Significance of the Study

As music continues its development as a mass produced commodity, traditional music forms are struggling with their survival and dissemination (Adorno, 1941; Benjamin, 1968; Bluestein, 1994; Clarke, 1995; Guralnick, 1989). Multiculturalism, a significant contemporary social movement, has helped to preserve some traditional music (Robinson, 1991).  However, with current dilemmas presented by the juxtaposition of multiculturalism and popular culture, theorists and scholars recognize the challenge of studying and addressing music not only as a product of a culture, but as an essential element which both binds and defines individual cultures (Blaukopf, 1982; Bluestein, 1994; Clarke, 1995; Dorough, 1992; Willis, 1992).

The resurgence of concern for preserving traditional music has resulted in numerous efforts among musicians and music scholars to disseminate varied music forms to groups who would not ordinarily hear them.  The assumption that traditional music is of value and should be preserved has resulted in the generation of theoretical and empirical queries of music popularity and efforts to develop methods by which music genres with limited dissemination in mainstream popular culture can be supported and expanded (Rosenberg, 1993).  Bluegrass, a traditional American music, is one music form that falls into this category.

Historically, bluegrass music emerged from European/ African-American roots to become the traditional music of the Appalachian region, and then it evolved and changed over the years to what is known today as bluegrass (Artis, 1975; Cantwell, 1984; Price, 1975; Rosenberg, 1985).  A universal definition of bluegrass music has not been agreed upon by bluegrass scholars and musicians.  However, a set of structural and contextual characteristics can be gleaned from the literature that typifies the music and distinguishes it from other similar music forms.  Bluegrass is a music form that has been passed from poor white southeasterners, generations to generations, through oral tradition.  Although the music began in the rural regions of Appalachia, contemporary bluegrass musicians represent diverse geographic areas and socio-economic strata (Kuykendall, 1996; Rosenberg, 1985).  The prevalent, but not exclusive, structural view of instrumentation includes: the 5-string banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, dobro (resonophonic guitar), and bass fiddle (Artis, 1975; Cantwell, 1984; Price, 1975; Rosenberg, 1985).  The lyrical themes of bluegrass are concerned with basic human conditions and often reflect a return to one’s roots, an earthy, and simpler way of being (Erbsen, 1992).

It was not until 1957 that the term “bluegrass” even appeared in the literature to describe the music form as separate from “country” (Rosenberg, 1985), and not until 1987 was the term used as a heading with listings in Music Index.  Historically, up until the 1960’s, bluegrass music was considered a distinct form of mountain music, a sub-genre of country music which enjoyed significant commercial success and popularity (Kretzschmar, 1970).  However, by 1965, mainstream country music programmers no longer played bluegrass music.  With the exception of The Ballad of Jed Clampett (Beverly Hillbillies, 1962), Foggy Mountain Breakdown (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967), and Dueling Banjos (Deliverance, 1972), bluegrass music has had extremely limited commercial exposure in mass culture (Hayes, 1996; Rosenberg, 1985).  As a result, the bluegrass community has been debating recognition, acceptance and popularization of a music form that emerges from rural America, and is intrinsically valuable and worthy of preservation in its style and content.

Considering the efforts extended on behalf of the bluegrass community to increase the popularity of their music, it is not surprising that the results of the 1992 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (n=5700+) (Robinson, 1993) met with enthusiasm from bluegrass scholars and promoters alike.  This special census report, conducted by the United States Census Bureau for the National Endowment for the Arts, identified bluegrass as the ninth most popular music form in the United States, less than four percentage points behind Classical music.  Considering these findings, however, it is curious to note that despite the reported popularity of bluegrass, it continues to receive minimal airtime and commercial dissemination.  It seems that when bluegrass music does appear, it is heard most frequently in contexts which are intended to evoke stereotypical notions of Southern country folk and the hills (Bluestein, 1994; Linn, 1991; Rosenberg, 1985).  Such a stereotype could mediate against mass-cultural acceptance of the music despite its intrinsic musical value and ethnic richness.

As stated by Hebdige (1979) and Linn (1991), music is one medium through which individuals and groups assert their social identity.  Given the contradiction between the reported popularity of bluegrass in the NEA study (Zill, 1994) and the demonstrated reluctance on the part of mainstream media to provide airtime and disseminate bluegrass, it is incumbent upon bluegrass scholars to examine the disparity.  This study begins to meet the challenge to understand the current status of bluegrass in the contemporary music arena. 

Need, Purpose and Significance of the Study

This research builds on the work of the NEA survey and pilot work completed by DePoy (1995a) to advance an understanding of the popularity and stereotypical associations of bluegrass music.  Specifically, the study examines three constructs: 1. preference for bluegrass music; 2. familiarity with the music; and 3. stereotypes evoked by listening to the music.  The study then examines the associations among these constructs to advance a research agenda beyond the current descriptive level of inquiry. 

As indicated by Cutietta (1993), the NEA study, while seminal in examining the relative popularity of music genres, was seriously limited by its methodology.  No strategies were used to ascertain whether respondents who were asked for music preference actually held knowledge of the diverse music forms that they were asked to rank for popularity.  In his pilot work, DePoy (1995a) tested music knowledge and found, in his limited sample of convenience, that significant misinformation about musical forms were present.

No empirical investigations into the associations between music preference and stereotypes evoked by bluegrass music have been conducted, despite the growing body of theoretical work illuminating the reciprocal importance of music and culture, and highlighting the role of music in distinguishing members of diverse cultures from one another.  This void in the literature leaves the bluegrass community with limited information with which to develop strategies to promote and preserve its music.

This study is intended to provide a beginning insight into the cultural correlates of music preferences, specifically as they relate to stereotype.  As specified in the methodology section, the investigation targets undergraduate college students as its population.  Because a random sampling representing American music listeners is beyond the scope of this initial investigation, the population of college students was selected because of their marked presence in music consumption (DePoy, 1995b). 

This study will provide valuable information to scholars and promoters of bluegrass music, moreover, it will provide a methodological template for investigating similar phenomena in populations beyond the college campus.  This study can provide the methodological and substantive rationale for expanding inquiry into the cultural correlates of music preference to traditional musical forms beyond bluegrass that may be facing similar challenges.


The purpose of this study is threefold:

1. to advance knowledge of bluegrass music preference and to examine its stereotypical associations;

2. to provide a methodological foundation for future inquiry into bluegrass music in populations beyond the population of undergraduate college students; and

3. to provide a rationale and foundation for inquiry into the cultural and stereotypical associations of music preference as a basis for developing methods for preserving traditional music forms.

Summary of Methodology

A non-experimental design will be used to answer the following seven research questions:

1. What is the extent of familiarity with bluegrass music among respondents?

2. What are the tested and reported preferences for bluegrass music among respondents?

3. What is the relative reported preference for bluegrass music?

4. What association is revealed between tested and reported preferences?

5. What stereotypes are elicited among the respondents by bluegrass music?

6. What are the relationships among familiarity, reported preference and stereotypes?

7. What are the demographic correlates of bluegrass familiarity, preference, and stereotype?

The study relied on a four part paper-and-pencil survey that was administered to a purposive sample of undergraduate students in two states, Maine and Arizona.  These states were selected due to their ethnic and geographic diversity.  Data from the survey are analyzed with descriptive and inferential statistical techniques to answer the seven research questions posited above.


Several assumptions were made in developing and conducting this project.  First, the study is based on the belief that preserving traditional music is valued.  Second, as is supported in the literature review, it is assumed that the absence of empirical support and scholarly works to guide preservation efforts may be a severe limitation to the dissemination and promotion of the music form.  Third, it is assumed that the evidence derived from this study will be used by scholars and investigators to continue this research agenda.  Finally, it is assumed that this study will provide valuable information for proponents of traditional music in their continued efforts to preserve and disseminate their music. 

Operational Definitions

The following definitions are conceptualized and operationalized in this study:

Bluegrass music - the traditional music authentically derived from rural Appalachian culture, passed on by oral tradition, primarily comprised of 5-string banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, dobro and bass fiddle, with lyrics concerned with basic human conditions.  Tunes that embody these characteristics and that distinguish bluegrass from other forms of music and clear non-examples of bluegrass music will be used to operationalize bluegrass and measure familiarity with bluegrass music.

Familiarity with bluegrass music - capacity to identify bluegrass songs correctly and to distinguish them from other musical forms.

Reported preference - affinity for bluegrass music as illustrated by ranking of preference for bluegrass music on the preference scale in the questionnaire.

Tested preference - affinity to bluegrass music as illustrated by responses to preference items in the questionnaire.

Listening preference - affinity for listening to bluegrass music as illustrated by responses to listening enjoyment items in the questionnaire.

Stereotype - a mental category based on exaggerated and inaccurate generalizations used to describe all members of a group.  Stereotyping is a natural phenomenon in that all humans develop mental categories to help them make sense of their environment (Bennett, 1995). For this study, stereotype is operationalized as to the degree of agreement with stereotype statements on the questionnaire.


This study builds upon previous work conducted by the NEA and DePoy (1995a), in which preference for bluegrass music, familiarity with the music, and stereotypes evoked by the music were revealed.  The study is informed by the historical development of bluegrass music, current scholarship on the status of bluegrass music in popular culture and by theoretical understandings of culture, stereotype and of the critical role that music plays in defining and identifying members of a culture.  The study sought to examine associations among bluegrass familiarity, preference and stereotypes held by undergraduate college students in two locations, Maine and Arizona.  A non-experimental design relying on paper-and-pencil questionnaire methodology was used to obtain data sufficient to answer the seven research questions posed above.  The study is intended to provide the foundation for future inquiry into bluegrass music, to provide empirical support for preserving and promoting bluegrass music and for informing future study of traditional music forms in popular culture.

The study is presented in the following four chapters. Chapter Two presents the literature and theoretical rationale for the study.  Chapter Three details the methodology used to conduct the study and presents the rational for design selection.  Results of the study are reported in Chapter Four and conclusions and implications are presented in Chapter Five.


Chapter 2             E-mail me <HERE>