The Hawaiian slack key guitar is a unique and beautiful instrument, with a long and varied history. It has evolved over the years, with different styles and techniques being developed by different players. This article will explore the differences between traditional and modern Hawaiian slack key guitar, and how they have shaped the instrument's sound. The traditional style of slack key guitar is often referred to as 'ki ho'alu', which translates to 'loosen the key'. This style of playing is characterized by its loose, relaxed feel, with the guitarist often playing in a more improvisational manner.
The traditional style of slack key guitar is often played in open tunings, which allow for a greater range of expression. This style of playing is often associated with the blues, as it has a similar emotional depth. In contrast, modern Hawaiian slack key guitar has become more structured and technical. This style of playing is often characterized by its intricate fingerpicking patterns and complex chord progressions. It also tends to be more melodic than traditional slack key guitar, with the guitarist often playing in standard tunings.
This style of playing has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many modern Hawaiian slack key guitarists achieving international recognition. The fourth slack key style is interpretive-oriented and features entertaining visual and sound techniques. This technique can be seen in the song Kaula'ili in Susan Friedman's film Ki ho'alu, That's Slack Key Guitar and in Eddie Kamae's great movie “The Hawaiian Way”. The knowledge and popularity of the slack key guitar further increased with the release of several great slack key albums in the 1960s by Leonard Kwan, Ray Kane, Atta Isaacs and Gabby Pahinui on Margaret Williams' Tradewinds label. To this day, Slack's key artists are inspired by the traditions of the area in which they grew up and by the music of their “ohona” (family) and add their own individual playing style to it. Dancing Cat Records is producing the current HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR MASTERS series, which consists primarily of solo albums by many of Hawaii's top musicians. Although Hawaii's guitar tradition is the richest in the Pacific, many other Polynesian countries also have guitar traditions closely related to loose tonality.
Some of the tunings of the Hawaiian steel guitar (and, therefore, some of the tunings of the continental steel guitar) evolved from weak-toned tunings, especially the tuning in G major for the dobro and lap steel guitar, and the tuning in C major (similar to the do Mauna Loa tuning) for the pedal steel guitar. In conclusion, traditional and modern Hawaiian slack key guitar have both contributed to shaping this unique instrument's sound. While traditional slack key guitar has a more relaxed feel and is often played in open tunings, modern Hawaiian slack key guitar has become more structured and technical. Both styles have their own unique characteristics that make them appealing to different audiences.