Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music, and a sub-genre of country music. Bluegrass was inspired by the music of Appalachia. It has mixed roots in Scottish, Welsh, Irish and English traditional music, and also later influenced by the music of African-Americans through incorporation of jazz elements.
Immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland arrived in Appalachia in the 18th century, and brought with them the musical traditions of their homelands. These traditions consisted primarily of English and Scottish ballads—which were essentially unaccompanied narrative—and dance music, such as Irish reels, which were accompanied by a fiddle. Many older Bluegrass songs come directly from the British Isles. Several Appalachian Bluegrass ballads, such as Pretty Saro, Barbara Allen, Cuckoo Bird and House Carpenter, come from England and preserve the English ballad tradition both melodically and lyrically. Others, such as The Twa Sisters, also come from England; however, the lyrics are about Ireland. Some Bluegrass fiddle songs popular in Appalachia, such as "Leather Britches", and "Pretty Polly", have Scottish roots. The dance tune Cumberland Gap may be derived from the tune that accompanies the Scottish ballad Bonnie George Campbell. Other songs have different names in different places; for instance inEngland there is an old ballad known as "A Brisk Young Sailor Courted Me", but exactly the same song in North American Bluegrass is known as "I Wish My Baby Was Born".
In Bluegrass, as in some forms of jazz, one or more instruments each takes its turn playing the melody and improvising around it, while the others perform accompaniment; this is especially typified in tunes called breakdowns. This is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carries the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment. Breakdowns are often characterized by rapidtempos and unusual instrumental dexterity and sometimes by complex chord changes.
Bluegrass music has attracted a diverse following worldwide. Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe characterized the genre as: "Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin'. It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It's blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound