Everyone knows that in much of old-time music, the fiddle leads while the banjo is its close companion. The guitar might be a later addition but its steady rhythm and arpeggio runs make it a welcome member. And if a bass player comes along—well, a good, steady thumping adds a great foundation.
But the mandolin player? What is he or she supposed to be doing? If you watch closely enough you'll catch a glimpse of one at a jam here and there. But where exactly does the mandolin belong in old-time?
That's a question that has surprised none of the mandolin players I've asked lately. Unlike other instruments, the role of the small, eight-string instrument has not been spelled out as clearly by time and tradition. The association with Bill Monroe has encouraged the notion that the mandolin belongs only in bluegrass music.