SECRETS OF THE MASTERS Here are some words of wisdom for your enjoyment from some players whom I admire. Their advice runs the gamut from gear talk, to practice tips to deep philosophical thought. In no particular order, here’s the straight scoop! BUDDY EMMONS, Steel Guitar Forum, March 1998 – HOW TO PRACTICE “When I look at the strings on my guitar, I see intervals. I see strings 1 and 2, 1 and 3, or 4 and 5 as whole tones apart. I see major thirds, minor thirds, and see which fret to put the bar for a certain note between those intervals. I see fourths, fifths, sixths, and octaves telling me what string to play when I hear those notes in a melody. To make this work, you must be able to recognize intervals when you hear them. I put as much emphasis on the mental part of practice as the physical. … The beauty of hearing and recognizing intervals is that it will work for any tuning or any instrument. That’s why some people can pick up a strange instrument, listen to its intervals and be playing melodies in a manner of minutes.” JUNIOR BROWN, Guitar Player Magazine, March 1997 – VOLUME PEDAL USE “The idea I plant in a student’s head is to stay at one volume. The whole idea of a volume pedal is NOT to make volume surges, but to keep your sound even. When you let a note sit for a minute, its natural tendency is to fade away. But you can keep it from decaying by opening up the pedal. On a screaming Les Paul, you’d use distortion and sustain. On steel, you do it by working the volume pedal. You really notice it on a slow tune. You’ve got a certain range of loudness. You swell within that, but not beyond or below it.” BOB BROZMAN, Guitar Player Magazine, April 1998 – PICKING STYLE “I imagine there’s a big spring pushing the heel of my picking hand down on the strings. The only way to release the spring is to pluck the string. And as soon as I’m done – depending on note length – the spring clamps down again. With steel, you’ve got to be relaxed with the bar – relaxed as a squid in your arms and fingers. But for plucking, you’ve got to be tense.” JERRY BYRD – Personal letter, February, 1995 – ON DIATONIC TUNING “My tuning is a 7-string “near-diatonic” tuning: E, C, B, A, G, F, E … from high to low. The D between the E & C notes would make it a perfect diatonic scale – a “C” scale with the third on top. I play many kinds of songs in it – but mostly the slower things. I’m not a single string style player for the most part.
MICK GOODRICK, The Advancing Guitarist/Hal Leonard Books 1987 – ON LISTENING There are many ways to listen. Don’t assume that just because you’re a musician, you already know what it means to listen. Learning how to listen is an ongoing activity that you can improve but only if you work at it. Music is like life on a small scale. Life is like music on a large scale. STACY PHILIPS, The Art of Hawaiian Steel Guitar, Mel Bay, 1991 – HAWAIIAN VIBRATO “Listen carefully to the vibrato of players you like. Try to imitate the width and speed of their bar oscillation. In slow to moderately paced tunes, the speed of many Hawaiian-style players approximates triplet timing and a width of a bout ½ fret to either side of the central note.” JERRY BYRD – HSGA Quarterly, January 1994 – AMP & VOLUME PEDAL SECRETS “I set the peak volume that I want on the amp – not the instrument. That’s usually about 4.5 or 5, depending on where I’m playing. I then turn the volume on the instrument fully open. I set the treble control on 2 or 3 and the bass to about 7. These setting may vary depending on which instrument I’m using. That other knob (the middle) I set on 6 or 7 also. Then I set the tone control on the instrument half-way between treble and bass, a nice soft tone with a little “edge”, so it won’t sound too bass-ey or too whine-y. I like and use a volume pedal but NOT continually. And I use it differently from almost anyone I know, in that you can always hear the “attack” – the actual picking – whereas many use it to continually “squeeze” the notes and little or no actual attack is ever heard. That’s not good because you will become addicted to it. Your subconscious mind will tell you to push that thing down and then pick what strings you want to use, and in case you mess up, you’ve got another grab at it, and THEN you open it up. The only time I use a fully closed volume is when I want to use the “violin” effect, as its called, with each note played with no sound and then opened,. My volume pedal is also made differently in that the volume INCREASES on the up sweep, not down, as all others. I find it the easiest and have always done it that way. Also, I use a 500 meg. Audio taper control all around on both guitar and volume pedal. GERALD WEBBER, 10 AMP TRICKS FOR STEEL GUITARISTS, Vintage Guitar Magazine, 1996 Bonus Trick: Add a piezo tweeter to the speaker cabinet. Piezo tweeters do not need a crossover, they sound nice, and they are very inexpensive. This trick will help add clarity in the high end while helping individual note definition. I’ve even seen players wire a ¼” plug to a piezo tweeter, plug it into the extra
speaker jack and just set it on top of the amp! CINDY CASHDOLLAR – The Complete Dobro Player by Stacy Phillips, Mel Bay, 1996 – LISTENING TIPS “How do you teach “feel” to students? If you listen to someone who just plays by reading and then someone who plays by ear and rips into an incredible solo that comes from a totally different dimension, then you can tell the difference. Go back to the basics. Listen to Django Reinhardt, Sol Ho’opii, Joaquin Murphy, Bobby Koeffer - there it is. If you set high goals you’re never satisfied with learning that one tune. Soon the vampire-like feeding instinct takes over and you need more and more. You should never stop learning. HOWARD ROBERTS – Guitar Player Magazine, May 1985 – DOUBLESTOP ARPEGGIOS & SUBSTITUTIONS Double stop arpeggios can be of great value in adding harmonic color and depth to your solo lines. Double–stop thirds can be used to embellish chord melodies, where the illusion of lush harmony can be achieved with the addition of one note. With a modest amount of knowledge, you can achieve considerable control by knowing what substitutes work for a given device. For example, in many situations, Imaij7, IIIm7, and VIm7 are interchangeable. IVmai7 substitutes for Iim7 and VIIb5 substitutes for V7. GREG FISHMAN ON STAN GETZ – Artist Transcriptions, Stan Getz Bb Tenor Saxophone, Hal Leonard, 1993 – THE KEY TO GETZ’S PHRASING “Extremely resourceful with his phrases, Getz always created different ways to play the same basic theme. The technique he used to achieve this variety was to displace the entire phrase by one to four beats. Stan was comfortable playing a phrase on any of eight starting places; the downbeats of one, two, three, and four, and the upbeats as well. It was this ability to phrase at any of these eight starting points that helped make Getz’s solos sound so fresh and spontaneous. MIKE AULDRIDGE, Complete Dobro Player by Stacy Phillips, Mel Bay, 1996 – ON LEARNING PEDAL STEEL AFTER PLAYING DOBRO “The steel opened a lot of musical ideas. Before that I had no idea what I was doing! I played strictly from my heart. I didn’t know anything about music theory. You have to understand theory to play pedal steel. You go through a stage when you think too theoretically and your playing gets kind of sterile. Once you get through that and you can bring your heart back into it, but approach it with knowledge, it gives you like a road map of things to go to. … When I first started to
play it sounded like electric Dobro. When I tried to get Buddy Emmons' licks I couldn’t get them. I didn’t know what he was doing. I could come close and I ended up making them mine. I got ideas from him but I didn’t do what he was doing. After a couple of years you can start getting ideas from other instruments. I get pedal steel licks from violin sections. RALPH KOLSIANA (Hawaiian Steel Pioneer) Steel Guitar World, 1994 – HOW CAN STEEL PLAYERS PLAY MORE SOULFULLY? A steel player should try to know the song they're playing so well they're able to put a little more of themselves into it. …. When you're playing a number that you know, you kind of project yourself into playing what you feel and hear, what it is you're trying to say to the listener. You're trying to tell it in your own way. PETE GRANT – Steel Guitar Forum, 1999 – HOW TO PRACTICE “Accuracy first. Take something you're trying to bring up to speed (or just get faster) and find the most comfortable tempo where you can play everything in that piece well. If there's a stumbling block, work it out; fix it. Then fan out the tempo: play it a little faster, then a little slower; then play it faster yet and slower yet. Continue that until your slow is very slow. The slow gives you the precision. It also gives you the opportunity to play LOUD with your fingers. This gives you a greater dynamic range. You need that. If you can pick loud, you can always pick softer. If you always pick soft, well...you can pick soft or softer. The technique really works, and it works faster that continually pushing your speed. BUDDY EMMONS, The Steel Guitar Forum, May 2000 – CROSSOVER TECHNIQUE & PLAYING WITHOUT PICKS “The crossover technique is not mine nor did I get it from anybody. I believe it's an option most players eventually find when they hit a dead end and run out of fingers. There is a difference in the tone of the thumb/finger combinations, much to do with strength of attack and/or pick angle. My first finger curves inward and gives more of a ninety-degree angle to the string, so I get a rounder sound with the index/thumb combination. If you want to take some of the zing out of the G# at some point in an E9th ballad, align the middle finger with the thumb. That changes the pick to string angle and moves the middle finger away from the bridge for a sweeter and softer sound. I still play a bit without picks, but I don't find myself doing anything different in the way of finger positioning. The biggest plus I find in not using picks, outside of a closer feeling to the guitar, is not having metal collide with metal and causing a pick to either shift or fly off my
finger. This is especially critical in crossover situations or any other technique that strays from the normal hand position. “ The Steel Guitar Forum, June 2001 “… I'm playing certain songs without finger picks in order to keep the wider four part chords of a more equal timbre. It also helps knock the edge off the high single notes and works especially well with the deep tones the Sierra is capable of. “ WES MONTGOMERY, via Google.com – ON TALENT vs. DETERMINATION Natural talent? Now, I've had a lot of arguments on this. My interpretation of natural talent, or gift, is something that you don't have to indulge in at all. I mean, like if I was a natural electronic engineer, and you showed me a television set for the first time, I would see right away what was wrong with it. But if I have to study reasons why, and build up my own theory, I'm putting hard efforts into it. Now, over a period of time, I might make that come out where people will respect it. But they won't be going through the hardships they'll just be seeing it at the point of completion. This is where people have been mistaken about me. They don't know about the times when I'd be sitting up, thinking. If I'd go to a movie show, I'd be looking at the picture, but I'd be hearing changes. You understand? This is how much determination I had for playing. STACY PHILLIPS – The Complete Dobro Player by Stacy Phillips, Mel Bay, 1996 – PULL-STRING TECHNIQUE ON DOBRO & LAP STEEL “I pull with the ring finger of my bar hand, though on heavier strings or 2-fret pulls my pinky adds its brawn. (If you could learn to use your middle finger instead, you could still damp with the other fingers. The problem is that the middle finger helps hold the bar.) There is a tendency for the pulling finger to push the string down a bit as it is pulled toward you. This can cause it to disengage from the bar and stop the sound. It may be necessary to place the pulling finger a bit towards the bottom side of the string and pull up slightly to avoid this. I sometimes use the thumb of my barring hand as a brace against the side of the neck to help exert leverage against the string.