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Author Topic:  Difficult Steel Topics
Joe Goldmark

 

From:
San Francisco, CA 94131
Post  Posted 30 Jun 2020 1:18 pm    
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This is actually Part II of a post from a couple of years ago titled “Steel Guitar Truths” https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=327894 .
I’m going under the hood to look at some issues that aren’t often discussed on the Forum. They’re issues that have affected me over the years, and I think you’ll relate to some of them. Disclaimer: This is from my own (male) perspective.

1. Practicing is a burden. It can be fun, but it’s the guilt of knowing that we need to practice daily that makes it a burden. Unless we play out 2-3 times per week we need to practice just to keep our chops (technique) up, never mind learning new things. The steel guitar requires a highly developed “fine motor” response, as opposed to the “gross motor,” the co-ordination for sports, etc. It allows us to zero in on small movements. The problem is that we have to feel pretty good to actually sit down and practice. More on that later.

2. Practicing in our comfort zone. We usually riff over the same 1-4-5 patterns at home, but everything is different when we gig. Things come quicker and the changes come at different times. Why do we waste so much practice time going over things we know rather than working on new things? Why is it so hard to practice more than 30-40 minutes per day? Unless I’m really absorbed in something, my body starts aching, I lose concentration, and I’m done.

3. Squandering our talent. Life’s circumstances and our own inadequacies have gotten in the way of us realizing our full potential. Work, family, home projects, TV, etc. compete for our time. But, we know that if we had buckled down and found a way to practice intelligently for two or three hours a day, we’d be so much better now. When Pablo Casals was 94, he was asked why he still practiced four hours per day. He responded, “I’m making progress!”

4. Feeling down. We all get depressed from time to time and some live with it daily. When we feel down or tired it’s impossible to practice. Having a gig will sometimes snap us out of it. When I was going through a divorce (almost 20 years ago) I couldn’t even listen to country music, let alone practice it. It was all too sad.

5. Your ear. When a bunch of New York jazz players were asked about their biggest regret, they almost all said they wished they had a better ear! It’s not just us little folks who can barely find the melody. The struggle to play the perfect part seems to be a universal predicament even with players we admire. A musician has to be honest with himself, and be at peace with his own limitations and inadequacies.

6. The Pyramid. One way to look at innate musical talent is that it’s like a pyramid. People who are born with relative or perfect pitch are at the top, and they can use these gifts to become great players. Having that talent also drives the player to become better, because their ear won’t let them settle for less. They are driven to spend hours a day maximizing their abilities. The rest of us are on various levels on the sides of the pyramid. We can still have fun and make our mark with the instrument, but practice alone probably won’t push us to the top.

7. Jealousy. When we see or hear someone who is better than us, it bothers us; we want to be that good. We put that aside and appreciate the good player, but there’s always a part of us that feels inadequate. As we get older we come to terms with not being the next Buddy Emmons.

8. Nerves and fear. Most of us get nervous before a gig; it’s totally irrational but very real. After the set we can’t understand how we let our nerves take over when most people didn’t even know what instrument we were playing, and the few who did were thrilled the first time we bent a note. The problem is minimized if we’ve played the venue before. It’s also good if our chops are up, and of course if we can get good tone there. But most of us do get nervous at the start of a gig.

9. Steeler at our gig. We tighten up when another steeler shows up at our gig, especially if they’re as good or better than us. We want to impress and we start to over think it, and sometimes make stupid mistakes. Of course when we go to see other steelers, it’s all a big joke and we hope we spook ‘em a little!

10. Sticking with it. Beginning and intermediate players sometimes feel like quitting because they hate their sound. If you’ve reached a fairly advanced stage, you’re usually there for the long haul (although see #11). My advice is to hang in there. As Dinah Washington said “What a Difference a Day Makes.”

11. Being a pro. The deck is stacked against you if you want to play music for a living. The money and benefits are bad and inconsistent while the rent never stops. You have to constantly hustle for work. The hours are late, alcohol, drugs and female temptations abound. It’s hard to keep a family going when you’re away on the road. And, you often have to play music you don’t like, with musicians that you don’t respect. That’s why so many good pro players give it up entirely.

12. Alcohol. We want to loosen up on a gig, but we don’t want alcohol to slur our playing. Customers want to buy us drinks and we want to support the bar, but if we drink one more it will start to impact us negatively. We also don’t want to drive home drunk for obvious reasons. Wish I had a better answer for this.

13. Pot. I have a theory that the better your ear is, the easier it is to be stoned on the gig. The reason is that you don’t panic because your ear will always rescue you. With a lesser ear, you get paranoid and doubt yourself. Sometimes it’s fun to practice stoned at home as you seem to get further into the music. But I think it’s a matter of diminishing returns if you do it on a regular basis.

14. Age. It affects our playing. We’re crankier and don’t love the newer music. We have less desire to learn new licks and woodshed. We get fewer gigs because it’s a young world. Then there are the health issues. I think I’m going to throw my lower back out every time I jerk my steel out of its case. It’s always a bit awkward even though I’ve done it a thousand times. Some have arthritis in their hands and/or leg problems. Our memory isn’t as good anymore. We also don’t like staying out late. All that said, we love the instrument and do appreciate still having gigs, and the audience’s response. We enjoy the challenge and pleasure of playing good music with a band.

15. Minor Keys. Why is it so hard to be comfortable playing in minor keys (think Jolene, Kawliga, etc.)? The answer is we play in them so infrequently they’re counter intuitive. We can do it, but it doesn’t come naturally, like the major keys seem to.

16. Changing strings. We resent the time it takes to change a set, even though it sounds so much better when we do. One sign that you need to change your strings - if any string other than the 3rd or 5th breaks, you need to change them all. C6? Forget it. Maybe once a year!

17. Politics. The steel guitar community is divided. On the Forum we stick to steel, but not so on Facebook. It’s fortunate that we have the steel guitar as common ground. I don’t believe that politics, religion, sex and ethnicity define a person; we all have way more in common than our differences. That doesn’t mean I won’t disagree with you, but I try to keep it civil. Problems like COVID19 and climate change, etc. affect us all. We need to work together or we’re doomed.

18. Pet peeve: Changing the pot in my volume pedal.

19. Best tip: Liquid band aids aka New Skin. If you get a cut on your fingers you have to stop the bleeding and you don’t want to reopen the wound when you’re playing. A band aid screws up everything. Liquid band aids work like crazy glue and seal up the wound, allowing you to play unobstructed. It’s a miracle!

20. Second Best Tip: The “Amazing Slow Downer.” This is an app that basically allows you to slow down MP3s without changing the pitch. You can also change the key. It’s a handy practice tool that allows you to cop fast licks.

Thanks for plowing through all this. It's just stuff that's been on my mind. Joe
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Jack Stanton

 

From:
Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey
Post  Posted 30 Jun 2020 1:28 pm    
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Good stuff, Joe. That was a fun read.
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Steve Hinson

 

From:
Hendersonville Tn USA
Post  Posted 30 Jun 2020 1:35 pm     ...Joe...
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...you are a wise man...I'm honored to call you my friend...

SH
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john buffington

 

From:
Owasso OK - USA
Post  Posted 30 Jun 2020 3:13 pm    
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Pretty well nailed it.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 30 Jun 2020 3:26 pm    
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All good stuff. #2 reminds me of my old trombone teacher - "Don't practise things you can play!"
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Lee Warren


From:
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Post  Posted 30 Jun 2020 3:46 pm    
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What a great read, and so much truth.
It’s like you’ve been inside my head, all along!
Thanks for putting these thoughts and ideas to paper, Joe.
Lee
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Fish

 

Post  Posted 30 Jun 2020 4:51 pm    
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You are a wise man, Joe Goldmark. Thanks for the great topic and insight.
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Kevin Fix

 

From:
Michigan, USA
Post  Posted 30 Jun 2020 5:45 pm    
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#15 is my favorite. I love minor chords and all the stepping chords that are built around a major chord. I can her a minor chord coming a mile away when I am playing. The group I work with will be learning new material and they would miss a minor coming in. I am the guy that always points it out. Their is a version of Danny Boy that has a multiple amount of minors in the intro. I love it. A minor chord speaks right out to me.
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Larry Dering

 

From:
Missouri, USA
Post  Posted 30 Jun 2020 6:32 pm    
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That's an accurate description of nearly every steeler on the planet. I enjoyed the read and checked all the boxes.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 30 Jun 2020 8:25 pm    
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I think I just read the Perfect Post. Thank you, Mr. Goldmark.

Regarding #12, the rule I learned was to always accept the drink when somebody is buying. Then find a good hiding place for it and leave it set there. If you find 4 shots of tequila behind your amp at the end of the night, nobody is the worse for not knowing.
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Mike Terry

 

From:
Galesburg Il
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 3:24 am    
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I thought it was just me that felt like that. Thanks Joe !
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Joe Krumel

 

From:
Hermitage, Tn.
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 3:31 am    
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Mr. Joe. Great article. "Been there,Done that" quickly came to mind for me. You bring up some good points to ponder. At my age(6Cool I have set aside my Fantasies concerning my steel journey.I just enjoy my small playing sessions and picking victories.
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gary pierce


From:
Rossville TN
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 4:48 am    
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Thanks for posting this Joe, and it is so true for a lot of us steel players.
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Jerry Overstreet


From:
Louisville Ky
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 5:31 am    
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Pretty good analysis. I found myself nodding along with all of these statements.
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Bruce Bjork


From:
Southern Coast of Maine
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 6:09 am    
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Thanks Joe, may have to print this and post it in my music room.
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Joachim Kettner


From:
Germany
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 6:15 am    
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I rarely sit behind the steel anymore and when I do I'm guilty of your second statement- which is to proof myself that I'm still able to play a little.

On the standard guitar I try to work out a pretty complicated Jimmy Bryant number, Bryants Bounce, with a very well done tab, but after only half an hour I quit.

But I hope that there are many half an hours ahead!

As John Mcfee (which recorded a whole album with you) said in an interview once, that his big advantage is, that he actually likes to practice.
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Ron Hogan

 

From:
Nashville, TN, usa
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 6:39 am    
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Joe,

My hat’s off to you. Boy did you hit home for me! It’s amazing how you were able to communicate this subject with precision. I could probably give a lot of comments on everything you said.

I’m one of the lucky ones that practiced 8 hours a day when I was a kid. Then, was offered a gig on the Grand Ole Opry even before I moved to Nashville. Then getting to work for many of my heroes here.

THEN.... I quit playing my steel guitar for 15 years. Now have been back at it for 6 years. I could go on and on.

Thanks,
Ron Hogan
Nashville, TN
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Bill McCloskey

 

Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 7:21 am    
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I would disagree on perfect pitch. Very few musicians have perfect pitch. It is as rare as having photographic memory. This is an example of someone with perfect pitch: https://youtu.be/t3Cb1qwCUvI

You don't need perfect pitch to play in tune. What most (hopefully all) musicians have is RELATIVE pitch. In other words, given a tone, a musician should be able to identify the 5th, 3rd, 7th, etc from that tone. If you don't possess relative pitch, maybe being a musician isn't your thing. It is like being a painter and being color blind.

Relative pitch is also something that can be learned, and improved upon through practice. You can practice from now until the cows come home and never have perfect pitch.
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Frank Freniere


From:
The First Coast
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 7:45 am    
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Great, thoughtful post - many useful and hard-earned insights - thanks, Joe.

At this point, I'm just trying not to slide down The Pyramid (#6) any further.
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Joe Goldmark

 

From:
San Francisco, CA 94131
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 10:06 am    
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Hi Folks,

Real glad you like my brief discussions of some interesting and sometimes difficult topics.

Bill M., I agree with you about relative pitch. And, maybe it can be improved on at a young age. I think someone could make a lot of money if they could develop a tried and true course. There's been some out there that were pretty iffy. Also, you can gain a measure of relative pitch from many hours of playing your instrument. I disagree on the degree of rarity of perfect pitch, as I've known people over the years who had it. Many thought it was a curse, since they were bothered by notes that weren't A 440 (like a turntable running slightly slow). I think both of those things are helped if a person starts on the piano at a young age, since it's so visual and exact. Must be nice to have one key per note, while on the steel, we might have 15 ways to get that same note.

Joe
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Edward Efira


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 10:14 am     Sorry double post
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Sorry double post
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Last edited by Edward Efira on 1 Jul 2020 10:16 am; edited 1 time in total
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Edward Efira


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 10:15 am    
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What a great post Joe, you listed pretty much all of my worries, guilts, ailments and it gave me sort of a new perspective. My heartfelt thanks to you.
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Joe Goldmark

 

From:
San Francisco, CA 94131
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 10:20 am    
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And I forgot to ask Ron H. to post some of the reasons why he gave it all up, and the difficulties of being a Nashville player. He was/is obviously very talented, but that wasn't enough to sustain him.
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Mike Anderson


From:
British Columbia, Canada
Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 12:36 pm    
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Please, PLEASE don’t bring up climate change. Please. I could fill a website with countervailing data that’s as large as everything contained here at the forum, but I have better things to do with my time than change peoples’ minds, and all I ask in return is that nobody makes statements insisting that it’s a problem as if that’s something we all supposedly agree on. We don’t, so it’s a bit of a dirty trick. Razz Thank you.
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Bill McCloskey

 

Post  Posted 1 Jul 2020 12:40 pm    
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People are still denying climate change? Sigh.if you don’t want it brought up, don’t bring it up, Mike.
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