The question was recently asked of me, ‘what’s the difference between Bluegrass and Old Time Music?’ I had to really think about it. I feel the difference when I listen to it or attempt to play it on my banjo but never tried to express in words what the difference is. The best way I can describe it…Bluegrass makes me feel like the music is driving me and Old Time Music makes me feel like the music is carrying me along. Bluegrass gives me the impression of metal being cut in a factory and Old Time Music gives me the impression of bumping along a road or at times chasing after something with excitement and expectation. I know my impressions and feelings are subjective and inadequate to describe Bluegrass or Old Time Music so I did what every modern person living in North American does and googled it. After reading through the material online I found Allen Feldman’s description most helpful and true.
“bluegrass is a modern very urbanized genre, connected to the 1930s-50s industrialization of rural Southerners, that drew on a diversity of musical genres that”
“Oldtime works from different tonal centers, it uses open tunings and harmonic resonant overtones and incidentals, it mixes non-tempered scales with harmonization or it’s completely modal. Compared to bluegrass or country western its largely dance centered and not song centered, many of its songs are verses to dance tunes, and most of its songs were meant for solo and unaccompanied performance in their oldest form.”
A sample of both for your enjoyment. You’ll notice that both styles have similar standards but different in their approach to playing.