2 questions, speed and rhythm


I am a low-intermediate level player. While new here, I’ve been playing for about 3 years, with what little practice time I have. I am an older man, and a classically trained musician, which is both a plus and a minus for learning bluegrass IMHO.

My questions are these:

  1. rhythm, I saw the 8 part basic rhythm lessons, where do we go from there?

Everything after that seems to be songs. Are there certain song lessons
that move that forward a bit? There are so many it’s hard to know where to start.
In my case rhythm does not come naturally, I need to learn patterns, and then
I can draw on them at will later. The bag-o-licks stuff for example is a lot of help
for similar reasons.

  1. speed - I can pick anything up to 70 (and some at 80) bpm (16ths),
    but I find bluegrass tends to go at 90ish and up, and I just can’t quite get there,
    anything to help? Or should I just keep learning new songs and it will come in time?

    - Kurt


Speed comes from familiarity with the material and relaxation…stick with it and it should come along eventually.

In the parking lot at a festival or in some jams you’ll find that bluegrass is played at many speeds and not everyone is driving a hot rod…:sunglasses:

Hope this helps





Ok, went to our local jam for the first time a few weeks back, funny story by the way, and is kinda the reason for this post.

I went to the beginners circle, they (we) started every song at around 70 bpm, within 12-20 bars rushed up to 90bpm and held steady there, same tempo the other three groups were playing at.

So I played the melody for the songs for the first 12 bars, and switched to comping for the rest.

I found it funny, but also got the hint that 90 bpm is required, at least for that one.

And thanks for the intermediate comping lesson, but I play mandolin, if the guitar one applies I’ll give it a look-see.


Sorry Kurt, I didn’t see that your post was under mandolin…

You’ll find many such groups that have trouble keeping meter. mostly instrumental tend to speed up and choruses with harmony tend to slow down…both can be very uncomfortable to play with if the change gets too drastic.

People will speed up for a couple different reasons…unfortunately it happens a lot, and you’re just going to run into things like that at open jams
they have a fear of falling behind so end up pushing the tempo…then the next person hears that and repeats the same mistake…and on and on
they confuse “drive” with speed, so go faster when the groove isn’t “in the pocket”
Then again some folks just get excited and keep the petal to the metal…

Just have to take it as it comes in open jams and hope for the best.


Hi Kurt

It’s fair to say that no matter what instrument your learning everyone has issues with rhythm & speed. It’s the primary role of the Bass, Mandolin and Banjo players to establish and maintain the rhythm and speed. You should go checkout some of Bill Monroe’s live footage and watch how he approaches a band member playing out off time. Nothin too discreet for Bill he simply pushes his mandolin in their faces and plays really loud.

To help you improve your rhythm and speed on your instrument of choice you may care to review this post I made some time ago.


As far as speed goes, I’ve been playing for 12 years and still don’t have it. Personally I think That I am lacking in dexterity. My solution is to strip out notes and simplify.

As far as practice goes lately I have been trying to spend at least 20 minutes a day playing along with my favorite songs and that seems to help as much as anything.

I would also encourage any to get a little band together and play at retirement communities. They appreciate the entertainment and do not expect you to be great.


As a Bass player for 40+ years I’ll say the banjo is the last choice to listen to for meter for me.

Banjo players, have the greatest tendency to play ahead or behind the center of the pocket to create or release tension in the material, and add feeling.

Anyone playing lead has this tendency also.

When I play Mandolin I listen primarily to Bass and secondly to rhythm guitar…these instruments create the center of the beat and give you the best chance of joining is and holding meter (providing they are together and holding meter)

In beginner type atmospheres you just need to try to hang on to whoever is the steadiest in the group…instruments aside…but the bass is usually the best be if they are fairly confident, as holding timing is their major responsibility.


I hear you Dave and I agree the Bass keeps the meter.