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Author Topic:  Which should come first Pedal Steel, lap steel, or guitar?
Darrell Criswell

 

From:
Maryland, USA
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 11:09 am    
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I have read and heard from people who teach steel guitar that typically students without prior musical training do not do very well on the pedal steel, that students do much better at pedal steel if they have a solid background in standard guitar or another musical instrument.

What do most of you think about this. Should a person begin with pedal steel and not play other instruments or is a more effective learning strategy to take up standard guitar and obtain a reasonable level of proficiency and then attempt pedal steel.

In addition is learning lap steel useful to a beginner either before taking up pedal steel or while beginning pedal steel?

I would appreciate any thoughts on these issues and the reason why you think what you advocate is the right course. Thanks so much!
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Mike Perlowin


From:
Los Angeles CA
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 11:21 am    
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In my opinion, one does not need to learn lap steel first.

I got Winnie Winston's book and jumped right in with pedals. Of course, everybody's different and what worked for me might not work for you.
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Jack Hanson


From:
San Luis Valley, USA
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 12:15 pm    
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Beginning pedal steel players have alot on their plate, learning both the mechanical idiosyncrasies of the instrument itself, and the physical techniques necessary to play it -- both hands, both knees, both feet, etc. A student who has no previous background in music, and needs to learn the basics on the fly, would be handicapped compared to someone already well-rounded with another instrument.

Many beginning lap or pedal steel players come from a standard guitar background. Pedal steel beginners who have already mastered fingerpicks, such as 5-string banjo pickers and lap steelers, will have a leg up on bare finger or flatpickers. Same with acoustic & electric lap players who are experienced using a tonebar.

I can attest that one can learn to play pedal steel just fine with no lap steel background whatsoever, because I did. When you're beginning to play steel, I would recommend concentrating on one instrument at a time at first, whether lap or pedal.

Good luck!
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Greg Lambert

 

From:
Illinois, USA
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 12:15 pm    
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You have to start somewhere so it really doesnt matter what your first instrument is.
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Jerry Overstreet


From:
Louisville Ky
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 12:34 pm    
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If pedal steel is your goal, put your focus there. Why waste time with other instruments if PSG is your goal? It is a lengthy study, takes lots of hands on experience and patience.

Many of us started later in life, so we might not have a lot of time to waste by using other instruments indirectly.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 3:15 pm    
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I agree with Jerry. I've never played any other kind of guitar. Bass, yes, but it's hardly relevant except as part of my general musical background.
If you start straight in on pedals you'll soon be making some of the sounds that drew you to the instrument in the first place.
Warning - addiction soon follows!
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Douglas Schuch


From:
Valencia, Philippines
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 3:47 pm    
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Your statement, "typically students without prior musical training do not do very well on the pedal steel" can be said about any and all musical instruments. But do realize that pedal steel has a challenging learning curve - progress is pretty slow initially compared to many other instruments. I know this has stopped many Spanish guitar players (i.e., the standard "guitar") dead in their tracks, as they thought playing guitar, it would be easy. It is not. So knowing guitar first is not a guarantee of success. As for pedal/non-pedal - go for the one that interests you. It is not the pedals that make pedal steel guitar hard - if anything, they may make it a little easier.

The difficulties start with A) intonation - a guitar, you just have to put your finger firmly between the frets, and you get the correct note. With steel, the bar has to be at the exact spot to get good tone - which requires a good ear to hear the note correctly. And B) muting. Steel guitars have lots of sustain, and that is very good. Except when it's not. Then you have to mute the strings immediately before playing the next notes. The techniques for this are challenging for beginner players. They are still challenging for me, an intermediate player. And these problems are the same for pedal or non-pedal.

I would say that, as long as you go into it with a very clear understanding that this will be very challenging, the chose your poison, and jump on in.
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Mike Schwartzman

 

From:
Maryland, USA
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 7:25 pm    
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Interesting question. I came to PSG later in life from pro bass playing. Also I'm a decent 6 string rhythm player. For me knowing the fretboard on both instruments was very helpful on beginning E9th tuning. That said, even though bar placement and rhythm was helped by the previous instruments, everything else about PSG was pretty much a new world with the challenging learning curve of PSG. So I guess the experience of bass and guitar along with the help of some live teacher lessons and some standard learning material got me a head start in the bare beginning stages. Instead of being a totally lost beginner, I was a partially lost beginner, but I could play in tune and run the bar to simple chord progressions with the first learned basic grips.
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Bill C. Buntin

 

Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 7:34 am    
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I think people should approach it from their specific goals. If it’s pedal steel then start out with pedal steel and learn theory. If it’s guitar, mandolin etc. start on those.

The old music educators would argue a beginner should start with a monophonic instrument. I disagree. I started out on monophonic instruments and after nearly 10 years I knew “jack squat” about music theory.

Hindsight is 2020. I believe starting out on polyphonic instruments and learning music theory is the quickest path to true musicianship.

I did not really understand music until I learned basic harmony. Once I learned that, pedal steel made sense.

Theory and pedal steel then helped my horn playing. Thus closer to true musicianship.

Bill
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Darrell Criswell

 

From:
Maryland, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 8:04 am    
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Bill:

Thanks for the comments. How did you learn Harmony? I have noticed in University courses the music theory courses usually use a book with Harmony in the title. Did you learn Harmony by studying it or by learning the instrument? Thanks so much!
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Michael Holland


From:
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 8:30 am    
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Quote:
You have to start somewhere so it really doesnt matter what your first instrument is.
.

I have to completely disagree with that. The pedal steel is about a thousand times more difficult to play than the clarinet. If you want to learn what music is, start slow. If you just want to be able to make some sound on an instrument, go for it.
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Bill C. Buntin

 

Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 10:20 am    
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Darrell

Over time harmony started making some sense, and after years of not really utilizing it, one day the theory I learned in harmony and ear training as a music major just sort of clicked and then about a year after that initial click, I took up pedal steel. Pedal steel made sense because of the harmony understanding. Lots of folks learn it without the benefit of classical training though.

But in my case, the classical training took me from my first day with pedal steel to, in 2 years, I was playing / working 5-6 nights a week in the a rooms around Dallas. I’m just an average commercial musician. But am reasonably proficient, not fantastic, just relatively average.

Being in a town with a lot of great players set the bar pretty high. Tom Morrell, Reece Anderson, gene fields, jr knight, bud carter, Gary hogue, Gary carpenter, David Wright, Mitchell smithey, Bobby rains, to name a few. So the expectation around the Dallas area for steel players was fairly high. I learned a ton of stuff being under the guidance of several of those men. Namely Reece, Gary carpenter and bob rains. All whom influenced, encouraged and helped tremendously. Not to mention working with a lot of other top notch sidemen, you tend to try harder and get better faster wanting to “hold your own” around such fine musicians.

I encourage anyone to take at least take 2 semesters of harmony and ear training.

I might add, taking taped lessons from Paul Franklin and Buddy Emmons was also a big part of what success I’ve had. I cannot say enough good about Paul. You won’t find a better teacher in my book.

Classical harmony and taking up pedal steel were the best two decisions I made in my career.

Bill
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Darrell Criswell

 

From:
Maryland, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 10:27 am    
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Bill:

Thanks, I know Gary Carpenter and used to love listening to him play with the Rueffer brothers, it was probably the best musical experience I have ever had.

Thanks so much!
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 10:42 am    
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Already having a solid grip on music theory is a big advantage for learning pedal steel, but there is no reason why you can’t learn both simultaneously. I also agree with the sentiment expressed here regarding previous experience on other instruments - not required. Just get cracking. There’s a lot to learn, and it takes a big lot of discipline and dedication.

If you are asking this question from a teaching perspective, if your student is not prepared to be educated at both learning to play and learning about music, well...that seems like it would be a difficult road.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 11:12 am    
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Bill C. Buntin wrote:
The old music educators would argue a beginner should start with a monophonic instrument. I disagree. I started out on monophonic instruments and after nearly 10 years I knew “jack squat” about music theory.

The one exception would be the bass, which does require some chord theory. I suppose playing clarinet and trombone taught me scales and arpeggios, which are important too.
But I got most of my theory from tinkering at the piano, an instrument I never learnt to play but it taught me plenty! Smile
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Bruce Bjork


From:
Southern Coast of Maine
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 11:16 am    
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Great question, unfortunately I don’t have an answer as after playing guitar for 50 years and dobro for 25 I took up PSG. My basic knowledge of music theory, years jamming in bluegrass circles and especially my left and right hand technique on dobro gave me a big head start on steel.
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David Weisenthal

 

From:
Arizona, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 11:20 am    
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Didn't the "greats" like Lloyd and Curly and Al Perkins + Jimmy Day all spend thousands of hours learning to play on lap and console first? They got their bar control and picking and ear training in before any pedals were added. And the pedals were added 1 at a time over years. I think that would have to make you a better player. I wonder how they would have faired if presented with a modern E9 up front.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 12:28 pm    
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I don’t see why you couldn’t approach basic right and left hand lap steel skills on a pedal steel. Just don’t use the pedals at first. Plus, a lot of theory can be taught with no pedals tuning on E9 or C6.
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Donny Hinson

 

From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 3:09 pm    
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The instrument has, IMHO, little to do with it. If you can't hear a chord change or recognize a beat, you're going to have a hard time with anything (but learning to read and playing by sheet music). I've seen and known players who could cold-read and play just about anything. But they couldn't play "Happy Birthday To You" without the sheet music in front of them.

Everybody's different. It's good to keep that in mind! Wink
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Larry Carlson


From:
My Computer
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 3:18 pm    
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.
If you are a normal person you will be playing a standard guitar.
If you are in need of therapy you will play a lap steel.
If you are in need of therapy and medication you will play a pedal steel.
Or so I've heard.
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Mike Perlowin


From:
Los Angeles CA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 3:20 pm    
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Donny Hinson wrote:
I've seen and known players who could cold-read and play just about anything. But they couldn't play "Happy Birthday To You" without the sheet music in front of them.


I know quite a few musicians like that.

I say the 2 skills, reading music and being able to play by ear, compliment each other. Being able to read helps me play by ear better,and being able to play by ear makes me a better reader.
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Bruce Bjork


From:
Southern Coast of Maine
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 3:28 pm    
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Donny Hinson wrote:
The instrument has, IMHO, little to do with it. If you can't hear a chord change or recognize a beat, you're going to have a hard time with anything (but learning to read and playing by sheet music). I've seen and known players who could cold-read and play just about anything. But they couldn't play "Happy Birthday To You" without the sheet music in front of them.

Everybody's different. It's good to keep that in mind! Wink


My mother was an accomplished piano/organ player and teacher, she could look at a piece of sheet music and flat out play it, flash back, my teen son was teaching himself to play "Stairway to Heaven" years ago (90's) my mom saw the sheet music on our piano said "that's a pretty tune" and kicked butt playing it, she had never heard the tune or Led Zepplin. It was a turning point for my son "Grandma how'd you do that"?, "I can read music), he took that to heart and is now an awesome musician. BTW my mom could never figure out how Greg and I could hear a tune and play it without the music in front if us, she never learned how to use her ear!
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Michael Sawyer


From:
North Carolina, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 6:21 pm    
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I am a good rythym guitarist.
A mediocre,on my best night,lead guitar picker.
I bought a lap steel,and for whatever reason, it came pretty easy to me.
So I took up the pedals.
I wish I'd took up pedal steel 30 years ago.

I cant tell you what to do.
My grandaddy showed me 3 chords on a guitar when I was 8 years old,48 years ago.He told me if it's in you,it'll come out....
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 4 Feb 2020 4:48 am    
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Michael Sawyer wrote:

My grandaddy told me if it's in you,it'll come out....

Never truer words. I'm sure Arnold Schoenberg is not the only teacher to have said that you can't actually instill anything into anyone - you can only draw out what's already there.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 4 Feb 2020 7:06 am    
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I started with pedal steel as my first real instrument at 27 years old. I'm sure I would have learned faster, played better, and been a more rounded musician if I started with simpler instruments at an earlier age. So I think what you heard is 100% correct. However, I didn't - and there's a reason I didn't and a reason I started playing pedal steel when I did.

The reason is inspiration. If a person is inspired to play pedal steel but lacks the inspiration to play other instruments, then starting with pedal steel is the way that is most likely to be effective - despite the extra hurdles.
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