A warm welcome to our former CoMando, Mike Compton, this week's CGOW. Of course Mike needs no introduction to this group. Original member of the Nashville Bluegrass Band, long-time sideman for John Hartford, now back with NBB, stalwart of the O Brother film and the Down from the Mountain Tour, recording artist, teacher. Mike is perhaps the world's foremost expert on the Monroe style of playing. Mike was probably the first major artist to use a Gilchrist mandolin, which he still plays today. I have a feeling that there will be an over-abundance of questions for Mike. Please remember to send the questions to me as moderator so we don't drive poor Mike away the first day. Mike, a couple of people have asked about the A model mando(s) you played with Ralph Stanley on Austin City Limits.
Q - Why is it that the mandolin player is always the best looking one in the band? You know that's why Cartwright usually plays guitar and I play mandolin.
Ever since I've been trying to play like Mike I've been smacking the Hell out of my mandolin, now I hear about this brush stroke and circular tremelo, I'm confused. Splain this?
A - I suppose you're just plagued with good looks, though it escaped me the last couple of times I saw you.
There is a lot more to playing the older style of bluegrass mandolin than "smacking the hell" out of it, as you say. Matter of fact, I have been listening more and more to the dynamics of Monroe's playing, and there are certainly instances where he bears down and hits it hard. But they aren't frequent as you might think, even in downstroking. What makes them stand out so I think is that hard hits are the exception most of the time. There are numerous examples of recorded solos where the pick is used up the neck. Tone wise it sounds as far up as the 12th-14th fret. Of course that is only one example to the contrary, but if you spend the time to listen close, you will hear what I am talking about. Sure, there are days when you just feel like coming home and kicking the dog. Hard hits gets that out of your system and spares the dog. But let up a little.
Now, as far as the "brush stroke", I'm not sure what you're talking about. I imagine it has to do with some terminology I've used in the workshops I've done in the last couple of years, but you will have to refresh my memory. As for the circular tremolo, it is merely a way I have found of smoothing out my tremolo. It has to do mostly with an idea that I suppose is similar to bow work in fiddle playing. I borrowed the fiddle bow change of direction idea and it seems to make sense to me for the pick. When fiddle players change direction they do a figure eight (or at least in the few books I have here). A very narrow one. It smooths out the transition from one direction to the other. I have been looking for a good way to change direction with the pick and make a smooth transition from up to down and up and so on. It is a matter of looking at your pick stroke as traveling in a very narrow eliptical pattern. In other words, don't think of it as down-stop;up-stop;down-stop;up-stop. That seems like such a jerky way of going about it, and not efficient. Considering I am making an effort in the style to play fiddle influenced right hand, I am looking for smooth, long tremolo notes that resemble the long bow notes. The main change I think is probably in your mind; think about the movement of your pick, think about making the ellipse(or even figure 8 if you wish, but not drastically)and it starts to happen. This helps clean up the tremolo so that it sounds more like a long note instead of a series of up/down strokes strung together. It helps to round the shoulders off a bit, not to mention being easier on your wrist. I use the same idea with the rhythm chop as well.
Stay flexible and relax. You will still have the power to hit it hard when you need to. If you play hard too much your forearm and mind will seize up and you will be out of the game. You wouldn't want Ken to run off and leave you would you?
Q - I saw you perform with the Nashville Bluegrass Band in Augusta, GA back in
November. Great show, by the way! I was just wondering if there are any
plans for a new NBB album in the near future. If so, is there anything you
can tell us about it. If not, then why the heck not?
A - Thanks for your kind words. NBB is an organization staffed with some of my favorite musicians.
We are in the mixing stages of a new recording. I am not sure when it will be available, but it shouldn't be too long a wait. As for what I can tell you about it, everyone sings on it. There are 3 instrumentals recorded. I don't know if we will use them all or not. We are leaning more towards instrumentals in this band configuration. There is new original material and some of the more obscure standards. One accapella song. Overall, there is a good variety.
Now, anymore than that and I'd have to give you titles.
Q - The "brush stoke" reference keeps coming up on the comando list with your
name attached, some have tried to explain it, seems no one knows just what they
are talking about.
I have been listening to Monroe and you a lot. I still find that I tend to play too hard. After seeing you in Stayton I've eased up quit a bit, and stopped anchoring my little finger. Funny that I could give that up so easy, I thought I was stuck with it. After just two days I'm playing better already, I can even do some of the triplets that have eluded me so far.
And, I'm starting over on my tremolo, I've never gotten it as smooth as I would like.
I'll keep working on it. Nothing makes me prouder than someone coming up to me after a show and saying, "That sounded a lot like Mike Compton." And it's happened a number of times. I'm not really copying your style as much as your direction, it's the sound I want.
A - The sound is what *all* of us are looking for.
Q - Saw you at the Grass Valley Fathers Day Festival a year or so ago. We talked briefly about you possibly doing an instructional video and you said you were pretty busy being a dad. Is there any update on that and also, how is the family?
A - Thanks for asking. I am still very busy with the kids. It never seems to slow down there. My 5 year old girl has become a master of reasons why what she is doing is an exception to the rule, and my 3 year old boy is in constant motion, which includes his mouth.
As for the instructional material, I have an outline and am working on narrowing it down to something usable. I also have a couple of other irons in the fire, so everything is slower than I'd like. Unfortunately, the quest for finance is the first on the list usually, and the energy it takes to get that done is more than a distraction. All will be done in time, but maybe later than sooner. I keep hoping my work load will pick up so that I can think about something besides the bank account. Ah, the romantic life of a musician.
Life is good nevertheless.
Q - I was privileged to attend the workshop in Columbus Indiana, what I treat. I think I learned more in those six hours than I have in the rest of my years. You were demonstrating some of the devices (not licks) Bill would use in his playing, some of these were triplets with accents on different notes, for different effects. One had the accent on the first, once on the second and one on the third.
If you can follow what I am talking about, I tend to confuse myself and other, my question is: What is the right hand doing? Is it all down-down-down down-down-down, or down-up-down down-up-down, or down-up-down up-down-up?
A - Yes, I enjoyed the Columbus workshop myself. A nice small town. The workshop was well done and every consideration taken. I am amused you made sure not to use the word "licks". So some things did sink in...
The proper execution of the triplet accents you are referring to is always 'down/up/down' with the next set starting on a downstroke. Not down/up/down/up/down/so on and so forth. The reason I use the word "proper" in my explanation is that a downstroke on the beginning of each set gives you the appropriate accent, whether it be the first or third note that is being accented. With a downstroke at the front the next is obviously an upstroke and the last a downstroke. The first and third are easier to accent then because either one is on a downstroke. I don't recall saying anything about the 2nd note of the triplets being accented. If that doesn't make enough sense to you please let me know and we'll go after it some more.
Q - Are you planning on having any more workshops in the north-midwest area anytime soon?
A - As for workshops in that area I am talking to a promoter in the Cleveland area about doing on within the next couple of months, but it is not firm yet.
Q - How different is tenor guitar to learn from mando? I've been messing with an archtop guitar (six-string), and it gets confusing with the different string intervals. I wonder if I could get a lot of the same effects ("jazz" chords) with a lower learning curve, especially since many jazz players only play 3 and 4 note chords, anyway.
Have you fully digested that Pedro Amorim tenor recording yet?
A - How different is tenor guitar from mandolin? For me it was a lot. I went into it with the foolish notion that beings it is tuned in 5ths (sometimes) like a mandolin I could play it as well. Great, I thought, another sound with the same chord positions. So first off, I looked at the tenor as if it where a mandolin. Then, I started thinking about what to do with the C string. What indeed? The chord shapes I was using on mandolin obviously wouldn't work because of the scale length. Also, I was having a hard time keeping it straight in my mind to transpose the chord positions to fit the instrument. Still thinking mandolin. Soloing on tenor proved difficult because of being used to playing pairs instead of single strings and of course, the scale length issue came back into play, as well as figuring out what chord shape/key I was actually supposed to be in. Still thinking mandolin. Then came along John Hartford and his admiration to Texas fiddling styles and I was exposed to that method of playing backup on the fool thing. Soon to follow was a chord book from Ebay by Roy Smeck listing every tenor guitar chord known to man and the realization that most all the chords I know on mandolin have to be inverted to play chords on tenor. I learned a few lines, enough to back up Hartford on fiddle tunes in a few keys, but not anything nearly as extensive as the jazz tenor players used to play. I also came to realize that I find the Texas backup patterns sort of, well, boring and repetitious, whether it be so or because I don't have enough imagination to find something interesting there or whatever. Then, you sent me that Pedro Amorim cd and my jaw stayed on the floor for a few weeks. Forget it. So, I have decided that the tenor guitar I play will have to be something sort of my own doing. I don't play it as much as I used to, but am working at learning more and learning how to play what I want to hear coming out of it, which is a mix of single string lines and chords, but nothing difficult as Pedro. I am actually leaning more towards something in the Lonnie Johnson/Bill Broonzy area. Aspirations enough for me right now.
Q - I know you answered a few questions about your tenor guitar during your
last reign as CGOW but can you tell us more about your tenor guitar
playing. What got you into playing the tenor? Why not just learn 6
string? Do you prefer the tone of a tenor to a 6 string? How do you go
about working out the pieces you perform on the tenor? From what I've
read it seems like you stick to country blues rather than bluegrass or
old-time on the tenor - if that is true, why? Is there something about
the tenor that speaks in more of a blues voice to you? Will you do some
recording on the tenor beyond the rhythm work you did on it for the
O'Brother CD? What do you look for in a tenor guitar? How do you have
yours tuned? What advantages does that tuning have the kind of music
you're playing on it?
Curious because I recently bought a tenor. I like having all the notes in the same place (just an octave lower - mines tuned GDAE) but that stretch is killer and I find myself using the pinky constantly to make the jumps.
Okay, that's probably enough tenoritis for tonight.
A - I think I answered some of your question in my previous response, but there are more questions unanswered here, so I'll make an effort to fill in the blanks.
First, and I realize it's just not sensible to some people's way of living their lives, the answer to some questions is quite simply "I don't know" or "It just feels good" or "It sounds right" or in the case of the tenor "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Nothing more. No rational reasoning, no concept in mind, no blinding flash of light or grand vision.
Now, I don't prefer tenor over 6 string. I've owned a 6 string guitar off and on since I was about 12 or so. I just never wanted to do more with it than play a few chords. Remember, most of my practice time has been spent on mandolin. I do like the gap the tenor fills. It seems to fit nicely into the range of both guitar and mandolin. Intriguing to say the least. I stick to country blues and old-time songs on tenor because that's what I want to hear on it. Nothing more. I like the slightly deeper tone of it and it is easier for me to sing out the keys tenor is more kind to. And if you don't sing in the music business, unless you are an incredibly gifted technician, you get left behind. So necessity comes into play now. Survival in the business. Finding something I can use that will expand the options of what I can offer. I also feel more at home singing songs that are more in the blues vein. Maybe something in the gene pool a ways back...
I am in the process of getting my solo project together and figuring out personnel, songs, etc. There are a few things on the list I use the tenor for that are being considered. Also, I have been using it some with the bits of work David Long and I have been doing. I plan to continue that format and expand my abilities further.
The tenors I have are all tuned CGDA. In fifths. What do I look for in a tenor? The first one I bought is an early 30's National metal body. I have bought a couple flat topped Gibsons, one Vega flattop, three archtops and one Martin 015T. My initial reasons behind those purchases were to fulfill gluttonous impulses. I have sold/will sell all but the resonator guitar, one archtop, and the Martin flattop; one of each. The advantage the tuning(s) I use have for me is that it's the one I know how to work with. Nothing more complicated than that. I cannot site the praises of one or the other.
No matter what tuning you use or what instrument you play save maybe the mouth bow, you'll need to use your pinky. Use it and get it strong so that it can be used like the rest of your fingers. Without using it you will not be able to do some things. Also, look at alternatives to the chord voicings you are using and see if you can find some that are to your liking that are easier on your hands so that you only have to use the "stretch" now and then for a little flavoring of something different.
Q - I understand that you have a reputation for playing the best "Monroe Style" mandolin. Can you tell me what aspects incompass getting the sound of that style.
A - Hoowee. I appreciate your kind words. I am a long way from having it down. Your last guest, Mr. Wakefield has an aspect to his tremolo that I wish I could pick up.
Now, in talking about "getting the sound of that style" what are we talking about more specifically? There are a lot of different tools or devices(triplets, tremolo,downstrokes, melody insinuation, slides, etc.)for working at playing the phrasing, Monroe's accent if you like. Are you asking for more information about that?
Old style bluegrass includes country blues, fiddle music, gospel themes, harmony learned in church singing schools, a bit of ragtime rhythm and some swing feel in the chop. There is more and the historians and academics in the crowd can fill you in on many particulars in that respect. When it started I think it was nothing more than an old time string band. What it grew into was something else entirely. Could you help me with a direction to your question?
Q - What do you consider an ideal mandolin setup for attempting to capture a "Monroe" sound and to play in that style - brands of strings, action, picks, etc?
When is the "Mike Compton" instructional DVD coming out?"
A - In some ways my answer to the setup question is going to be irrelevant because Monroe sounded like Monroe on any mandolin I saw him play. The tone was strikingly similar and it was easy to tell who was playing from a mile away. It did not seem to matter what mandolin, pick or strings, nor set up made any difference. It is more about how a person uses their hands in combination with the degree of responsibility for the sound they are making. I think it is an aspect of playing that the great communicators have that most of us pale in comparison to.
I have used many different kinds of picks, numerous brands and gauges of strings and experimented with several string spacings, bridge heights, bridge materials,etc. over the years. What I have come down to is a medium height(5/64" at the 12th fret) setup on the bridge, a leaning towards less than the heaviest gauges strings available, and a stiff pick in the range of 1.4 to 1.6 mm thickness.
The string/bridge height has been arrived at through trial and error, but over the years I have found that the mandolins I've had usually work well in that range, give or take a turn up or down depending on the weather. Up higher than that you get a lot more out of the chop, but what you lose is sustain and richness of tone. Just 'whop'. Really the bridge material doesn't make enough difference to me to recommend anything in particular. I have had good luck with both one foot and two foot bridges, ebony and rosewood. I am currently inclined towards an ebony bridge with a single foot. Having the bridge fitted at a very slight lean backwards (about 85%-88% to the top) seems to have the effect of driving the top more, as it does on fiddles.
Strings; I've tried just about everything, but am using D'addario EXPJ74's currently on the Model 5. I was using J75's on #500 and they worked fine, but #536 doesn't seem to fair as well with the load. I used steel strings for years and would still today if I could find a set that didn't rattle so badly. They just don't seem to take a beating graceously. I have a mandolin here that I use a lighter set of steels on and it works good. On another there is silk and steel/bronze. Each instrument seems to function under different variables. So I just look until I find what each likes and use that.
I maintain that a reasonably stiff pick is the way to go for the style. I find it easier to maintain a smooth tremolo with a heavier pick. And it goes without saying that a more powerful downstroke can be had with one. My aim is to produce the most even tremolo I can. A thin pick just sounds 'clicky' on the strings, lots of noise when I use one. I am sloppy enough, so I don't need the extra margin for error.
As you can see, what your setup is depends on what you think sounds and works best for you and your instrument. I think that the equipment has to be pretty hefty for Monroe influenced playing, but then again, there's the aspect of what happens when the hands start working.
The DVD will come out, hopefully before too much more time goes by. I have many irons in the fire currently and am tending to them in order of importance.
Q - I've been working with your version of Honky Tonk Swing. I've been trying to learn the basic tune, learning your takes on it, comparing it to Monroe's, and trying to find both the drive and the swing of it.
Connected with this, I recently read some book or other talking about how much swing there is in bluegrass, especially in the rhythmic elements. I certainly understand some of the elements of jazz in bluegrass (the concept of the soloist, multiple rhythms, and so forth) but I never thought much on the notion of swing being an underpinning factor.
I wonder if you could comment on this and I hope like hell I haven't made this sound too hifalutin'. I'm really just trying to find that "sound" you get on this tune!
A - Monroe spent some time listening to ragtime bands. He heard it in Arnold Schultz and I have been told by ex-Bluegrass Boys from the older days that the band would stop in New Orleans everytime they headed down that way to cross the Mississippi River. What I hear in tunes like "Honky Tonk Swing" is that type of rhythm.
This is my own uneducated guess, as I have no formal definition of what Jump, Ragtime, Jazz, or Swing is. But my guess is that it's a sort of ragtime rhythm. The rhythm is played using both the onbeat and the offbeat. The onbeat is accented and sounds more broad than the offbeat. The offbeat is what I would call 'clipped' at the end, or shortened. If you go back and listen to that tune, listen for the accents I mentioned. Get the feel of it in your mind, dance to it, whatever. Just get a feel for it and it will make your solo work more towards that end.
What I work at doing is playing the accents to that rhythm in the solo. Of course, beings this is a mostly improvisational form of music, I do take liberties on many occasions. Artistic License I think they call it. Or maybe it's better termed stylistic eccentricities.
I am of the opinion that the swing feel didn't come into Monroe's playing until later on, and I hear that mostly in his placement of the chop chord.
Q - Can you tell us how your newest Gilchrist is aging? Has it changed tonal qualities? Deeper? Louder? Are you liking it better/same etc?
A - The new Gilchrist is coming on strong. This mandolin is not as loud as I think some others have been, at least not up close, not in my face. But it carries very well. I continue to get comments to this effect, so I know it's going out there. The tone to this one is a lot more focused sounding to me than the rest. It is not muddy in the least, but has plenty of meat and wood sound. It is clear from top to bottom and even across the board. An amazing thing it is. I have noticed the tone take on a new aspect to its' character just in the last month or so. It is hard to describe what I am hearing, just that I notice a difference. No complaints in the least. I like this mandolin better than any I've had.
Q - If you had to choose 3 Monroe albums to take to a desert island which ones would you bring? And why?
A - Three Monroe albums to take to a desert island... would I have a record player?
Q - One of my favorite breaks that I've heard you do is the break on the Little Grasscals CD on "Home Sweet Home". In the B part of the song it sounds like you start out on a F doublestop and then when the song stays there on F you put in a high C doublestop... Like put a "big ol #1" chord over the top of a 4 chord (IV). Then back to the F or IV chord. That is way too cool! Is that what you are doing there? I love to try to learn some of Monroe's breaks note for note. This is one of yours I try to play note for note.
A - Got me. That's one of the sounds you will hear on quite a bit of the earlier stuff. Monroe played the root over the top of the 5 as well. But the sound you hear is the root over the 4 chord. It has to be a specific postition though. Not just any position will do. You need to play the root and 3 to produce what you hear.
Q - The article about you in Fall issue of Mandolin Magazine mentions you played
a Randy Wood two-point before you got your first Gilchrest. What do you
remember about that instrument and do you know where it is today?
A - That mandolin is the first 2-point A model that Randy Wood made. As I remember it was a very good mandolin. If you are not familiar with that model, it is a 2-point snakehead design. Quite elegant. The mandolin was owned by a very good friend of mine named Raymond Huffmaster who I have been acquainted with since I was in my late teens. Seems he bought it new, pestered Randy into selling it to him. Raymond complained that it had no place to "hang his strap from", so Randy screwed what looks to be a cup hook into the heel
Q - My question is about something you showed folks at the first Kaufman Kamp, if I have my years right. You were showing a technique for playing stuff REALLY fast. The song is blazing fast, but you basically slowed it down in half and played--and it sounded great. Can you explain more fully for the huddled masses? I think you said you used this when playing with the McCoury brothers, and you said, "Now they ain't gonna let anybody get in ahead of them!" But you were able to with this method...
A - You answered your own question. I think of the music as being half the tempo it is. It is just the opposite of the idea some banjo players use of playing a double time roll. I mean, this is not something to do all the time, but it does make for an interesting change of pace.
It is the same idea basically as the triplet tremolo where you think of the melody as seperate segments joined together as part of a hopefully coherent whole. You only get through one section at a time and move to the next following your idea for that solo. I started doing it to find something different to generate ideas instead of playing the same worn out patterns all the time.
Grisman refers to it as "wiping the slate clean". It forces me to look at familiar material in a different way and work through the melody in a different way. I suppose it might be a leftover part of Hartford's influence. He used to make up things to make him stretch out. (We used to call him the "Professor of Minutia".) Even something simple like starting a familiar solo on the second beat of the measure, not the first beat, or starting it a beat early and having to make up the time somewhere else within the solo so that it works out right in the end.
That pretty well is the long and the short of it. Think of the time in half or as triplets and work through the melody with that in mind.
Q - On your last stint as CGOW you mentioned you were taking fiddle lessons. Tell us a little about that. Why are you learning the fiddle? What has been the most challenging part? Do you find any carryover to your mando playing? Did you play Lee Highway Blues on the Little Grasscals CD? That still makes my jaw drop.
A - Yes, I was taking fiddle lessons. It is something I've always felt I could do if I would just go on and do it. And my being exposed to many great fiddlers while working with Hartford, plus friendships with a couple very proficient old time fiddle players has jogged me into gear.
A little about that: I started taking lessons from a Chinese classical violinist out here in Dickson mostly to learn how to use the equipment. It eventually turned into less fiddling technique and more arguing over differing views on theology. Anyway, the instructor moved to the St.Paul area and I didn't have the money to take lessons from a more qualified teacher at that point. But when I did have the money I started taking lessons at the local violin shop from Daniel Carwile. If you have not heard him make sure you do. I learned more from him in a half dozen lessons than I did the other teacher in a couple semesters at the local tech/arts school. Unfortunately the ups and downs of the music business ran me out of funds to continue, but I learned enough to keep me working at it. I'm still no good with it, but am gaining ground, and I enjoy working the puzzle.
As far as I can see, I hear fiddle melody lines differently than I do mandolin. Almost right away. Just something different comes out when I play fiddle. I think it is the ability for a fiddle to sustain a note and the slides. I am sure that what I play is very much influenced by my lack of vocabulary, to state the obvious. But it seems to light a different fire under me than mandolin does. There is a small bit of carryover however, and I think it is simply due to the fact that I am thinking more about the sound a fiddle makes now and how it applies to the sound I make on mandolin. The secondary benefit I sought going into this fiddle habit was to understand a bit more about how Monroe looked at fiddle tunes and how that affected his right hand work. Some of it is a little more clear now.
I am still in the process of learning to play in tune, which is proving to b e a major hurdle and one I don't see being overcome soon. The most difficult part for me is using the bow. There seems to be no earthly way to hold it in any shape, form, or fashion that feels like it belongs in my hand. How in the world does someone learn how to use a bow? The tone is hard to keep consistent through the whole bow stroke and then there is the physical aspect. My hands and shoulders really don't care for the fiddle either, not to mention my teeth
The fiddler on the Grasscals cd is the one and only Jason Carter. I just drew a breath and made an effort to keep up. Pretty fast.
Q - Hope all is well with you and yours. Just wanted to tell you that the
workshop in Columbus,IN was very informative and top notch.
I absolutely love the backup/fills that you do in "The Cross Eyed Child" track of the Bill Monroe tribute CD/DVD behind Mr. Hartford's vocals. When you fill a pocket in a song, for the most part, do you answer the last line of the melody? fill in with a harmony part to the melody? or do you play to what emotion the song envokes?
In my backup/fills I think I tend to overplay and "step" on or not point to the next line of vocal/melody. I need to know what not to play. Did you ever go through such a period in your music journey?
Thanks for you time and effort.
A - I'm glad you found the Columbus workshop helpful. I most always get something out of them too.
The fills contained within "The Cross-eyed Child" are a combination of all the things you mentioned. The main thing I took into consideration on the song was that it is a story about Monroe and I used backup similar to what he would use. I thought that it was the appropriate thing to do. Hartford wanted the "Tennessee Blues" section because it is supposedly the first instrumental Monroe wrote, so I figured the backup should represent Monroe as well.
Of course the choice of how to backup a song/instrumental is up to the individual, but the methods you asked about are good ones to use. Echoing the last statement is a good device, as is playing a harmony line to what is being sung. But that needs to be very simple so as to blend rather than conflict. Keep in mind at all times that backup is a supporting role. Playing a musical statement or afterthought at the end of a line or where a hole is need only fill the space in a tasteful manner. But there is one other thing to remember as well; some of the greatest music the world has known is full of holes. So, it is not necesssary to fill them all, nor even desirable I think. Let it breath.
I am priviledged to hear one of the masters of team playing, Stuart Duncan, on a regular basis. He is very ensemble oriented. He does not let anything go by that needs doing, and that includes playing your solo if you forget the arrangement
I am still a student of backup playing. It is an art form in itself and not easy to get a good tasty grip on. I think the main thing to keep in mind is that "less is truly more". Ask any steel guitar player that ever played with George Jones. What's left?
Q - Next to Bill, you are my main influence (I'm so humbled when I see how
you play, it's deceptively difficult). Bill's influences have been well
documented. I hear more blues in your playing. Care to comment on who
influences the blues nature of your style of mandolin.
A - As for blues influence, I can honestly say that I haven't sat down and learned any one blues player's work note for note, but I do listen to a lot of it here at home. Some mandolin players, some not. The influence that carries over comes basically from the amount of exposure I get to it, not by practicing what is I hear on the recordings. I answered this to an extent last time out due to Niles' inquiry, but I will name a few of my favorites:
The McCoy Bros., Charlie and Joe
John Lee Hooker on acoustic guitar
Johnsons Lonnie and Blind Willie
Henry Thomas (thanks to Bruce Molsky)
and recently, I received a copy of some material by Ry Cooder on mandolin. I find it enlightening as to where else a mandolin can go. And too, it is in the vein I enjoy listening to.
As you can see, my play list is limited to country style players, and predominantely acoustic. I do like some electric bands, but not that many. About the only urban blues that I like much is BB King and Muddy Waters. Limited, yes. But I am happy with it.
Q - Are you teaching at Nash Camp this year? If so, when? Other than camp, do you do many workshops and what do you think about them?
A - I am not teaching at Nashcamp this year. I am doing more camps and more workshops as the years go by. I am happy that there is an undercurrent of interest in the older style of playing because I believe it is a very valid and ingenius way of going about making a statement.
Q - What early recordings (other than Monroe) would you recommend to understand Bill's style? Who else had that blues sound in their mando playing? What other old stuff do you really like?
BTW - My 4 year old thinks your intro to Ralph Stanleys "Lift Him Up That's All" is what heaven sounds like. Washington Phillips would be proud.
When are you gonna' come up north here?
A - I answered part of this question earlier today, that is the question of who else do I like. There are others that go on that list, but generally I listen to country styles of playing and my tastes have begun running backwards in time rather than forwards.
You have asked me a question that I never really gave much thought to, and that is who else other than Monroe should you listen to to understand the style. There were other mandolin players certainly in the string band scene throughout the US, but I don't know who I'd point you to. I know that there were brother duets aplenty and certainly the Monroe Bros. were about the most "hotrodded" version of those. There is a roots and blues compilation put out some time back by Columbia/Legacy that has mandolin players other than Monroe who are similar in some ways. I think really that the main influence Monroe got from whites was the fiddle music in Kentucky. Of course there were black mandolinists around in various configurations under names such as The Mississippi Mud Steppers, Mississippi Black Snakes, The Dallas String Band and so forth. There are others.
I asked Bill on several occasions about players I had hunches he might have heard. He always denied hearing any of them. He more or less insisted at that point in his life that he came up with it all. But what else would I have expected?
Q - I have been wondering about the relationship between tone and volume of late. Having recently attended my first large jam circle volume was critical (or you simply weren't heard. To generate volume I have been taught to grip the pick somewhat harder with the fingers (while keeping the forearm relaxed!), and come down on the strings so that you almost bounce your hand of of them as you strum through. This tends to make tone more limited--towards the midrange--and on my lesser mando it sounds strident. However, folks like Chris Thile recommend a loose grip and a smooth stroke (at the wrist only) through the strings. When I do this it sounds very nice, but volume takes a serious hit.
Listening to Monroe and you play, you manage to get volume (presumably--I've never heard either of you live) yet maintain tone with a wide range of lows and highs. What are the important factors, in your opinion, critical to walking the fine line between tone and volume? Or are these different styles for different situations (jam versus recording)?
A - Chris is right. It takes a loose or 'floating' wrist. And it is good advice to keep your forearm relaxed. It is pretty well impossible to play for any length of time, especially at fast tempos with tense muscles. And, basically impossible to control or vary your right hand. I'd say that the majority of modern players do use a lighter attack than years ago. There is a different aesthetic now.
I will make an effort to describe this to you. Your answer has forced me to go get a mandolin and play for a few minutes in order to find words for a more thorough description. So, bear with me.
I don't think there is a fine line between tone and volume, because they are two seperate things. I know what you mean though. As for your question regarding studio work, yes people do tend to lighten up while recording.
I think reading the answer to this week's first question will cut down on the length of this answer. After making an adjustment to smooth out the right hand motion, whether it be tremolo, downstroke or chop to your satisfaction, make an effort to increase your volume. The best way I can describe the right hand action is that you play into the string. The motion is inward, a sort of bearing down. You still play with a loose wrist and even tremolo letting your pick only travel as far as necessary(the distance depending on how many strings you are playing) from shoulder to shoulder. I am not saying use the pick at a greater depth. That stays the same as well. The idea is to use leverage, not muscle. Muscle is needed only for endurance purposes.
A couple of other things to consider are these; some mandolins just won't get loud without sounding bad. The first Gilchrist I had would go so far, and that was that. After it reached a certain point playing harder only had a detrimental effect. So, I had to learn to work with it. I had to learn how to make it give me what I wanted. Your question cannot be answered without a lot of work on your part.
One final word, a note played with good tone can be heard a surprisingly long distance. So, just because you sound quiet to you doesn't mean that the people across the room can't hear you.
Q - Mike, its a pleasure to have you as our guest this week. Glad to hear that NBB will have a new CD available shortly, hope it's ready for Merlefest.
I've been playing for a couple of years now and my biggest struggle is building up any speed. I've been told, speed isn't everything, but when your at a jam, or my group wants to rip out a good instrumental, if you ain't got the speed, your left out. Can you give us some details to your approach to getting up to speed.
Also, I believe I've read in the past that you will consider giving private lessons. If true, I will be coming to Nashville in the near future and would love to spend an hour with you to critique my playing, practice techniques, tone, style, etc. Thanks for your consideration and looking forward to seeing you at Merlefest.
A - You aren't talking to the speed king in the mandolin world. But I can stay in the game pretty well.
Speed is a benefit of good technique and a lot of practice, not an end unto itself. If you sit down with a piece of music that you know well and play it, you can generally play it faster than something you don't know as well, right? (Don't glaze over the parts you don't know either. Everybody will know you screwed it up). Work the material up to the point you feel you know it at a comfortable pace. Then gradually increase your tempo in small degrees, learning the material to your satisfaction at each tempo. Don't go faster until you have control of where you are. This process is a good time to practice relaxing as well.
One of the most important things to remember is to relax. There is no way you can keep up with tense muscles. If it comes to the point that you have to tell yourself outloud,"Relax, relax" then do it. But I'd say the number one thing to remember is that if you aren't confident you are going to keep up with the pack, it won't happen. You have to have confidence in what you are doing. I will be the first to tell you that I can work faster on some nights than I can on others. It comes down to the way I feel. It will work the same way for you.
Q - Although I have never been able to attend one, I know that you do teach workshops. I hear that you have a very fluid style that shows a lot of notes without a lot of extra movements.
Could you tell us, if you had it to do all over again, knowing what you do now about technique, theory, traditions, styles, other mando players - what would you work on to build yourself into a great player?? What do you feel is the most important areas to concentrate on? How much of each? I think you know what I mean.
Also, you took a chance a while back on a new builder by the name of Gilchrist ( anyone heard of him? ) and he has proven himself to be an accomplished builder. I also know that you play Kimball mandolins. Could you contrast the two and tell us what you like about each one?
Thanks and don't think for one minute we don't appreciate your tyme!!
A - It differs depending on what aspects we're talking about. From a strictly technical standpoint I think I'd spend a great deal of time learning the fingerboard and doing more work on my right hand. Both those I do now. I just don't have a firm enough grasp on where everything is; I am not technically proficient enough to play what I hear. I do not know enough options to use. I would study more about rhythms and how they work.
I think it is important to have right and left hand skills developed so that one can articulate well. After all, part of playing music is about communicating with the rest of us, right? I do think it is important to develop the ability to read music as well as play it, but I am inclined to think learning to play by ear is the most important for the first step. Learn to play with feeling first.
As for the rest, I don't know. I came upon Monroe more or less unaware. How could I?
The work Stephen Gilchrist does needs no advertisement from me. As far as I'm concerned he is the standard to match. His work speaks for itself. I met Will Kimble last year at the SPBGMA meeting in Nashville and he approached me about trying one of his mandolins out. He has been more than accomodating and has made efforts in every way to please my fickle nature. I do know that he is very well acquainted with Lynn Dudenbostel and has that expertise available to him. Will's work is improving at an alarming rate. I believe I mentioned getting another A model from him lately. It is quite a piece of work.
Stephen's idea of tone for the mandolin I got from him is to have the capabilities Monroe's had. I am not sure quite yet what Will's idea of tone is, nor do I think he really is either. It is very early. Both mandolins play well and respond well. The Gilchrist is my mainstay, the bluegrass mandolin, the one that I can use in almost any situation, and is one of the very last things I would let leave my posession. As Aubrey Haney puts it,"I just got to love on it sometimes".
Q - I remember first seeing you in a mando workshop at Owensboro around 92 with Ron Thomason & Tim O'brien. I really appreciated the Monroe-like influence you produced, it was delightful! Thanks for being there back then.
Here's the CGOW question for you with a bit of history first. I'm 95% a solo musician. I play instrumentals at restaurants, weddings & the like and do so solo. When I do play with Bluegrass musicians I'd really like to generate the Monroe sound as opposed to the crosspicked Celtic-Swing approach I have developed. I think most people enjoy the unique sound I bring to bluegrass but I know in my heart many traditionalists don't like it because it's not "old School" Bluegrass and they feel it detracts from the overall sound. I play too many chords for Bluegrass because I "Hear" them in there and to me they're purely natural, belong there & fit perfectly. When I play with swing/Jazz style players playing bluegrass, what I play does fit wonderfully. What I bring to the table does not really fit the rest of the band if I'm the only one playing them.
My style reflects 40+ years of crosspicking guitar where I did fiddle tunes at tempo with the same picking approach I'd do a with slow ballad or anything in-between. About six years ago I started playing the mandolin and within weeks was doing so exclusively and I brought my guitar approach to the mando. I've never learned to imitate someone elses style or choice of notes and except for the very beginning 40 years ago, I never sit with music and try to learn someone's style, I've done my best to have a unique sound unlike anyone else and after all these years I think I've well managed to do so. I don't read standard notation nor have I really sat down with tab, I learn from hearing a tune and feeling it.
So with that smidgen Mike, have you any thoughts on how's a good way at this point in my life to go about better learning the Monroe approach to lead & rhythm so I'm better able to successfully play with more traditional groups?
A - I envy your ear.
So, you have 40 years of Celtic/Swing influenced knowledge and you want some Monroe because the hardassed traditionalists are fussing because you play "too many of them 'off' chords"? Not surprising.
You mentioned you learn readily by ear and feel. So, the first thing I see to do is get hold of some traditional material and listen to it, Monroe and otherwise. There's plenty to be had. Next, look at the material as a sketch. It worked for Monroe. Just make a sketch, a schematic in music of what the song represents. Do away with the fine detail for the time being. The strokes are broad, not meticulous. The people who've attended my workshops over the last few years have heard my comparison of Monroe and VanGogh stylistically. There is a visual reference if you need one.
Let me know if that works for you. If you need more, feel free to contact me. We'll go from there.
Q - So with two small children around the house, where do you practice, somewhere else?
Also, could you tell us something about your mandolins. Are they both parallel-bars? Did you tell Stephen what options to use or did he know what sound you wanted and built what he knew you would like? Radiused fretboard? Pickguard? What other details? Just curious.
I bought mine early on before knowing much about the instrument. I probably got it backwards with X-bracing in the Model 5 (F5) and parallel-bars in the Model 3 (A5).
A - I generally find time to practice upstairs during the day, but I do confess to come downstairs everytime I hear a sound above what I am doing. Sadie generally keeps an eye on them while I'm upstairs and we switch off. Now and then I bring the mandolin or whatever downstairs and sit at the table and just wade through the questions and answers and practice as I can. But most of my practice is done after 8:30pm; bedtime.
My mandolins? I have the one Gilchrist Model F5 currently, and I will say it's the best one I've had. It is not what I am used to, but it has something else in the sound that intrigues me. I have been more taken with this one than the rest. What I've been doing is trading out with Stephen when he comes through with something new that he wants me to look at. So I traded the last for this one. Currently I have #536 and he has #500. #536 is a parallel bar model. #500 was as well. I did not need to tell Stephen what I wanted because he already knows and doesn't offer me anything besides a mandolin that is his best current effort towards that sound. The fretboard is flat. I prefer them that way.
I still have the Gibson AJr. and a Prodigal A5 here that are both equipped with flat boards. They just feel better to me. I have just gotten a Kimble A model here to try out that has a very slightly arched board, and I don't find it too uncomfortable surprisingly. I am not quite used to where the E string lies on the bridge top. I shoot a little high if I'm not paying attention. Nearly go over it.
All the mandolins I have here that came with pickguards still have them in place. I have stopped taking them off. Having the guard in place seems to have the benefit of keeping my right hand from becoming sloppy because if I feel the guard I have a tendency to get off of it. Other details? Nothing glaring at the moment.
Q - I've only been playing a couple years, and lately I've been noticing a problem maybe you can give me some pointers on, pertaining to playing fast once again.
Lots of times, when I find myself playing at really quick tempos, above my level, I find that my right wrist locks up, and everything is coming from the elbow. Any suggestions as to unlocking that wrist? How do you get decent volume at fast paces?
A - The problem you are having is simply lack of experience. Playing at fast tempos, as I mentioned earlier, is a byproduct of skill, not an end unto itself. Once you have acquired the technical knowledge your speed will pick up. It is a matter of being more sure of where you want to go, and having confidence in your abilities.
Confidence and concious thought on your part to stay loose will keep you in the game. I have to do the same thing. When you get in to another situation where you feel yourself tense up, make an effort to remind yourself to relax. Lighten up and do what you can do. The volume issue will be more easily dealt with if you are loose as well. If you are relaxed you can concentrate on that too. There have been several other questions dealt with here that I think you might find to be of some help.
Q - I wanted to ask about your instrumentals. What motivates you to write one? Do they come to ya all at once, or do ya play it a while & keep fine tuning it? Do they start by hearin something you just played yourself ( Hey there's the start of a tune) or hearin somebody play a lick that strikes yer fancy( Hey i could make something out of that) ?? Do you have put it on tape or can you remember them in yer head?
A - The tunes come in different ways.
I have use Monroe's formula many times, which is to take an existing melody and work off of it, play it in another key and see how it lays out there, let it take shape. Or change the time signature of a tune and make it work smoothly in the new format.
It is interesting to take another approach, and that is to take only one part of a mult-part tune and write other parts to that part. What happens then is that you begin to get a much better grasp of how the language works and how you can fit the pieces together in many different ways.
Now and then I will use an historical event, a roadsign, birth of a child, marriage, domestic events,etc. In other words, you can be creative about anything you want. All it takes is seeing/hearing something there that inspires something inside you.
I play the idea over and over and let the tune take shape, or to make it sound mystical, let the music tell me where to go. I have found that once an idea gets started it won't let me alone until it resolves and then I record it. Generally I record everything onto tape so that it does not get lost, but then that requires keeping track of the recordings. I have lost some of my better tunes this way.
Q - At a recent concert with David Long, you and David ignored at first and then played a request for Rawhide. Afterwards, you said something like "that's just silly". I took that to mean "that tune is all mixed up in macho chest-thumping, which I find silly". Is that what you meant? And can you talk a little about how and if your own personality intersects with Monroe's when you play music?
A - No, that's not what I meant. The tendency to ignore tunes like "Rawhide" is simply because they are played/requested so often. Sort of like "Foggy Mountain Breakdown". Now, did I say that it was silly before or after playing the tune? Chances are if the remark was made afterwards, I meant that it is silly to play that fast. As I remember, it went at a pretty good clip. But I will tell you, that performance of the tune was the best I've played it in recent memory, especially the B part. I have been use to hammering my way all the way through, and I came to understand that lightening up and skipping over strings was what really made it doable and is what makes the other parts stand out. I was very relieved and pleasantly surprised at how well it went.
I generally don't like to play much material at wide open tempos because I think it is overdone. I also don't think that there is that much material that really works at high speeds. The instruments don't really have time to ring with one note put on top of the other like that. I think it takes some breathing space when you get in at that rate, not just a wall of notes. If you've nothing to say, it doesn't matter how many notes you use.
As for the "macho" aspect of the style, sure, it's there. But my aim is to use it as a tool, not as a means to prove something to my ego.
Q - Can you tell me a little about Paul's Blues that you recorded with David Grier, in particular the tuning used? What a hunting composition!
Am I right in remembering from last time that you prefer the DUD DUD, etc, tremelo when used with a triplet feel? Is this the pick direction you used for tremelo on "Blue and Lonesome" on the "My Native Home" album. I know you didn't exactly record it yesterday...... (I think you've already coverd this but how do you get the DUD DUD up to tremelo speed----you've probably covered this, too)
What about a trip to Oz? If you've not given it a thought but would like to, please email.
A - The tune "Paul's Blues" was written and dedicated to a friend of mine's late father, Paul Bowden. It was written off of a Roy Acuff song he was intrigued by entitled "Valley of Regret". The summer I met Paul he had just received all the verses to it, something he had been pursuing for some years.
The tuning is a modified version of the tuning for Monroe's "My Last Days on Earth". It is a B minor tuning if I'm not mistaken. The notes, beginning with the G strings, are as follows:
F# F#, B D, F# A, B D.
You are mistaken about the progression of strokes used in the tremolo. I use that order in playing triplets. Tremolo is the usual DUDUDUDUDUDUD...., except there is a slight accent on the beginning note of each "set". The first threesome is accented on a downstoke, the next accented on an upstroke. That is simply because that is the way they lay out. The point in this practice is to add a slight pulse to the tremolo instead of playing a straight line of notes, all the same feel. It is also easier to get from one side of the passage to the other thinking of it in sections. Getting up to speed has been covered.
A trip to Oz? I've always wanted to do that.
Q - I think that many folks here would be interested in the story of your old
Gilchrist. That mandolin was a real fine instrument. Would you describe
why and how you acquired it, the story of what happened to it in the accident,
what happened to the top, and so forth-- and have you kept it? Or where is
A - The old red Gilchrist was purchased in 1979 for $1000. There were two of them at Gruhn Guitars, the red one and a brown sunburst Fern that went to Japan. Basically I was informed by the owner of the mandolin I was playing at the time, a Randy Wood 2-point snakehead A model No.1, that he was wanting it back. So I started out sampling mandolins. One of Gruhn's employees told me that there were two mandolins "from a new Australian maker" at the shop and one was pretty good. So I went down and tried them both out. The red #7953 was hands down the best of the two. I played it for a couple of days. George approached me on the second day and told me," You have shown a genuine interest in the instrument, and I would like to say that if you make a commitment on it today, you can have it for $1000. I am raising the price tomorrow to $1500." So, I borrowed the money and took it home.
The original top was braced with tone bars. After a couple of years the top began to cave in. In the process it was pulling the back seam apart as well. I had it looked at and was told that the top was half as thick as it was supposed to be in the area where it was caving in. A new top was the remedy. So, word was sent to Stephen in Australia about the problem and he sent up a new top, one with his new X-bracing pattern. That was about 1981-82. I forget now. Stephen had come and gone from his tenure at Gruhn's by then. The new top was fitted and the back seam repaired and done gratis, thanks to the lifetime warranty. I'll say, I was sick over it because before the collapse, the mandolin had begun to really come alive, and after the top replacement it was dead as a hammer. But during the course of the next year it settled in and came alive again, better than before.
Along about 1988 we were riding down the road in the NBB bus and topped a hill in Virginia during a rainstorm, and much to our surprise/horror, there was nothing but brakelights on the other side. So, into the standstill we went. I was sitting in the front practicing at the time. Once the colliding stopped I realized that I was holding a 2-piece mandolin now. The neck had been snapped out of it on a diagonal line across the heel block and the curl had been snapped off the headstock. The mandolin went to Marty Lanham at the Nashville Guitar Company and he spent the time necessary to put the mandolin back together. It took about another year for it to finally stop settling in. Every time I opened the case it would be out of tune, but that gradually stopped.
The mandolin pretty much worked fine after that. The only real problem was that the frets were out of position up the neck, but I just ignored it pretty much and hammered on anyway. I was fortunate to receive #436 from Stephen at IBMA in about 2000 and eventually I sold #7953 because I didn't need two F5's. Aubrey Haney expressed an interest in it and basically came to visit me everyday for the better part of a week. Towards the end of the week he showed up with the cash, so he left with it. I think he traded it for a mandolin he had had previously, a Fern of some sort (I mentioned this to Stephen and he remarked,"You're kidding? I'm not even dead yet."). It has become the property of Ricky Wassen. He informed me that he has had the fingerboard replaced and it works fine there now. I think Ricky said he was going to give it to his son at some point.
Q - I hear a lot of people talk about Bill's strange tunings. At the Columbus workshop you read off a rather large list of alternate tunings. Unfortunately, we didn't get to spend much time on them. I also understand that the third break on I'll Fly Away, off the Oh Brother album, is a different tuning. Is that so? How did you tune for that? Also, can you discuss a little bit about how and where you use some of these tunings? As well as any favorites or experiments? As a newbie, I'm just trying to get a grasp on where to start with experimenting with this.
A - The list of tunings I read you in Columbus were all alternate fiddle tunings. Those were simply for your own amusement. If we had gone into any one of those and started making efforts to make sense of where the notes laid out in the new tunings, there would have been mass hysteria. None of those tunings were used by Monroe. Most of Monroe's tunings seem to involve splitting the strings to an extent, not matched pairs.
I'd say that I generally play out of standard tuning unless for a specific tune that is usually played out of specific tuning. The reasons for alternate tunings probably vary from place to place. I am sure there is documentation somewhere about tunings, mostly on fiddle, from region to region. My wife Sadie has an interest in hardanger fiddling (Popular in Norway and Sweden. The fiddle has 8 or more stings, an upper course and a lower course of sympathetic strings. I am not thoroughly educated on this instrument or its' origins or other details, so I'd appreciate it if you historians/experts give me a break. I am trying to illustrate a point). She has recordings from some of the modern players as well as the older ones. We have printed out three pages of tunings off the internet just for that instrument. So why play in so many tunings?
I know that some alternate tunings closely resemble bagpipes. Some tunings involve the predominant melody notes in a given song or a given scale. Alternate tunings change the voicing and allow for different chord sounds not readily available in standard tunings. Sometimes a melody line works better out of an alternate tuning than it does out of standard tuning, is more comfortable to play. I am sure there are other ideas and reasons for doing it.
My tuning on "Lift Him Up" on Dr. Ralph's recording was done to reproduce the sound of the piano-like instrument Washington Phillips played on his original recording of the song. I believe it is known as a Melodeon. Stuart Duncan told me before the session that we were going to be required to reproduce that sound between the two of us, so I put on Washington Phillips and started turning knobs. That tuning was the best I could come up with. Don't ask me what it is. It would take a while to find it. But, you see, it was to reproduce a sound that mandolins don't normally make.
My favorites so far are tunings that produce a chord when played open. The AEAE, GDGD, ADAD tunings work well because you have basically two pairs, one pair an octave below the other. Anything you do on one pair you can do on the other. The tricky part is the transition between the two middle pairs.
As for "I'll Fly Away", that was played out of standard tuning.
Q - Would you give us your opinion on what are some of the key Monroe instrumentals and key Monroe breaks to singing songs that will help us unlock different aspects of the Monroe style? Downstrokes, tremolo, playing out of positions, reducing the melody, particular common phrases he re-used, whatever aspects you want to cover.
Also, I'm glad to see they included you in the prestigious Art of the Mandolin Symposium out on the left coast. They had a huge gap in their instruction until they added you.
A - Your question requires a rather long answer, as I'm sure you were aware before you asked it. The choices of material that represent those aspects of Monroe style you asked about are extensive. Much of it contains several aspects within one solo. I will make an attempt to list some of the more obvious one's and some possibly not so obvious. I might add before I get into this that the repertoire of Monroe material is the body of a language that is interpreted differently by everyone who digs into it. Every mandolin player that I know who has adopted the language as a tool of his trade has more often than not been influenced by a different slice of Monroe's career than the next player. The tunes and song solos are readily available for consumption, but the true test to understanding the language is when material outside the Monroe repertoire is encountered.
For Gospel music, I'd say most anything on the "I Saw the Light" and "I'll Meet You in Church Sunday Morning" recordings is a must.
Tremolo is probably the primary tool in the style. Many variables exist here. They range from straight ahead "up/down/up/down" all notes even to the triplet tremolo mentioned earlier to tremolos with an internal rhythm pattern built in to a forward lean and more. Check into this material:
"Blue Moon of Kentucky", the original recording
"Someday We'll Meet Again, Sweetheart"
"Bluegrass Breakdown"; listen for the pattern built into the tremolo
"Tennessee Blues"; ragtime rhythm
"Long Journey Home"; forward lean
"Turkey in the Straw", Monroe's version of the Georgia Shuffle
Downstrokes are the second most identifiable characteristic of Monroe style. There are abundant examples of this throughout his career. Some to listen to:
"Bluegrass Part One"; triplets, downstrokes, tremolo
"No One But My Darlin"; also includes trademark triplet usage;arpeggio
"Were You There?"; uses B major chop chord as home base
"When You Are Lonely"; very commonly used Monroe version of arpeggio
"White House Blues"
These three contain an often used idea utilizing a descending line and hammer ons.
Playing out of position:
I will only list this one because Monroe style is based out of chord position playing predominantly. I list this one because it is odd sounding. Look for the modern version, preferably in A minor.
Reduction of Melody is characteristic and appears throughout. Suggestion of ideas, not detail. This material will contain some of the previous aspects:
"Memories of Mother and Dad"; actually, damn near anything on the "High Lonesome Sound" album
"Blue Ridge Mountain Blues"; not the early recording with Clyde Moody "Louisville Breakdown"
"Turkey in the Straw"
"Sold Down the River"; interesting use of right hand melody insinuation/alternate melody with left hand
"The First Whippoorwill"
The latter years of Monroe's life were characterized I think by more slides and insinuated notes, lots of A minor instrumentals:
"Old Ebenezer Scrooge"
"Land of Lincoln"
"The Golden West"
The above tunes are played to a great extent out of first position, working out of the C chord which is the relative major to A minor. They all are 3-4 part instrumentals.There are quite a few more tunes in this grouping.
I think that "Evening Prayer Blues" is an essential tune to learn. It contains downstrokes, blues, slides, tremolo, chord position playing, melody insinuation. I might add here that many of the songs/instrumentals listed above can be found on live recordings made over the years by audience members or band members and they contain many interesting and useful variations.
Q - I think you wrote you had, prior to acquiring your first Gilchrist, a mandolin on loan from Raymond E (a.k.a. - "Huffie"). I seem to recall that Bill Monroe used one of Huffie's mandolins to record "Stone Coal"; was this the one you had on loan?
A - I have never know Raymond to have but the one Randy Wood. It Monroe did indeed record with Huffmaster's mandolin, it would have to have been that one. When was "Stone Coal" recorded? I think this might be misinformation.