Live Performance with a Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar: Tips and Tricks

It is interesting to note that the Hawaiian word “alu” has a hidden meaning of “combine” or “act together”, which is an essential element of Slack Key. The Hawaiian Slack Key guitar is a rare art form, one of the least known and practiced among the traditional Hawaiian arts. My first teacher was Bobby Moderow Jr., a student of Nānākuli's principal Slack Key teacher, Raymond Kaleoalohapoinaʻoleohelemanu Kāne. During the 1960s and 1970s, when Hawaiians were reclaiming their cultural identity after imperial colonization, many recordings were made in a loose form.

The Slack Key guitar is usually played in open tuning, but this does not mean that it is the only style of guitar played with open tunings.

There are many other guitar styles that use open tunings other than Slack Key or Hawaiian Slack Key.

At 13, after two years of learning Uncle Raymond's nahenahe (sweet sound) style, I met Sonny Chillingworth, another master of the art from Slack Key. The combination of these three parts played simultaneously on a single guitar, with open or “loose” tuning, is what constitutes the basic approach to Hawaiian Slack Key. As a child growing up in O'ahu, I was fortunate enough to learn from some of Hawaii's leading Slack Key guitar players.

Without this soulful connection, loose tonality becomes just a technique, something that veterans would never accept or recognize as Kī Hō'alu. The Hawaiian-style Slack Key guitar cannot be played with just technical knowledge or skill; it must come from within. Influential teachers Raymond Kane and Sonny Chillingworth worked hard to teach and pass on the art of Hawaiian Slack Key to the next generation, and they were very strict about it. To become an expert in this art form requires dedication and practice.

Here are some tips and tricks for mastering live performance with a Hawaiian Slack Key guitar:

1.Learn the Basics

The first step to mastering live performance with a Hawaiian Slack Key guitar is to learn the basics. This includes understanding the different tunings used in Slack Key and how to play them correctly. It also involves learning how to use different techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and vibrato. Learning these basics will help you develop your own unique style and sound.

2.Listen to Other Players

Listening to other players is an important part of learning how to play live with a Hawaiian Slack Key guitar. Listening to experienced players will help you understand how they use different techniques and how they create their own unique sound. It will also give you ideas for your own playing style.

3.Practice Regularly

Practicing regularly is essential for mastering live performance with a Hawaiian Slack Key guitar.

You should practice at least an hour every day if you want to become an expert in this art form. Practicing regularly will help you develop your skills and improve your technique.

4.Perform Live

Performing live is one of the best ways to improve your skills as a musician. Playing in front of an audience will help you gain confidence and learn how to interact with your audience.

It will also give you valuable feedback on your playing style and technique.

Kurt Wilkes
Kurt Wilkes

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

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