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Author Topic:  Difficulty of pedal steel vs other instruments.
Darrell Criswell

 

From:
Maryland, USA
Post  Posted 16 Sep 2022 6:51 am    
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Here is an interesting post from Brick on Mandolin Cafe:

"There was a time where I could not play guitar. My fingertips would go numb. I had to play something so I bought a pedal steel. I took lessons, practiced like the devil, and amused myself for two years. Another ten or so and maybe I could have played in a band. Hardest instrument I ever tried. But I did learn to use metal fingerpicks and a lot of skills ported over to Dobro. Luckily I could still play bass guitar.

My feeling is what folks consider folk instruments, guitar, banjo, etc., are all easy to play simply and sing with. After all, there was no big structure of learning materials. Skill was passed down by family members. Instruments had to be cheap to buy or easy to build. How the fiddle thrived in these conditions is beyond me. But advancing on any instrument takes time and dedication. Playing tambourine is a skill few people have mastered. Learning a fourth instrument is easier by far than the first.

I can play and sing with my banjo after three weeks. My daughter, a violist, picked up my mandolin and played a prelude to a Bach suite without error. Never laid her hands on one. I just told her it was like a violin.

But that pedal steel takes feet moving separately, knees moving separately both left and right, one hand moving a bar with intonation, and a right hand working ten strings while palm blocking. Hardest by far than anything else. French Horn is a bitch too."
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Roger Rettig


From:
Naples, FL
Post  Posted 16 Sep 2022 8:08 am    
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On the face of it, you're right. But some of the mystifying factors disappear over time. After a period of time, one no longer thinks: 'I need to raise this string a half-step, that such-and-such a knee-lever'. We think 'raise that string' and we instinctively go to the right lever.

As with most instruments, the factor that separates the great from the merely good is touch and tone. It's that case with pedal steel and a hundred other instruments.

In my mind, the most intimidating instrument has always been the solo violin. I'm referring to the very highest level of soloists whose control over those short-scale strings and the tone they bring forth elevate them to the very pinnacle of musical achievement.

A case in point: Hilary Hahn performing Vaughn Williams 'The Lark Ascending'. Her standards are beyond anything we're confronted with. It doesn't hurt that Ralph Vaugh-Williams music is as beautiful as anything ever written
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Dave Hopping


From:
Colorado, USA
Post  Posted 16 Sep 2022 9:42 am    
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Like singing, playing pedal steel is basically a right-brain activity. Singers do not think in terms of moving their vocal cords micro-millimeters closer together or further apart to change notes, or"shaking" their vocal cords to get vibrato. they "just do it".

I think it's possible to approach pedal steel in the same way; just as a capable singer has "muscle memory" in their voice-box, it's possible to get muscle memory in one's hands, knees, and feet so that it all works together. It DOES, however, take a good amount of woodshedding to get there. Winking
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Don R Brown


From:
Rochester, New York, USA
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 6:13 am    
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Someone on here - I'd give credit if I remembered who it was - tells people "Actually the instrument plays itself. I just think the music and it comes out of the speaker. It has taken me many years to teach it how."
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Howard Parker


From:
Clarksburg,MD USA
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 6:38 am    
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There's a quote in a wonderful Herb Alpert documentary.

After years of playing, Alpert loses his "chops" and seeks help.

When sitting with his mentor, the mentor grab's Alpert's trumpet and says, "This is just plumbing. You are the instrument."

I reject the notion that any one instrument is more or less difficult to achieve a level of competency.

It's all on the player.

h
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Dale Rottacker


From:
Walla Walla Washington, USA
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 7:13 am    
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Howard Parker wrote:


I reject the notion that any one instrument is more or less difficult to achieve a level of competency.

It's all on the player.

h

I think I mostly agree with this in principle, yet certain people will more readily connect with certain instruments over another, with the somewhat rare exception of those able to play whatever they touch... I've known some exceptional Steel players who ONLY play steel, and either are incapable of playing anything else or have no desire to play anything else. For some of us (ME) its a struggle to play just steel, and time spent elsewhere makes that struggle even more so.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 8:49 am    
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Some instruments are easier to get started on, but all are hard to play well.

My favourite quote is Pablo Casals:- "Playing the cello is easy - the only hard part is getting from one note to the next."
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Bill McCloskey

 

From:
Nanuet, NY
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 8:58 am    
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"I reject the notion that any one instrument is more or less difficult to achieve a level of competency.

It's all on the player."

For most instruments I would agree. But if you've ever played a double reed instrument like the Uilleann Pipes, there is a significant inherent difficulty with the instrument itself and its sensitivity to humidity. Uilleann pipes were not only the most difficult instrument I've tried to play, the fickle nature of double reed instruments finally defeated me.
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Jim Arnold

 

From:
Texas USA
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 10:56 am     Hard to play
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Next to a 56 string harpsichord, the pedal steel is easy! Hahahaha.
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J D Sauser


From:
Wellington, Florida
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 11:51 am    
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Personally, I think that it is easier to use both hands, knees and a foot to craft together just ONE note or a chord. It's a concerted effort on ONE thing, as opposed to playing organ, where the right may be playing a improvised line, the left some syncopated chords and both feet tip-toe the bass line away on a ORGAN. There are 3 musically different things going on at the same time.

Evidently, even an accomplished organist will find a PSG just as confusing.

Then I observe violin players, some, men with big ol' hands, jazzing away on that tinny little neck... and just can't believe how pretty it sounds and come to think that it's much easier to play that PSG while the violinist looks over in total awe.

Maybe a Kazoo is easier... ?
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 12:14 pm    
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I tend to agree that it’s more about the player’s musical ability, desire, and willingness to practice than the difficulty of the instrument itself.
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Last edited by Doug Beaumier on 17 Sep 2022 7:12 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Matthew Walton


From:
Fort Worth, Texas
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 12:32 pm    
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J D Sauser wrote:
Personally, I think that it is easier to use both hands, knees and a foot to craft together just ONE note or a chord. It's a concerted effort on ONE thing, as opposed to playing organ, where the right may be playing a improvised line, the left some syncopated chords and both feet tip-toe the bass line away on a ORGAN. There are 3 musically different things going on at the same time.


Good point about the organ. I was thinking about drums the other day in a similar light; each limb could be playing a totally different rhythm! Sometimes during rehearsal I'll get behind the kit to try to demonstrate a rhythm I want the drummer to play, only to quickly realize I don't belong back there! Shocked

Though maybe someday I'll be able to devote the time to getting proficient at drums. I think it would helpful.
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Larry Jamieson


From:
Walton, NY USA
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 2:00 pm    
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I own a music store and over the years have learned to play a scale or simple melody on many instruments. Pedal Steel and Violin are the two most difficult, steel because you have 4 things to coordinate and you have to have a good ear, violin because there are no frets, you have to hold it under your chin, and you have to master bowing technique as well as proper fingering, and have a good ear. Guys like Milo Deering who play many instruments at top shelf level blow me away.
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Bob Carlucci

 

From:
Candor, New York, USA
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 2:25 pm    
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meh,, piece of cake... 3rd fret is G just like a guitar,, 1st pedal on those 3 string grips of the major chord is the relative minor,, add the B pedal and its the IV chord, slide off the A pedal, hit the lever that lowers strings 4 and 8 and there is your V7, or shift the thumb to string 7 and you have the plain old major V chord... can of corn..

I dunno, I was never much more than a mediocre musician, and I never thought pedal steel was all that difficult.. I think there are tougher instruments to learn out there.. Jerry Garcia said basically the same thing.. He found it pretty intuitive, and in one interview said at times it almost felt as though it were playing itself... Its all about physical control, and muscle memory... Some get it quickly, others that might be better musicians struggle.. It is what it is... bob
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Tom Vollmer

 

From:
Hamburg, Pennsylvania, USA
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 5:14 pm     Number Approach
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Aside from the multiple fingers with picks, Vibrato, and bar control if you can approach the instrument in the scale intervals eg Major 1,2,3,4,5,6,78(1) Minor 6,7,8(1),2,3,4,5
6, and 5th cycle Think your Major Triads strings 3,4,5,6
8,and 10 At a given fret 1chord no pedals or knees. 4 Chord
Ped A+B. 5 Chord 7th degree Ped B and Knee. - 4 and 8 Strings. 6M (1 relative).Ped A, 2 M Major Triads + String 1 and 7,(4 Relative) and Knee - string 4 and 8 3M (5 rel)
You would have at 1 fret 1 Maj, 2 Min, 3 Min 4 Maj, 5 Maj
and 6 Min using Ped A nd B and 1 Knee dropping 4 and 8 1/2
tone That Combination 2 Pedals and 1 Knee would probably
cover a whole night, gig. Something a new player would help understanding the Pedal Steel.Just my Humble Opinion.
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Tracy Sheehan

 

From:
Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 10:55 pm     difficult instruments
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I am sure this will come as a surprise to many but it is not the violin that is the most difficult to master. it is the bow. many old masters taught years on using the bow before learning to note. Any one who doubts this can google it. Google Paganni. Hope i remember how to spell his name
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Tracy Sheehan

 

From:
Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Post  Posted 17 Sep 2022 10:57 pm     difficult instruments
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I am sure this will come as a surprise to many but it is not the violin that is the most difficult to master. it is the bow. many old masters taught years on using the bow before learning to note. Any one who doubts this can google it. Google Paganni. Hope i remember how to spell his name
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Jack Hanson


From:
San Luis Valley, USA
Post  Posted 18 Sep 2022 7:47 am    
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For me, learning to play the swinette was much more difficult than learning to play a pedal steel guitar.
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Henry Matthews


From:
Texarkana, Ark USA
Post  Posted 18 Sep 2022 1:27 pm    
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I think fiddle is harder and I play both. Played fiddle many years before I played steel and fiddle is still tough, especially in the studio. Anyone can learn a few fiddle tunes but to make it sound top shelf like Larry J. Said is really difficult. I’m not top shelf on either but steel comes out much better in studio than my fiddle work. Now whether that makes steel easier, I really don’t know but both are very difficult. You either got it or you don’t, lol.
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Brett Day


From:
Pickens, SC
Post  Posted 19 Sep 2022 9:54 am    
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Because of my cerebral palsy, I had to go through several instruments, but as a teenager, I felt like I would be playing keyboards all my life, and I'd try playing along with records on keyboards, and with one hand(my right hand, it wasn't so easy. In 1999, at the age of eighteen, I switched from keyboards to pedal steel, and I remember listening to country records before playing along with them to see if I could play the steel parts. Then, I would play along with the songs and somehow taught myself the steel parts. I remember one time, I decided to see if I could remember anything I played on keyboards, but decided to go back to pedal steel after sitting at the keyboard for five minutes. In 2017, I added dobro to pedal steel, and taught myself songs on it. Pedal steel and dobro are the easiest instruments for me. I have no idea what the hardest instrument is because there are so many different thoughts about it
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Susan Alcorn


From:
Baltimore, MD, USA
Post  Posted 23 Sep 2022 2:26 pm    
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Every instrument is difficult to play at a top professional level, but some are easier to get a decent sound out of right off the bat - guitar (Roy Clark's guitar book), piano, kazoo, percussion, etc. And others, like the pedal steel, violin, and oboe, take a bit more work to get a nice sound, even for music that is simple.
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John Larson


From:
Lycoming County, PA, USA
Post  Posted 23 Sep 2022 5:40 pm    
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Coming to pedal steel with no previous instrument experience, I can't imagine how difficult that is but if you come from fingerstyle guitar you already have one of the aspects down a bit.
If you come from lap steel you have the bar. Keep in mind many of the greats started on lap steel back in the day.

It's a lot all at once.

I still think the theremin is harder as there is zero tactile feedback. Whereas with steel there is tactile feedback of some extent its just a lot of multitasking so it puts it in the class of instruments like the pipe organ.
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Charlie Hansen


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Post  Posted 24 Sep 2022 6:16 am    
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I play every instrument very rhythmically because I played drums first. Many people have asked, "why do you play ------ that way". Because drums were my first instrument. Even as I type this post I'm listening to Johnny Bush and typing to the drummer.
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Dennis Lee

 

From:
Forest Grove, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 24 Sep 2022 8:29 am     Psg
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It's a journey. Some had the privilege of beginning it earlier than others. There is no other instrument that is so addictive and pays back in dividends. As my friend and mentor, Larry Behm, always told me, you have to be in love with the sound. Damn if he wasn't right! There are those that have the gift, but there are those of us that persevere and love the journey. Every day we discover something new and have an ah-ha moment. Whatever level, we derive the same benefits. I appreciate all instruments, but the psg can pull emotions out of you like no other. If you love it, it's no more difficult than any other instrument. It just kind of jelled with me.
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Marc Muller

 

From:
Neptune,NJ USA
Post  Posted 25 Sep 2022 5:46 am    
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Think steel's hard, try fiddle. I've been playing since I was 15 and still sound about as good as I did when I was 14.
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