Bluegrass Corner

Bluegrass in the New Year

Wow—it’s a new year already! I hope everyone had an excellent holiday with lots of bluegrass music and is raring to go for a great new year. Let’s peek at some of what’s coming.

Special Consensus is one great, long-running band. Formed in 1973 in Chicago, Special C has garnered numerous IBMA awards, Grammy nominations, and other accolades, including its outstanding Bluegrass in the Schools program. The consistent guiding force of Special C, from day one, is outstanding banjo player and band leader Greg Cahill. Over the years an all-star cast has served with Special C, including among the 37 alumni: Aubrey Haynie, Chris Jones, Ron Spears, Ron Stewart, and Josh Williams.

Among the group’s 18 album releases are two Grammy nominations, one in 2013 and one in 2018. The band has toured the world on many occasions, maintaining its outstanding reputation for delivery of the very best of traditional bluegrass music. Current band members are: Greg Cahill on banjo, Rick Farris on guitar, Dan Eubanks on bass, and Nick Dumas on mandolin. All band members contribute on vocals.

Special Consensus has been to San Diego before, and every time has put on a great show. This year’s show will take place on Saturday, January 25 at the First Baptist Church of Pacific Beach, 4747 Soledad Mountain Road. There will be a 30-minute opening set by the Vulcan Mountain Boys. The event starts at 7pm and there is plenty of free parking onsite. Admission is free, with donations requested. The event is presented by the non-profit San Diego Bluegrass Society.

Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road are the real deal. They deliver great instrumentation and vocals, bringing their well-deserved reputation as great performers.

With their combination of musicians, energy, and charisma, Carolina Road has become one of the most sought-out bluegrass bands today. The band has just released a brand new single on Pinecastle Records called “True Grass Again,” with special guests, Junior Sisk, Danny Paisley, and Randy Graham.

Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road will be making a first-ever San Diego appearance in a special concert on Sunday, February 23 at 4pm at the First Baptist Church of Pacific Beach, 4747 Soledad Mountain Road. Admission is free; donations requested. Plenty of free parking onsite. There will be a 30-minute opening set by Prairie Sky. The concert is presented by the non-profit San Diego Bluegrass Society.

Musicians of all types, and especially bluegrass musicians playing complex music at high tempo, need to master the basics of playing in a group. The most basic of the basics is tempo. One can have great tone, great dexterity, a wonderful voice, and more, but without the ability to keep time, alas, one is stuck playing with themselves. Nobody will want to play with you if you cannot keep time. So, let’s look at how to address that issue with a metronome.

First, recognize that your goal is to be able to keep time in a jam session or with bandmates. Recognize, also, that real music likes to “breathe,” meaning that the tempo may vary throughout a tune. Don’t believe me? Put on one of your favorite records and play your metronome with it. The key here is to learn to play on time with the metronome and then be able to fit with your jam group or band—but learn to play on time first!

Set your metronome to play on either quarter or eighth notes and try playing with that. Make sure it is loud enough so that if you go off you will notice. Once you master that, have the metronome drop to half notes, play the same tune, and see if you can stay on time with that. At this setting you will not hear every beat. Then, drop the metronome to play only the first beat of each measure and see if you can stay on time with that. You will hear the first beat, but then you must use your own internal timing for the next three beats in 4/4 time. See if you are “on” when the one beat comes around again. By slowing down the metronome in this fashion you are gradually learning to internalize the music’s timing.

Finally, many groups do not regularly practice with a metronome, but then go in to record and want to use a click track. To me that’s backwards. Learn to play with the metronome or click track during practice sessions, then when recording, turn it off. Otherwise it’s like adding a last minute member to your band and trying to learn to play with the newbie.

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