The Art of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar: Techniques for Crafting a Unique Sound with Other Stringed Instruments

When it comes to playing the Hawaiian Slack Key guitar, there are certain techniques that can be used to create a unique sound when playing with other stringed instruments. The Slack Key is a style of guitar playing that is chosen with the fingers. Some musicians, such as Leddy Kaapana, use just two fingers, while others, such as Keola Beamer, use the four fingers of their hand of choice. Most play with just their fingers, but Sean Robbins likes to use finger picks.

According to Robbins, one thing that hasn't happened yet is someone touching the slack key with a flat pick. 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. 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. Hawaiian music is played with a loosely toned instrument, usually a guitar or ukulele, but the technique (playing with your fingers and making frets) seems to be more than you would expect from a banjo. Almost all loose keys require retuning the guitar strings relative to the standard ones (EADGBE), and this usually (but not always) involves lowering or loosening several strings.

There are examples of loose tonality being played in standard tuning, but the vast majority of recorded examples use altered tunings. My first kumu (teacher) was Bobby Moderow Jr., a protégé of Nānākuli's principal Slack Key teacher, Raymond Kaleoalohapoinaʻoleohelemanu Kāne. According to the legend of the slack key, Cyril Pahinui, the slack key is basically a Hawaiian term for what is more commonly known as open tuning. 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 only thing that is known is that the vaqueros (Spanish cowboys) brought the guitar to the Hawaiian Islands and the Hawaiians took it and created the slack key style.

Without this, loose tonality becomes a mere technique, something that veterans would never approve or recognize as Kī Hō'alu.

Kī Hō'alu

, an art form with indigenous Hawaiian origins of more than 150 years, was born when Mexican cowboys gave the guitar to their Hawaiian counterparts, who then adapted it and made it evolve. The Hawaiian-style Slack Key guitar cannot simply be played with technical knowledge or skill, but must come from the soul. Slack's key compositions have characteristics typical of indigenous Hawaiian and imported musical traditions. There are a myriad of guitar styles played in open tunes that are not Slack Key or Hawaiian Slack Key. When playing with other stringed instruments such as ukuleles or banjos in an ensemble setting, it is important to remember that each instrument has its own unique sound and tuning.

To create a unique sound when playing with other instruments in a group setting, it is important to understand how each instrument interacts with each other and how they can be used together to craft a unique sound. By understanding how each instrument interacts with each other and how they can be used together to create a unique sound when playing in an ensemble setting with other stringed instruments such as ukuleles or banjos.

Kurt Wilkes
Kurt Wilkes

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

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