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Author Topic:  “Color”
Christopher Woitach


From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 7 May 2019 8:43 am    
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This might be a silly topic, but it’s been on my mind, lately

I’ve been playing a bit more than 8 years. I was fortunate to have Reece Anderson as a teacher and friend - he helped so much in my understanding of the instrument, and the Bb6 tuning. I’ve also had some great instruction from Travis Toy, and Buck Reid, both of whom are excellent teachers who have helped immensely, as well as lots of help from my steel playing friends, also very helpful. My goal from the first has been to play jazz, much in the same way I play guitar, generally playing in the same way I play guitar, as both accompanist and soloist, and providing my own accompaniment when soloing. I do play some with a country/Americana band, and have done studio work when a non-traditional steel sound is called for.

I practice quite a bit, and usually perform on steel a couple times a month, both with my jazz quartet and with the country/Americana band I mentioned. I’ve performed twice at the Phoenix steel convention, and just found out I will be performing again this January.

So - all going according to plan I guess.

The point of this long introduction is this: I recently went back and listened to my friend Rick Schmidt’s video of Body and Soul, a video that was hugely influential to me as I was trying to learn the instrument, in fact that exact tune. He plays beautifully, with lots of interesting chords and single lines, very much what I try to do. What was different this time was I wasn’t just listening to the notes and the chords (much of which I understand and some of which I can now play), but to the sound, the color of his playing. The vibrato, slides, everything. I realized just how colorless my own playing is - I’m doing pretty well on the notes and chords, and am even fine with the minimal vibrato I use, given the style of music I usually play, but - very bland in terms of articulation and color... what’s odd is that when I try to add these sounds, it sounds silly, unnatural. It doesn’t sound that way at all when I hear others use it.

My question is - is this just my voice on steel, and over time it’ll happen or not, or is there a good way to work on it without pasting on color where it doesn’t fit?

It’s possible my 40 years of jazz guitar playing is inescapable, and I should be happy with what I’ve got...
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Mike Neer


From:
NJ
Post  Posted 7 May 2019 8:50 am    
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I think this is the question most of us should be asking ourselves. Every element of touch and tone require attention and when you are improvising it is difficult to keep this in mind. But I really believe that as we get beyond the mechanics to the point where we can listen, there is improvement. Awareness is a major first step.

I think you sound great and shouldn’t fear sounding silly or unnatural. I have changed a lot of my thinking over the years in that regard.
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Damir Besic


From:
Nashville,TN.
Post  Posted 7 May 2019 9:38 am    
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I wouldn’t worry about others and how they sound , play what you feel, and find your own tone and style, and with time you’ll get better and better... steal a lick or two, here and there, and just play it your way, how you feel it... too many people out there trying to sound like someone else, it cane to the point where is important who can play a certain lick of some known player better, and less anout your own creativity, feeling and style... I talked to several top players in Nashville, and they all said same thing, they don’t care for anything but a fresh ideas, and something new, everything else they already heard before...
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Christopher Woitach


From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 7 May 2019 10:19 am    
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Good thoughts from both of you - thank you!

Damir - I have never tried, nor will I, to sound like anyone else, it’s more a general idea about the detail of the sound.. I’m probably lucky since between my 12 string Bb6 and my focus on mostly modern jazz, I probably will always sound like me. My comparison to Rick is more about articulative approach - I do completely agree with you that there’s little point in trying to play like someone else, not a useful goal, other than to learn ideas and concepts, so I appreciate that reminder very much
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Christopher Woitach
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Damir Besic


From:
Nashville,TN.
Post  Posted 7 May 2019 10:36 am    
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👍
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post  Posted 7 May 2019 10:40 am    
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Yeah, I can relate to this. If I'm at the stage of focusing on getting every note right, I tend to lose feel. I did a 5-day bootcamp with Mike Sweeney 10 years ago, and he helped me with some of this - he really has a great feel. A lot of it was about smoothing out my playing and sounding "more like a steel player" - playing more legato, vibrato, and especially "not picking every damned note" like I tend to do on guitar. In other words, focusing more on exploiting the beauty inherent in the steel guitar itself. And though I'm not gonna stop playing guitar, I think I'm making progress. But I was down in Nashville last month and got a chance to catch Mike at several gigs. Let's just say I still have a lot of work to do.

Let me also say that I have a new band, mostly 40s and early 50s country and proto-rockabilly, where nonpedal steel is often what fits best. I'm finding playing more often without pedals is very helpful even for my pedal steel playing. It is all "steel guitar" and without having the pedal and lever changes to rely on, I have to focus more on the basic steel guitar "color enhancing" skillsets.
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Christopher Woitach


From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 7 May 2019 11:17 am    
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Dave -

The picking every note thing - man, especially when playing things I play on guitar, I do allll the time

Sigh - lots more work
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Christopher Woitach
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 7 May 2019 1:03 pm    
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This is a very good topic. In developing my skills on the instrument, I feel like I go back and forth between the technical aspect of playing and the "listening" aspect. It feels like there's a degree of mutual exclusivity between the two for non-experts.
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Roger Rettig


From:
Naples, FL
Post  Posted 7 May 2019 1:55 pm    
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Excellent topic! What Christopher describes is the quality that's apparent when we hear master players. A controlled deftness, with elusive tone and feeling wrung from the notes.

I know I still have a very long way to go in these regards.
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Kevin Fix


From:
Michigan, USA
Post  Posted 7 May 2019 3:48 pm    
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I am satisfied with the color of my tone. Very pleasing to me. After almost 40 years of Pedal Steel I know the right hand and attack delivers it's balance of color along with my amp settings on my NV112. I don't use any effects pedals. I do use a Steel Guitar Black Box. My tone is 1/3 right hand, 1/3 NV112 and 1/3 SGBB. My SGBB settings are between 12:00 and 2:00. I am playing a Super Pro D10 with Bud PUP's. The bar hand plays into place always.
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Jim Palenscar


From:
Oceanside, Calif, USA
Post  Posted 8 May 2019 6:44 am    
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While I bow to your music knowledge Chris and love your playing w absolutely no criticism, I'm thinking that tincture of time is the recipe for your endeavor.
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Slim Heilpern


From:
Aptos California, USA
Post  Posted 8 May 2019 7:20 am    
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I have a lot less time on the instrument than you Christopher (just passed the 3 year mark) and am not nearly as fluent a jazz guitarist as you are even though I've been playing guitar for 56 years, but I do have an opinion on this subject regardless Winking.

Back when I decided that chromatic harmonica would be my new main instrument over a dozen years ago, I started to do a lot of recording with it in my project studio where I could slowly develop each solo, one phrase at at time. By concentrating on each individual phrase, listening back and perfecting it until it sounded really good to my ears I would end up with something that sounded the way I liked. Then I would go back and force myself to learn the solo all the way through while maintaining all the nuances I was able to achieve on the recording.

Something unexpected happened relatively quickly: I found I had created my own unique style on the instrument and now when I improvise, I still sound like me, but with much more nuance than I had previously achieved with respect to attack, vibrato, tone, cleanliness, etc...

So when I started playing pedal steel three years back I took the same approach and while I have so far to go before I would consider myself a competent player, I'm getting good sounds out of the thing and attribute most of that to the approach I described above.

BTW, I caught your set this year in Phoenix and absolutely loved it!

- Slim
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robert kramer


From:
Nashville TN
Post  Posted 8 May 2019 7:58 am    
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re: Rick Schmidt "Body & Soul" Christopher Wolitach - I'm with you brother Christopher.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmFaxr-ZbRQ

Christoper - I liked Rick's playing so much on "Body & Soul (and his playing across the board), I learned the intro to "Body & Soul" and arranged it into a song I could play all the way through so I would remember it.

re: Rick's tone and jazz sound - I have the same problem - I'm playing altered chords & "Jazz" arrangements but when I record it - I'm not hearing any "jazz tone color." Rick sounds like jazz all the way.

Back to the shed.
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Christopher Woitach


From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 8 May 2019 8:19 am    
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I really appreciate all the feedback - I love it when the forum comes through with great ideas and information!

Jim - yeah... I have increasingly come to realize that steel simply takes 10 times as long, even if (like me) you practice 4-6 hours a day. It means a lot to hear I’m doing ok, coming from you - thank you!

Slim - great ideas! I have done something like this but maybe more is necessary!

Robert - Rick is amazing and I continue to work to get closer... such amazing players we get know here!
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Christopher Woitach
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 8 May 2019 8:34 am    
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When I listen to recordings of my own playing, I compare it to what I thought it was sounding like when I was playing it, and what I felt like at the time. Was I anxious, nervous, struggling with the instrument and unsure of what I was trying to say, or was I at ease, in control, and actually expressing myself and/or the message of the tune? How much of any of that is reflected in the sound I made? It is usually pretty obvious.

I don’t compare it to the masters. They know the language of pedal steel (and music) to a degree I will certainly never know. I don’t even compare my steel playing to my own guitar playing, which is light years ahead. I do compare my early years of steel playing to my early years of guitar, and I am light years ahead on steel, mostly due to a lifetime of musical knowledge. I suspect you are too, Christopher. Just playing catch-up with technique. I’ve said it before, you are one of the players that inspires us here in the lower ranks (your guitar lesson on conversational improvisation 👍👍👍). So take some well-deserved credit, and keep your bar high. So to speak.
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Christopher Woitach


From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 8 May 2019 9:11 am    
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Thank you, Fred - the phrase “playing catch up with technique” is perfect! It puts things in a great perspective

Thank you for checking out my guitar stuff too - I really appreciate the support!
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Christopher Woitach
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Donny Hinson


From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 8 May 2019 2:56 pm    
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Roger Rettig wrote:
Excellent topic! What Christopher describes is the quality that's apparent when we hear master players. A controlled deftness, with elusive tone and feeling wrung from the notes.


How true! When you study a master player like Emmons or Green, it's obvious that they're exceptionally attuned to how each note is articulated. Their notes are like syllables, their chords are like words, and their phrases are like sentences. They execute their music like fine actors execute their lines, facial expressions, and mannerisms. Each must be executed perfectly for them to properly convey the concise emotion they're attempting to express. For most of us, this supreme attention to getting absolutely precise execution can sometimes interfere with the flow of everything else that's going on, and IMHO this is largely what separates the "masters" from the average players. The things we ordinary players must really concentrate on; timing, volume, and intonation, must be mostly instinct for those have reached the level of the masters... the true perfectionists.

As for myself, there's no hope now of attaining that level. I try to play well, but perfection seems most of the time like more than I really need. After my first year or two of playing (when I did it at least 8 hours a day), other things crept into my life and I had far too many other diversions, things like racing, shooting, reading, experimenting, and "socializing". All those things took time away from real woodshedding and studying of music and technique. Had I to do it all over again, I'd have probably done the same thing. I never had the dedication to pursue only one thing to the exclusion of all else, and I'm pretty sure that's what it takes to make it to the top. Oh Well
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Rick Schmidt


From:
Prescott AZ, USA
Post  Posted 8 May 2019 10:02 pm    
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Christopher... needless to say, thanks for the kind words! I am humbled. I certainly wouldn't say that your playing has "no color" by any stretch of the imagination. Any step of your steel journey from beginning to end will be filled with Inspiration and Imagination and worthy of a serious listen. Of course always remember the thing about the steel is it's human (and ?) voice.

But yeah, you should be really happy with what you've got, because that's always forward moving and musical as hell. Cool
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Christopher Woitach


From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 9 May 2019 7:02 am    
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Thank you Rick - from the first steps into Steel world to today, you have been both inspirational and very helpful, I greatly appreciate it!

Brother - you’re the one who talked me into going to Phoenix the first time and even brought a guitar for me to play! Thank you for that too - it’s been a great connection for me

I will continue slogging along, and hopefully get somewhere!
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Pete Burak


From:
Portland, OR USA
Post  Posted 9 May 2019 10:50 am    
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HeY Christopher, What is the name of that first tune you guys played the last time I saw you at Jo bar with The Slide-ee Things?
The one with the specific single note Head.
That is your Color!
I thought your tone and playing was really great that night.
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Christopher Woitach


From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 9 May 2019 10:54 am    
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I think it was Broadway- we often open with that

Thanks Pete - man, I don’t what I would’ve done if you hadn’t been around to help me! Thank you so much - we’ll get some hanging in soon, school almost over!
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Christopher Woitach
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Roger Rettig


From:
Naples, FL
Post  Posted 10 May 2019 9:24 am    
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These days I find I'm concentrating on playing decisively. I have been guilty of starting a phrase with only the sketchiest idea of where I'm going with it. That is not the hallmark of a good player even if things do, occasionally, work out for the best. There's a degree of luck involved!

I have several criteria but 'good pitch' is top of the list for me. After that, play it like you mean it, for better or for worse.
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Christopher Woitach


From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 10 May 2019 11:04 am    
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Roger

That’s very good thinking - I remember Reece always said you need to be thinking at least two seconds ahead to be accurate on steel guitar.

Being deliberate - yes! Having something definite in mind helps with both pitch and “playing like you mean it” - excellent thoughts
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Brett Lanier


From:
Vermont
Post  Posted 10 May 2019 1:02 pm    
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One thing I feel like all the great players do (on any instrument) is leave room for the instrument to breathe, or resonate in the way it will do so naturally. All kinds of beautiful colors can come off the instrument when you do this well. Ben Keith sure did it on Old Man, and Buddy Emmons had such a good touch that he could let his instrument sing while playing something as difficult as the solo on Gentle On My Mind.

I had a good talk with Bill Frisell a while back about some of these less tangible things. He said something that stuck with me in regards to tuning and tone. I'm paraphrasing... but he said something along the lines of "I think it's about how you hear what you're playing that reflects back to the ears of the listener".
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 10 May 2019 1:17 pm    
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Brett Lanier wrote:
One thing I feel like all the great players do (on any instrument) is leave room for the instrument to breathe, or resonate in the way it will do so naturally. All kinds of beautiful colors can come off the instrument when you do this well. Ben Keith sure did it on Old Man, and Buddy Emmons had such a good touch that he could let his instrument sing while playing something as difficult as the solo on Gentle On My Mind.

I had a good talk with Bill Frisell a while back about some of these less tangible things. He said something that stuck with me in regards to tuning and tone. I'm paraphrasing... but he said something along the lines of "I think it's about how you hear what you're playing that reflects back to the ears of the listener".


Are you talking about allowing strings to stay ringing, playing sparsely, or more so about how you pick and hold the bar?

Also, I don't have nearly the talent or expertise, but there definitely seems to be some kind of mental barrier for non-experts between concentrating intensely on the physical aspect of playing and being able to perceive and feed off the sound profile you're creating.
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