Beginner Ideas and Tips for Right Hand Blocking

Things to consider for beginner players:

-Relax your right hand.  If it tenses up and you notice it tense, then breath deep and try to relax it.  Eventually you want it so relaxed, you don’t even notice it is there picking.  This means you are free to think about other things, and is a big step forward.  Your right hand can feel as relaxed as a guitar player’s does playing regular guitar…they aren’t that different really, pedal steel is horizontal and guitar is vertical.

Beginner Ideas for Right Hand Blocking - Nice Hard Shell Pedal Steel Case

-Practice blocking with single notes, two note groupings, and various chord grips.  You should be able to cleanly block when doing any of these things.

Fingerpicks for Pedal Steel in Smiley Face Arrangement

– Does your bar make any unwanted noise moving between frets or positions?  Where is that sound coming from, and how can you stop it?

-Do you ever start your practice session with single string picking exercises (using a metronome)?  How about adding crossover techniques shortly after that?  Now your right hand is more accurately calibrated, so you can focus on bar precision, or pedal work for the rest of the practice session.

Lava Pedal Steel Learning Lamp

Tapping Your Toes to Keep Rhythm


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…

Recording Pedal Steel At Home

Recording pedal steel can be tricky, from both an engineer’s standpoint and player’s standpoint.  Although you can actually get a great tone from recording direct, if you use the right equipment.  This makes recording at home easier, and more affordable.

It may be worthwhile to invest in some home recording equipment: for improving your practicing and technique, as well as for getting paying work.

If you get the right equipment, and spend some time learning how to properly manipulate it, then you can make great quality recordings from your practice room.  With the Internet, you can easily overdub and send professional-quality pedal steel for clients’ recordings.  You never know who in your neighborhood may want some steel on their tracks!

Recording pedal steel with a direct input

I recommend and use the Digidesign 003 rack+ unit, and run it into an old MacBook Pro.  I use ProTools because it is commonly used in professional studios, and it is included with the unit I believe.  I usually run my pedal steel directly out of the XLR output on my Nashville 112 amp into the Digi003.  You don’t need a microphone with this setup!

Record Pedal Steel with a Digidesign 003

Here’s a pic of the unit; showing how portable it is, for sounding as “big” as it does.  It is sitting on top of my large pedalboard’s road case, which can serve as a nice table in your practice area.  All that’s needed now is a computer on top of it, some cables/cords hooked up, and some good ole’ pedal steel playing.

Recording yourself can really put your playing under the microscope.  While embarrassing at first, it can really humble you and show you areas of your playing that need improvement, which you wouldn’t have noticed before.  Especially good for noticing playing on time (can you play with a click track?), playing cleanly, and volume pedal technique.

Click here for audio recordings I have made with this setup from home.