Unlocking the Secrets of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar: A Comprehensive Guide

The Hawaiian Slack Key guitar, or Kī Hō'alu, is an art form with indigenous Hawaiian origins that has been around for more than 150 years. It was born when Mexican cowboys gave the guitar to their Hawaiian counterparts, who then adapted and developed it. The Slack Key guitar is similar to the slide guitar in that it uses a slide to create a unique sound. However, there are some key differences between the two guitar styles.

On the one hand, the loose-key guitar is usually played with a softer sound, while the slide guitar is often played with a more bluesy sound. In addition, the loose-key guitar usually uses more than one slide at a time, while the slide guitar usually uses only one. Slack Key continued to be a private and family entertainment, and was not recorded until 1946 and 1947, when Gabby Pahinui recorded a series of albums that made the tradition known. The music did not reach mainland audiences during the Hawaiian musical fashion of the early 20th century, during which Hawaiian music came to be identified outside the islands with the steel guitar and ukulele. The technique of playing Slack Key is based on three main elements: thumb plays an alternating bass line (there are variations), generally using the 3 thicker strings (bass); melody is played on the treble strings; and chords are strummed with the thumb and index finger. This combination of these three parts played simultaneously on a single guitar, with loose or “open” tuning, is what constitutes the basic guitar approach known as Hawaiian Slack Key. My first kumu (teacher) was Bobby Moderow Jr., a protégé of Nānākuli's principal Slack Key teacher, Raymond Kaleoalohapoinaʻoleohelemanu Kāne.

Influential teachers Raymond Kane and Sonny Chillingworth, who worked hard to teach and transmit the art of Hawaiian Slack Key to the next generation, were very strict about it. Without this, the loose clef becomes a mere technique, something that veterans would never approve or recognize as Kī Hō'alu. During the 1960s and 1970s, at the height of the Hawaiian Renaissance, when Hawaiians regained their cultural identity after the imperial colonization of their homeland, many recordings were recorded in loose form. The Hawaiian-style Slack Key guitar cannot simply be played with technical knowledge or skill, but must come from the soul. Gabby Pahinui, Atta Isaacs, Leonard Kwan, Sonny Chillingworth, Raymond Kne and Keola Beamer are among the loosest Hawaiian artists to have influenced younger musicians. Beginners may find it more difficult to learn the loose key because of its intricate finger puncture patterns.

At 13, after two years of learning Uncle Raymond's nahenahe (sweet sound) style, I met Sonny Chillingworth, another legendary master of the art from Slack Key. These artists, and Slack Key in general, have become famous outside of Hawaii, largely thanks to George Winston's Dancing Cat Records record label, which has mostly shown solo music. Are there any special techniques for playing a hawaiian slack key guitar solo? Yes! With dedication and practice you can master this unique style of playing. Slack Key is an art form that requires patience and dedication to learn properly. It is important to find an experienced teacher who can guide you through each step of learning this unique style of playing. With practice and guidance from an experienced teacher you can unlock all of the secrets of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar.

Kurt Wilkes
Kurt Wilkes

Unapologetic coffee fanatic. Evil web ninja. . Hardcore food ninja. Total music aficionado. Devoted food expert.

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