Category Archives: Practicing Pedal Steel

Free information and tips for practicing pedal steel.  Featuring articles about equipment, tools, practice rigs, tapping your feet, using a metronome, and more.

Practice smart, not hard!

 

 

C6 Note Chart

Learning the fretboard can be a great way to improve one’s playing. It is important to learn various playing positions, scale patterns, note names, and more.  Here’s a visual tool to help with memorizing notes on the C6 fretboard:

C6 Note Chart UPDATED

This diagram displays all of the notes that are on the C6 neck. Click on the diagram for an enlarged view.

C6 Fretboard Diagram – Flat & Sharp Notes

Learning the fretboard can be a great way to improve one’s playing. It is important to learn various playing positions, scale patterns, note names, and more.  Here’s a visual tool to help with memorizing notes on the C6 fretboard:

C6Flats&SharpsUpdated

This diagram displays all of the flat & sharp notes that are on the neck. Click on the diagram for an enlarged view.

C6 Fretboard Diagram – Flat Notes

Learning the fretboard can be a great way to improve one’s playing. It is important to learn various playing positions, scale patterns, note names, and more.  Here’s a visual tool to help with memorizing notes on the C6 fretboard:

C6 Flat Notes UPDATED

This diagram displays all of the “flat” notes that are on the neck. Click on the diagram for an enlarged view.

C6 Fretboard Diagram – Natural Notes

Learning the fretboard can be a great way to improve one’s playing. It is important to learn various playing positions, scale patterns, note names, and more.  Here’s a visual tool to help with memorizing notes on the C6 fretboard:

C6NaturalNotesUPDATED

This diagram displays all of the “natural” notes that are on the neck. Click on the diagram for an enlarged view.

Improve Your Intonation – Practicing Music with Drones

CRYSTALLIZING YOUR INTONATION WITH DRONES

Note: Updated on 8/14/16 to include audio tracks

A great guitar player friend once told me how he practiced music with drones, or a continuously sounding note. He said it would make a world of difference for my ears, specifically when practicing scale tones. He learned of the idea through Indian classical music, as he was listening to a lot of Ali Akbar Kahn at the time. He didn’t have to worry about intonation as much, as his guitar has frets, but he still knew the benefits of it for “crystallizing” your ear and improving intonation.

I immediately tried it my next practice, and years later, continue to use it for most practice sessions. It has helped my intonation on pedal steel immensely; steel players, we have less room for error when hitting our “marks,” as we only have fret markers, not actual physical frets. I hardly question my intonation anymore, because after using drones for so long, it has almost become a part of my muscle/ear memory.  This is a relief, as I used to question it often.

You can find drones online, or on some music streaming services.  Put the track on loop mode, and do yourself a favor, find one that sounds decent in timbre.  A repeating sine wave, or drones that sound like this, can get old quickly for your ears.

Honestly, practicing your scales with drones, is just more fun.

A grasshopper in tune with its surroundings.

Notice how peaceful and content this grasshopper is… because its intonation with the plant it’s resting on is nearly perfect.  It is naturally “in tune” with its surroundings, just as you can be with your surroundings (bandmates, iPod, yourself, the Universe, etc.), if you practice with drones long enough.

Here’s how I use them mostly:
-Take the scale you are practicing, for instance C Mixolydian scale (C D E F G A Bb C). Mentally make note of the scale tones according to their numerical relationship in the scale. 1(C) 2(D) 3(E) 4(F) 5(G) 6(A) b7(Bb).
-Run your scale in numerous patterns against the drone, which will be the root note of scale or C. For instance, work on this run 1,2,3,4,5 then 5,4,3,2,1 (scale tones) and you have successfully heard the first five tones of the scale, their relationship to the tonic, and even more important their relationship to each other. Now, when you play any Mixolydian scale, in any key, you know that scale’s tonality in relationship to its parent chord, and the intervals of the scale in relation to each other.

Practicing Pedal Steel with Drones - Beautiful Flowers

-This makes practicing scales not only more intuitive, and effective, but also more exciting. How often do we actually play scales in music, when there is no chord or music behind them?
-The scale degree numbers you begin to memorize naturally, and they eventually become useful when soloing over a vamp, or more derivative based playing. It will eventually help you learn all modes, and any scale, as the scale degree numbers start to sink in – you begin to think of scales as not only letters, but rather numbers too. The number approach will help with improvising greatly. A lot of Western world jazz improvisers started studying this numerical scale degree method, and using drones, to help their improvising in a more derivative way, or over a vamp (think jamming on Miles Davis’ “So What”), as opposed to a more parallel way (think modal changes on “Autumn Leaves”).  It is also used by Nashville session players for communicating melodic ideas more effectively.

Try using drones at your next practice session, and see if you like them.  It’s at least worth a shot.

Here are some of the drones that I use for practicing, check them out. These are affiliate links.


Most of the audio samples on this site contain supplemental takes with a drone in the background.  You can listen to what some riffs sound like with, and without the drone, to hear it in context:

You can listen to these samples by clicking here…

Practice Tips: Improving Your Focus

PRACTICING IN TIMED INTERVALS

How long can we truly focus our full attention on something?   How long can we practice our instrument before something distracts us, and knocks us out of focus?  It can be difficult to focus deeply for more than a few minutes at a time (it’s okay, we’re all human!). However, like most things, with practice we can learn to deepen and increase our focus.

After studying other musicians’ practice routines, reading about meditation/focus methods, and staying up to date with neuroscience,  I don’t encourage practicing for more than 15-30 minutes at a time. After this, usually our minds lose focus, our bodies get tired (poor posture is bad for technique), and we start practicing more sloppily.  We begin crystallizing mistakes, or in a less poetic way, we cultivate bad habits.

If you step up to your instrument each time with a deep focus, utilize this focus during your session, and stop practicing when you begin to lose it, your practice efficiency at the instrument will grow.

1978 Marlen Single Neck E9

Here’s a tip to help you gain focus for your practice session: stand near your instrument and fire up a tune on the stereo that you’re in the mood to hear.  This sharpens your ears up a bit.  As you’re listening, do a light 5 minute full-body stretch (like you’d do before a workout at the gym, or playing a sport).  Most songs are around this length of time anyways.  The music gets your ears and mind tuned up, the stretch gets your body warmed up.  Also, the music can often inspire you for your session, and give you ideas to work with.

When the song and stretching are complete, you’ll feel much more focused and ready to practice than right before you did it.  You then feel free to sit down at the instrument, and begin practicing on your goals for that session.

I usually start a 15 minute timer as soon I’m seated and ready to play, and only look down at it when I begin to lose focus or need a breather:  At this point, there is little time on there anyways, so I just buckle down and finish up strong.  Then break time.

Goodrich Pedal Steel Sustain Box

Practice smart, not hard! I benefit much more from a great 15 minute practice session, where my goals are set before I begin, than a 2 hour session of floundering.  For instance, if I know I’m gonna practice four hours one day, then I will split my practice time into 16 separate fifteen-minute sessions, with breaks in between.

Training in intervals is beneficial for your body and your mind.   Also, you’ll have extra time in the day to work on aural exercises, ear training, listening, or other daily activities that will benefit you as a musician.  You can knock some of these things out during your practice breaks if you want.  Also, your technique, posture, and mental dexterity will likely improve too.

Not sure what to practice, click below to learn how to balance your practice repertoire…

Balancing Technique, Scales, & Songs During Practice


More practice ideas and tips…

Practice Ideas and Tips


Playing Bass/Chords and Melody at the Same Time – Flying Solo

In 2014, on a humid summer morning in North Carolina, I sat in my bedroom wondering if I’d ever be able to play something decent with my C6 neck. I had just gotten this new tuning/neck a few months earlier; I had been a single neck E9 player up until then, and had been playing pedal steel for about four years.

After taking a sip of black, light-roast coffee, I remembered that YouTube holds certain treasures of pedal steel past. I decided to browse for C6 learning material, and hold steady to avoid the pitfalls of viral videos. The dew of morning, mixed with YouTube search results, brought forth various videos labeled Bobbe Seymour. The name sounded familiar from the Steel Guitar Forum, and he had a smile on his face, so I decided to check the videos out (not literally like you used to check out videos from BlockBuster).

Bobbe had a lot of videos on C6, so I sipped away on my coffee, and watched most of them: with a steady eye on my C6 neck to make sure it wouldn’t bite me. I barely had any control over this C6 beast I had adopted, and had only been lightly toying around with Buddy Emmons’ Pocket Corner when playing. I could understand why players stuck with having only an E9 dog in the fight.

Pedal Steel Dog - Jackie
When I was first learning the C6 neck, it was frustrating. I felt like Jackie does here: a little frustrated, but patient in the hopes of being able to be able to reach the neck.

But Bobbe made it look easy on those videos, even assuring that the neck was more intuitive or easy than the E9 neck. That was a relief. I felt good with my playing on the E9 neck, like I could let it off the leash wherever. I had to keep it within a certain range, or it’d run away, but still.

What really caught my attention was the chords he was playing, by just raking or strumming a bunch of strings in a row, without having to make funky right hand grips. It was like a magic trick, and here was Bobbe showing me how to do it on the World Wide Web, and he was from Nashville, TN, or what seemed to me to be the Pedal Steel Capital of the World.

He was a pro, in Pedal Steel City, with some great chops in these videos I was soaking up. I watched in awe as he played a bass line with his thumb (“patting his thumb”is what he was calling it), and played a melody at the same time. It sounded folky and jazzy to me, like Leo Kottke meets Ry Cooder; I liked it. The coffee was hitting me, time to practice and take advantage of the stimulation.

Drinking Coffee and Playing Pedal Steel

I wasn’t able to let the C6 off the leash that day, but I was able to tinker with the idea, and a few of the chords Bobbe suggested. I decided I still wasn’t passionate about the C6 neck, and didn’t do much with it for awhile.

A year later I got into listening to some really soulful music, more specifically bottleneck slide cats from back in the day, a few gospel outfits from way back when, and Aretha Franklin with King Curtis. I was also researching the history of the steel guitar, and Hawaiin music at this time. A new day, a new cup of coffee in hand, I was astounded to learn of a connection between steel guitar and slide guitar in America’s history. It almost seemed like the two branched off from one another at a fork in the road of time.

What intrigued me about the slide players, besides selling their souls for better musical skills, was how they had to entertain audiences and parties with just their guitar, slide, and voice: just themselves. Slide-playing is hard enough, but playing bass notes and singing with it: man, these guys were really ahead of the game back in the 1900s. A thought popped into my head about Bobbe’s advice on patting, and using the technique to entertain with just a pedal steel, and no supporting instrumentation. Maybe pedal steel players could entertain audiences with just their pedal steel, like the slide players used to in the Delta.

I went home that day and dug out a tab for “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin, remembering how I always wished I could play it on guitar. I recalled that it had a repeating bass line, was in a somewhat open tuning, and was catchy. I wouldn’t mind practicing this for awhile.

I soon realized I’d have to make my own arrangement, to make it fit with C6 pedal steel, and add a melody part since Robert Plant wasn’t accompanying me.  This was going to take some time. But I started slow, and eventually could hear the potential for decency if I stuck with it.

Pedal Steel Turtle Race - Slow and Steady
Slow but steady wins the race. You can always hang out in your “practice shell”, while you work out kinks in your playing.

A few months later, I was able to get it sounding decent at a very slow speed, and was tinkering with other ideas/arrangements, like Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Is There Anybody Out There?”. This was sounding cool, and I was keeping in touch with my high school classic rock years.  I kept the technique in mind during my practice sessions, and developed a slight independency with my middle finger from the thumb’s “patting.”


Fast forward a half year, and here we are today: stuck right in between the future and the past, again.  I am so glad I stuck with Bobbe’s advice about chord patting, and playing melodies simulataneously. So I decided to record this technique today!

I recorded these in my home, at my practice area, in a little over half an hour.  The audio mixing took more time, and energy.  The tracks were improvised/composed on the spot. What I mean by this: I did a few takes in a certain key, playing around through some chord changes in a pocket, and by the third take it had developed into something. This third take is what you’re usually hearing; the first take I just hit record with a key/position in mind. Sometimes I get something good on the first or second takes though.

I am using my thumb and middle finger only for 95% of what you hear.  I play the bass parts with my thumb, the melody with my middle finger, and use the index finger to beef up a voicing when it needs it.  It’s fun playing most of this with just two fingers, who would’ve thought?

East Asheville Skyline
Flying solo is tough on pedal steel guitar.

I am playing along with a click track set to 87 BPM, with no accents (1/4 time).  Also, I am patting my right toes, within my right shoe on my volume pedal, along with the click track. For more about this method, read my article “Tapping Your Toes to Keep Time”. This helps me keep time with my thumb, since there is no drummer or bass player with me.

I included the click track for one of these samples, so you can hear how my bass playing w/ thumb usually lands on the quarter notes to keep a steady rhythm for the listener. That is the goal, to keep a driving pulse (thumb/bass) for the melody to sing over, when we are playing without a rhythm section or accompaniment.

I included some drone tracks too, to give some extra listening options/flavor. You can hear the potential for adding other instruments to this mix when you hear the click and drone with them.

Here are the samples of these chord-melodies:

Considering I first tried Bobbe’s thumb patting method a year ago, and practiced it a little bit over time, he was right. It isn’t as hard as it looks. Sure, it’s a work in progress, but I’m gonna keep with it and develop it over time.  It’s not too shabby, for being improvised on the spot.  If I can make the same gains I made this past year, next year, I’ll be a happy camper.  Thanks Bobbe, these recordings are dedicated to you.

Bobbe Seymour Steel Guitar

With click and drone for “Deep Forest”…


So far using this technique, I have worked out my own arrangements of these chord melodies on the C6 neck:

“Going to California” – Led Zeppelin

“Is There Anybody Out There?” – Pink Floyd

“Goobye Blue Sky” – Pink Floyd

“Sea of Love” – Jill Andrews and Langhorne Slim

“Mad World” – Gary Jules


Jackie - Christmas Pedal Steel Dog
Jackie looks much more content and relaxed in this picture.

Thanks for reading and listening, and check The Steel World for more pedal steel buzz.

You can find some of Bobbe’s videos here, and on YouTube.

Pedal Steel Practice Tips

Here’s a couple tips for how to get the most out of your practice sessions.  Useful music practice tips for pedal steel or other instruments…

Practice Rigs & Tools

Using a Metronome


PRACTICE RIGS & TOOLS

Music Practice Tips - A good practice rig with all essential tools

If you are going to spend a good amount of time practicing, and want to get the most out of it, then having a well-organized practice rig will benefit you.  This includes having the necessary tools for your practice session nearby, and being able to easily grab/use them while at your steel. 

Let’s say you’ve spent 15 minutes practicing that bluesy riff that you heard a cat play last night, and you’ve finally got it down.  You are focused, it feels good to finally nail it, and you want to try it at a faster tempo, with a drone track (continuously sounding note/chord) behind it.  If you can play your drone, and fire up the metronome, within seconds of deciding to use them, then you can keep your focus and nail that lick at up tempo.  However, if you spend the next 10 minutes looking for your metronome, or hooking up your speakers, or checking your email, or eating animal crackers, then you will lose this important moment in your practice session.  You will have lost the one moment you truly felt you could nail that lick.  It may take another day, or hours, or weeks, before you feel that focused/confident again at your instrument. So do yourself a favor, keep the right tools at your disposal when practicing, and make the most of it!

Important practice tools: metronome, speakers or playback system, pencil, blank tablature paper, a clock/timer, tuner, headphones, a power outlet, and whatever else may be necessary. Click here to see specific tools I use when practicing.  

Music Practice Tips - Headphones for silent practice - Also pencil, stopwatch, stereo, and power outlet

Above is a player’s view from the left-side of the steel.  You’ll notice that with my left-arm, while comfortably seated at my playing position, I can reach/use the following at any point in my practice session: my headphones, tuner, iPod and speakers, headphones, pencil, and extra outlets from power surge protector.

Here’s a closer view of the front left-side of my practice rig…

Music Practice Tips - Stereo, Timer, Metronome, Power Strip, Pencil


Below is a player’s view of the right side of my practice rig.  This side includes less, as I have a harder time utilizing tools when picks are on my fingers.  You’ll notice my tuner/pedalboard, and I have room for other things.  Sometimes I will utilize my recording console on this side, or my laptop, or iPad.

Pedaltrain pedalboard w/ TC Electronic Polytune


Here, one can see my recording console is positioned by back right leg of pedal steel, so I can access this and my computer with my right arm.  Having your recording equipment ready to roll can help with memorizing riffs, recording song ideas, hearing your timbre, and learning how to record pedal steel.

A side-view of home recording equipment for pedal steel players.


Pedal Steel Practice
A back-side view of practice rig for a small room

Music Practice LED lamp

It’s also a good idea to get an LED desk lamp.  Good light can help with bar control practice when aiming for visual targets (fret markers).


USING A METRONOME

The best way to get a good sense of timing, is to practice most of the time with a metronome. It is usually more beneficial and worthwhile practicing at a slower tempo. This will help your muscle memory be more defined, precise, and accurate, and you will be “crystallizing” your good habits, instead of mistakes (you are less likely to make mistakes when going slow than fast).

Using a metronome for pedal steel practice

I use free metronome apps on my phone, since they’re free and handy all the time. Some of them have harsh tones, so I recommend finding one with a beat tone that you won’t get sick of after practicing with for a long time. If it’s annoying sounding, you won’t want to practice with it, and your ears will get fatigued. Practicing a lot with a metronome will help you deal with a click track when you get into the studio too! And your drummer will respect you on a more subconscious level!


Pedal Steel Headstock with Bar, Headphones, and Metronome

Look at how much room our headstocks have to hold practice items.  Here I can easily fit my bar, metronome, headphones, picks, etc.


You can find more practice tips and suggestions here!

Remember: practice smart, not hard.

Tapping Your Toes to Keep Rhythm


HOW TO TAP YOUR FOOT (TOES) TO KEEP TIME

Ever wonder why guitar players are always tapping their foot when playing/practicing? They may not realize it, but their foot is serving as a physical, muscle memory link to the rhythm/sound they hear in their head. Drummers have to literally do this for their kick and hi-hat pedals, guitarists are almost imitating this by playing an imaginary pedal to lock in their rhythm. This is a good thing, and undoubtedly can help in keeping time on and off the bandstand.

As pedal steel players, we can’t tap our feet though, since we’re using all our limbs for other things on the instrument! How can we learn this rhythmic trick on pedal steel? By tapping our toes (or big toe) on our right foot, in our right shoe,  that is on the volume pedal! This is tricky because we still need to keep our volume pedal technique intact, as there should be no difference in volume swells or pedal use while tapping. If we tap our toes in our right feet along with the metronome while practicing, then over time our right foot’s toes will be as steady as a good drummer’s feet on their pedals.  Also, anytime we’re away from the instrument (car, concerts, etc.), we can tap our toes along with the music, to  solidify the muscle memory in our right foot.  Then next time we’re at our pedal steels, our right toes have already been practicing keeping the beat, and we now have more time/energy to practice other disciplines.

1978 Marlen Single Neck E9

Tapping your toes will help you on the bandstand, as you can keep time/pulse like a drummer does with the hi-hat, but you don’t need any additional support. Playing a gig without a drummer becomes easier too, if you are keeping time with your right foot’s toes. So will playing that chord-melody solo piece you’ve been working out on the C6 neck!

Thanks for reading!  Check out the practice section for more ideas and tips…