Steel Guitar News October 1. 2012

Hello fellow players,

This is Vic Lawson with today’s newsletter.

Since we have players at all levels on the list, I’d like to direct the first part of this newsletter to the less advanced players and explain how we communicate key signatures with hand signals when we’re on a stage and the noise level is so high we can’t all hear the key called out, especially if you’re half deaf like most of us from years of playing.

Actually what started me back using the circle of fifths was a bass player. So I had to go back and refresh my memory on it. For example, he would start turning his hand up and just show four fingers to represent the key, which in this case was the key of E. He said I’m going to start using this to tell you what key we’re in because nobody could hear on the loud stage. He was closest to the singer so he could hear the key the singer was in when no one else could hear.

Let me break this down for you. This goes back to the importance of knowing your circle of fourths and fifths. If you ever saw it on a church hymnal on the top where it shows the key signature where it has for example four sharps (#).

Our hand signals consist of a fist for the key of C because there are no sharps or flats. We use fingers up for sharps and fingers down for flats. One finger up is G, two fingers up is D, three fingers up is A, four fingers up is E, five fingers up is B and six fingers up is F#.

For the flat keys, one finger down is F, two fingers down is Bb, three fingers down is Eb, four fingers down is Ab, five fingers down is Db and six fingers down is Gb.

At first I related this to bass guitar because it was not as overwhelming. If you’re on the third string, third fret, C note it’s very easy to get to the fifth note of the key by going to the fourth string, third fret which is the G note which helps you remember that one finger up is the key of G. To get to the fifth of the G, take that pattern and move up two frets and the name of the note will equal the number of sharps in the scale and the numbers of fingers being held up. The fifth fret gives you D and A (two and three fingers up), the seventh fret gives you E and B (four and five fingers up) and finally the ninth fret gives you F# (six fingers down).

To remember the flat keys, start at the fourth string, eighth fret, C note. Move down one string to the F which is one finger down. Repeat the same pattern a whole step down and that covers the circle of fourths. The eights fret gives you C to F (zero and one finger down), the sixth fret gives you Bb and Eb (two and three fingers down), the fourth fret gives you Ab and Db (four and five fingers down) and finally the second fret, fourth string gives you Gb (six fingers down).

If you’re going to relate this to a six string guitar, just think about it in terms of strings five and six. And with steel just think about the same frets except pedals down and up positions.

A lot of you may not see the relevance in this to steel guitar, but any musically knowledge should in some way help your playing sooner or later. Remember, you’re not just a steel player, but a musician as well.

If enough of you are interested in this, we may do a YouTube video. Just reply to the newsletter and let us know. In fact, send us your questions and ideas you’d like to see us address in the newsletter and we’ll try to cover the topics we get the most requests for.

I was doing a session the other day and noticed that when I played harmonics or chimes they were dying out more than usual. I was thinking my technique was off or something. I didn’t know what was going on to be honest with you. I made it through the session and then went to a night time gig and during sound check I was trying to remedy the problem and discovered that some of the lubricant out of a changer had seeped up under the string when it was upside down in the case. I took a cloth and wiped that off and that fixed the problem. I have never had that happen ever. So if you ever have this kind of problem that’s something to check.

Tonight I’m playing a six to ten on Broadway and the bass player is a steel player as well, Eddie Lange. It can be a little uncomfortable knowing a pedal steel player is behind you. Even though we’re friends, I still feel that in some way he’s critiquing or being critical of my playing even though that’s probably not the case. At least I’ll know the bass line will be correct. A lot of steel players are bass players and play bass better than bass only players. A good bass player can lead the band to the next chord. If you’ve got a good ear, you’ll hear where the next chord is going from the bass player and the melody of the song.

I’d only been playing Broadway about a year and was playing at Robert’s on a Tuesday night. We were in between songs and me and the guitar player were checking our tuning. The guitar player leans over to me and says, “It sucks to be you.” At first I thought he was talking about tuning a steel.

So I asked him, “What are you talking about?”

He replied, “Tommy White, John Hughey and their wives just walked in the back door and they’re setting in the balcony.”

Naturally, I was a nervous wreck because here were two of the best players in town listening to my lame playing. I was on pins and needles that I’d make a mistake and telling myself the whole time, don’t mess up.

So the next tune is a ballad and the guitar player teasingly says, “Hey, play something like John Hughey would play!” He was having way too much fun at my expense. I never made eye contact with either one of them and I told the guitar player to let me know when they leave. After forty-five minutes of sweating, he said, “Ok, they’ve gone.”

After thinking about it for awhile I realized we can only play what we can play and everyone is at a different level, so just have fun with it.

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