Are bluegrass and gypsy jazz compatible?

JanMJanM Vienna, AustriaNew
edited March 2011 in Gypsy Picking Posts: 7
Hi everyone, I am a bluegrass player, I bought the Gypsy Picking book and want to try the style. I'll be grateful to anyone who is willing to share some knowledge about following issues:

1) Do I need to give up bluegrass altogether? Did anyone try to use the rest stroke technique in bluegrass, fiddle tunes, etc.?

2) Gypsy Jazz, unlike bluegrass, seems to beplayed on very light strings. Is this necessary for the technique?

3) I find one problem with the rest stroke technique - you dampen the string your pick comes to rest on. If you, say, play a note on the G string and then perform a rest stroke on the D string, you dampen the vibrating G string with your pick. How do you overcome this? Bluegrass players generally try to keep the strings sounding as long as possible.

Thanks for any ideas on these and to Michael for the impressive amount of work he put in his book.



  • emicademicad Rome - ItalyModerator
    Posts: 472
    The restroke technique is compatible for sure.
  • CalebFSUCalebFSU Tallahassee, FLModerator Made in USA Dell Arte Hommage
    Posts: 557
    Jan- good to have you here. I would say don't give up Bluegrass if thats your thing man go with it. I am by no means a bluegrass player but I play some fiddle tunes here and there, and I would say while you can surely use the rest stroke for flatpicking stuff a lot of the Bluegrass rep fits and feels better with alternate picking. So try it out see what fits and what sounds good.

    the lighter strings thing has more to do with the tone of the guitars in my oppinion I keep heavy strings (well medium I guess in bluegrass terms 13's) on my flat top because I like the way the guitar sounds with them. If you are playing on your Martin D-28 I don't see a reason to change the strings if you are used to them. Now if you question is I don't want to play this music on a Sel/Mac type of guitar then you may need to do some switching around but to me a Martin sounds like a Martin and a Dupont sounds like a Dupont if I play The Temperence Reel on my Dell Arte it sounds like it. It is all about your sonic preference. This also goes for your third question. Although it sounds like you already answered it. Use the rest stroke when you play this music don't use it when you play bluegrass.

    If your question is can I play this music in a bluegrass setting I don't see why not. It seems kind of inevitable that bluegrass guys (and gals) would be drawn to this music. I will admit I am not the hugest fan of the bluegrass/Jazz fusion thing, but what the hell do I know :lol: !
    Dennis posted some videos a while ago of him playing with a cat that was doing some bluegrass style flat picking on a Grand bouche sel/mac. The guy was really good but it sounded like bluegrass or Honky Tonk not Jazz but do what cha like. I hope this helps
    this topic comes up every now and again I like talking about it.
    Let me know if I missed the mark or didn't answer something.
    Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 6,155
    Hi Jan,

    I think you could make reststrokes work with bluegrass, but you'd have to be careful to make sure you're getting the right phrasing and tone for bluegrass. Generally the reststroke technique can be adapted to lots of styles...but it takes some work and you have to really be sensitive to the subtleties of the style you're trying to adapt it to. Historically most plectrum instruments in just about every style used some variation of the reststroke technique. Early jazz, classical mandolin, Greek bouzouki, Cuban tres, and even the early bluegrassers like Lester Flatt were using a variation of the reststroke technique. So I think anything is possible and it would be cool to see someone really play modern bluegrass using reststrokes. But with that said, a whole aesthetic has developed around the freestroke style of Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Norman Blake, etc and it may be easier to just do it they way they do!

  • Posts: 18
    To me, it would seem that playing bluegrass using the rest-stroke technique is like playing Gypsy jazz using free-stroke alternate picking: possible in principle, but not quite "appropriate" for the style (the damping of the strings would be a serious issue). Moreover, one should have some chops in order to attempt to play cross-picking passages from bluegrass tunes using rest strokes.

    On the other hand, I have found that practicing rest strokes has helped me a great deal in playing bluegrass and Texas swing rhythm parts more steadily and at faster tempos than I used to.
  • JanMJanM Vienna, AustriaNew
    Posts: 7
    Hi guys, thanks you all for your insight. What you say makes a lot of sense. Every genre has its own set of means to express one's musical self, if you do not respect them, you might just sound silly, but you might also happen to be the next celebrated innovator like Django, Scruggs or Hendrix. Only, in my case, the first option is much more plausible... :-) Anyway, I'll try to get the hang of rest strokes now. I like it, it's fun. I'll check the forum regularly, anyone who has more to say about bluegrass and gypsy picking is more than welcome to add their comments!
  • I think Michael hit it on the head. I pick a few bluegrass tunes and have tried them with rest stroke picking. Sometimes it works but the phrasing in the songs that I play don't sound the same at all when gypsy picked ..... interesting challenge for sure
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • AdelaarvarenAdelaarvaren Ballard, WA, USANew
    Posts: 172
  • ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
    Posts: 551
    Don't mean to sound contrary, but that stuff just gives me a headache and I think totally misses the boat as far as romantic music like Gypsy Jazz is concerned. The more I hear Bluegrass, the more I'm convinced it is anal compulsive music for the back-beat challenged, so no, put my vote in the incompatible category. Which way my pick is going is pretty much the last thing I'd consider when it comes to playing this music.

    Not to mention it took the Grateful Dead from 'Dark Star' to 'Touch of Gray' and beyond in the longest steady decline in musical history...

    The obligatory $.02 offer applies as always, and I do like Doc Watson sometimes, but he's exceptional by any measure.
  • fraterfrater Prodigy
    Posts: 763
    Not a real bluegrass fan but Robert Ickes' playing gives me goose bumps when I hear it:

    Now if this is anal compulsive I'm in for treatment! :D
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