Some of the most complex licks or passages have simple origins and sometimes curiously interesting influences. Where did they come from? How can I make it my own? For example: There is an obvious difference between a musician and an artist. Musicians can play notes, artists make the music come alive and give it soul and purpose, by adding accents, dynamic changes, (volume), etc.

Well then, what makes a pioneer…the people we may call musical geniuses. If you take a musical phrase/idea/theme, then blend some musical thoughts and influence from another style, then maybe add some technique, attack, or tone that a different instrument might use, you now have something new and completely innovative. I’d like to show you one of my more advanced pet licks and discuss these properties.

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This pedal steel emulation lick is of the Western-Swing variety and something steel players might play on the C6th neck. Many people have asked me for a transcription of the Panhandle Rag from a recording in the 1980’s. I played something like this during the improvised chord/melody solos.

We are in the key of E with a swing groove. The melody line is a chromatic run from B down to G#. (Example 1) The signature ending riff Count Basie played is the inspiration here. He played it ascending with an E on top in pairs. Les Paul used something like this on the intro to “How High the Moon”.

Next, we are going harmonize it in thirds. (Example 4) I use my second finger for the second-string notes and my third finger for the third string notes and I use my 1st finger for the E and B notes at the 9th fret.

Next, we can add the E note to the chord. Changing things up a bit to make it different, we will put the E note on the bottom of the chord. As you recall Count Basie and Les Paul had the E on the top. We will re-finger this to accommodate the added note. (Example 5) In the first measure, for the left hand, the first finger gets the second-string notes; the second finger gets the third string notes; and the pinky gets the fourth string notes. I am usually using the pick and fingers technique for the right hand. The ring finger picks the second string notes; the middle finger picks the third string; and the pick gets the fourth string notes. To achieve the pedal steel guitar effect, we are going to bend strings two and three a half step. I practiced this move for hours just trying to get the notes in tune. It is difficult to hold one note while bending two others.

The trick to the four-string chord in the next measure is the thumb position. If your thumb is in the correct position behind the neck, you can stretch far enough and play the chord cleanly. The right hand fingers alternate between the groups of three strings. At this point, you want to take some time to solidify this phrase.

The first chord in Example 6 uses the pinky on the fourth string and the first two fingers for the other two notes. The second chord uses the first three fingers. For the picking hand, use the same technique used in example five to alternate between the strings. Bending the third string ninth fret one step up make the chord an A13th just for the half of a beat. Once you get this note in tune and master this phrase, you may want to play them back to back.

Example 7 is the next phrase. When I’m soloing, I try to create phrases that compliment each other. Example 7 is the answer to Examples 5 and 6. In the left hand, I use the pick and the middle finger for the pairs of notes on the 5th and 4th; and then the 4th and 3rd. I use the ring finger and the middle finger for the pair of notes on the 2nd and 3rd strings. The first measure is fingered in the left hand as a chord. The pinky gets the fifth string, the middle finger gets the 4th string, the index finger plays the 3rd and 2nd strings as a barre. Work on this phrase slowly at first as well. When you put the whole thing together, you will have a I-IV-I-V progression.

So, let’s get back to this whole pioneer thing and forging new ground and new sounds. This is what will put you on the map as being different and not just another guitarist. We always hear that we are “a dime a dozen”. Now you have your formula to stand out. Listen to all of your favorite guitarists. Blend in different instruments and different styles. Keep it simple for the listener and stay true to your roots and make some new music with some new sounds.

I always loved (and still do) the sounds of the big bands from the 1930’s and 1940’s. I love those big sounding harmonies with the close voicings. I wanted to be a big band. Yes, that’s right. Not necessarily in the band, I wanted to be the entire trombone section or the sax section. That’s where I got the influence to play these sounds. So, that’s the truth. Early on, I didn’t know about the C6th pedal steel guitar neck. What I was after and what it became are two different things, but I came up with something new. That’s what you need to do. Good luck and happy picking.


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