Discovery Guides Areas


Breaking Down Bluegrass:
The Invention of a Genre from Mountain Ballads to Bill Monroe

(Released September 2011)

  by Lorna Dries  


Key Citations





Arts & Repertoire men: Talent scouts who were responsible for discovering new talent for recording companies.

Clawhammer: A highly rhythmic banjo playing style and common component of American old-time music.

Dobro: An acoustic guitar with a metal resonator built into its body. Originally coined by the Dopyera brothers when they formed the Dobro Manufacturing Company, in time it came, in common language, to mean any resonator guitar, or specifically one with a single inverted resonator.

Lining out: A form of a cappella hymn-singing or hymnody in which a leader, often called the clerk or precentor, gives each line of a hymn tune as it is to be sung, usually in a chanted form giving or suggesting the tune.

Modal: Refers to music written in any of the musical scales that pre-date the current Western standard major and minor scales; modes include Lydian, Phrygian, Mixolydian, Dorian, Ionian, Aeolian, and Locrian.

Monophonic: Describing a piece of music that contains melody without harmony.

Old-time (hillbilly music): A genre of North American folk music, with roots in the folk music of many countries, including England, Scotland, Ireland and countries in Africa. It developed along with various North American folk dances, such as square dance, buck dance, and clogging. The genre also encompasses ballads and other types of folk songs. It is played on acoustic instruments, generally centering on a combination of fiddle and plucked string instruments (most often the guitar and banjo). Sometimes known as hillbilly music, although this terminology is considered offensive by many of the genre's practitioners.

Reel: A folk dance type as well as the accompanying dance tune type. In Scottish country dancing, the reel is one of the four traditional dances, the others being the jig, the strathspey and the waltz, and is also the name of a dance figure. In Irish dance, a reel is any dance danced to music in reel time.

Shape-note singing: A form of congregational or community singing which employs a musical notation that uses shaped notes to help singers find pitches within major and minor scales without the use of more complex information found in key signatures on the staff.

String Bands: An old-time music or jazz ensemble made up mainly or solely of string instruments. String bands were popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and are among the forerunners of modern country music and bluegrass.

Tremolo: A musical term that describes the trembling effect of a single note, particularly used on bowed string instruments and plucked strings such as harp.