Intro to Slack Key (Guitar Lesson)


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Mark Kailana Nelson

Intro to Slack Key

Mark Nelson introduces Hawaiian slack key guitar and welcomes you to his lesson series.

Taught by Mark Kailana Nelson in Hawaiian slack key seriesLength: 9:11Difficulty: 0.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (9:18) Introduction Aloha! Welcome to the first lesson of Mark Nelson’s Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar series! Slack Key Guitar is an indigenous form of Hawaiian soul music. In this series, Mark will walk you through the basic techniques and tunings idiomatic to this style of play. Also, you will learn some interesting historical information regarding the origin of slack key guitar.

Note: For more information regarding Mark and his career, check out his full biography.

Slack Key Guitar
Slack key playing is a Hawaiian form of guitar music that involves playing in open tunings. The Hawaiian word “ki ho’alu” refers to the genre of slack key guitar. This translates literally to “loosen key” or slack key. Each string of the guitar is detuned so that the open strings from a major chord. Typically, slack key players tune to an open G major chord. Here is a string-by-string breakdown of this open tuning:
6th: D
5th: G
4th: D
3rd: G
2nd: B
1st: D
Slack Key isn’t the only genre that utilizes open tunings. American blues players from the southwest cultivated their own system of open tunings. Open E, and open D are tunings frequently used by blues guitarists. As Mark later explains, slack key is closely related to blues and country blues music.

Open tunings have found their way into rock and roll as well. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards exploits open G tuning to great effect. Open tunings allow for certain chord shapes and techniques that are not possible in standard tuning.
No Picks Allowed!
Slack Key must be played fingerstyle. Bass and chord patterns are combined with soulful melody lines. The musical arrangement of the music necessitates the use of fingerstyle playing. For this reason, we recommend you check out the Phase 2 Fingerstyle lessons available on JamPlay. Studying these lessons in conjunction with this series will maximize your fingerstyle training.

Don’t worry if you have no experience with these techniques. Mark will walk you slowly through the right hand mechanics necessary to play in this style.
Brief History of Ki Ho’alu
Mexican cowboys originally brought the guitar to Hawaii. Most historians speculate that this occurred around the middle of the nineteenth century. The Hawaiians referred to their visitors as “paniolo.” This Hawaiian word translates most closely to “Spaniards.” The Spaniards taught Hawaiians the basic fundamentals and techniques of their guitar style. From this point, the Hawaiians began to cultivate their own style. In the slack key style, traditional dance rhythms are combined with harmony native to the Hawaiian Islands.
What’s to Come?
The primary focus of this lesson series is to develop guitar skills that are applicable to several genres. Studying the slack key style will hopefully open your eyes to an endless amount of new possibilities on the guitar.


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Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.


francie1francie1 replied on August 23rd, 2015

That is "Francie"

francie1francie1 replied on August 23rd, 2015

Mark, I just found these lessons on jumplay. So glad you are doing them I have done some of Ozzie Kotani's tunes and also some in your book but love this "almost in person" lesson by lesson approach! France from Ashland

ericjbostwickericjbostwick replied on March 31st, 2014

Mark, looks like its been awhile since you updated the lessons so don't know if youre still monitoring the comments but I wanted to thank you (and Jamplay) for introducing me to slack key. Ive just started the lessons and am enjoying them. Im looking forward to completing all that you have posted. Thanks again.

pddouglaspddouglas replied on May 14th, 2013

Joining your lessons in May 2014

inaqau1inaqau1 replied on February 2nd, 2013

Hi Mark, I was interested to know more about Slack Key and your introduction made me join.

haqzafhaqzaf replied on January 2nd, 2013

Hi,Mark,Enjoyed listning to your story.Joining your lessons.

kapono2003kapono2003 replied on November 27th, 2009

Mark, although I grew up hearing slack key, and have to say that nothing paints a clearer picture of the islands for me more than the sound of it. I just want to thank you for spreading the art of slack key. I have been dying to learn slack key for over 10 years now, but there are'nt many artists or much interest here on the mainland. My grandfather played slack key beautifully and took his skills to the grave because I wasn't there in Hawaii to learn from him before he passed. Although I did inherit his guitar years ago, I could never manage make it sound as beautifully as he did. I am confident that your lessons will take me there... Thanks again...

KelekaKeleka replied on December 28th, 2012

Aloha Mark I'm very excited to be studying with you....and I can appreciate your story. I have not found anyone else in my little town of Cambria that plays Ki ho'alu, an so....I've been teaching myself for about seven years. I guess you would say "that's learning the hard way". Hopefully I won't have to overcome too many bad habits. After visiting Kauai last summer and connecting with a friend who was learning to play, he told me that he was taking instruction with Jamplay and encouraged me to look into your program. So here I am. It's my Christmas present this year. What an opportunity!!!

catguycatguy replied on May 12th, 2009

WoW!! what can i say? I was just tooing around in Jam Play this past weekend, trying on some new blues stuff from Hawkeye Hermans accoustic blues site and I kept noticing this Slack Key genre, well, my curiosity got the better of me, I just had to find out what it was all about. Well Mark, after your introduction, and the most wonderful sound from an accoustic guitar that I have ever heard (I am 63 years old by the way), well needless to say my Yanaha FG413-S is now tuned to an open G k? h??alu tuning, I just have to learn this wonderful sound. Will my right hand fingering ever work the way yours do :o) by the way, I will be using a thumb pick and finger picks, left over from my Bluegrass banjo days. Besides, us rednecks up here in northern Alberta, Canada need a new kind of sound :o) Thanks Mark Gord Steeves

Mark.NelsonMark.Nelson replied on May 29th, 2009

Glad you like the lessons. Lots of great players use thumbpicks and fingerpicks--check out Ledward Kaapana! The trick to getting your fingers to work is simple--practice. No worries, I've got lots of exercises in the series. Stay tuned!

pstrdavewpstrdavew replied on March 20th, 2009

I just signed up for Jamplay about 2 months ago (I transfered from another online service). When I found out JP included Slack Key I was thrilled. I lived in Hawaii for a number of years and I love the music. I am looking forward to levelling up in order to begin the lessons. Thank you Mark for being willing to share this Hawaiian treasure, and thank you JP for including it in your line-up. You are by da kine!

pstrdavewpstrdavew replied on March 20th, 2009

I mean, "you are by FAR 'da kine'" :-)

Mark.NelsonMark.Nelson replied on April 23rd, 2009

Glad to hear you are enjoying the lessons. Like they say, "Jes' Press!"

SylviaSylvia replied on August 24th, 2008

That would be fun to go to the music camp. When are they?

jboothjbooth replied on August 24th, 2008

http://www.alohamusiccamp.com/ Looks like the next one isn't until February 2009!

herbert tuckerherbert tucker replied on February 24th, 2008

i just started but so far it looks good.mark doesn't get too far a head.

murphdurphmurphdurph replied on December 20th, 2007

this video was worth the price of my membership alone.

kevinacekevinace replied on December 27th, 2007

Glad to hear it! There's plenty more coming!

andyandy replied on December 26th, 2007

HI Mark, I had the chance to see you at Casanovas one sunday afternoon; wonderful; I am looking forward to sitting in on your lessons!!!

Hawaiian slack key

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Hawaiian slack key is a beautiful style of guitar that originated in Hawaii. By blending relaxing melodies with intricate fingerstyle playing, this traditional genre of music is sure to please.



Lesson 1

Intro to Slack Key

Mark Nelson introduces Hawaiian slack key guitar and welcomes you to his lesson series.

Length: 9:11 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 2

Basic Slack Key

Mark delves into the world of slack key guitar. He discusses basic concepts such as open tunings and chords.

Length: 34:24 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

Bradda John

In this lesson, Mark teaches a slack key arrangement of the classic song "Brother John."

Length: 14:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 4

Old Style Slack

Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful Hawaiian piece that he calls "Old Style Slack."

Length: 30:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 5

Vamps and Turnarounds

Turnarounds are very important to the slack key genre. Mark explains what they are and how they are used in this lesson.

Length: 22:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 6

Salomila

Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful Hawaiian slack key piece called "Salomila."

Length: 19:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

Double Stops in Slack Key

Mark Nelson demonstrates how double stops are used in Hawaiian slack key guitar.

Length: 22:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 8

Ki Ho'Alu Slide

Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful piece of music he calls "Ki Ho'Alu Slide."

Length: 15:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 9

More Turnarounds

Mark Nelson teaches a few more turnarounds. He demonstrates how you can link two turnarounds together.

Length: 9:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 10

Return to Salomila

Mark Nelson returns to the song "Salomila." Learn an altered version of this song that will put your slack key skills to the test.

Length: 14:30 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 11

Building Blocks

Mark Nelson provides you with more slack key building blocks. He demonstrates some new turnarounds that involve playing double stops in sixths.

Length: 23:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 12

Return to Old Style Slack

Mark Nelson returns to the song "Old Style Slack." In this lesson, he teaches a more advanced arrangement of the song.

Length: 23:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

Double Stops and Chords

Mark demonstrates some additional double stops and discusses common slack key chords.

Length: 18:30 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 14

Taropatch Blues

Mark Nelson teaches an original song called "Taropatch Blues." He also explains how improvisation is used in the slack key genre.

Length: 19:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 15

Series Review

Mark Nelson reviews the lesson series up to this point and discusses its future.

Length: 16:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 16

Aunty Style Slack

Mark Nelson introduces the G Wahine tuning, also known as double slack. He teaches a song in this tuning called "Aunty Style Slack."

Length: 21:10 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 17

Clave Bass Studies

Mark introduces the concept of the clave rhythm. He explains what the clave is and provides some fun Hawaiian themed exercises to play.

Length: 15:56 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 18

Malasadas

Mark Nelson will teaches a slack key piece called "Malasadas." This lesson applies the clave bass pattern from lesson 17.

Length: 14:17 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 19

Double Stops and Chords

Mark expands your knowledge of double slack tuning. He introduces some common chords and double stops in this tuning.

Length: 13:57 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 20

Playful Popoki

Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful Hawaiian slack key song entitled "Playful Popoki."

Length: 23:08 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 21

Playful Popoki Part 2

Mark teaches another version of "Playful Popoki."

Length: 25:17 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 22

C Wahine Tuning

Mark Nelson introduces C Wahine tuning.

Length: 10:54 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 23

Expanding the Tuning

Mark Nelson expands on Drop C / C Wahine tuning. He explains how familiar chords and double stops can be played in this tuning.

Length: 15:31 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 24

Hi`ilawe

Mark Nelson teaches a classic Hawaiian slack key piece entitled "Hi`ilawe."

Length: 18:12 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 25

C Wahine Chords

Mark "Kailana" Nelson covers the Drop C / C Wahine tuning again in this lesson. This time around he introduces more chords and variations.

Length: 10:54 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 26

Molokai Waltz

Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful piece entitled "Molokai Waltz" in this lesson. This song demonstrates how you can play melody out of chord shapes.

Length: 13:30 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 27

Kowali

Mark Nelson teaches a Hawaiian slack key piece entitled "Kowali" in this lesson.

Length: 13:42 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 28

Kowali Modulation

Mark Nelson returns to the song "Kowali" and introduces the concept of modulation in this lesson.

Length: 11:30 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 29

Sanoe

Mark Nelson returns to the world of Hawaiian slack key with a beautiful piece entitled "Sanoe."

Length: 17:36 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 30

Sanoe Modulation

Mark revisits the beautiful song "Sanoe." He explains how the song modulates in this lesson.

Length: 11:31 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 31

Catching up & Moving on

Mark Nelson returns with more slack key! Find out what Mark plans to teach in upcoming lessons and learn his approach to fingerpicking technique.

Length: 14:00 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 32

F Wahine Tuning

Mark Nelson explores the wonders of the beautiful F Wahine tuning.

Length: 29:37 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 33

My Yellow Ginger Lei

Mark Nelson shares his rendition of the beautiful slack key song "My Yellow Ginger Lei."

Length: 14:55 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 34

Mauna Loa Part 1

Mark Nelson teaches a basic version of the song "Mauna Loa."

Length: 10:26 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 35

Mauna Loa Part 2

Mark teaches a more elaborate version of "Mauna Loa."

Length: 12:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 36

Kawohikukapulani

Mark Nelson teaches a song called "Kawohikukapulani" and discusses the history behind it.

Length: 9:19 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 37

My Yellow Ginger Lei Variations

Mark Nelson talks about discovering your own style as he plays and improvises "My Yellow Ginger Lei" in F Wahine tuning.

Length: 27:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 38

He Aloha No'o Honolulu

Mark Nelson shares his rendition of the song "He Aloha No'o Honolulu" in F Wahine tuning.

Length: 11:25 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 39

He Aloha No'o Honolulu Part 2

Mark Nelson covers an extended version of "He Aloha No'o Honolulu" and continues to touch on the subject of creating your own style.

Length: 20:17 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 40

Makee Ailana

Mark Nelson shares his beautiful rendition of the song "Makee Ailana" in this lesson.

Length: 22:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 41

Tiare Tahiti

Mark Nelson shares his rendition of "Tiare Tahiti," a lovely song named after the sweet Tahitian Tiare flower.

Length: 20:22 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 42

Tiare Tahiti Part 2

Mark continues his discussion on the song "Tiare Tahiti" in this lesson.

Length: 17:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 43

Series Wrap-up Part 1

Mark Nelson begins his series wrap-up with a lesson about the similarities and differences between tunings. The song "Sanoe" is used as an example.

Length: 12:27 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 44

Series Wrap-up Part 2

Mark continues his series wrap-up with another great lesson filled with information on tunings.

Length: 21:23 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 45

Series Wrap-up Part 3

Mark Nelson concludes his series wrap-up with a lesson on "My Yellow Ginger Lei" in Taropatch tuning. He also shares tips and advice to continue on your own until he returns to JamPlay with more lessons.

Length: 19:51 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 46

Bring Back the Slack!

Mark Kailana Nelson is back by popular demand with more amazing slack key guitar! In this series reintroduction, he talks about what he will be teaching in his new set of lessons.

Length: 10:27 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 47

Nanea Kou Maka i ka Le‘ale‘a

Mark Nelson continues his Slack Key series with another song called "Nanea Kou Maka i ka Le‘ale‘a." Mark lays out the basics of the song and talks a little about making it your own.

Length: 24:38 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 48

Intros and Outros

Mark Nelson talks about intros and outros using the tune, "Nanea Kou Maka i ka Le‘ale‘a" as an example to work from.

Length: 19:34 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 49

'Ulupalakua Part 1

Mark Nelson introduces "'Ulupalakua," a song he will be using to teach different skills and techniques. In this lesson, he explains the tune and asks that you get it under your belt before moving on.

Length: 6:42 Difficulty: 2.0 FREE
Lesson 50

'Ulupalakua Part 2: Singing

Mark Nelson touches on singing and backing up a singer in this lesson. He uses the song "'Ulupalakua" as an example and explains the lyrics.

Length: 25:02 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 51

'Ulupalakua Part 3: Variations

Mark Nelson demonstrates some fun variations to spice up your playing using the song "Ulupalakua" as an example.

Length: 29:23 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 52

'Ulupalakua Part 4: Three Songs

Mark Nelson wraps up this tune by demonstrating two similar songs you may play now that you have "Ulupalakua" under your belt.

Length: 8:01 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 53

Hula Blues Part 1

Mark Nelson introduces the catchy "Hula Blues" in this lesson. He asks that you get the song under your belt before moving on to the lessons to follow.

Length: 20:22 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 54

Hula Blues Part 2: Variations

Mark Nelson continues his instruction on the catchy tune "Hula Blues" with some fun variations.

Length: 23:33 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 55

Hula Blues Part 3: Singing

Mark Nelson continues the "Hula Blues" with a lesson on lyrics and singing. Mark demonstrates some useful tips and tricks to get you going.

Length: 15:53 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 56

‘Opihi Mo‘emo‘e Part 1

Mark Nelson introduces a new slack key tune called "‘Opihi Mo‘emo‘e" in this lesson. As usual, Mark starts off by going over each section of the song and asks that you to get it down before moving...

Length: 23:41 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 57

‘Opihi Mo‘emo‘e Part 2

Mark Nelson shows off some fun variations for the catchy slack key tune "‘Opihi Mo‘emo‘e." His primary goal for this lesson is to help make this song unique to your personal style.

Length: 13:36 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 58

‘Opihi Mo‘emo‘e Part 3

Mark Nelson wraps up the tune "Opihi Mo‘emo‘e" in this lesson, providing full tab and discussing song structure.

Length: 11:50 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 59

Mark's Slack Key Blues

In this short miniseries wrap-up, Mark Nelson slides into his own version of the blues, slack key style.

Length: 5:00 Difficulty: 0.0 Members Only
Lesson 60

B Flat Tuning Part 1

Mark Nelson introduces and explains an open Bb major tuning in this miniseries introduction.

Length: 14:09 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 61

B Flat Tuning Part 2: Green Rose Hula

Mark Nelson goes over a tune called "Green Rose Hula" in the beautiful B flat tuning.

Length: 12:25 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 62

B Flat Tuning Part 3: Pua Lilia

In this lesson, Mark Nelson takes a look at more complex harmonies while teaching the beautiful song "Pua Lilia".

Length: 12:57 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 63

B Flat Tuning Part 4: ‘Ulupalakua

Mark Nelson wraps up his open Bb tuning miniseries with a look at a song you might recognize from previous lessons, "‘Ulupalakua".

Length: 10:28 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only

About Mark Kailana Nelson View Full Biography Ki Ho `alu, or slack key guitar, is a uniquely Hawaiian music. Legend has it that Spanish cowboys hired to teach cattle handling in the 1830's brought the first guitars the Polynesians had seen. Until very recently, slack key was almost unknown outside of the Islands.

Mark's lifelong interest in slack key led him to write "Learn to Play Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar" (Mel Bay Publications), with legendary Hawaiian musician Keola Beamer – the first widely available instruction method for this gentle art. Keola and Mark co-host the Aloha Music Camp – an immersion into the music and culture of Hawaii held each summer in the Hawaiian Islands.

Mark's 2004 CD, "The Water is Wide," brings together the nahenahe sounds of slack key guitar with the sweet sounds of the dulcimer. In 2006 he released "Old Time Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar," nineteen classic Hawaiian songs recorded live in the studio. A book of note-for-note transcriptions in Tab and standard notation facilitates learning the songs.. His most recent book and CD set, "Ke Kukima Polinahe," is the first-ever recording of traditional slack key music arranged for the dulcimer.

Mark began playing guitar and bass professionally at the not-so-tender age of 12. Over the years he's added a number of instruments, including mandolin, `ukulele, bodhran and the Appalachian dulcimer and its European kin.

In the early 1970's Mark was one of a handful of free-spirited musicians who created a whole new vocabulary for the Appalachian dulcimer and guitar. He created a driving flatpicking dulcimer style, playing the instrument with a force and passion seldom heard before. A first place win at the National Mountain Dulcimer Championships in Winfield, Kansas in 1979 led to appearances at festivals, colleges and coffeehouses across North America and Europe, and a recording career spanning over 25 years.

He's an engaging performer, artfully weaving stories and humor with heartfelt music to transport the audience. Mark has performed just about everywhere from Barrow to Boston; Sligo to San Diego. He's shared the stage with performers as diverse as Grover Washington, Jr.; Norton Buffalo; Phoebe Snow, Doc Watson, George Winston and many others. He once worked as a banjo playing gorilla in Dublin, but that's another story...

"Nelson is a musician who possesses that rare combination of insight and talent necessary to successfully transcend conventional concepts of genre and culture."
John Berger, Honolulu Star-Bulletin

"Every once in a while a musician comes along who can make an instrument speak in tongues"
Deseret News, Salt Lake City

"Mark Nelson seems to be on to something new and sweet with his marriage of Appalachian dulcimer and Hawaiian slack key guitar. Drizzle is one of the most achingly beautiful slack key numbers heard in years."
Danny Carnahan, Acoustic Guitar Magazine

"It's my sunset-have-a-martini-on-the-lanai soundtrack every night!"
Duke Walls, Hana, Maui

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Greg J.

"With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace"
 

I'm a fifty eight year old newbie who owns a guitar which has been sitting untouched in a corner for about seven years now. Last weekend I got inspired to pick it up and finally learn how to play after watching an amazing Spanish guitarist on TV. So, here I am. I'm starting at the beginning with Steve Eulberg and I couldn't be happier (except for the sore fingers :) Some day I'm going to play like Steve! I'm self employed with a hectic schedule. With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace, rewinding and replaying the videos until I get it. This is a very enjoyable diversion from my work yet I still feel like I'm accomplishing something worthwhile. Thanks a lot, Greg


Bill

"I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students."
 

I am commenting here to tell you and everyone at JamPlay that I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students. I truly enjoy learning to play the guitar on JamPlay.com. Yes, I said the words, ""enjoy learning."" It is by far the best deal for the money.



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