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To Bluegrass-ify a Pop Song

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May 2, 2022 - 3:38:37 AM
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6 posts since 9/10/2019

Hi all,

Currently on my fourth year of my journey into the banjo and bluegrass music. Living in Thailand, there's a very small bluegrass community here, but I've made it something of a mission to grow it, through hosting jams and making video content highlighting players. Here's our YouTube channel: youtube.com/channel/UCWFjItrLj...znTcp8PrA

One of the main things I'm tying to do is attract new young players to pick up bluegrass, and maybe one of the best ways to do that is to bluegrass-ify local hit songs. So that they can see the jam-nature of the song, playing familiar solos but on bluegrass instruments.

And we've finally reached the point of this forum post (haha), could someone please point me to who could help with this? My band is probably capable of creating something, but with our day jobs, it's been delayed too much, so we thought we could get some help online and work with someone who could help us arrange these songs. My band has a banjo, dobro, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and double bass, so it'll definitely be a full bluegrass feel.

Any advice/tips/recommendations will be super appreciated, thank you in advance!

May 2, 2022 - 5:06:20 AM
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Players Union Member

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

27377 posts since 8/3/2003

One way to arrange songs for a band is to choose the song(s) and have each person work on his or her break to the song. Then, when you get together, work it out so each person has a break on the song that wants one. If you have a vocalist, let that person set the key for the song and then everyone else can work out their break.

When doing backup, be sure it's in the background and doesn't overshadow whoever is doing a break or singing a vocal. You can also take turns with quiet backup behind a vocalist, let one person take a quiet lead and everyone else play just rhythm.

A good rule of thumb on backup for the banjo picker:
1. If the guitar is taking a break, vamp or quietly do rolls in the background.
2. If the mandolin is taking a break, do vamps (take over his rhythmic sound)
3. If the dobro is taking a break, vamp quietly or do rolls in the background.
4. If the fiddle is taking a break you can either vamp or roll quietly or, with the fiddler's okay, you can do a counter melody.
5. If the bass takes a break, very quietly do vamps that are muted.
6. If the vocalist is taking a break, you can do vamps or rolls or just about anything else you want to do as long as it's done quietly and doesn't drown out the vocalist. (Listen to J.D. Crowe's backup behind a vocalist, fantastic, quiet, beautiful).

May 8, 2022 - 11:29:30 AM

76265 posts since 5/9/2007

Another thing that sounds good is to work up a direct harmony and play the break as a double lead.

May 13, 2022 - 10:52:49 AM
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76265 posts since 5/9/2007

I often change my playing to fit the song rather than forcing the song to sound bluegrassy.

May 23, 2022 - 8:47:15 AM
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2867 posts since 4/5/2006

Good for you on this noble effort. Quite a few American bands have pulled material from the pop culture. Among my favorites were the Country Gentlemen & Seldom Scene. You couldn't have better role models.

Keep on pickin'.

May 24, 2022 - 3:27:05 AM

4679 posts since 12/6/2009

listen to the pros who make a living doing just that. I suggest the best of the best, The Seldom Scene. these guys were taught by the best of the best and could make the stars spangled banner a bluegrass official. I met all the members and talks were all about bluegrass....Lou Reid mentioned they were once called "progressive" then he chuckled and says....now they call us bluegrass..... Bluegrass a deep rooted ingrain that always shows no matter what. So just pick any song you like and the band can play and play it like its bluegrass..... My Advice.

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