SouthEastern Bluegrass Association

SEBA Newsletter Sample

An Introduction to Bluegrass Jamming:
Chapter 2: Instruments

By Tom Barnwell

Editor's Note: This excellent article is a must-read for anyone interested in Bluegrass music. For readability, we have divided the article into 10 "chapters", as follows:

Chapter 1 Preface
Chapter 2 Instruments
Chapter 3 The Structure Of A Bluegrass Song
Chapter 4 Backup
Chapter 5 Breaks
Chapter 6 Lead Singing
Chapter 7 Harmony Singing
Chapter 8 Song Selection
Chapter 9 Bluegrass Jamming Signals
Chapter 10 Jamming Etiquette


The basic bluegrass instruments are guitar, mandolin, 5-string banjo, fiddle and bass. All of the instruments are acoustic, with the possible exception of the bass. If the electric bass is used, it should be adjusted to the level and tonal quality of an acoustic bass. Other instruments which sometime show up in jam sessions are:

  • Dobro, which is widely accepted and may be considered almost a standard bluegrass instrument;

  • Harmonica, which is sometimes loved, sometimes tolerated and sometimes hated;

  • Autoharp, which may be too quiet to be effective in a full fledged jam session;

  • Mountain dulcimer, which is often accepted but has even more of a volume problem than the autoharp;

  • Hammered dulcimer, which often plays "specialty tunes";

  • Accordion, which is sometimes included but often scorned (even though it was a part of one of the early versions of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys).

By and large, electric instruments and drums are out.


This article Copyright, 1997 by the SouthEastern Bluegrass Association.

The author would like to extend special thanks to Selwyn Blakely for his valuable input, and to Scott Woody, Mike Flemming and Gerald Hooke for their valuable comments.

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