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Post new topic E9 How many 3-4 note chords do you ACTUALLY play on the gig?
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Author Topic:  E9 How many 3-4 note chords do you ACTUALLY play on the gig?
Jim Fogarty


From:
Phila, Pa, USA
Post  Posted 28 Aug 2020 10:14 pm    
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So, as I go through this process of learning E9 PSG, one thing I come across a lot......

Transcriptions, tabs and learning material that sound really hip and interesting with lots of different chord inversions, movement and fully harmonizing the melody. Really big and impressive, on it's own.

But I've been a gigging musician for 30+ years at this point, and when I listen to steel, live or on recordings where it's just part of the ensemble (not a "steel" record, if you know what I mean), I'm mostly hearing single note lines, lots of double stops, but very little big chord action....except maybe for punctuation and on ballads.

So, gigging steelers, what say you? In real life situations, how much are you playing? Speaking of E9, mostly. C6 is a bit of a different beast, with different expectations.

I think this might help beginners who could be feeling they need to master all of it before they start playing with people.

Thoughts?

PS....As a long time guitarist and teacher, I see this often in jazz guitar studies. Lots of emphasis on learning complex chord melody style........which you’ll hardly ever use on gigs, unless you’re playing solo.


Last edited by Jim Fogarty on 29 Aug 2020 12:50 am; edited 1 time in total
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Brandon Mills


From:
Victoria, TX. USA
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 12:03 am    
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My approach, which is the same regardless of if I’m playing bass, guitar, or steel, is to play what’s needed of you.... In a 7-piece band there is neither the room nor the need for a lot of full/extended chords. In a 3-5 piece group there is much more that needs to be filled....
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 12:03 am    
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In his video lessons on E9, which are strictly practical and all about accompanying a singer, Jeff Newman states clearly that two-part harmony sounds best. Scales harmonised in thirds and sixths are the bread and butter.

(I play a uni in a non-country band so I use a lot of thick textures, but that's not what you're asking Smile )
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Jim Fogarty


From:
Phila, Pa, USA
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 12:52 am    
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Good point, Ian. I guess I’m mostly talking about country, alt country and other “rootsy” type gigs that most early steel players will find themselves doing.

Thanks!
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K Maul


From:
Upstate NY/Hobe Sound FL
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 5:10 am    
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I keep things pretty simple, being more of a linear “melody” thinker than a heavy chord guy. I think it works best in the setting that you describe. Other people excel at the other thing and wear fingerpicks on all 5 fingers. Or 6 if they have ‘em!
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 5:53 am    
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I wear three finger picks because I like to play a lot of 4-part C6 style chords, but it often sounds cleaner if just use the traditional thumb-plus-two and miss the string above the thumb.

Less can be more Smile
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Erv Niehaus


From:
Litchfield, MN, USA
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 7:16 am    
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Most all my playing is chordal style with full three string grips. That's the reason I went with pedal steel.
I played a lot of non-pedal steel but with slants you usually wound up just picking two strings
Curly Chalker was also a chordal melody player.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 7:55 am    
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I am an “early” player in a rootsy Americana type band. Or was, at least, before 2020 happened. I had to force myself not to play chordal things because I was doing it all the time. I started to think it was a crutch. I am learning to play and block the notes in the chord voicing one at a time now, but I still love the sound and the feel of grabbing a handful of strings and ringing them out with some vibrato for all they’re worth.
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Charles Kurck


From:
Living in Arkansas but Heaven is home
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 8:40 am    
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I find that playing 3 note chords gives more of an organ sound, 
while playing 2 note chords by omitting the 5th sounds more like strings.  
Playing 4 notes chords can sometimes sound muddy, but it depends on the situation.  
The larger the ensemble may mean less is more.  
Years ago I used 4 picks for a while but went back to 3 picks
because they gave me the cleaner and clearer sound I wanted. 
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Andrew Goulet


From:
••••••••
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 8:54 am    
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I think about this alot. Usually the gigs I feel the best about are ones where I under- rather than over-played, in terms of harmony as well as how much time I'm making sound. As far as harmony goes, I'd rather know it and not need it than the other way around. I like solo pedal steel too, so for me it's all good.
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Donny Hinson

 

From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 9:13 am    
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I play lots of 3-note chords in most every kind of music I play. I like the fullness and richness it gives to the sound. Of course, I also play single-note lines and intervals probably equally as much. I know players (many of them pros), espouse that it's not the proper thing to do. But, you see, I have this "arrangement". I don't get to dictate what they play, so they don't get to dictate what I play. Laughing

An incredible sameness arises when most everyone models themselves after the same few players. I think that's one of the things that has hurt our instrument, in particular.
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 9:24 am    
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For me, it depends on the situation and the music. OK, the music is actually part of the "situation", but I distinguish it because it heavily affects what I do.

In general, I like more complex chords - but only if the situation permits it. If there are a lot of players, but especially if there are players who also play more complex chords or bass players who don't harmonize in a predictable way, then I find I need to be very careful. Once you get into more complex voicings, it's easy to clash with someone else doing the same and/or going in a different direction. My first pedal steel band was with a B3 player. We cut cut each other a lot of space, and that's why I think it worked. But in a sparse situation where there's lots of room, especially on slower stuff, more complex chords sometimes add a lot. But even that depends on the music and how the band wants to come off. Take a simple example like I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. I've played it many ways, and we always have to decide how that is to be arranged - and how I play depends heavily on that. If it's a bare-bones nod to Hank, adding a bunch of heavy chord-melody doesn't sound right to me. But a more complex and reharmonized version (I know Hank hated it when people did that, but people do it) is totally different.

Another issue - it is sometimes harder to get more complex chords to sound in-tune. That depends on the player and sometimes limitations of the guitar and its setup and how it's tuned. When in doubt, I go simple. Without pedals, sometimes it's impossible to get complex chords to sound in-tune, and dyads are more common.

But if you're asking whether it's worth it to get comfortable using more complex chords with pedal steel - I say that one of the specific big calling cards of pedal steel is the ability to have complex chords with moving voices, contrary motion, and so on. But used with taste and discretion.

BTW - Freddie Green played a lot of 3-note chords in his seminal rhythm guitar playing. Sometimes a dyad will work, but getting the flavor of altered chords like 6th, 7th, maj7, or further extensions usually sounds better to me with at least 3 notes.
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Tucker Jackson

 

From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 11:21 am    
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There's a good reason so many pedal steel parts we love are no more than two notes: it's twice as hard to get three-note voicing to blend into a dense mix in a sweet way.

Literally twice as hard, if my logic and math are correct. Please bear with me going deep down the rabbit hole, and I apologize for the long post... obviously, I have too much time on my hands.

About 10 years ago, I got a present I would not have bought for myself -- a DVD of Crosby, Stills & Nash doing a live concert. These guy's stock in trade is good harmony singing, but when I played it, they were so out of tune it made my teeth hurt. I couldn't believe they even signed-off on releasing it. How could these three pros with great voices be struggling so hard to blend?

Their harmony was spot-on with two voices, but when the third voice entered, it just went downhill. The confusing part was that the 2-part had been in tune... and then a 3rd voice entered and that note (when mentally "isolated") was also acceptably in tune against the tone center of the band. And yet the combined effect was pretty seriously out.

What was going on here? I couldn't peg any of the three notes as being individually 'out', but the duo sounded good until it became a trio, at which point it turned into a mess. It didn't matter which guy was coming in 3rd; the problem wasn't tied to a particular person being out. Just that whoever entered 3rd, there was a problem (and yes, their voices had faded some over the years, so nobody was as tight as in the 70s).

This set me off on a quest. I remembered back when I was a harmony singer how any time we tried to expand from a 2- to a 3-part harmony, it became so much more difficult to blend with the band compared to just having two voices. Often we abandoned it, even with fine vocalists, because it was suddenly all too easy for the 3-part to sound awful.

I started messing with this on my PSG and verified the same thing. With an in-tune guitar, playing 3 or 4 note chords solo was fine. But when played against a mix, blending two notes was a breeze, but things became noticeably less sweet when I merely added that third or fourth note to make a fatter chord. Why did 3-note chords sound so good solo... but a little out when trying to blend in the mix, regardless of bar manipulation?

And without moving the bar, why did deleting one of those three tones -- any of the three -- and going back to a 2-note harmony suddenly bring everything in line?

My theory:
The ear regularly accepts notes as 'in tune' when they are within a certain range, and can even accept a certain amount of pitches slightly outside those ranges, but there is a limit to how far that can go. The problem here is that several tiny outages in various intervals can add up to create a sour effect. Having less opportunities for an outage -- less intervals or notes -- can help avoid this:

* When blending a 2-part harmony into a mix, there are 3 places where outage can occur:
1) Your first tone against the tone center of the band
2) Second tone against the band
3) First and second tone against each other (because, say, your tuning drifted)

* But by merely adding one more note to create a 3-part harmony, there are now 6 potential opportunities for an outage of an interval to occur -- double of what we had before:
1) First tone against the band
2) Second tone against the band
3) Third tone against the band
4) First and second tone against each other
5) First and third tone against each other
6) Second and third tone against each other

Even if each of those 6 is only very slightly out, the combined effect of all those micro-outages leads to enough dissonance to make it more difficult to shine versus the 2-note option. And all this discussion is oversimplified: we not only tune to the tone center of the band, but have to contend with the other crazy, out-of-tune instruments in the group that create outages when we try to blend with them. Meaning that there are actually more than the stated "twice as many" opportunities for outages with a 3-note voicing versus 2-note.

Obviously, we all play a lot of fat chords in a mix and it's usually more than acceptable... clearly. Use the right tool for the job. But if you're going for maximum sweetness that lays nicely in the mix, it's hard to beat two-note harmony if the song doesn't call for more.
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Aris Xanthos

 

From:
Switzerland
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 1:01 pm    
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Great topic and discussion, I wish I had enough mileage to contribute!
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 1:03 pm    
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Tucker, that's some analysis. I think that if you're in tune with yourself and your most prominent notes (the top ones, usually) are at the pitch the audience expects, then you'll sound just fine. The steel doesn't have to match the entire band pitch for pitch - it's not possible.

Andrew Goulet wrote:
As far as harmony goes, I'd rather know it and not need it than the other way around.

That's exactly how I feel - well put! My practice is to learn the full chords and then retreat from them as necessary.
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Richard Sinkler


From:
aka: Rusty Strings -- Missoula, Montana
Post  Posted 29 Aug 2020 3:03 pm    
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Probably 50/50 for me. When just backing up and comping chords, I will mostly use 3 note chords. If doing an intro, endings, fills, and solos, it is usually single notes and 2 note "chords". I rarely do a solo with 3 note chords.

Now, on the C6, well, that's another story.
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post  Posted 30 Aug 2020 3:53 am    
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I don't know, I don't think about it, if I don't like what I am playing and feel it doesn't BLEND, I don't repeat it, if I do, I repeat it .

I personally think its a mistake to think about this and overthink it before we execute. Music is supposed to be spontaneous. Our ears can decide if we are "IN THE GROOVE" or NOT in the groove.

Unless of course we know with absolute certainty what the other players are going to do , which I don't, and probably neither do they ! Very Happy
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 30 Aug 2020 4:58 am    
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That's the point - music is interactive.
With the band I'm in now I've given up trying to prepare too carefully what I'm going to do.
Instead I'm learning how to react to situations!
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