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Author Topic:  Prioritizing: What Do Newbies Need To Know vs. Not Know?
Tom Young


From:
Sacramento-California, USA
Post  Posted 1 Jan 2019 9:17 pm    
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I figured there's a few hundred years of combined experience on this forum, so no better place to ask and I hope I can do the question justice and not be too philosophical but: Where does the essence of playing lap steel lay? By that I mean the heart, the soul...the guts?

To explain- I have played guitar & harmonica for 25 years, was gigging/touring up to 300 nights a year, taught etc. I can explain the essence of the harmonica - what it does, what it can do and what it can't (it's not a saxophone). When I teach I ask my students what they want to play or who they admire...if it's old school blues you've got your camps - Sonny Boys I & II and your Walters Big & Little (or the West Coast Guys who are those plus George Smith) I say grab your harp and learn the heck out of one of three "positions" (straight vs cross vs chromatic) and for the most part you can ignore 30% of the harp because those guys rarely ever played there...if you want you can explore it...but 99% of what you hear wasn't played there.
Technically you can play one harmonica in any key (Howard Levy) so 12 Positions....but it's not on any old school album I have. There are tried & true pockets that you never have to leave...if you so choose. My aspiration is to be referred to as a "pocket player" I am not trying to rock the bandstand.

So here I am trying to figure out how I am going to climb Mt. Lap Steel and I am tabbing/playing Maj/Min 6 and 7 arpeggios, diagonal runs and plotting scale degrees from every fret etc...but I just picked up a few awesome books from Andy Volk & John McGann and began to break down the solos (what's happening...why this works etc) it appears that 75%-95% of the action is all in what I would call First Position - your IV chord is 5 frets up or 7 frets down... and I am wondering am I making this all waaaay too hard on myself? Should I just take 2 months and study the entire Don Helms book (I am still going to diagram why it works...that's just something I do) and the 90-95% essence of old school lap steel is there? If not....where would you tell someone to find it?

Your thoughts are much appreciated...and Happiest of New Years!
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Mike Neer


From:
NJ
Post  Posted 1 Jan 2019 10:01 pm    
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Tom, everyone is different and has different goals and skillsets that they bring to the table. The best way to learn is by studying the way the masters played the instrument, just to get an understanding of how things work, what is possible, different tricks, etc.

Most people go through a period of emulation and submersion into genres associated with the steel, like western swing, Hawaiian, etc., taking gigs and learning much on the bandstand. If that floats your boat and seems like a desired goal, you listen and learn all that you can. Obviously, you will need to familiarize yourself with a few tunings and learn to detect when you’re hearing them. It’s not easy, but it’s like forensics.

If that ever seems like it’s not enough, then you’ll find that the world is wide open and you can pursue whatever it is that you choose. The gigs may dry up, the phone may stop ringing, but if that doesn’t matter to you, you’ll have a long and amazing road ahead of you. There is always a way to go deeper into the instrument and maybe discover things that others haven’t. I have my own way of visualizing things and I am constantly growing and amending that.

Two things to think about: 1) most things are not as easy as they sound and 2) look for the easiest ways to make something difficult sound easy. Oh, and sound good while doing it and be as self-critical as your ego can muster. Follow your heart, though.
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Bill McCloskey


Post  Posted 2 Jan 2019 10:42 am    
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Tom, welcome to the world of lapsteel.

One of the main problems with steel from a beginners standpoint is that there is no "standard" when it comes to tunings. In fact, in the early days, a players tuning was considered a secret and a competitive advantage, with some of the best players de-tuning their guitars between breaks so no one could figure it out.

A lot depends on the kind of music you want to play. Interested in genre music? Western Swing, Hawaiian, that type of thing? C6 is a good tuning for hawaiian stuff, A6 is good for Western Swing. want to play more bluegrass style? G tuning is a good choice. Blues and rock ala David Lindley? D tuning is a good beginning choice. All of these tunings can be used to play any type of music, but they are really laid out for those styles.

After many many years at this, I play a 10 string eharp tuning, which I find the most versatile tuning for playing jazz but my choice is a niche choice. If you are hard core jazzer, I'd suggest looking in to it.

From a tutorial standpoint, there are more instructions for playing G tuning than any other tuning I can think of. C6 would be a close second. Have fun and good luck.
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Andy Henriksen


From:
Michigan, USA
Post  Posted 2 Jan 2019 12:21 pm    
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It sounds like you are headed in the right direction already. Asking "why does this work?" is a critical step that newbies often skip past, because they get excited that something sounds good, and they want to move on and learn as many new things as possible. But asking "why" will ultimately help you learn faster.

The other thing that might be obvious to you, but maybe not every newbie is that you often don't need to/shouldn't play full chords. You can omit the root and the 5th from most chords, especially if playing with other musicians who will be playing those notes. This gives you a clearer tone, and also gives you many more options of where to play a particular "chord."

If you like old school country a la Don Helms, then the real essence of the instrument is harmonized 3rds and 6ths. Learn a few different harmonized scales with the melody on top and the harmony note a 3rd or 6th below it, and you will sound like a classic country player in no time!
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Bill Creller


From:
Saginaw, Michigan, USA
Post  Posted 2 Jan 2019 3:53 pm    
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one other thing you may consider, is getting into too many tunings may not help. Jack-of-all-tunings, master of none might be a trap to avoid..
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Bill McCloskey


Post  Posted 2 Jan 2019 5:04 pm    
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"getting into too many tunings may not help"

Agree completely. The only way to get good at any tuning is to focus long and hard on it.

But I do think it takes some experimentation and a lot of listening to even decide which tuning to focus on in the beginning . In many ways I feel it took me 20 years to find the tuning I really wanted to master.

And of course, adding strings is a logical time as well to review your tuning choices. Just look at Mike Neer's journey and the number of tunings he went through before he did a deep dive into C6.

G is a great overall tuning to get started on. It was Jerry Byrd's starter tuning in his course (albeit tuned up to A, same intervals) and more than one career (and some amazing music) was made with just that and no more.
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Jerry Wagner


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 2 Jan 2019 5:46 pm    
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"My aspiration is to be referred to as a "pocket player" I am not trying to rock the bandstand."

Hi Tom,
You're a way more accomplished musician than I am or ever will be, but to address your immediate "pocket player" aspiration, take a look at these links regarding A6 and C6 tunings. Something might "click" for you. Beyond that, you're entering the world of an instrument that can truly "sing," so make the most of it!

Eddie Rivers, Western Swing Rules #6:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rARCcW3I0K4

Eddie Rivers, on A6th Tuning
https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=329151

Gary Anwyl’s Guide to C6 Tuning:
http://www.planetgaa.com/C6/index.html
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Jerry Wagner


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 2 Jan 2019 6:05 pm    
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Just wanted to add this, because you're a harp player, or is that singer? One of my favorite videos is the ever amazing Bobby Ingano playing "On a Little Street in Singapore" on a 1934 7-string Rickenbacher Frypan, the "original" first electric guitar, and still considered the "holy grail" by many:

Bobby Ingano, On a Little Street in Singapore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4b3le-IHr4
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Jim Sliff


From:
Lawndale California, USA
Post  Posted 2 Jan 2019 7:50 pm    
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I couldn't play a scale on lapsteel at gunpoint.

Extended chords? not enough available notes.

On lapsteel I play out of basic chord positions. NO need to play full chords since other players will cover the root and other "primary" notes. Parallel harmonies are nice in Hawaiian music but in blues and rock (for example) tend to sound like - Hawaiian music.

So I suggest finding positions where 3 notes fit the chord. ANY 3. And use those as each "base of operations", playing in and around the song's melody Leave space, because playing the same notes as others is dangerous with the tenuous intonation.

It doesn't take long to find little "pockets" - one or two for each chord change - where you can improvise - sustaining one note, playing a banjo roll, doing bar lift and working in open strings etc.

But DON'T over think it. Sounds like you're more concerned with being "musically correct" than with just "playing". Forget "correct", think melodically, play simply - and lay out a LOT.

Hope that helps.
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Jesse Pearson


From:
San Diego , CA
Post  Posted 2 Jan 2019 8:56 pm    
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1. Pick a couple of different tunings and learn the correct way to string and tune your steel.

2. Learn the applied theory of your steel tunings and memorize your chord grips, scales/arps.

3. Transcribe songs that you like and write it out in tab. Try and analyse what the original player was doing theory wise if you can.

4. Buy books on steel to help you learn. Don Helms is a great person to study from his tab book of Hank Williams songs.

5. Accumulate a vast library of your favorite songs with steel in them for scholarly research etc.

6. Research the Steel Guitar Forum on the many different subjects relating to steel guitar etc.

But the most important thing to do is record copy, record copy. Learn performance pieces that you like from beginning to end. Practice against a rhythm section once you have the song down. Daily practice goes a long way on any instrument.
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Paul Honeycutt


From:
Colorado, USA
Post  Posted 2 Jan 2019 10:23 pm    
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A lot of good advice in this thread! We need a "like" button.
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Andy Volk


From:
Boston, MA
Post  Posted 3 Jan 2019 6:04 am    
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Quote:
Where does the essence of playing lap steel lay? By that I mean the heart, the soul...the guts?


First, thanks for the shout out and welcome to the world's most beautiful, intriguing, confounding, aggravating, soul-nourishing, limited, completely wide-open instrument!

The essence of lap steel is not one thing to all people but I'd venture to say that at its core, for electric steel, it's the ability to sustain notes and phrase with a freedom that brings to mind the human voice. Further, it offers options to harmonize those sustained and staccato melodies in ways that are very pleasing to the ear in a way that reflects the physics of the universe.

This last point is a very deep subject that is mostly well above my pay grade - but in a nutshell: while a standard guitar's tuning like the piano, is tempered (a compromise to enable playing in multiple keys), a lap steel is often tuned via just intonation making its sound similar to the way human voices sound to our ears when harmonizing. A steel player is also constantly adjusting intonation via the tone bar which can be heaven or hell according to the individual player. Few instruments are as responsive as steel guitar to intonation, attack, control of sustain, legato and staccato and to project music in a way that sets it apart from most other string instruments.

So, IMHO, this is the "guts" of the steel guitar. Everything else ... tunings, pedals, effects, amps, etc. are just enhancing what's already inherently there.

Here's a little slide instrument history from a video I created 10 years ago for a museum exhibition: https://vimeo.com/78741879
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Last edited by Andy Volk on 3 Jan 2019 6:37 am; edited 1 time in total
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Jim Graham


From:
Ontario, Canada
Post  Posted 3 Jan 2019 6:15 am    
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Jerry Wagner wrote:
Just wanted to add this, because you're a harp player, or is that singer? One of my favorite videos is the ever amazing Bobby Ingano playing "On a Little Street in Singapore" on a 1934 7-string Rickenbacher Frypan, the "original" first electric guitar, and still considered the "holy grail" by many:

Bobby Ingano, On a Little Street in Singapore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4b3le-IHr4


That's a great video, such grace! I'm currently reading a book about the history of the electric guitar and learned a lot about these "frying pan" lapsteels. The book is "Play it Loud" by Brad Tolinski Alan Di Perna.
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Tom Young


From:
Sacramento-California, USA
Post  Posted 3 Jan 2019 8:12 am    
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Thank you to everyone who's given me an amazing insight to your philosophy of the instrument and what feels like a roadmap. I do wish there was a Like button or a way to show how important your responses are to beginners who too often quit because they don't have a good set of rules to guide them.

A few things really stood out to me because I could actually hear myself saying them to my harmonica students and felt slightly embarassed I was not following my own advice ..."Tone, Tone, Tone" and "Don't overthink it or try and reinvent it (when you're beginning)" There's a reason why +95% of blues harp is played in 2nd position...it's "The Sound".

After much thought I realized I'd broken one of my main principles: Respect what the instrument is and isn't. I was trying to transfer guitar skills to lap steel; Travis picking, boom-chick, slide guitar licks etc... and it sounded as expected...not good because I sounded like a frustrated guitar player noodling.

Jerry Wagner mentioned the Eddie Rivers vids and I watched them a while back but when I rewatched them it was literally "the pocket" I was looking to find. It felt like handing a harmonica newbie the correct key and they go bug-eyed in disbelief...all the notes and most of the licks are there between those 5 frets (7 holes on harp!)
Uh huh...5 minutes of explanation = thousands of hours of figuring it out.

Lastly, I think Andy Volk nailed it with not only the human voice connection but the "physics of the universe". I have been referring to lap steel as having celestial qualities and a "cry". A cry - is something that moves us at a gut level and we empathize. And it feels as though the "trueness" of our intonation reflects the trueness of the emotion were trying to convey. And to me that is what music is...we're communicating with the tribe.

Thanks again, y'all
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Virtuous Victualer.

Now is the time for drinking;
now the time to beat the earth with unfettered foot.
-- Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace) (65-8 B.C.)
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Mike Neer


From:
NJ
Post  Posted 3 Jan 2019 9:43 am    
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Tom Young wrote:


After much thought I realized I'd broken one of my main principles: Respect what the instrument is and isn't. I was trying to transfer guitar skills to lap steel; Travis picking, boom-chick, slide guitar licks etc... and it sounded as expected...not good because I sounded like a frustrated guitar player noodling.

Thanks again, y'all


The instrument can be whatever you want it to be as long as you have the skills to pull it off. I would not want to impose those limitations on anyone. As my skills have improved, I am now more able to transfer my 40 years of acquired guitar chops/thinking/sounds to lap steel which works for me because it is the only instrument I want to play. Maybe that was always in the back of my mind when I started, I don’t know. My musical focus can stay in the area of music that I most enjoy, which is just about every form of jazz and soul/blues.
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Bill Groner


From:
QUAKERTOWN, PA
Post  Posted 3 Jan 2019 10:20 am    
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Mike.........love to hear you play Midnight @ the Oasis.
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Dom Franco


From:
Beaverton, OR, 97007
Post  Posted 3 Jan 2019 1:23 pm    
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MY 2 Cents...

Just pick one 6th tuning (A6th, C6th, E6th, G6th) any one will do! and stick with it.

A sixth tuning will give you full major and minor chords. (IMHO a must for playing all styles of music)

Have a friend play chords, or use some backing trax and just follow the chord changes. After a short time it will start to make sense. If you have any ear at all you will find licks, slides and simple runs.

Now you are HOOKED! You will spend the rest of your life trying to master this amazing instrument.
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Nic Neufeld


From:
Kansas City, Missouri
Post  Posted 3 Jan 2019 3:11 pm    
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As a recent-and-still-beginner...some things that have helped at, more or less, random.

Once you develop a certain comfort level with the instrument...get out of that comfort zone and push yourself...the way I'm thinking in my case was joining a band (mostly jazz, some pop) and being thrust into a situation where I'm playing improvised leads on charts, listening to other players and trying to fit into the mix, and the most challenging of all for me, starting to learn how to "comp" and provide some rhythm and harmony when the guitarist wants a turn soloing.

Benefit to sticking with one main tuning, at least for now...you've got to get comfortable with string intervals if you're ever going to feel relaxed soloing across the neck. It'll take a while, focus on one at first. For me it was C6/C13.

If you're playing in a Hawaiian style...to distill what my teacher is constantly reminding me of! Try and pick closer to the middle of the stopped string section to get that sweet bell like tone...the center moves as your bar does. Closer to the bridge for effect, of course... And connect the notes...always connect the notes.

Anyway, gotta go, may edit and add more later.

Edit for pt II...

Don't be afraid of the slants. I was initially quite resistant to them because I couldn't quite do them in tune and I preferred sticking with straight bar and just jumping up 5, 7 frets when necessary to hit harmonies. But the more you do them, the more you get in tune, and it opens up a lot of options for keeping that fluid, connected sound in a passage.

"I have been referring to lap steel as having celestial qualities and a "cry". A cry - is something that moves us at a gut level and we empathize." ...one player that I think really hits this is Santo Farina, IMO. He does a lot of single note stuff in comparison to other players I love, but his playing has a plaintive, emotional sound that really connects. There are a bunch of players with more flash and speed (Sol and many others), or with more complex and beautiful harmonies (tips hat to Jules and Barney), but getting that yearning, wistful sound Santo did eludes so many of us. I once happened onto a Santo and Johnny Youtube playlist and stayed there for hours, he had such a unique voice in his playing. Which is another thing to remember...every steel player could be issued the same guitar, amp, picks, steel, and even music, and when we played, everyone would sound different. Tone is in the fingers and in the head and the steel guitar really allows that to shine through, even more than the fretted guitar IMO.
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Last edited by Nic Neufeld on 3 Jan 2019 5:17 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Tom Young


From:
Sacramento-California, USA
Post  Posted 3 Jan 2019 4:29 pm    
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Mike Neer wrote:
Tom Young wrote:


After much thought I realized I'd broken one of my main principles: Respect what the instrument is and isn't. I was trying to transfer guitar skills to lap steel; Travis picking, boom-chick, slide guitar licks etc... and it sounded as expected...not good because I sounded like a frustrated guitar player noodling.

Thanks again, y'all


The instrument can be whatever you want it to be as long as you have the skills to pull it off. I would not want to impose those limitations on anyone. As my skills have improved, I am now more able to transfer my 40 years of acquired guitar chops/thinking/sounds to lap steel which works for me because it is the only instrument I want to play. Maybe that was always in the back of my mind when I started, I don’t know. My musical focus can stay in the area of music that I most enjoy, which is just about every form of jazz and soul/blues.


Hi Mike, after I posted I almost pm'd you to clarify, because I was reading your website and blog for over a year before I started learning and you're taking it to a whole new level!

I meant "Respect what the instrument is and isn't" - in the the context of the genre you're playing and more importantly- what your bandmates/bandleader is expecting. By that I mean, technically the bass can be a chordal instrument but I personally wouldn't recommend a western swing student devote alot of time learning to play bass chords - chord tones, YES! Especially if you want to gig - which you alluded to. It's not always easy to find work for the roots player who dares venture out of the proverbial pocket.

I also meant it's about recognizing and appreciating the limits of the instrument. The harmonica will never have the smooth legato of a saxophone (or all the notes) and a saxophone doesn't play chords...so I meant to say I wasn't "thinking/hearing" in the language of lap steel. It was me who was saying..."oh, that's definitely not right"

I look forward to your posts and updates - especially about new concepts in picking.

Cheers!
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The One & Lonely Tommy Young
Virtuous Victualer.

Now is the time for drinking;
now the time to beat the earth with unfettered foot.
-- Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace) (65-8 B.C.)
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Michael Butler


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 4 Jan 2019 9:23 am    
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being fairly new to lap steel, while, like tom, playing guitar and harmonica for years, i find this thread fascinating. thanks to tom and everyone else as this has really opened up my eyes.

play music!
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Jesse Pearson


From:
San Diego , CA
Post  Posted 4 Jan 2019 11:11 am    
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I agree with Tom Young that the non pedal steel has deficiencies and attributes that one should come to terms with to be practical about what non pedal steel can and can't do well. The tuning's that work well for Hawaiian and country don't work well for fast modern jazz lines. It's a physics thing, nothing more. I'm referring to being able to play an uptempo solo like a modern Jazz horn, guitar, keyboard etc. No amount of attitude or will power is going to change that. I spent a fair amount of time trying to learn jazz on steel after first becoming competent concerning modern jazz on other instruments. Non pedal steel is way limited and usually sounds out of tune sloppy because the steel is made to gliss. The gliss is what makes it superior for Hawaiian and Country.

Look how hard it is to even play Dick McIntire lines well when you consider how perfect you have to be on quick mutes to get his staccato effect.
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David Matzenik


From:
Cairns, on the Coral Sea
Post  Posted 4 Jan 2019 1:22 pm    
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Jerry Wagner wrote:
Just wanted to add this, because you're a harp player, or is that singer? One of my favorite videos is the ever amazing Bobby Ingano playing "On a Little Street in Singapore" on a 1934 7-string Rickenbacher Frypan, the "original" first electric guitar, and still considered the "holy grail" by many:

Bobby Ingano, On a Little Street in Singapore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4b3le-IHr4


I was going to add my 2 cents worth, but it has been more than covered by the eloquence of all these replies. So instead, I just want to say Bobby Ingano's "Singapore" is where its at. And his shirt is killer.
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Mike Neer


From:
NJ
Post  Posted 5 Jan 2019 1:10 pm    
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Jesse Pearson wrote:
I agree with Tom Young that the non pedal steel has deficiencies and attributes that one should come to terms with to be practical about what non pedal steel can and can't do well. The tuning's that work well for Hawaiian and country don't work well for fast modern jazz lines. It's a physics thing, nothing more. I'm referring to being able to play an uptempo solo like a modern Jazz horn, guitar, keyboard etc. No amount of attitude or will power is going to change that. I spent a fair amount of time trying to learn jazz on steel after first becoming competent concerning modern jazz on other instruments. Non pedal steel is way limited and usually sounds out of tune sloppy because the steel is made to gliss. The gliss is what makes it superior for Hawaiian and Country.

Look how hard it is to even play Dick McIntire lines well when you consider how perfect you have to be on quick mutes to get his staccato effect.


It's true that many have struggled to play "fast modern jazz lines." In fact, there are very few players who even really know much about jazz beyond swing. But that isn't the point. My point is, don't give up so easily. No one expects you to play like a saxophone. In fact, it's possible no one is ever even going to hire you to play their jazz gigs on lap steel. But you have the power to choose your repertoire and the way you play. I am having a blast playing and learning/discovering and there are things I've discovered that I couldn't imagine playing 10 years ago. But I am also the bandleader and I choose the music, all of it jazz. Downbeat magazine recognized my lap steel playing as jazz and that was a very big encouragement for me.

The more you know about music--jazz in particular--the more you realize how many possible roads there are to take. The more you know about your lap steel tuning, the more you discover how to travel those roads. Hearing someone say it can't be done inspires me even more to do it.

But this thread isn't about jazz, it's about learning the heck out of a musical instrument and playing whatever you want to play on it.
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Bill McCloskey


Post  Posted 5 Jan 2019 2:03 pm    
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Miles Davis got along pretty well playing slow lines. Miles could never match Dizzy for technique. But he found his own way which made his limitations an asset and he owned that space.

I don't hear anyone complaining about Bill Frisell's lack of fast jazz lines. Anyone think he isn't playing jazz?
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Jesse Pearson


From:
San Diego , CA
Post  Posted 5 Jan 2019 5:09 pm    
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What Tom said about non pedal steel is very astute "what it is and what it's not". I fully understood where he was coming from because I tried at one time to make it something maybe it's not that best suited for, that being bebop. It always seems to sound western swing based and not really bebop no matter how hard I woodshedded. The timbre, the glissing/muting...going slightly out of tune? Not being able to execute common bebop approaches because of the physical nature of the instrument. It's physical nature makes it impossible to do it well without sliding out of tune if it's uptempo. Does that mean someone sucks if they can't do it uptempo, I don't think so. No one has been able to do it that I've found. The closest I've come to hearing the steels potential to swing against a typical 1940' jazz rhythm section is "Steel Guitar Boogie" by Bernie Kaai and his Hawaiians...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ni28SRWU7M

Tom Morrel has "Stomping at the Savoy"...the steel sounds more western swing then modern jazz to me on the solo...great stuff though...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wd6CWl3PoOI

Mike Neer has "Blue Monk" and other Monk songs which I only just found today...the steel sounds more western swing/blues then jazz on the solos...again, really great stuff though...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HO5xJAmmWmM

So if anybody can post some modern jazz non pedal steel that is bebop based and sexy sounding, by all means enlighten and inspire me. What the steel is, is a superior instrument for western swing/country and Hawaiian but not bebop. That's why we're not hearing anyone doing it. And Miles Davis was not limited, because there are no limits on art? Yeah Yeah... Rolling Eyes


Last edited by Jesse Pearson on 6 Jan 2019 6:15 am; edited 1 time in total
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