Drawing ideas from transformational theory and rhythm and meter theory, this study examines bluegrass banjo music in terms of rhythm and motions of the human hand. It begins by presenting a mathematical model of the five-string banjo characterizing the gestural permutations that give rise to the instrument's rhythmic complexity. Drawing upon these permutational relationships, this study analyzes excerpts from bluegrass banjo repertoire in terms of the connections among rhythmic patterns rendered as beat-class sets. Last, it examines the interaction between these sets and metric hierarchies typical of bluegrass music, relating this interaction to the idea of “drive” discussed by bluegrass performers and listeners. Ultimately, this study suggest how bluegrass music gets its distinctively propulsive rhythmic energy while also providing a perspective on transformational and beat-class approaches to noncanonical music.
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Joti Rockwell; Banjo Transformations and Bluegrass Rhythm. Journal of Music Theory 1 April 2009; 53 (1): 137–162. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00222909-2009-023
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