From The Side of the Road… impress your friends – talk bluegrass!

I’ll admit that, perhaps because of my radio day job, I listen more intently than I should to radio advertising. I’m especially drawn to those featuring contrived conversations:

“You mean you really get cash back on every gas purchase?!”

“Yes I do.”

“Wow! That settles it. I’m downloading the app today! What was that web site again?”

A while back I kept hearing an ad for the Blinkist app, in which a young man and woman are conversing awkwardly while gazing at the stars, and the guy, clearly for the purpose of impressing his friend, throws out some fact about stars that comes off to me as an irritating know-it-all thing to say. She’s impressed, however, and says something like, “How did you know that? You must do a ton of reading!”

At this point, he pivots to being impressively honest and says, “not really,” admitting that he just reads “cliff notes” versions of books through the Blinkist app. This impresses her as much as if he’d actually read the books themselves, and presumably they’re now married with 12 children and spend their time still trying to impress each other by spouting facts they’ve gleaned from the Blinkist app: “Did you know that both the guitar and the horse came to North America from the Spaniards, who also brought Spanish wine, food, people, and many other Spanish things?”

Could we do this with bluegrass and other music-related knowledge? Sometimes when people see a really impressive musician performing, they wonder if it’s possible to bypass hours and hours of practice time and just learn a few tricks that’ll help them pull off a really impressive break to Soldier’s Joy.

Perhaps you got a really low score on one of the annual bluegrass quizzes that I run here, but you’d like to sound like you know the music when engaged in conversation with your bluegrass festival friends.

Or, would you like to give the impression that you understand the fine points of sound reinforcement when you don’t know a woofer from a poodle?

It would be great to develop an app that makes all that possible, but I haven’t yet read the hyper-condensed version of Building Apps for Dummies, so instead I’ll just offer some lines below that will make you sound informed on a variety of bluegrass-related subjects. Consider these the musical equivalent of the Blinkist guy’s comment about the stars.

Bluegrass history knowledge:

“Did you know that Bill Monroe took up the mandolin only because his brothers Charlie and Birch had already taken the more desired instruments, the fiddle and guitar?”

“Did you know that Hylo Brown’s real name was Frank?”

Or, if you don’t care if what you say is true or not, you could wow them with these “facts”:

“Did you know that Alison Krauss and Alison Brown are actually the same person?”

“Did you know that Billy Strings’ real name is actually Reginald Hosenfleisch?”

Sound knowledge:

“We just need an XLR for the back line.”

“I think the 2K sounds a little tubby.”

Banjo knowledge:

“It sounds tubby (for some reason, the word ‘tubby’ makes you sound informed on a variety of subjects). It could be the tone ring.”

“It sounds a little potty for a flathead.”

Other bluegrass instruments:

“I used to own a ’37 fern, but I traded it for a pre-war bone.”

“It’s probably a truss rod issue.”

Music theory, bluegrass style:

“Let’s do a cross-up there and you get the high baritone.”

“It’s just a 1,4,5, with a quick 6 minor in the bridge.”

Vocal technique:

“Just let it come from the diaphragm.”

“It’s about vocal placement.”


“That’s a modal voicing from the Roscoe Holcombe school.”

“That has roots in the shape note tradition.”

Bus knowledge:

It’s a Prevost with an H3-45. That’s what Jimmy drives these days” (The fact that “Jimmy” is a fictional character here is not important)

In the Studio:

“The compression might be affecting the low pass filter.”

“Can we ease the mids back 1 dB? It sounds a little tubby.”