Superstition or Real? There
are many things in music that seem to be just a little too odd to be
true. People that love what they do can very easily become fanatical
about it (and many times do); often they don't even know they are a fanatic.
My wife says that I am stubborn; that just isn't true, and I will argue with
anyone that says different. In music,
especially bluegrass, people do things that just appear superstitious.
Let's look at some of those really weird things and see if
we can find make sense of them.
Bluegrass musicians often keep rattle snake rattlers in their instrument;
they claim that it sounds better, so they have been told. No one seems
to be sure that it works, but it's a common occurrence.
Possible Explanation Rattle snake rattlers
have the ability to absorb moisture much like the little white packets that
you find in some food packages. Instruments need to be at a
constant temperature and humidity as much as possible to keep the material
from expanding and contracting. This kind of movement will destroy and
instrument over time.
Superstitious? What about the fourth
voice in a three singer band? Now we are hearing things!
Possible Explanation The idea here is that we
need to hear things. No, not dead people! This is a part of our
normal practice when we get together. The three of us harmonize until
we hear the forth voice and then we practice until we hear it every time
that we sing that song. Just as a string is heard that is badly out of
tune, so are voices. When the string is tuned, it can hardly be heard
Our practice session: Keith Howell sings the
lead part, Doug Trivett and I trade from tenor to baritone depending on how
our voice fits the song. Keith starts off and we jump in where the
back up vocals are needed. While blending our voices, Keith tries to
hold a good note while Doug rattles out a note while I only hear the echoes
in the swollen cavities of my sinuses. It's a real mess! As we start to predict
what each other will do, we begin to tune our voices. With practice, we slowly
tune our voices together into a single, well
tuned instrument. When our voices become tuned, all of the bad notes disappear
like the string that was tuned. The individual voices are no longer
heard because we are now as one, and we all become "the
forth voice" as a group. The lead singer will be heard, because he is
singing the lead note which is the dominate note of the three notes. That
is another lesson.
Superstitious? The Stradivarius violin is so honored
that many musicians will practice on lesser violins so that a bad note will
never hit that Strad.
Possible Explanation Will a bad note hurt an
instrument? If it does, mine would have exploded years ago. If a
musician is that fanatical about their instrument, they must be serious
about playing the best music possible. Everyone should do the best
that they can at what ever good they intend to do. Maybe we should
honor our instruments and give it our all, and see what it gives us in
Superstitious? I build violins and I always
listen to bluegrass music while the building is in process. I do this as a
constant reminder not to dishonor the music with a bad
Possible Explanation Antonio Stradivari was
the greatest influence to the violin in all of history, yet he never got the
chance to love bluegrass as we know it. I believe that he crafted the
instruments that he was building as he honored God with the accuracy of his
work. Maybe he was given a special gift for his effort or maybe he had
his mind on what he was doing. If the money for our labor is all that
we are working for, then we are missing out on a world of wonder.
Superstitious? Doug Trivett is a third generation
instrument builder, and he was taught to listen to the wood as it talks to
him. Voices again?
Possible Explanation The wood that goes into
an instrument has individual tones, just as it has a tone as a
completed instrument. From the tap of the builder listening for specific tones
in a particular section, to the slightest brush of the finger tips across the surface,
there are sounds that come from the wood. How might the builder
arrange all of these tones into one perfectly tuned
instrument? I don't think that he can, but I believe that if his mind
is on his work to that extent, the workmanship needed to create the next
Strad is close at hand.
Tip! If the strings feel dry
and your fretting fingers will not slip along the string properly, rub the
side of your nose and the oil from your skin will make your fingers slip like
greased lightening. Really! (Yes, it's kind of gross but it
really works and you don't have to worry about forgetting your nose!)
Hi, I'm Doug Trivett. Let's look at a section that I use many
times when playing bluegrass guitar. This section can be done
many different ways, but we will learn one and you can change it as
you learn to use it. Every lead break has to have an ending just
as it has to have a beginning. Learn this ending and see if you
can apply it to you break.
Listen to my Example!
Tip! Hammer-on, from 9 to9. Slide on the others.