The Art of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar: What Pick to Use?

For us, former or current 5-string banjo players, a plastic pick and National Metal sticks are the most popular choice, and that same combination can be used for loose-key guitars. It's a colloquial phrase that basically means playing with open tunings. The strings are usually fine-tuned or “loose”, but they can also go up. It's a way of tuning (or adjusting) the strings to a chord so that the musician doesn't have to use an entire hand just to hold a chord.

This allows the hand with frets to move, while the hand that touches the pointer establishes an alternating bass pattern on which a false rhythm and main melody are played. Essentially, it's the art of simulating several instruments simultaneously on a single guitar. It's like having a mini symphony at your fingertips. George Winston has identified fifty discrete tunings.

Some are only commonly used for a single song or by individual players. Mike McClellan and George Winston have developed similar schemes that organize tunings by tonality and type. The following table follows their categories and naming conventions. Tunings were often passed down from parent to child from generation to generation, and the tunings were often guarded as fiercely as any trade secret.

Hawaiian Slack Key guitar

is a rare art form; among the traditional Hawaiian arts, it is one of the least known and practiced.

It is interesting to note that “alu” also derives the kaona (hidden meaning) from “combine” or “act together”, which means an aspect that is crucial to defining Slack Key. Nearly every slack tone requires retuning the guitar strings with the standard EADGBE, and this usually involves lowering or loosening three or more strings. There are examples of loose keys being played in standard tuning, but the vast majority of recorded examples use altered tunings. The 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. In the early 20th century, the steel guitar and ukulele gained great popularity on the continent, but the loose-fitting style remained a popular tradition of family entertainment for Hawaiians until approximately the 1960s and 1970s, during the second Hawaiian Renaissance. This, in turn, led to the co-authorship of Learn to Play Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar (Mel Bay) with Hawaiian teacher Keola Beamer.

The loose Hawaiian guitar, or 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 adapted and developed it. There are a myriad of guitar styles played with open tunings other than the Slack Key or the Hawaiian Slack Key. Old Time Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar is a set of books and CDs that includes challenging transcriptions of 24 classic and original Slack key pieces. The Hawaiian-style Slack Key guitar cannot simply be played with technical knowledge or skill, but must come from the soul. 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 introduced the tradition to the public. 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 a discreet key.

Almost all skinny keys require retuning the guitar strings relative to the standard ones (EADGBE), and this usually (but not always) means lowering or loosening several strings. The Slack keyboard guitar is generally played in open tuning, however, playing in open tuning does not imply that you are playing the Slack keyboard guitar.

Kurt Wilkes
Kurt Wilkes

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

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