Author: Campbell, Bruce

In Which Universal Truths are Revealed

There are many questions in the universe. Some get answered, but sadly, most do not. Since preoccupation with unanswered questions can be very distracting, and by extension, diminish the quality of the life for those so preoccupied, I would like to tap into my inner scientist and answer a few of the questions that have vexed you.

A few months ago, I distributed email to a random selection of the local population with a statistical bent towards known bluegrass fans, asking them to outline the questions that they find nettlesome. What follows is an attempt to put to rest some of these perplexing mysteries by providing sage answers, and thereby improve the life of thousands of my fellow humans.

Question 1: When I go to a bluegrass jam, I always try to have a few select songs that I have practiced, so I can lead the group when my turn comes around, and impress everyone. However, more times than not, the person whose turn comes just before me tends to call the exact songs I wanted to lead. Why does this happen? Signed, Feeling Robbed.

Dear Robbed: The phenomenon you described is very rare, and probably only happens to you. Possible causes might be a propensity to choose very common songs, (which you really need to work on), or perhaps your home is bugged and someone is playing a very cruel trick on you.
Question 2: When I am playing guitar, and a string breaks, why does the whole instrument go out of tune? Signed, Curious

Dear Curious: Some know-it-alls may claim that the sudden lack of tension from the string that broke affects the whole instrument and causes the tension on the remaining strings to be altered, thus causing the instrument to go out of tune. This is balderdash. Further investigation by trained musical psychologists have revealed that when a string breaks, the remaining strings feel sorry for the one that broke, and show their solidarity by going out of tune, which makes much more sense, if you think about it. A similar but inverse effect occurs when you replace a part in your car. All the other, older parts feel jealous and begin to fail, one by one, to show their displeasure.

Question 3: I never hear anyone play “Rocky Top” at a jam or onstage. I asked some friends why this is, and they said it was because the song is overplayed. How can it be overplayed if no one ever plays it? Signed, Confused

Dear Confused: Some things can’t be explained, and this may be one of them. This same paradox applies to other songs, such as “Fox on the Run” and “Orange Blossom Special” – both are also rarely played due to being overplayed. Although unexplained by present-day physics, the conundrum is well known as the Berra Paradox, first suggested by Yogi Berra’s comment on a popular New York nightclub: “Nobody goes there, because it’s too crowded.”

Question 4: Why should I vote in the upcoming CBA Board elections? One vote can’t make a difference! Signed, Easily Discouraged

Dear Easily: It’s common for people to narrow their focus and lose sight of the larger picture. If the election is decided by one vote, that’s easy to demonstrate that your one vote made a difference. But elections are not usually decided by one vote. Instead, it’s a large group of single votes, and within the scope of the fairly small sample size of CBA members who vote, those single votes add up VERY quickly. So don’t think of your vote as an isolated event. Think of it as a part of a very important collective effort that IS diminished measurably by every member who decides not to vote. If voting were different or expensive, such inaction would be understandable. But voting is EASY. And if you vote online, it costs you nothing. If you choose to mail in your ballot, it costs – are you sitting down? – 44 cents. How often can you make a real difference so easily and so cheaply?

That’s enough questions for today. I hope I was able to unlock some of these mysteries for you, and I hope your quality improves – even slightly – as a result.

Posted:  9/21/2011

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email