I’ve been listening to Paper Airplane* a lot lately. It’s the latest release from Alison Krauss and Union Station.
Man, it’s good. Go grab it if you haven’t yet.
I’m not a diehard bluegrass fan. I listen to it fairly regularly, but not all the time. But I highly recommend adding it to your regular listening rotation. There’s a lot to glean from bluegrass that you can apply to your own recordings, whether you’re working on an acoustic EP or a full-on heavy metal rock album.
So, what is it that bluegrass can teach you?
You may think I’m going to talk about mic placement and getting good sounds. Nope.
Maybe how it’s important to use really nice instruments in order to get nice recordings? Nope.
How simple song structures don’t have to be boring? Getting warmer.
What strikes me the most about Paper Airplane, or any good bluegrass album, is how interesting it is.
These songs aren’t complex. There aren’t tons of really fancy chord progressions or key changes. There aren’t dozens of different instruments. Heck, there’s not even a drum kit.
But somehow these songs capture my attention just as much as a highly-produced song containing 128 tracks of audio…if not more.
Why? Because there’s always something interesting to listen to.
Have you ever noticed that on most bluegrass recordings, very few instruments are actually chugging along playing chords? There’s usually one instrument playing the chords for the song, while the rest are playing little melodic lines.
On any given song on Paper Airplane, there could be 3 or 4 different instruments, each playing a different melodic line. Does it sound messy? Not at all.
The reason? No two instruments are vying for attention at the same time. Bluegrass is a very polite genre. While the vocalist is singing, the other instruments may hold out a note or play a chord, but they don’t play any sort of melodic line or riff.
Then, while the vocalists takes a 1-bar break between phrases, the dobro player might throw a pretty little melody in. Then it’s back to the vocals. Then there might be a little fiddle line, then more vocals.
You see what they’re doing? There’s never any “dead space.” There’s always something interesting to grasp your attention.
THAT’S what I love about bluegrass.
How to apply this to your recordings
When you’re working on a song, and you’re trying to make it sound more “full,” before simply adding more guitars, all playing the same four power chords, try instead adding some simple melodic parts. These can be guitars, keyboards, synths…it doesn’t really matter.
Listen for dead space in the song. Where might the listener get bored and change to the next song? Add something interesting there.
Of course, you have to be careful not to go overboard and add TOO much. And I’m not talking about huge solos all over the place, just subtle little melodic lines.
THIS is what makes me listen to Paper Airplane* all the way through almost every time I listen to it. It’s just downright interesting (and beautiful).
Are you going to try this on a song you’re working on? How are you going to do it? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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