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Author Topic:  My Approach To Learning Pedal Steel
Slim Heilpern


From:
Aptos California, USA
Post  Posted 18 May 2019 1:11 pm    
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I don't know if very many people approach learning steel (or any other instrument) the way I do, but I find it to be quite effective. I'm mimicking the way I approached chromatic harmonica back when I decided to get serious on that instrument (since that turned out pretty well).

I have a pretty nice little project studio where Penny and I record all our stuff, consisting of a few good mics, a powerful computer, and some excellent software, as well as a few necessary gadgets to get good clean sound. But that's not a prerequisite for my process as any decent multitrack DAW is all that's needed for my method (and when I say "my", I don't mean that others don't do the same thing, I'm sure they do).

I've only been practicing/playing pedal steel for 3 years, and over that time I've probably averaged about 45 minutes practice time daily. Obviously not enough cumulative time to develop professional grade chops.

But I started recording tracks within the first year by recording a single phrase at a time, listening back, adjusting my phrasing and intonation until it sounded good to me. Early on I'd spend up to a week on one tune, even if the steel was just playing a supporting role. Now it goes much faster, as I gain technique and know where to find what I'm looking for on the instrument.

Then, once I'm happy with a recording, I work on playing what I recorded all the way through, trying to match what I was able to do when I could take the time to concentrate on each phrase individually. I'm still working on solos I've recorded over the last couple of years, some are sounding better than others (playing straight through). But I'm impressed by my own progress and think this could work for others who are just learning.

Of course this is not all I do to learn -- I also try to copy my heroes and spend some time doing exercises and such, but nothing seems to advance my playing as much as what I've described above.

A few recent examples of these phrase-by-phrase efforts, in case you're interested:

A country waltz:

https://slimandpenny.com/web/articles/WithoutYou/

A bit of swing (steel solo at 2:07):

https://slimandpenny.com/web/articles/WellStillHaveThisLove/

Latin(ish) (steel solo at 3:30):

https://slimandpenny.com/web/articles/WhenWeWereYoung/

- Slim
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http://slimandpenny.com
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post  Posted 18 May 2019 2:31 pm    
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Whatever works, there are no rules. Very Happy

Your tracks sound really good , thx for posting

t
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Earnest Bovine


From:
Los Angeles CA USA
Post  Posted 18 May 2019 2:33 pm    
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well done! All 3 are beautifully arranged & played. And each one has its own sound for the steel.
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Russell Adkins


From:
Louisiana, USA
Post  Posted 18 May 2019 5:44 pm    
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Beautiful , keep doing what you are doing.
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Slim Heilpern


From:
Aptos California, USA
Post  Posted 19 May 2019 5:56 am    
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Thanks Tony, Doug, and Russell! Much appreciated.

- Slim
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Chromatic Harmonica, Guitar, and (lately) Pedal Steel (Williams U12 Series 700, Emmons lap)
http://slimandpenny.com
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Larry Dering


From:
Missouri, USA
Post  Posted 19 May 2019 8:19 am    
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I think you have a feel for it. I liked the tracks and the additional instruments. Keep it up, doing fine.
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Will Hart


From:
St. Croix, Virgin Islands
Post  Posted 19 May 2019 1:30 pm    
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Just great work from you and Penny. Downloaded both your albums.
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Russ Tkac


Post  Posted 19 May 2019 1:57 pm    
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Very nice!
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Slim Heilpern


From:
Aptos California, USA
Post  Posted 20 May 2019 5:43 am    
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Will Hart wrote:
Just great work from you and Penny. Downloaded both your albums.


Thank you Will!! I assume you knew that those CDs were recorded before I started playing steel, but we did get our old pal Bobby Black to play on the Procrastination album on "What's Goin' On" -- this was around the time that Penny and I played on several cuts on Bobby's wonderful "Steel Guitar Paradise" CD (available via Steel Guitars of North Country).

- Slim
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Chromatic Harmonica, Guitar, and (lately) Pedal Steel (Williams U12 Series 700, Emmons lap)
http://slimandpenny.com
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Jim Palenscar


From:
Oceanside, Calif, USA
Post  Posted 20 May 2019 6:55 am    
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Way to go Slim!
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Will Hart


From:
St. Croix, Virgin Islands
Post  Posted 20 May 2019 7:12 am    
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I really like your approach to music. Both written and old material. You and Penny are terrific. I noticed it was Bobby Black on steel. Can't go wrong there. What an inspirational guy.
Good luck with your future endeavors.

Will
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Greg Lambert


From:
Illinois, USA
Post  Posted 20 May 2019 12:58 pm    
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Great Job! Your on the road to Pro Player. Who did your tracks?
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Slim Heilpern


From:
Aptos California, USA
Post  Posted 20 May 2019 4:12 pm    
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Wow, thanks for all the compliments, wasn't expecting that.

Greg Lambert wrote:
... Who did your tracks?


It's all just Penny and I in our home project studio. Aside from vocals, Penny does the bass and woodwind parts and I do the guitars, harmonica, MIDI sequencing, and audio work. This allows us to record whenever the hell we want, and on a budget Winking.

Thanks for listening!

- Slim
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Chromatic Harmonica, Guitar, and (lately) Pedal Steel (Williams U12 Series 700, Emmons lap)
http://slimandpenny.com
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Will Hart


From:
St. Croix, Virgin Islands
Post  Posted 21 May 2019 12:52 am    
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That's the beauty of your process, Slim. (Also the fun) Very Happy
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Jon Voth


From:
Virginia, USA
Post  Posted 26 May 2019 8:26 pm    
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Very nice charts, and very nice on the PSG.

Glad you are also into the steel guitar. I dabble in the chrom and have been around the Slidemeister forum many years and appreciate your presence there.


Jon
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Slim Heilpern


From:
Aptos California, USA
Post  Posted 26 May 2019 8:50 pm    
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Jon Voth wrote:
Very nice charts, and very nice on the PSG.

Glad you are also into the steel guitar. I dabble in the chrom and have been around the Slidemeister forum many years and appreciate your presence there.


Jon


Wow, it's a small virtual world Winking.
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Chromatic Harmonica, Guitar, and (lately) Pedal Steel (Williams U12 Series 700, Emmons lap)
http://slimandpenny.com
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Rick Schmidt


From:
Prescott AZ, USA
Post  Posted 27 May 2019 7:34 am    
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Love your music Slim!!!
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Slim Heilpern


From:
Aptos California, USA
Post  Posted 27 May 2019 8:19 am    
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Rick Schmidt wrote:
Love your music Slim!!!


The feeling's mutual Rick! You're one of my heroes.

- Slim
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Chromatic Harmonica, Guitar, and (lately) Pedal Steel (Williams U12 Series 700, Emmons lap)
http://slimandpenny.com
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Jim Sliff


From:
Lawndale California, USA
Post  Posted 3 Jun 2019 6:11 pm    
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Not being country fan I went straight to the swing tune.

3 years? I suggest you STOP copying - or thinking of other players as - "heroes" and just do your own thing. you have a very nice touch (seems like most players at 3 years or so still pick VERY hard - like they are obviously "trying" far to hard instead of relaxing and playing the music), you *don't* use the volume pedal like a gas pedal...and you (thank you thank you thank you) are a good "musician" (and/or arranger/producer) who knows when to "lay out" You don't jam your playing through every bar of a tune. God Bless ya'! Especially for a harmonica player! Laughing (around here they are known for never stopping. Ever!)

You seem to have found your own path. I would be completely unconcerned with "learning" at this point, as you already have. The only learning I suggest is whatever songs you want to put down on a recording. Don't copy! Just keep working on your own style.

I don't think I've commented like this on anyone's playing in years.
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Slim Heilpern


From:
Aptos California, USA
Post  Posted 3 Jun 2019 7:37 pm    
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Thanks Jim, really appreciate your comments! Not sure I'm ready to stop learning from others though -- there are so many wonderful things that have been done on this instrument that I'd like to be able to incorporate elements of into my music, much of it way beyond my current level of technique, but it's always fun to try. I do get your point and it's well taken, I have no intention or desire to sound like anyone else Winking.

- Slim
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Chromatic Harmonica, Guitar, and (lately) Pedal Steel (Williams U12 Series 700, Emmons lap)
http://slimandpenny.com
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 4 Jun 2019 12:40 am    
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Tremendous stuff. It's a no-brainer as they're both single-reed instruments, but it's the first time I heard clarinet and harmonica next to each other and I was struck by what they have in common.

Great demo of how stylistically versatile the steel is.
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Slim Heilpern


From:
Aptos California, USA
Post  Posted 4 Jun 2019 8:38 am    
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Ian Rae wrote:
Tremendous stuff. It's a no-brainer as they're both single-reed instruments, but it's the first time I heard clarinet and harmonica next to each other and I was struck by what they have in common.

Great demo of how stylistically versatile the steel is.


Thanks Ian! Yeah, we've been surprised by how well the clarinet/harmonica combination works as well -- still experimenting with that. Actually, it's 48 reeds on my harmonica, but I don't always use them all on every tune Winking.

- Slim
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Chromatic Harmonica, Guitar, and (lately) Pedal Steel (Williams U12 Series 700, Emmons lap)
http://slimandpenny.com
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Gary Guzzardo


From:
Florida, USA
Post  Posted 2 Jul 2019 6:22 am    
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WOW Great stuff Loved it
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Roger Rettig


From:
Naples, FL
Post  Posted 2 Jul 2019 9:49 am    
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Lovely music with well played and tasteful steel parts!

A great job by everyone concerned.
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Steve Leal


From:
Laguna Niguel CA, USA
Post  Posted 5 Jul 2019 4:02 pm    
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Slim,

That is a brilliant perfecting method. Thanks for sharing! I’m gonna start trying that!

Your recordings sound superb!

Stephen
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