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 (https://luegra.design.blog/2022/06/11/a-look-at-bluegrass-jam-tracks/). 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 (https://luegra.design.blog/2021/03/11/bluegrass-harmony-singing-part-1-either-you-have-it-or-you-can-learn-it/ and https://luegra.design.blog/2021/03/19/bluegrass-harmony-singing-part-2-you-gotta-work-on-it-to-be-good/). 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.