Steel Trappings

Haumana: A Student's Journey Through Hawaiian Music and Steel Guitara

Getting Advice From Professional Steel Guitarists

March 6, 2017 • Steve TylkaEducation and Training

Last month I discussed my introduction to Hawaiian Steel Guitar and the first steps in my learning process. Hopefully the article provides my fellow students with new resources. This month, I would like to discuss correspondence with veteran Steel Guitarists in our community. Many newcomers often have questions about steel guitar and proper technique; What kind of strings should I use? What is the right tone bar for me? Not only will an experienced guitarist be able to answer these questions for you, they will also be able to provide additional information which may benefit you later on. During my time as a student steel guitarist, I have been fortunate enough to meet many wonderful musicians who are often eager to share advice with new players. I decided to reach out to four steel guitarists and ask what advice they would provide to newcomers.

First, I spoke with Mark Prucha from Illinois, who described his playing in a way that allows the student to fully understand the use of finger picks and tone bar together. "The most important thing for me is technique. Picking lightly, applying the right bar pressure, and making sure notes are in tune. After that it's about letting the notes flow from one to another". As suggested by Mark, when utilizing finger picks and tone bar, it is important to get a feel for each before making any attempt at playing songs. If you are not comfortable with your bar and picks you risk compromising technique and tone. Next, I spoke with Nashville based guitarist, Jeff Kearns, " My best advice for a newcomer to steel guitar would be to follow Jerry Byrd's advice on holding and manipulating the bar. Keep your index finger arched over the tip of the bar to facilitate slants, thumb well back, always maintaining contact. Keep the pinky and ring finger in contact with the strings behind the bar to mute unwanted string noise. Try to develop a "separation" between index , middle, ring, and pinky. There are plenty of great players who don't follow this advice, but I think it would be beneficial if you do."

Steve's Influences

It took a little time for me to fully internalize the advice given to me by Jeff and Mark. I spent about a day visualizing the motion of my tone bar as it moved in and out of slants, up and down the strings. When it finally came time to practice these techniques, I was pleasantly surprised with the result! As I continued to internalize these concepts, I began to wonder how these new skills would apply to performance. The easy answer is that learning to accurately manipulate the bar will allow you to create textures through harmony. Likewise, your use of dynamics through appropriate picking techniques will add new life to your music. Anthony Locke, of Austin, TX, states, "I think the most important thing is to develop good technique early on and learn solos note for note of your favorite player. It will help you learn the vocabulary especially if you are playing the classic style". Now, we see how we can put our basic techniques to use. Anthony suggests that students learn their favorite solos note for note, allowing the student to apply fundamental skills to their practice regimen. Similarly, UK based steel guitarist, Basil Henriques says, "My opinion on practice and playing is to play along with recordings and try to emulate the players you personally admire. That way you already have a vested interest in putting in the hard work. It doesn't hurt to copy licks from other players, they did, and those before them". Through practice we absorb the knowledge and skill required to become successful steel guitarists. Playing along with your favorite recordings is a great way to track you progress as a student. It may take awhile before your progress becomes obvious, but anything worth doing takes time and hard work.

I strongly recommend that every steel guitarist take the time to reach out to more established players. There is a wealth of knowledge waiting to be shared with all of us. You can find information on the four guitarists I mentioned in this article online or through their Facebook profiles. Mark Prucha has studied with Kumu Alan Akaka, and has been a featured performer at the Waikiki Steel Guitar Festival. Mark also put together a series of articles discussing the use of the music program, finale, for steel guitar arrangements. There are numerous videos of Mark's performances on youtube. Jeff Kearns has been a long time steel guitar player, who has worked with the Steve Miller Band. Jeff has posted a few videos on youtube featuring his Aiello frypan and amplifiers.

Anthony Locke plays in a few groups throughout Austin, TX. I first discovered him through a his Hawaiian music group, Combo Mahalo. You can find more information about Anthony and Combo Mahalo on their reverbnation page; https://www.reverbnation.com/combomahalo, YouTube, and iTunes. Basil Henriques currently works throughout the UK on TV programs as well as numerous live performances. Aside from owning the Ezzee-Slide Steel Guitar Bar company, where he manufactures custom tone bars for many notable players, Basil regularly contributes his arrangements of classic Hawaiian music in the magazine Aloha Dream, which can be ordered through his website http://www.waikiki-islanders.com/.

I would like to say Mahalo to everyone who made this article possible. I really enjoy writing for all of our readers here at Steel Trappings and I hope that my articles help you out. So, a big Mahalo goes out to Mark Prucha, Jeff Kearns, Anthony Locke, Basil Henriques, Addison Ching, and Kumu Alan Akaka for everything you do within the steel guitar community. I wish you all good health and happiness!

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