Hawaiian Crash Course
(in C6th tuning)
Musical arrangements by David J. Stewart
I'm going to give you some of the most commonly played note progressions in my Hawaiian music and more. If you just learn these quick tabs, you'll be able to jump in and play along with any band. It's not hard to play Hawaiian music on the steel guitar if you know what to play. I'm going to show you. Half the battle in learning to play steel guitar is becoming familiar with the sounds and that's what this page is intended to do.
These licks will work in just about any song once you find the proper song key. When I don't know a song's key, I just slide the bar up the guitar neck until it sounds right. It works for me.
Here are some nice MP3 rhythm tracks that I made with Band-in-a-Box: Song of the Islands and Lovely Hula Hands. They have real instruments (from the BB 2010.5 version). You're welcome to use them as you wish. They're both in the key of F. Here's a bunch more rhythm tracks. The following tabs are adlib licks that can be used in many songs, or as fills to backup a singer.
If you commit these licks to memory, you will be off to a promising start. These are some really great tabs. Play along with your favorite Hawaiian song or the tracks which I've provided and try out some of these musical gems. Hawaiian music is not a guitar, it's a music style.
Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. You have to stick with it and work at it. I recommend ordering Jerry Byrd's instruction course available from Scotty's music in St. Louis, Missouri. It's the most comprehensive lap steel course I know of. Also, it's important to listen to lots of Hawaiian steel guitar so you'll become familiar with the sounds and get them into your mind. You'll recognize sounds while your learning and playing the steel guitar. Start with C6th (high-to-low: E - C - A - G - E - C). This is the tuning that most players use. I use a C# on many tabs, but I don't use it as much in live playing as I used to, because with the bottom C note I can't strum all across without it sounding sour. The C# gets in the way. Bb is more natural and doesn't sound so off when you accidentally hit it. Most professional Hawaiian steel guitarists use an 8-string tuned as (from low to high: C - Bb - C - E - G - A - C - E).
Keep in mind when listening to Jerry Byrd's recordings that he used his amazing C Diatonic tuning more than most people realize. It's just an extended C6th tuning! So if you are ever trying to work out a Jerry Byrd song, and you can't seem to make it work, try the Diatonic tuning. It has a wonderful 7th chord (similar to strings 6,7 and 9 on the E9th pedal steel).
There's no short cuts except a good teacher. The following tabs don't have timing information, so it's really difficult to know what the phrases are supposed to sound like. That's why I made THIS TAB/AUDIO PAGE TO HELP YOU. Here's a crash course in Jerry Byrd's style, a great sounding solo which I tabbed out from the song “Haole Hula” (This is a wealth of information). You can learn music theory all day (and it's important that you learn how to construct chords), but when it comes down to becoming a great player, nothing beats seeing firsthand what is actually being played.
I am also a pedal steel fan. I love Lloyd Green's style. I have some great videos of Lloyd performing. I watch his knees carefully, seeing what knee lever(s) that he moves, so I can accurately figure out exactly how he is getting the sounds that he does. Although I can't see his feet, I watch for the pedal rods to flex, indicating that he pressed a pedal. So often what I THOUGHT he was playing was way off mark, but I learned from observing. Hence, watch every video that you can find online of Jerry Byrd playing (or your favorite steel guitar artist). Watch Kayton Roberts (Little Brown Gal) and you'll learn a bunch of Hawaiian style techniques. Learn to meticulously study steel artist's every move and technique. Watch the pros!
Observing diligently (perceived knowledge), and playing yourself (experiential knowledge), and plenty of good tablature (acquired knowledge), will catapult you over the steep learning curve much faster than you ever through possible. Search through the Steel Guitar Forum for helpful information. Learning to perform steel guitar has a steep learning curve, that is, it's toughest getting started, but once you make it over that initial hurdle, it gets much easier as you go. Most players quit before they really give the instrument a chance, but those who love THE SOUND OF STEEL GUITAR can't help but stick with the steel guitar or die trying. Try to play your steel guitar for at least an hour a day if possible. And remember, your brain processes what you've learned WHILE YOU'RE SLEEPING, so don't get discouraged if it seems that your practice is in vain. Hit it again tomorrow, God willing. One day you'll look back and wonder how you ever got to where you are, performing techniques that you never thought were possible.
Learning To Improvise By Following The Scales
Here's what I did with “Pretty Mermaid Of The Southern Sea” by Johnny Pineapple (and here's a second version with some added muting techniques also. I'm just messing around with the scales and chords in these recordings, not trying to play an arrangement. I like them both, but their only purpose is to demonstrate to you what can be done once you learn to move gracefully in and out of the scales (I'm still learning). To mute the strings, just put your palm at the bridge (but not on the bridge). In these recordings I'm using a CANOPUS S-8 (tuning, (low to high: C - Bb - C - E - G - A - C - E). I've tabbed a few tricky parts where you can learn to dance in the scales (so-to-speak). There are many ways to play it, whatever sounds good and the timing fits.
I've tabbed a few of the basic things I'm playing, just to point you in the right direction. A “vamp” is defined as “an improvised accompaniment.” These are some more common Hawaiian vamps. I'm making stuff up as I go, following the scales. Some of these are just short licks that I piece together to form longer pieces. The goal is to try to make them sound seamless. Also, notice that I'm picking in a kind of staccato manner, not spending too much time on one chord. This allows you to play virtually anything, even sour notes, but they still fit. This is a good song to develop your timing and scales...
Listen To MP3 Audio Clip Of Tabs Below...E___7-8_______8___6_______________________________________________C___7-8______________~7___________________________________________A___7-8__________________6_________________7_____7___8____________G___7-8____~8______________6___________6______6___________________E___7-8___________________________5-6________________8____________C___7-8________________________6_____________________8____________Bb________________________________________________________________C__Intro__________________________________________________________Listen To MP3 Audio Clip Of Tabs Below; And Here...E___________________________|_____________________________________C___________________________|_____________________________________A___________________________|______________6__5~~4_______3________G________3___~4__3__________|____3__4~~5_______________4__________E_____4____4________4_______|_4______________________4____________C______________________5__3_|_____________________________________Bb__________________________|_____________________________________C___________________________|_____________________________________Listen To MP3 Audio Clip Of Tabs BelowE__________________|______________________________________________C____3_____________|_____________3~~2__1__________________________A_________~4___3___|____1__2~~3______________2__3_________________G__________________|__1___________________1_______________________E______3___________|______________________________________________C__________________|______________________________________________Bb_________________|______________________________________________C__________________|______________________________________________Listen To MP3 Audio Clip Of Tabs Below; Also, Here and Here...E_______________|_________________3__4____6___7___8__|_~4_3___________C_______________|______________3_____________________|________________A__________4~3__|_____3~4_4~3________3_______________|________~4_4~3__G_________4~~3__|___3____________________6___7___8___|______3_________E________4~~~3__|____________________________________|________________C_______4~~~~3__|____________________________________|________________Bb_____4~~~~~3__|____________________________________|________________C____~4~~~~~~3__|____________________________________|________________Listen To MP3 Audio Clip Of Tabs Below; Also, Here...E____8~~6____________________3~4__4___|___________________________C___________7~~6__________3___________|____7___7_______7__8_______A__________________6~5~4__________3___|_____________6_____8_______G_____________________________________|__8___7___6________8_______E_____________________________________|___________________8_______C_____________________________________|___________________________Bb____________________________________|___________________________C_____________________________________|___________________________The songs modulates half-way through from the key of B to C, so just move all the tabsup one fret.*BELOW: I use this technique quite a bit, which really sounds nice. You are picking thenotes separately, but within a fractionth of a second of each other. You pick the firststring with your middle finger pick and then the forefinger follows after. It's aback-raking motion.E______________________________|_13_12_11__*11________________________________C___________________________8__|____________*11_______________________________A__________16~15____________8__|________________10_9_8____8___~10__9__8_______G_________16~~15___~16__15_____|________________________8___8_________________E________16~~~15___~16__15__8__|______________________________________________C_______16~~~~15_______________|______________________________________________Bb_____16~~~~~15___~16__15_____|______________________________________________C____~16~~~~~~15_______________|______________________________________________
1 - 4 - 5 Chord Progression
The first thing I want you to learn is the 1-4-5 common chord progression which is inherent to music. These numbers are often referred to in music books in Roman numerals, which are respectively: I,IV,V. So I will use Roman numeral numbers to keep it simple. To get to the point, ALL SONGS have a basic common structure, which follow the 1,4,5 progression. You can name any song, simple or complicated, and it will use these three chords as their foundation. That's the way God made music to work.
Just as a sentence in English grammar needs a subject and a verb at a minimum to compose a sentence (such as, God is!); so also does a song need to have the I-IV-V chords to compose a song. You can have any combination of these chords, but you'll use these chords to form any song. What do I mean by the I-IV-V chord progression? That's easy. They just refer to the 1,4,5 notes in any particular scale (in our case, the C scale). So our I Chord is C. Our IV chord is F. And our V chord is G. Look at the diatonic scale below...
C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C
Let's use “Beyond the Reef” as an example played in the C6th tuning. The song is played in the key of F (fret 5). So now let's take a look at the scale of F to find our I-IV-V chords...
F - G - A - Bb - C - D - E - FSo here are the I-IV-V chord positions on the lap steel fretboard for the key of F.Learn to visualize your fret board like this for every song. This is your basictemplate for any song. Notice that your IV position is always 5-frets higher thanyour I position; and your V position is 7-frest higher than your I position. So everysong will fall into the template of playing 5 and 7 frets above any particular homeposition. And notice that the home position is repeated one octave higher (shown below)E_______5________10________12_____________*(17)____*home position,____C_______5________10________12______________(17)_____that is, your_____A____I__5____IV__10_____V__12______________(17)_____I chord position__G_______5________10________12______________(17)_____is repeated one___E_______5________10________12______________(17)_____octave (12 notes)_C_______5________10________12______________(17)_____higher.___________
Now let's study “Beyond the Reef” in the key of F. Study the following song tablature and see what is being played on:
fret 5, which is our I chord, is an F.
fret 10, which is our IV chord, is Bb.
fret 12, which is our V chord, is C.
You'll learn here that “Beyond the Reef” is built around these chords. learn to visualize you neck from the I-IV-V concept. See how everything else fits in between these chord positions. The I-IV-V chords are the chassis upon which everything is built in any song...E_________5_______________________________5__________12__11__10___C____________7___10________________4~~5______11~~12__12__11__10___A________________10___12~~13~~12___4~~5______11~~12_______________G___4__5_________10___12~~13~~12___4~~5___________________________E________________10___12~~13~~12___4~~5___________________________Bb____________________12~~13~~12__________________________________E_______________________________5_________________________________C___10_______12___14~~12___10___5__________6~~~9~~~12___10________A___10__10___12___13~~12___10______________6~~~9~~~12___10________G_______10______________________5___4__5___5~~~8~~~11________4__5_E_______10___12___12~~12___10_______4__5__passing chord_10___4__5_Bb________________________________________(diminished)____________
Other than a few “PASSING CHORDS” (which are diminished and augmented chords in songs) this song follows the I-IV-V chord pattern. Passing chords are used to connect the I-IV-V chords (Or it may be I-V-IV inverted). Usually a Dominant 7th chord is substituted (used) for the V chord to return to the I chord. So the song chord progression would be I-IV-V7-I. That's why I do in the song above.
If you study my tabs above (which I've copied and pasted below for you to see exactly what I mean) for “Beyond the Reef,” you'll notice that I utilized the Bb note on string 6 to give me a C7th chord. A C# on string 6 gives you an A7th chord open (no bar on the strings); but a Bb open gives you a C7th chord on fret 12...E________________________V7__________I____________________________C____________________________________5____________________________A_____________________12~~13~~12_____5____________________________G_____________________12~~13~~12_____5____________________________E_____________________12~~13~~12_____5____________________________Bb____________________12~~13~~12_________________________________
I can sum up everything I just said with this... every song on your lap steel, no matter what tuning you use, will be built upon the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of any particular scale. That translates over to your steel guitar as frets 0,5 and 7 for the key of C (if C6th is your tuning). For C6th, in the key of G, then your song is going to start on fret 9 (G chord) and also use frets 14 (IV chord) and 16 (V chord).
So just get that into your mind... there's five frets between your I and IV chord, and then 2 more frets to your V chord. This is critical to understanding the steel guitar. This same basic principle applies to pedal steel as well as lap steel. I don't care how fancy an arrangement may be, under all the passing chords and stylish chords (9th's, 11th's, 13th's and sustained chords), there's the chassis of the automobile (the I-IV-V system).
Think in terms of 1,4,5 (that is: home fret, 5 frets higher, and 7 frets higher). Use this and you can figure out an arrangement for nearly any song. Nearly all country and Hawaiian songs are simple 3 chord songs. Jazz might prove more difficult, because they often use extensive chord progressions. They eventually return to the I-IV-V chord progression, but it may be difficult to follow along in a band. Most blues bands stick to those basic 3 chords (I-IV-V). END
Nice Things To Play On C6th Steel Guitar
Although you can use either a C# or a Bb for a dominant 7th chord on your lowest string (6th string), I highly recommend using a simple C note. This allows you to strum all the way across the neck without hitting a sour note. Increasingly I'm using a C note on the 6th string (that is, the bottom bass string).
Hopefully some of these tabs have been helpful. Try to piece together the different phrases that you've learned. See if you can come up with some of your own ideas and don't be afraid to be creative. There's no set rules on how to play. Some players like big chord voicings, like Barney Isaacs (1924-1996), others play on just one string most of the time, like Bud Tutmarc (1924-2006).
A beautiful technique which is often forgotten, or not known about, is palm muting. Some guitars makers don't know about this technique, so they build a chrome cover over the bridge which prevents the steel player from performing palm blocking. This technique is a must in song like The Hukilau Song, Hawaiian War Chant, and others. You can hear me demonstrate this technique in “The Hukilau Song” On Lap Steel (download)
Here's a bunch more C6th tabs to get you acquainted with this beautiful instrument. There's no instrument like the steel guitar. For profound simplicity, limitless challenge and lightweight... the lap steel is the way to go! I think the lap steel and non-pedal steel are much more challenging than pedal steel, because you have no pedals or knee levers to rely on to alter your chords.
Certainly pedal steel has its place, but after playing pedal steel for a couple decades, I can truly appreciate the great musicians of years past, like Jerry Byrd (1920-2005), who did wonders without using any pedals. Jerry Byrd was never against using pedals on a steel guitar, he just didn't like the way most players used them. Jerry states:
"I have never said that I dislike the use of pedals - I dislike what they do with them with only a very few exceptions."
Jerry Byrd further states:
"Regardless of how many gadgets they invent, it all comes down to this: 'Excellency' does not come easily and is not dependent upon 'tools' - or even whether you have two hands and ten fingers."
Whereas a pedal and knee can be adjusted to be perfect every time, the lap steel player must do a manual bar slant and strive for perfection each time.
I like the lap steel because it's simple. You've got 6-strings, no frets to deal with, and a world of possibilities. I really enjoy muting the strings with the palm of my right hand at the bridge, a technique not used enough by pedal steel players.
Bud Tutmarc played one string (the song is Mapuana) better than anyone in my opinion. Bud always played and recorded with the C#m tuning. Bud's tuning from low to high: E, B, E, G#, C#, E). Rudi Wairata of the Kilima Hawaiians also used this tuning. You can here Rudi here playing Rhythm of the Islands.
Buddy Emmons says that if you can hum a song, you ought to be able to play it on your steel guitar too. This means knowing a scale (i.e., do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti, do). That's the most basic scale. If you simply learn the melody to a song, then you don't need to know anything on this page, just play the melody, using plenty of vibrato on your steel guitar. For sacred Gospel melodies, playing one note is awesome; but you can play ANY song just by playing one note.
Here's a song by Johnny Kaonohi Pineapple and His Native Islanders from the 1930's called “Palms of Paradise.” The song is in the key of F for the first minute and then modulates up to Ab for the rest of the song. Perhaps, try out some of these licks in this song.
Some Nice Things By Kayton Roberts
Here's a great Hawaiian lick by Kayton Roberts at 1:29 in this nice video. I tabbed the piece below...E_________________________________________________________________C_________________________________________________________________A________7~______5~_______4~______________________________________G_________________________________________________________________E_________________________________________________________________C____8_______6________4________2__________________________________
Also, carefully notice the awesome ripple effect ending at 3:06 in the video as Kayton bounces his calf muscle on the volume pedal. Have you ever noticed that one of your legs will sometimes bounce up and down involuntary (knee jerk reaction) while your sitting at a desk working or talking to someone? Most people do it and don't even realize it. Your body has energy and your leg will sometimes bounce as a natural reflex. It's your CALF MUSCLE in back of your leg. This is the exact motion that you want to do this ripple effect. Moving your volume pedal up and down with your foot won't do the trick, you need that really fast leg bouncing that can only come from bouncing your leg with your calf muscle.
There's two ways to play this piece. The easiest way is to just put your bar on the 9th fret and play the strings open (while bouncing the volume pedal), starting with string 7. The other way is by using natural finger harmonics (the tip of your "pinky" finger as Kayton is doing). If you notice carefully, he is playing harmonics on different frets using the 19th and 24th fret. Kayton uses two A notes on the bottom, the 8th string being a low A note. It's not a beginner's technique, but I believe in getting started right away on all aspects of the steel guitar. The trick to good harmonics is to be "gentle" touching the string.
One of the best ways to learn your timing is to just play along and hone your skills on a swing tempo song like "Pretty Mermaid Of The Southern Sea" by Johnny Pineapple. Personally, I recommend using swing tunes to learn your timing. Jimmy Dorsey and most of the 1940's Big Bands are great to play along with.
Learn C6th Chords for Lap Steel
I took the following picture while on Oahu, Hawaii in January of 2008. It is such a beautiful place on earth. Despite the ruin of paradise isle by commercialization, urbanization and modernization... Hawaii is still an awesome place on God's green earth...
I took the following picture while driving around the island of Oahu. Hukilau Beach is way up north on Kamehameha Highway. I remember there's some surf shops and a fresh shrimp farm in the area. Hukilau anyone? ...
More Song Tabs
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