This is Bob Hempker and we got a great email from Bill Fall. Here it is.
I can appreciate how challenging it must be for you, after a while, to come up with fresh new tips and ideas, so let me suggest a topic which, broken down, I think could be the subject of several newsletters: bars and bar control.
The late Jeff Newman, a genius at steel guitar pedagogy, taught a beautifully simplified, effective method for holding and controlling a bar that I suspect probably is still be available in some form from Jeffran Music. However, I don’t know if Jeff ever went beyond the simplest basics in that discussion.
Much could be said about the advantages and disadvantages of different bar diameters, for example, as well as about various bar types.
One specific part of bar control that I was never shown, but only developed subconsciously over years of practice and playing, is moving the bar nose vertically across the strings. This may be particularly helpful for newer players. The idea would be that when playing single notes, you want to align the nose-end of the bar right on that string. This allows you not only to apply a bit more pressure on the single string you’re picking, but also to better focus your attention on the correct string, and to better coordinate your right hand to attack that string more accurately – because we’re never looking at what our right hand is doing, of course.
Put simply, you LOOK at the string you want to play, you POINT the bar’s nose at that string, and then you’ll be able to PICK that string more accurately. With practice, all three will happen together automatically.
The same principle applies to picking double-stops or triads: The nose-end should be placed on the outer-most string.
Realize in this connection that increased bar pressure on the string(s) provides better clarity, ring and sustain. But, if you need to apply so much pressure that your bar hand gets tired or even starts cramping, then you may want to try a larger diameter – heavier – bar. I’m pushing 70 now, and my hand muscles don’t have the resilience they once did. So I carry two bars: one, 7/8ths-inch diameter; the other, 15/16ths. I use the heavier bar for playing slower tunes when I want to get the most ring and sustain. I’ll go to the lighter bar for speed-picking, or for when my bar hand starts to poop out.
Something else I can add is when you’re talking of using the bar tip, you can also use it to bend a note into tune if a note is a little bit flat by using a little more pressure on the top part of the bar or by sliding the tip of the bar just a little bit horizontally and using your ears to hear the note go in tune.
This can also be of help if we have a string that we hear is out of tune but don’t have time to tune it because we’re in the middle of a solo or something. We can use not only the tip end of the bar but the back end of the bar if we have a lower string that’s out of tune.
Fiddle players use this same technique with their bow. They may put more pressure on their bow to raise the pitch of a note while at the same time sliding their finger up the neck.
Left hand bar vibrato is a technique all its own and needs perfected. The technique like any other technique improves over time. Different things we play will require a different type of bar vibrato. Some things require practically no vibrato at all, where if we’re playing a Pete Drake lick or John Hughey lick, you may want to use a more exaggerated left hand vibrato.
Bear in mind, even these players didn’t use it on everything they played. Bar vibrato is similar to a singer using vibrato for an effect. When an effect is used all the time it ceases to be effective. Use the bar vibrato with discretion. That will give your playing a sense of taste. It’s kind of like salt. You don’t want too much salt on your potatoes.
I want to thank everybody who let us list them as teachers and remind all the new players who might be interested in taking lessons to refer to the list at www.steelguitar.net/teachers.html
Steel Guitar Nashville
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Hendersonville, TN. 37075
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