Stephen Mougin’s Bluegrass Rhythm Evolution

I have worked with True Fire lessons for guitar for many years.  At first, the site primarily offered guitar lessons for rock players, but they have added genres outside of rock and instruments other than the guitar. I have always enjoyed True Fire’s quality of presentation, ease of use, extra bonus features (like downloadable tabs and backing tracks), and the quality of instruction. I have not run into a bad course and I have studied courses ranging from rock, to blues, to country, to swing guitar on this site.

True Fire is now providing quality instruction for bluegrass musicians. 
In the January 2021 issue of this magazine, we published a review of four of Ned Luberecki’s True Fire banjo lessons. In this review, we will focus on one of the offerings from Stephen Mougin’s series of True Fire bluegrass guitar lessons. This course is on bluegrass rhythm guitar.

The art of rhythm guitar has been overlooked by many bluegrass guitar players, especially the amateurs and hobbyists. Bluegrass guitarists tend to be more focused on either their singing or playing lead guitar. Perhaps that is because it is fairly easy to become a mediocre rhythm guitar player, and let’s face it, singing and lead guitar playing get you more attention. My contention is that it is every bit as hard to become a great rhythm guitar player as it is to become a great singer or lead player.  

The art of rhythm guitar is something that Stephen Mougin understands. In these video lessons he takes you through select rhythm techniques of some of the most prominent rhythm players in bluegrass, including Carter Stanley, Jimmy Martin, Charlie Waller, Tony Rice, Tim Stafford, Dan Tyminski, Kenny Smith, and Ron Block. In this course, Stephen provides 41 short lessons, totaling 71 minutes of material. Each lesson is roughly one to three minutes long, on average. The majority of True Fire lessons are designed this way, and I have always found this to be helpful because the information is more digestible when given to you in small segments.

When I started publishing Flatpicking Guitar Magazine 25 years ago, one of my personal goals was to become a better rhythm player. For that reason, I ran a regular column called “Masters of Rhythm Guitar” and I did the majority of the interviews. I wanted to discover how these players developed their technique and how they employed it. Sadly, the most common answer that I received when I asked specific questions about rhythm playing was, “I don’t know…I just feel it.”  

What I discovered over the years was a way to become a better rhythm guitar player. I would study one rhythm technique—be it a right-hand strum pattern, a bass run, a right-hand percussive technique, or new passing chord, etc.—and use that one technique over and over and over again in practice and at jam sessions until it became second nature. Then I’d learn another technique and repeat the process. Over time, a player can build a library of rhythm techniques and patterns and develop an intuitive sense of when to use them and how they can be combined to create a certain groove, embellish a song, or support the singer or lead instrumentalists.  After doing this work, a player can then develop the ability to “just feel it.”

Stephen Mougin’s course is set up to show you how to do exactly what I have described. You start out your study with the straight-ahead technique of Carter Stanley, then you learn how to build on that foundation through Stephen’s demonstration of each new technique, and the real-time tablature that accompanies each lesson.   

The new techniques—each being attributed to one of the players in the list above—are demonstrated in three short segments. In the first, Stephen explains the technique itself and shows how to use apply it to the tune “Little Liza Jane”. In the next two segments he takes a different tune and shows how to play it up to speed, then breaks it down. The segments are short, but they are appropriate for learning the techniques.   After learning one technique, it is then time to go away and practice. This is one reason I like the short segment approach. It reminds you to learn a little, and then go practice before you come back for more.

Bluegrass lessons are fairly new to True Fire, but they continue to add material for guitar (with Stephen Mougin, Tyler Grant, Roberto Dalla Vecchia, Eric Lambert, and Kathy Fink), banjo (with Ned Luberecki), and mandolin (with Andy Wood). The True Fire site is easy to use, their method is sound, their presentation is professional, their prices are very reasonable (they often have great discount sales) and the instruction is top notch. I highly recommend visiting the True Fire site. 

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