyed and it sounds like some kind of race to get as many notes in as small a space as possible.
Listen to Tony Rice play. His tone is wonderful and he makes it sound easy, not hurried or cramped. Don’t be afraid of space, sometimes less is more. Record yourself and try to listen objectively. Ask your friends to give an assessment.
I was told several times that I play too quietly; and I thought I was doing just fine. So, I began playing louder and louder until it seemed over-the-top to me, but, in reality, it was just right. This quiet habit came from playing alone at home most of the time.
It’s all about the timing
Timing is so important and really becomes an issue when playing with others. In jams there are usually players who obviously have bad timing and soon nobody wants to play along because the the timing is always moving around.
Play with a metronome, even if they are annoying. Tap you foot, or at least your toe. Listen to recordings and focus on the timing. Play along with recordings and you will be amazed at how your timing jumps around. If you want to learn how to play bluegrass guitar, you have to have great strumming and timing.
Taste develops over time as you listen to the best and develop your own, unique style and sound. Avoid the trap of trying to absolutely play note-for-note like the masters.
Personally, I like playing Celtic music as much as bluegrass and find myself blending the two very often, which has helped shape my own sound and taste.
Speed only comes with practice, that is, practicing correctly. It is much better to be able to play slower and cleanly that fast and sloppy. The metronome is a huge help with playing fast.
One tip to learn how to play bluegrass guitar faster is to play slower and slower along with the metronome and then gradually play the same tune faster and faster until you crash. Over time, you will see distinct improvements in your playing.
Playing in jams is the best way to learn how to play bluegrass guitar
This is really my favorite way to learn how to play bluegrass guitar. This gives me live, one-on-one practice with other people. True, it can be quite daunting to try and play along, but most musicians are more than happy to help you along.
If you are a total beginner, just lurk around the edges and play what you can. It might only be some very basic strumming, but you will begin to learn the songs this way. Eventually you will meet somebody who is patient and willing to show you more than you can imagine.
Watch and learn, watch and learn. In between sessions hook up with accessible players and ask questions. Take what you have learned and “go out to the woodshed” and practice, practice, practice. Next time you see your friends show them what you can do. They will love you for it and have more tips and pointers.
Recommended Online Lessons To Learn How To Play Bluegrass Guitar
Learn to strum…otherwise you will just be left there staring
A lot of players want to play the hot licks they hear from people like Doc Watson, Tony Rice or Clarence White. These guys are amazing and come up with some beautiful runs and leads, but they are also very solid rhythm players who can carry to tune. First you need to learn to strum, if you want to play bluegrass guitar.
It is surprising that many guitar players don’t really know how to strum. Fingerstyle players especially seem to have difficulty letting go and getting a good rhythm groove going. The guitar is essentially a rhythm instrument, learn to keep the beat and drive going and you will discover that people want to play with you.
Learn the “Boom-Chuck” strum. Once you simplify things it is not so hard to strum fast and clean. Learn to find the pocket of the tune, the groove and heartbeat and play with it. Avoid cluttering up the space with strumming that has no tone, or is too loud. Add to the music, support the song and singer and you will discover that people like playing with you.
Learn the melody so you can sing it.
Learn the melody by singing, humming or whistling. Once you know it you can learn to play it. After all, there are only so many notes on the fingerboard and one of them has to be the right one!
When you learn by tablature in the comfort of your home, there is a tendency to learn it wrong, especially with the timing. Tab is great to help figure things out, but you really need to know the melody to get the feel of the song.
One reason bluegrass songs have endured is because of the way the melody sticks in your head. They are usually simple, but often beautiful and haunting. Get the feel of the song before you try to play it, otherwise it will just be notes.
Learn how to practice
One of the main keys to learn how to play bluegrass guitar is to practice, practice, practice with a metronome. If you do not use this annoying little device, you soon develop bad timing habits and nobody will be able to play along with you.
Listen to a lot bluegrass music
Another key is to listen to bluegrass guitar music—a lot. Listen to different artists and bands. Learn the standard songs so you can sing them alone, a capella. Your car is a good place to do this! This is really helpful if you want to learn how to play bluegrass guitar; you just get it in your head like an ear worm.