Steel Guitar News July 5. 2012

Hello fellow players,

I’ve been feeling poorly this week so Bob Hempker is going to do a guest newsletter today. It’s all yours Bob.

I’ve been playing steel guitar most all my life, that’s what I know and that’s what I’m going to talk about. When I have to fill in for somebody on the road or record in a studio or even just playing live in a club with a new band, I have to learn the material pretty much on the fly.

We don’t usually get a rehearsal. When you show up for a gig you sometimes don’t know who else is going to be in the band. In a recording studio setting, you don’t always know who the other players are going to be either.

In a recording situation, you’re not recording a known hit song, you’re creating a hopefully future standard from original material. In such a situation it’s up to you, the producer and everyone else involved in the recording project to create something that will stick in the minds of listeners.

If you think about it, there are only two elements involved in music, the performer and the listener. As the performer it’s your job to play something that is pleasant, enjoyable and ear catching to the listener.

In any playing situation, you have to be organized and approach your job in a systematic way. In a live band situation, the band members decide who is going to play what parts and we have to do it quickly because you can’t have a dead stage. People may get up and leave if you do.

The same thing goes for the studio because somebody is paying for the studio time. Either you catch on pretty quickly or you won’t be called back to play in the future.

My approach to intros, especially in traditional country music, is to play the last line or the last four bars of the melody of the song. We refer to that as a Sears and Roebuck intro. It works well in a live situation.

When we don’t kick off with a Sears and Roebuck intro, usually it’s a standard song that everybody knows the arrangement to and everybody just plays the song as we all know it, the way it was done on the recording. Two examples of this would be John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind” and Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”. These are songs most everybody knows and knows the arrangements.

Sometimes the singer will kick it off “cold”, meaning that he just starts singing, then the band comes in. So don’t forget that this is a viable technique. A good example of this is Ferlin Husky’s “Since You’ve Gone”.

There are times during a live gig when somebody in the audience will yell out the name of a song that you don’t know or haven’t played in so long you can’t remember. The way I handle this is to rely on another band member who knows the song to tell me the key and flash numbers.

We do that for each other. I might be me flashing numbers for the next song. So it’s very important to know the Nashville number system if you’re going to survive.

The ability to create something brilliant on the fly is what distinguishes run of the mill players from the studio dogs who get the high paying jobs. Unfortunately I’m not one of those guys.

It’s important to know how to harmonize your scales in every key and three basic inversions. This enables you to find parts with the guitar player, fiddle player or whatever other lead instruments you may be working with.

Knowing and practicing harmonizing these scales in every key is vitally important and should be a regular part of your practice routine.

Say you’re going to play “Crazy Arms” and you’re going to it kick off, you can play a harmony part with the fiddle or if there are two fiddles, you can play a third part, or a unison part with one of them or play all three parts because you’ve got three fingers and you can by knowing how to harmonize your scales.

If there is no fiddle player in the band, then the steel guitar is usually expected to play the intro. That’s where knowing your harmonized scale comes into play. If you play it in three parts, your melody line would be on top and the other two parts would be underneath that. This can make the song sound very full and rich and makes the band sound like you’ve arranged it even though you haven’t.

One of the most important things in any playing situation is to watch and listen, not just to yourself but to everybody on the stage.

The singer may sing a verse when he’s supposed to sing the chorus, but you’ve got to follow the singer and you’ve got to blend with the other people on the stage. This all requires you to pay attention with both your eyes and your ears. The gig isn’t all about you, it’s about playing with other people and again, pleasing the listener.

How many times have you heard one guy in the band playing louder than anybody else and looking around to see of anybody is watching? This is very immature in my opinion. An example is a drummer twirling his sticks and the tempo going up and down. I fired a drummer one time for twirling his sticks.

I was checking out Bobbe’s Intros, Fills and Turnarounds instructional video set which is what got me started on this subject. The next time I do a guest newsletter for Bobbe, I’ll get into fills, turnarounds, solos and endings and how to play with other people and fit in with a band.

You can check out all of Bobbe’s instructional videos at and believe me, they are all great to play along with while you’re practicing which is something every player should do on a regular basis. I have a practice schedule that I follow and you should too.

Check out our monthly specials at and we’ll try to save you a lot of money.

This has been Bob Hempker filling in for,
Bobbe Seymour

Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
(615) 822-5555
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday

Related Posts

The Relentless Bluegrass of Marty Falle

By Vickie McIntyre for Country Music News International Magazine

The Country Music Awards of Australia

By Phill Doring for Country Music News International Magazine

Jordan Rainer, The Voice Finalist, Interview & Story

Small Town Girl Chasing her Big Dream… and Winning the Race

The one the only Miranda Lambert

A Woman After Our Own Country Hearts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *