A brief introduction to Oldtime Music

Almost everybody knows Country Music, whereas only few are familiar with Bluegrass (e.g. as a background music to road movies). Old-Time Music is barely heard in Germany (with a few exceptions of the “Muppet-Show” or in “Nashville Lady”. Only a small community is familiar with this music “over here”.

Old-Time Music is a precursor of Bluegrass and the Granddaddy of todays Country Music. Geographically and historically it traces back to the southern states of America namely the Appalachian Mountains and to the first three decades of the 20th Century, respectively, meaning the time before the big roads and introduction of mass-media.

Because of their isolation playing music together was an important social factor the people living in the mountains. The “Hillbillies” mostly immigrated from the Ireland, England and Scotland brought their musical heritage in their new homeland and played it in their sporadic meetings. Thus many fiddle tunes and ballads have their origin in America whenever they are often based on tunes of the European tradition. Furthermore, these sounds blended with the banjo and blues brought by the Afro-Americans working on the plantages. This may be the origin of the Clawhammer banjo style, which widely determines the sound of oldtime music. Upon the introduction and commercialization of the radio and the new medium “record” a very interesting development is observed. The Hillbillies were confronted with new music like Jazz and namely Swing and adopted some Elements of these styles in their own music. After some time a distinct style emerged which replaced the monotonous previous music.

Purists can certainly delineate distinct differences between Oldtime (mostly unisono, fiddletunes, clawhammer / frailing banjo, rare key switches) and Bluegrass Music (e.g. improvised solos, picked banjo, doublestop fiddle, harmony singing). Still, drawing a clear borderline between Oldtime and Bluegrass Music may be difficult (and possibly not necessary) as they have lots of things in common and their fans are strongly linked by their love to the music.