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Author Topic:  Sensitivity to pitch and phrasing
Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post Posted 31 Oct 2017 6:09 am     Reply with quote

This is a question about how learning different instruments shapes players differently. Pedal steel is my first and only instrument, for all intents and purposes. I'm pretty sure that it's given me a sensitivity to pitch and phrasing that isn't typical to many musicians... which makes sense because those two things are critical for playing steel guitar. Is there something to this?
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post Posted 31 Oct 2017 6:23 am     Reply with quote

Not really. I have a sensitivity to pitch and phrasing from playing the trombone. Or maybe I had it already without realising. I think you need it to play any instrument successfully, or indeed to be musical in the first place.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post Posted 31 Oct 2017 6:55 am     Reply with quote

I wouldn't call myself naturally musical, but I can definitely tell the difference between singers and instrumentalists who have a sense of phrasing and those who don't now like I couldn't before.
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Joachim Kettner


From:
Germany
Post Posted 31 Oct 2017 9:23 am     Reply with quote

The steel unlike a guitar has only frets markers for your eyes to behold. You have to rely on your hearing and your eye perspective. I believe what Ian says about his instrument is very similar.
I either like or don't like a singer even if he's not perfectly on pitch.
Same with steel. There's a lovely song by Tony Gilkyson called "A Donut And A Dime" it has Joshua Grange, who used to post here a few years ago, playing on it it. He's out of pitch but his ideas are great.
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Jim Sliff


From:
Lawndale California, USA
Post Posted 31 Oct 2017 5:47 pm     Reply with quote

As far as pitch goes there's a bit to it, but it's also common to players of any instrument with non-fixed pitch - dobro, upright and fretless bass, all viol-family instruments etc. And players of any instrument that requires tuning must have some pitch sensitivity. Or *should*. Whoa!

But as far as phrasing goes steel is the same as any other instrument.
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Chris Templeton


From:
The Green Mountain State
Post Posted 31 Oct 2017 10:26 pm     Reply with quote

Back in the 80's, I listened to Tony Gilkyson in Cerillos, New Mexico. A super guitar player.
Tony is the older brother of the great singer/songwriter/piano player, Eliza Gilkyson.
That song is not on Youtube, for free.
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Joachim Kettner


From:
Germany
Post Posted 31 Oct 2017 11:33 pm     Reply with quote

I've sent you a pm Chris. BTW the right name of the song is "A Donut And A Dream".
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Bob Hoffnar


From:
Austin, Tx
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 4:48 am     Re: Sensitivity to pitch and phrasing Reply with quote

Curt Trisko wrote:
This is a question about how learning different instruments shapes players differently. Pedal steel is my first and only instrument, for all intents and purposes. I'm pretty sure that it's given me a sensitivity to pitch and phrasing that isn't typical to many musicians... which makes sense because those two things are critical for playing steel guitar. Is there something to this?


All good musicians need to deal with those issues. The more they deal with it the better they are. Even competent electric guitar players are sensitive to the intervals in there chords. Steel players tend to be mildly or not so mildly compulsive weirdos but there is nothing special about us musically as far as I can tell. I think the musical role that the steel player plays in whatever music has a bigger behavioral role than the mechanics of the instrument.
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John De Maille


From:
On a Mountain in Upstate Halcottsville, N.Y.
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 1:26 pm     Reply with quote

Either you're born with a talent for feel and sensitivity with music or you have to nurture and learn how to get it. Some people are lucky and it comes naturally. Others have to work hard at it and hopefully achieve it. Sometimes, people just can't get it. The pedal steel is an extremely hard instrumentment to conquer in order to play it pleasingly and responsibly. On top of that, you have all the electronics to go with it. A bad sounding system will make your playing sound deficient and lacking. Then again, it only matters to the person playing it. So, if you're satisfying yourself, then, be happy.
On the other hand, I've seen musicians play multiple instruments, but, none of them really well. As in a Jack of all trades, but, Master of none. They have no real feel for all the instruments, they play. Musicality is a labor of love and endurance to achieve prowess in your chosen instrument. If you have the ability, great! If you don't, then, work harder.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 5:31 pm     Re: Sensitivity to pitch and phrasing Reply with quote

Bob Hoffnar wrote:
I think the musical role that the steel player plays in whatever music has a bigger behavioral role than the mechanics of the instrument.


I'd like to hear more thoughts on this. I've learned that 'musical space' isn't something every musician fixates on. And for when I create my own parts for songs, I find that I naturally 'hear' phrasing on beats that other instruments don't really use. I can think of a few examples of steel arrangements on songs that are the same way.
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Bob Hoffnar


From:
Austin, Tx
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 5:38 pm     Reply with quote

A big one for me is in country music steel players play 3 note chords quite a bit. This affects all sorts of stuff. In pop/singer songwriter music a more current stuff single note or just double stops work better.
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Jack Aldrich


From:
Washington, USA
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 7:36 pm     Reply with quote

Prior to playing steel, I believed that my ear wasn't good enough to play steel guitar. I got a Dobro and played on it, with help from my friends Mayne Smith and Larry Blum, I found out that my ear was better than I thought. I had been playing string bass for several years prior, so that must have improved my ear (I had an LA union card as a bassist, so I must have been playing ok.)
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David Mason


From:
Cambridge, MD, USA
Post Posted 3 Nov 2017 9:58 pm     Reply with quote

In the compulsive weirdo vein, I spent a fair amount of effort and time working on intervals vs. drone tones. Not just the easy 4ths and 5ths, but working on the 6ths and 3rds too. I think I might even have "perfect pitch" if I wanted to develop it, in that I can hear a garbage compactor or garage door whine, say "Thet thar's a Bb" and remember it long enough to find a axe and yep, it was a Bb. It really doesn't seem as musically useful as some other things – you are what you practice. But just working on the intervals alone, I initially really snorked my ability to enjoy a WHOLE LOT of music I used to like.

ANY-and-EVERYbody who works on that stuff with a bit of diligence can start hearing 3 to 4 cent discrepancies - and the fascistic Equal-Tempered Tuning introduces intervals that are structurally 13, 14 cents outta whack compared to their pure JI cousins. You're just screwed, that's all – put up, shut up, maybe there's a reason they don't have whammy bars on the harps they play in heaven(?)

Miles Davis is probably my fave melodicist (still not sure why) and immediately following his first great band, he was working on finding “blue notes” where, umm, angels fear to tread. If you try to listen to “Sketches of Spain” with your prissy-tune hat on, you'll end up running screaming from the room. I did manage to resurrect my sloppy hat, all those little “eee-eee” things of Stevie Ray Vaughan (against a static drone bass), and I love Indian music – they can slither pitch all around and make it sound intelligible. The bigger the band, the more the rules.
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Jack Aldrich


From:
Washington, USA
Post Posted 4 Nov 2017 10:18 am     Reply with quote

I forgot to add that Alan Akaka has me playing with my eyes closed. It improves your ear. There was a post in Steel Players some time ago that Buddy Emmons was found backstage playing in the dark; he said it improved his pitch.
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Jack Aldrich
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 4 Nov 2017 10:09 pm     Reply with quote

Curt Trisko wrote:
I wouldn't call myself naturally musical, but I can definitely tell the difference between singers and instrumentalists who have a sense of phrasing and those who don't now like I couldn't before.

This is part of your growth as a musician. You are listening on a technical level and analyzing the science and math that's going on in your ear.

Try not to lose your sensitivity to the emotional impact music used to have on you. I believe that is the key to connecting with a listener when it is you that's playing. There is science and there is art, and music is both.
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