Updated on 9/27/17
Buddy Emmons has left a deep impression on the musical world, as well as the steel guitar community. He was an amazing player, with chops and ideas that we all wish we had. His playing seemed perfect, and it usually was. But he too was human, and we can all relate to that. Here are some characteristics of Buddy that we can all connect to, and use to improve our selves and our pedal steel playing.
Buddy Emmons had impeccable chops, incredible tone, and ingenuity when it came to the pedal steel guitar; add a smile and laugh to this, and you have “The Big E”. We all admire Buddy’s playing, and consider it to be nearly flawless, but he also made mistakes every once in awhile. That is how we learn and grow as people, and begin to push boundaries in a beneficial way: we make mistakes and learn from them. It seemed that whenever he did this (made a mistake), he accepted this and tried to shake it off quickly and move on: he did this by smiling or laughing at the mistake. To error is human, so when he made an error, he did something every human can enjoy: a good smile and laugh. He also did this when his playing was “on fire” too!
Try it sometime on the bandstand, or in the practice room. Look lively and excited once in a while, and your steel playing may just sound the same. There is current evidence in science that suggests if a person makes their body react in a certain way, it sends signals to the brain to act in the same way: for instance, if you make yourself smile, then your brain will sense this and make you feel happier. Seems like Buddy was onto something there.
Use Your Intuition
Buddy seemed to be an intuitive individual, as we can tell from many of his inventive contributions to the pedal steel guitar. He had a knack for following his instinct, or doing what felt right at that moment, many times with an improvisational approach. His intuitive addition and use of the strings D# and F# (strings 2 & 1) on the E9 neck is now a modern day staple of the 10-string E9 neck tuning. He came up with the three pedal configuration that we now consider standard on any E9 neck pedal steel. Also, did I mention the Emmons and Sho-Bud brand pedal steels that he helped develop, which are still sought after for their ingenious design, taste, and tone?
His intuition is also evident in his creative, improvisational approach to many of his studio sessions, and own personal work. Coming from a jazz background, and favoring the improvisational approach in this regard, Buddy liked to follow his instincts in the music too, and follow it wherever it took him. That’s one reason we love his playing; we never knew where it would take us.
To better follow your intuition at the pedal steel guitar, try not to play licks, songs, or riffs that you have memorized, and can already play over and over. Try to improvise. Step out onto the plank, and dive into the deep waters…try something new – you don’t know where it will take you, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s like life, sometimes you just have to improvise, and that can be the fun in it.
Be A Bookworm
Buddy liked to read, and he was a very thoughtful person. He used to go to libraries just to study jazz-related material and music. Ever wonder how he had such a solid sense of music and the theory behind it? Besides practice, he soaked up literature that he could translate into ideas on his instrument. He studied approaches to music through books, not just listening. He used to read about Einstein, and astronomy too…those atomic particles on Emmons fretboards are a part of his character/signature because he was interested in them. He wanted to know more about many things, as any great inventor does. He gained inspiration not just by listening to music, but also by reading literature, which he translated into inspirational music on the pedal steel.
Read more about things that interest you. How can they be applied to your instrument, or playing the pedal steel guitar? Also, be sure to read a music theory book once in a while…they’re not that boring if you relate it to pedal steel playing!
Buddy was interested in boxing, photography, physics, astronomy, music history, and much more. He related to these things personally, and he let these things impact him because they meant something to him. We can see and hear this impact through his pedal steel playing…he made notes punch you in the face like boxing gloves; and used his love of physics to help in the design of a signature fretboard. Life is music, and music is life: if these are interchangeable, then why not let life’s influences on you show in your music.
Try to think of something you are passionate about besides music and pedal steel, and see how you can apply it to your instrument and playing it. Do you enjoy restoring old cars? Then chances are you’d be great at restoring a vintage pedal steel. Do you enjoy playing golf? How can the physics and technique behind that sport relate to the technical aspects of playing the pedal steel guitar. Put a golf ball on your practice stand for inspiration and ideas.
Buddy was a star, a genius, and an icon to pedal steel players all over the world. He still is. Let’s let his character and human traits influence us to be better players. His playing was inspirational, and so was his spirited character. Keep on picking and smiling everyone!
Read more about Buddy Emmons below…
Keep that Emmons mindset and practice…more tips and techniques here: Practice Tips and Techniques