ACOUSTIC EXPO 2013: Well known to fans of acoustic music thanks to their work with Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski and Ron Block also have successful solo careers – Dan has even scored a mainstream hit with his contribution to the soundtrack of the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou.
In this guest lesson for Guitar Techniques, both players demonstrate their approaches to soloing over a typical I IV V bluegrass progression. In this case that translates into the chords G (I), C (IV) and D major (V).
The first thing you will notice is the sheer speed at which these guys play as well as the fact that they keep the steady stream of ideas coming throughout. It is interesting to see how though both players are soloing in the same idiom, each has a personal stylistic approach to crafting a good bluegrass solo.
In this example, Tyminski favours the open position with lots of open strings and unisons (eg the D at the 5th fret of the fifth string followed by the open fourth string D) whilst Block incorporates the open position in addition to moving further up the neck with some bluesy bends (often referred to as 'blues curls').
Also pay special attention to their note choice because there is a liberal use of chromaticism, which in this case is most simply defined as those spicy notes that technically don't belong but sound great. This use of chromatic passing tones is usually associated with jazz but is also at the heart of all good bluegrass solos, adding the bluesy touch so common to this style.
It is also interesting to see how they will repeat the same note two, three or even more times, often playing unisons between a fretted note and an open string. This is a great device for giving yourself some breathing space before moving on to the next idea. It can also be used to play a purely rhythmic lick.
Pay close attention to their timing and the obvious interplay between these two great players. All the solos are right on the nail and as soon as one finishes there is an ultra-smooth trade-off as one player shifts from lead to rhythm duties – again an object lesson in the skills of the complete guitarist!
This is a great study in both alternate picking and cross-picking (jumping across the strings with the pick). Both Tyminski and Block have such control over their picking hands that they can keep long lines flowing at high tempos. Remember that you not only need the technique and stamina to do this but also a steady stream of ideas. We'd suggest isolating a few licks at a time before putting it all together.