Bluegrass Etiquette – What’s the Go?

by | 17 Feb, 2020


Hey Ozzie – Is there instrumental etiquette in playing bluegrass in a band?


Sure is boy. And many pickers don’t understand it. Say there’s five of you. To sound good you’ve got to listen to each other keenly, and allow each other to play when a solo is part of the arrangement. Then there’s the singing. Who will take the lead, and who adds the harmony? The most important aspect is that the band needs to work like a coordinated unit, not a beer-drinking rabble constantly looking at their phones and ordering fresh supplies of pizza and beer.

But seriously, the etiquette bit is about being empathetic to each other’s presence, calming down their playing while others are doing their bit. It’s a known fact that many Australian bluegrass pickers play too hard and too loud, and don’t back off the volume when the singer’s trying to sing. So here’s the thing. First discuss and agree on the arrangement (who plays what, when, in what sequence), then tone it all down so that no-one is playing louder than anyone else. The loudest instrument in a bluegrass band is the banjo. The least loud is the guitar, especially if the guitarist wants to play an instrumental break.

A good band features musicians who do not try to play all the way through the tune or the song. They take their solos at the right time, then back right off on the volume. You can easily tell if a band hasn’t got its act together. They are all playing loud and doing it all the way through the song or tune. It’s a cacophony, not a crafted creation. After the show, you might introduce the band members to each other… who knows, they might even start discussing how to work out proper arrangements.