Playing An Expressive Steel-Guitar

Lately I have been performing with a country-western band. Of the different instrument-sounds I use in those performances, their favorite is the steel-guitar.

I play this expressively, using vibrato, and improvising parts using parallel-thirds and parallel-sixths.

The steel-guitar sound is available in the sound-font we distribute (FluidR3_GM.sf2), only it's in bank 8 (rather than bank 0), and it's called “Hawaiian Guitar”.

Here is a screen-shot of the KMK main-window, taken while I was playing steel-guitar, with vibrato (the wavering-sound done by steel-guitar players):

You need to experiment with how fast (and long) you repeatedly click on the pitch-bend slider, to get the expressive vibrato just right.

Using the track-pad rather than the mouse works fine on Windows and Mac. On Linux, it seems to give you very short clicks (either that, or too-long clicks), so on Linux I had to use the Mouse, rather than the track-pad. I did not see a way of customizing the track-pad clicks on Ubuntu variants.

In version 1.14 of the KeyMusician Keyboard (and above), you can get the same effect as clicking with the mouse on the right side of the Pitch-Bend slider, by repeatedly hitting the Enter-Key (the one in the main part of the keyboard – not the one on the numeric key-pad). This key is reachable by your chord-hand.

The information above will let you play the steel-guitar sound, and play expressive vibrato with it.

However, I doubt you are going to find sheet-music out there for steel-guitar parts in country-western music, or other music. It's something you have to improvise.

Fortunately, we have tutorials teaching you how to improvise your own parts.

Check out the “Improvising Your Own Music with MIDI Files” tutorial, and also the “Improvising Your Own Music With Audio Files” tutorial.

In the audio-file example below, I improvised along with the “40-Waltz.mid” file, in the “KeyMusician-Keyboard/Tutorials/KMK-Exercises” folder, which is used in the “Your First Waltz” lesson. Also, I selected an actual synthesizer in the “Playback Device” drop-box of the MIDI Player/Recorder window. I used the “Record” button (and associated functionality) to record what I improvised. Of course, the pitch-bend motions are included when you record.

In country-western music, you will often hear steel-guitars playing parallel-thirds, and parallel-sixths. There is an exercise dealing with playing parallel-thirds, if you you don't know what that is. Parallel-sixths are essentially like parallel-thirds, except there are 4 notes between the high & low notes of the interval (rather than the 1 note between them, with parallel-thirds). They sound a lot like parallel-thirds as well, but have (I think) a more interesting sound.

But before you start improvising parallel thirds & sixths, you first need to learn to improvise a single part along with the piece you want to play with. A single part is less complex than the thirds & sixths, so start out with that.

In the example below, I do that as well.

First, I start out improvising a single part, getting the hang of it, then I start adding vibrato to the single part.

Having done that, now being familiar with the tune, I then start improvising parallel thirds, adding vibrato on the held-out notes.

After awhile playing parallel thirds, I start improvising parallel sixths, which continue to the end of the piece.

Steel-Guitar Audio-File Example

Another thing about playing parallel thirds and sixths, is that since we are trying to sound like an actual steel-guitar, the two notes of the interval (third or sixth) are played separately (one quickly after the other), 'strumming' them, as with a guitar-pick. With the KeyMusician Keyboard, you simulate this by playing the two notes with a very slight delay between them.

Hopefully this article will give you some useful ideas. Add a steel-guitar sound to your country-western band!

I hope this gives you a whole new realm of creativity with the instrument. - Aere

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