Genres in music are like branches of a tree. Each one of them parts into a number of different little limbs, but they never leave their roots.
Bluegrass is usually considered a branch from country music. For that reason, sometimes it may get slightly complicated to tell them apart. However, while similar and overlapping in many ways, the two are still distinct and should not be confused with one another. We’ve created a comparative analysis documenting just what makes each genre stand out.
The Instrumentation of Bluegrass vs Country
Country and Bluegrass are obviously very similar when it comes their instrumentation. As one may already know, one of the greatest most defining instruments of these genres would be the banjo, which is a time tested staple and has become quite popular even outside of country and bluegrass. Something similar could also be said for the fiddle and the harmonica. Nevertheless, there are some instruments that are more commonly used in one or in the other.
The use of accordions is quite popular in Country music. Even though we would be able to listen to this instrument in a Bluegrass style song, it’s not as common as in the first one.
As for Bluegrass music, it is generally known to be mainly focused on unamplified instruments. Because of this, the sound has a closer relationship with that of folk music. In addition, vocal harmonies are said to be quite distinctive of this genre. Sometimes among the different vocal harmonies, there is one which is sung in a higher pitch called the “high lonesome sound”.
Sound and Rhythm
The difference between bluegrass and country is defined not only by the types of instrumented used, but also in how those instruments are used. The composition of songs are significantly different, and very easily distinguishable once you listen to a song in each style. Country music consists mainly of dance tunes and ballads focusing mainly on a steady rhythm. But with the many subgenres of country music that exist in this day and age, there is also an endless variety of paces and tones.
Nowadays, people also relate country music to Pop music, as the music industry is pushing some country composers’ careers forward, and making it more commercial and accessible.
However, Bluegrass music in general keeps to its origins and has a very specific type of sound, usually generated with a string instrument, which consists of a very quick plucking in high-pitched tones, sometimes combined with the “high lonesome sound”. It is considered to be more free regarding rhythm as well, generally related to improvisation. That last part is generally the main focus of the song.
Artists and Songs
Bill Monroe, featured in the picture above, is considered to be one of the biggest predecessors of Bluegrass music.
As a matter of fact, the name of this subgenre was attributed to his band name, which was “Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys”. Kentucky, also known as the Bluegrass state, was Bill Monroe’s place of origin.
Lastly, there is no better way to see how different each genre is than by having a good reference of the most iconic composers and artists.
As for examples of Bluegrass, notable examples are:
- Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Earl Scruggs
- Country Boy – Ricky Skaggs
- Blue Moon of Kentucky – Bill Monroe
As for Country music, there are way more variants and the style is more eclectic, as it has had many generations of musicians along the history of music. There is a high number of iconic Country musicians and songs, some of them including:
- Jolene – Dolly Parton
- Hurt – Johnny Cash
- On the Road Again – Willie Nelson