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Nov 18, 2021 - 9:22:10 AM
4 posts since 8/20/2021

Hi everyone,
What's the difference between a "breakdown", "rag", "blues", etc.? Or is there a difference?

Nov 18, 2021 - 9:40:03 AM
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Players Union Member



41329 posts since 3/7/2006

I think there is basically a difference between them, but a lot of musicians has used to put these words into the title, to make the title more interesting. So if you just look at the title there is often no differences, but if you listen to typical Breakdowns, Rags, Blues and so on there is a differences.

  • Breakdown is usually a fast tune/song, often played in dances
  • Rag does usually has more syncopations. The traditional ragtime was often played slowly (Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer) but instrumental rags can often be played fast, but with syncopations.
  • Blues is usually slower with a bluesy rhythm and use blue notes. However there are a lot of Blues tunes played more as fast breakdowns and without the bluesy rhythm, for example Earl Scruggs Lonesome Road Blues.

Edited by - janolov on 11/18/2021 09:40:20

Nov 18, 2021 - 9:44:48 AM
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4088 posts since 5/29/2011

Breakdown - a fast paced instrumental usually played in Bluegrass music, sometimes in Old Time music
Rag - a moderately paced instrumental with a moving bass line often incorporating brass instruments and piano
Blues - played impromptu following a basic melody with a lot of personal expression on a number of different instruments

Reel - a moderate to fast paced instrumental played in 4/4 or 2/4 time used a lot in Celtic music
Jig - a lively tune played in 6/8 time also used a lot in Celtic music

These are my personal observations from years of playing. Don't take them for gospel. Lots of other people are more familiar with the technical differences than I am.

Nov 18, 2021 - 12:14:18 PM

287 posts since 10/26/2018

Rags often incorporate certain chord movements too.

Blues often involve slides and more/mostly pentatonic scales.

Nov 18, 2021 - 2:47:48 PM
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14438 posts since 10/30/2008

"Breakdown" comes from the formal "country dancing" of the British Isles. They amounted to an evening of songs/dances that were normally paired together, that had highly prescribed steps/figures for the dancers. At the end of the evening, the dancers might want to strut their stuff and show off or improvise and the band would play a fast number that didn't have a particular association with any particular dance. The dancers would basically go nuts and do what they could do. Alkyhol was often involved in lowering inhibitions. Sometimes things got wildly out of control, a true "breakdown" of societal boundaries.

I saw a famous English movie once where Alec Guinness was a pent up Colonel of a Scottish regiment on garrison duty in some old castle. No war, no battles, just garrison duty. Yet he was a martinet and drove his men batty. They were given permission for a night of Scottish dancing (men with men) and everything was fine til the alkyhol got to them and they ended with a wild fling, fist fighting, falling down, etc. Just as the starchy Colonel walked in, in great disgust. The regiment paid for their loose behavior! That last dance was called a "breakdown".

I've always wondered about a "hoedown". Earl Scruggs once said in a recording session not to play a song so fast that it became a hoedown unintentionally. Would have liked to hear his definition.

A rag is form of music combining a GREAT amount of syncopation in both the melody and the rhythm, PLUS a number of chord changes in the pattern. If you were in key of G, an A chord needed to get in there, at least, to make a rag. Even better, and E chord. Even better, more chords! Bluegrass is not a good place to hear authentic "rags". Bugle Call Rag, for instance, has none of the requirements. There is an old jazz number "Bugle Call Rag", completely different, that does follow the definition. Usually slow enough to sand dance or soft-shoe to. The old "stroke style" banjo playing anticipated rags with lots of syncopation in the notes and rhythm, I think.

Blues began as pure personal expression through singing/moaning. Didn't really use any of the "official" music scales. Certain official scales have come close, and a couple have gotten the label "blues scale". But there are a lot of sung notes that can't be played on a fretted instrument, which is too "precise". Thus, the early popularity of SLIDE guitar and harmonica. Typically SLOW and super-expressive, and precise notes, keys and meter take a back seat to expression. Bill Monroe's Evening Prayer Blues has lots of blue notes, and the melody is "crooked", but it does have a fairly strict time signature that a bass fiddle can play along with (or guitar). The original "Evening Prayer Blues" by harmonica wizard DeFord Bailey seems to make no sense at all to a bluegrass musician. Crooked, and "time-less" IMHO.

Bluegrass has adopted some musical terms that don't "truly" apply to bluegrass music. But it is what it is.

Edited by - The Old Timer on 11/18/2021 14:49:10

Nov 18, 2021 - 3:46:07 PM

1674 posts since 1/28/2013

Most Modern styles are a mix of all of them. Progressive Players are taking everything to such creative levels tody that they incorpotate all techiques, and styles to create what they are searching for. Nobody is playing strictly Traditional Breakdowns, Blues, Ragtime, Classical, Jigs, Reels, or Jazz anymore. It all a mix.

Nov 18, 2021 - 6:24:06 PM

75336 posts since 5/9/2007

I hear a rag progression in Dear Old Dixie.

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