Bluegrass Music Bluegrass vocals Lutherie

What To Do During The Winter?

Winter is around the corner. More time indoors, most of the time outdoors (especially north of the Mason-Dixon Line) is spent shoveling and snowblowing instead of out on the road heading for a festival or jam session. There is little to look forward to during the next few months. Even most bluegrass bands go into hibernation, since most of their in come comes from performing at outdoor events.

This doesn’t mean that everyone (including you) have to forget about anything musical until March or April. This is the perfect time to better yourself for the 2023 bluegrass summer season. There are a number of activities that you can do to busy yourself at home while improving on your musical skills.

Practice – That concept cannot be repeated enough! There is always something that you can learn to improve on your playing. Time spent outside gardening or lawn maintenance can be spent indoors (once the driveway and sidewalk are shoveled) learning new things on your preferred instrument. There are tons of books, videos and YouTube channels devoted to lessons on all stringed instruments. Moreover, I have discussed jam-along videos in previous blogs that can help you improve your playing with others ( I have also mentioned checking out instructional videos from other genres (rock, blues, jazz, Celtic, etc.) to see if there is any tips that you can pick up.

Learn Another Instrument – So you play guitar and that is the only instrument that you own. Get a beginner bass guitar rig, or a mandolin, and transfer some of your skills to one of those instrument. How about a tin whistle? Those are extremely inexpensive, and you can pick up a few tunes within a week or so. If you want to stick with strings and have a little more dough to blow, start working on a good banjo, dobro, or fiddle. Make yourself more viable at the jam sessions next year.

Vocals – If you are a lead singer, keep stretching those pipes! Do warm-up exercises every day. Sing loud, like in a band, not in a lower talking volume. If you are not a singer, then start working on it! I did a two-part blog on bluegrass harmonies ( and Bluegrass vocals depend on great-sounding two- and three-part harmonies. Some people have an ear for harmonizing naturally. Others need to work on it. Now it the time. Find some bluegrass recordings with great harmonies, and pay attention. Then, tune-in to those harmonies and see if you can match the pitches. Find some solo-singing bluegrass vocals and try to harmonize. This is something that takes a lot of work, but again, makes a bluegrass performer more viable. If anything, you can check out Cary Fridley’s YouTube courses on singing.

Basic lutherie – This does nto mean to try and build a guitar or mandolin on your own (although if you have the time, money and passion, go right ahead!). Do some basic maintenance besides changing strings. Clean the fingerboard, polish the instrument, perhaps even do some more advanced work like crowning frets or adjusting the truss rod. Again, there are a number of books on guitar/musical instrument maintenance out there, plus dozens of videos on YouTube that can walk you through simple maintenance.

Chew on it and comment.

Americana Music Bluegrass Music Folk Music

Pay Attention to Cary Fridley

I have always had a place in my heart for Cary Fridley. That voice is pure beauty.

I had mentioned Cary previously in a past blog on titled “The Lost Art of Bluegrass Singing” (, where I talked about the video Vocal Techniques for Old-Time Mountain Music that she did for Homespun Tapes. I fell in love with her voice the first time I heard her singing with The Freight Hoppers. After leaving the band, she recorded a number of solo albums as well as played bass in a few other bands. To see her history, I recommend going to her website at

I recently found her album Down South and put it in the CD player. It hit me why I love this girl’s voice. It is so pure, comfortable singing folk, bluegrass, traditional country, and blues. Looking at her bio, she works with so many bands, as well as teaching vocals and traditional music theory at the Junior Appalachian Music programs and the Black Mountain Center for the Arts. Additionally, she is an adjunct faculty for the Fine Arts at the AB-Tech College in Asheville, North Carolina. This girl keeps busy!

You can tell it is all because of her love and passion for traditional music. Cary truly puts her heart and soul into her work. I have subscribed to her YouTube channel ( For a few years now, and along with videos of past performances with The Freight Hoppers, she has posted a number of lessons that she gives to her classes at the college and the JAM programs. Her latest video is what got me to loving her again, so to speak. It consists of a shot of a CD player, and it is playing her album Fare You Well in its entirety ( I wonder how many other people who are this passionate about Appalachian music work as hard as Cary.

I am going to keep this blog short, as I only really want you to spend some time checking out Cary’s videos. You may learn a few things!

Next week, the blog will be late, as I will be attending the last day of the Milan Bluegrass Festival. Hopefully, I will have a few good stories to tell.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Bluegrass vocals Singing

Bluegrass Harmony Singing Part 1: Either You Have It, …, Or You Can Learn It!

This blog is a few days early due to commitments that I have this weekend.

I wrote a blog about bluegrass vocals last year (, and wanted to elaborate a bit more on the subject. I still feel very strongly that the art of bluegrass singing, especially when it comes to harmonizing, is wrongfully ignored by the jammers, yet so very much admired by audiences. Even if the lead singer is on target, it seems that most of the harmony singing is lost or unrepairable. Being off-key is the main culprit, but there is also timing and proper vocalization of consonants.

If a band is looking for a new player, say a mandolin player, a great ear and voice for harmonies can be just as influential on getting the job as fretboard flash.

I had recommended the video Vocal Techniques for Old-Time Mountain Music with Cary Fridley, put out by Homespun Videos, in that previous blog. Well, Cary has also set up a YouTube channel where she does a lot of instructing of Appalachian music, including singing leads and harmonies, as well as some instruments and other styles of music. Many of these videos were made for her lecture work at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, as well as the Junior Appalachian Musicians organization. Be sure to at least check it out at

Pete “Dr. Banjo” Wernick is probably the biggest supporter of bluegrass jam sessions. Aside from his banjo and jam camps, he also posts a number of helpful essays on his website ( In one of his essays, he briefly explains bluegrass harmony theory by remembering the three notes of a chord as well as knowing the diatonic pattern of the key the song is in (

That thought is really the first big step in working on bluegrass harmonies. If the song is in the key of G, then you should know that the three notes for the G major chord are G, B, and D. Now let us say that the lead singer is singing his/her lyrics and hitting the D note. One can easily harmonize with that lead singer while still staying in the proper key by singing on a G or B note, and depending on the vocal range of the harmony singer, singing lower or higher than the lead vocalist.

Of course, rarely does a lead singer stay on one note throughout a verse, let alone a whole song. As the lead voice travels up and down with notes, the harmony singer has a musical responsibility to work with what will sound best to make that lead vocals sound even better. Let us say that the lead singer is following a vocal note pattern of D-D-E-E-F#-E-D, and the verse is staying in the key of G. The harmony singer can take one of two approaches:

  1. He/she can stay on the same note of G or B on all seven notes, since the lead singer is not singing either of them.
  2. He/she can walk up and down with harmony notes just like the lead singer, concentrating on relative notes to the key/chord playing (example: G-G-A-A-B-A-G, or a variant of G-G-G-G-B-G-G). This, of course, requires more thought and a keener ear to hear what works.

Moreover, rarely does a song stay with one chord. Typical bluegrass (as well as country, blues, folk, and traditional roots music) songs work with two- and three-chord arrangements. So, staying in the key of G, and the lead singer follows a vocal note pattern of D-D-E-E-G, with that last note moving into a C chord, the harmony singer has to do some musical thinking of a good harmony pattern. First, he/she needs to remember what the three notes for the C chord are (C, E and G). Then, especially if the harmony was staying on G and doesn’t want to sing the same G note as the lead vocalist, he/she may do a pattern such as G-G-G-G-C. Again, it take a keen ear and lots of practice.

When I was in bluegrass bands, the idea of practicing vocals alone had mixed reaction. One band I worked with was keen on it, and we would concentrate about one-fourth of our practice sessions just on vocals. Another band was apathetic, and it showed in our public performances. Harmony singing, especially with bluegrass, gospel, country, and folk music (although other formats relate as well) require either a very, very good ear, or determination to work hard to make it sound good. My situation has always been somewhere in the middle. I can hear a good harmony right off of the bat in some cases, while in others, I need to sit down and work with that lead vocal to find a good path for the harmonies.

This information is just the start, and in another blog, I will talk a bit about timing and phrasing. In the meantime, check out videos and websites dedicated to harmony singing. Also become more familiar with some music theory, such as chord structures and the “Circle of Fifths.”

Chew on it and comment.