Exploring the Art of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar

Hawaiian Slack Key guitar is a unique style of playing the guitar that has been around for centuries. It is a style of playing that is characterized by its use of open tunings and fingerpicking techniques. The style has been passed down through generations, and today there are many different ways to play the instrument. Some players, such as Leddy Kaapana and Keola Beamer, use just two fingers, while others, like Sean Robbins, prefer to use finger picks.

Bob Brozman has even experimented with flat picks. The origins of Hawaiian Slack Key guitar can be traced back to the early 19th century when it was first introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by Mexican cowboys (paniolo). Leonard Kwan was one of the first to record a song in this style, called “Hawaiian Chimes”, in 1957. He also released the first fully instrumental album of Slack Key music in 1960. Today, steel string guitars are still the most popular choice for playing Slack Key, but some musicians have also experimented with nylon string guitars. Atta Isaacs and Gabby Pahinui released an album in 1969 called “Two Slack Key Guitars” which featured excellent performances and arrangements with a backup band. There are four main styles of playing Slack Key guitar: two-finger picking, four-finger picking, flat picking, and entertainment-oriented playing.

Two-finger picking is the most common style and involves using just two fingers to pick the strings. Four-finger picking is similar but uses all four fingers of one hand to pick the strings. Flat picking is a technique that involves using a flat pick instead of fingers to strum the strings. Entertainment-oriented playing is a more modern style that involves using unusual sounds and techniques to create new expressions. The great steel guitarist Sol Hoopii was one of the first to popularize Slack Key guitar in the early 20th century.

He used a tuning called “Taro Patch Tuning” (D-G-D-G-B-D) in G major. This tuning has been used by many other musicians since then and is still popular today. There are now several annual Slack Key festivals held on the islands where musicians can come together to share their music and learn from each other. Atta Isaacs and Gabby Pahinui's album “Two Slack Key Guitars” is still considered one of the best recordings of this style of music. With advances in technology and new techniques being developed by current musicians, the future looks promising for Hawaiian Slack Key guitar. As long as musicians continue to share their knowledge and pass down their traditions, this unique style of music will live on for generations to come.

Kurt Wilkes
Kurt Wilkes

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

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