Mark delves into the world of slack key guitar. He discusses basic concepts such as open tunings and chords.
Taught by Mark Kailana Nelson in Hawaiian slack key seriesLength: 34:24Difficulty: 1.5 of 5
Welcome to your first official slack key guitar lesson! Mark kicks off Lesson 2 with some historical information regarding this musical tradition.
In the 1830’s, the Hawaiian islands were overrun with cattle left by the British navy. As a result, “vaqueros,” or cowboys from Mexico came to control this problem. During the day, the cowboys would wrangle cattle. At night, they would sit around the campfire and play their guitar music. The Hawaiians then cultivated this music into their own unique style.
Slack key guitar almost died out in the 20th century. For decades, this style of music was a fairly well kept secret. Many slack key players thought that the tradition should not be passed to outsiders. Since Hawaii is a relatively small chain of islands, inhabitants were very concerned about foreign influence and its effect on society and culture. For this reason, the slack key style of playing was not widely spread to other cultures. Keola Beamer stirred up a lot of controversy when he published his first instructional slack key guitar book in the1960’s. Many felt that the slack key tradition should not be spread to outside cultures. As a result of this mindset, the slack key style was almost lost. Since this time, Mark and Keola have published new material that details this style. We highly recommend that you study the book Learn to Play Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar written by Keola Beamer and Mark Nelson in conjunction with this lessons series.What Is Slack Key?
Many people confuse slack key guitar with the steel guitar. Steel guitars have steel construction that gives the body of the guitar a distinct resonating quality. For this reason, these guitars are frequently referred to as “resonator guitars.” A steel guitar lays flat across the lap when played.
As discussed in the written portion of the last lesson, slack key literally refers to loosening the tuning keys of the guitar. Each string is tuned to a note contained within a major triad.Chapter 2: (15:37) Slack Key Tuning
The Hawaiians developed dozens of different tunings to accommodate specific songs. However, the most common tuning used in this style is open G. Here is a quick review of this tuning:
Mark walks you through the process of tuning your guitar in this way. Many alternate tunings involve tightening a string to a higher pitch. In open G however, every string whose tuning is altered is tuned down. Begin with the high E string. Tune this string down to a D. You can use the open D string to match this pitch. If you do not have much experience tuning by ear, you may want to use an electronic tuner.
The B, G, and D string remain exactly the same. These notes are contained within the G major triad.
Next, drop the low E string down to a D. Once again, use the open D string to match this pitch.
Finally, the 5th string must be tuned down to a G. Match the pitch of this string to the open G string (3rd string).
When matching the pitch of one string to another follow this process:
1.Pluck the string that is already in tune.
2.Pluck the string you want to tune. ONLY pluck it once.
3.Use large turns of the tuning key to adjust the pitch. Like Mark demonstrates, tuning in smaller increments makes tuning much more difficult.
4.Use an electronic tuner to check your accuracy.
Note: If you do not own a tuner, Mark gives you an opportunity to match your tuning to his at 4:10.Introduction to Fingerstyle Playing
The shape and condition of the right hand finger nails is extremely important when playing fingerstyle. A jagged, misshapen nail will result in a poor tone and reduced right hand accuracy. Not everybody has the same nails. Nails come in all shapes in sizes. As a result, you will need to experiment a little before you find the ideal way to shape your nails. However, there are some tried and true guidelines to follow when shaping nails.
1.To properly shape nails, buy a nail file that offers varying degrees of coarseness.
2.How long should the nails be? Regardless of whether you play fingerstyle on a classical or steel string guitar, the right hand nails should be kept fairly short. Turn your hand, so that the palm is facing you. The nail should just barely rise above the flesh of the fingers (roughly 1.5 millimeters). Start with a course section to cut the nails down to size. Then, use a polishing section to smooth the nails and put on finishing touches.
3.Many players prefer to taper their nails so that the right side is slightly taller than the left. If your nails are almost completely flat, we recommend you shape them in this matter. This provides a wider surface area to pluck the string with. Switch the quality of the video player to “high quality.” This will give you a better close up look at Mark’s nails.
4.Some players are blessed with hard nails. Others however are not. Steel strings are much more durable than fingernails. For this reason, frequent play causes the nails to gradually weaken and break. If your nails are weak and break frequently, don’t worry. There are several ways around this problem. Jamplay instructor Matt Brown frequently performs classical music. In the past, he coated his nails with nail hardener to prevent them from breaking. This is available at any drug or grocery store in the nail polish section. Many guitarists opt to use acrylic fingernails. Others cut up sections of ping pong balls and glue them on.
5.Check out the book Pumping Nylon by Brian Head for more information regarding nail size and shaping.Basic Fingerpicking Guidelines
The slack key style of playing typically involves a steady bass pattern. Typically, the thumb plucks each note of the bass pattern. The other right hand fingers pluck chord shapes and melody lines. Typically, the index and middle fingers are used to play scale lines. The third finger is added to accommodate playing chords and arpeggio patterns. The pinky finger is never used in slack key guitar. The pinky is only used to perform flamenco techniques such as the Spanish rasgueado.A. Right Hand Position
Proper positioning of the right hand is absolutely essential to quality tone production and comfortability. The right hand should rest just behind the soundhole (towards the bridge, not the neck). The forearm should rest lightly on the upper body of the guitar. Regardless of whether you are sitting down or standing up, always play with a strap! The guitar rests too low in your lap without a strap. Fingerpicking is nearly impossible in this awkward position. Notice how high the neck of Mark’s guitar hangs. Adjust your strap in such a manner. This will make playing the guitar much easier and more comfortable.
Note: In later lessons, Mark will demonstrate how to adjust the position of the right hand to create different tonal colors.
Place your right hand on the guitar in this position. Place your thumb on the fifth string. Plant your index, middle, and ring finger on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings respectively. Now, practice individually plucking each note. This will get your right hand acquainted with the basic fingerstyle playing position. Then, practice plucking the high three strings simultaneously. Bring each finger towards the palm as you pluck through the string.
Note: To ensure that you are producing the best possible tone, all plucking movement must originate from the knuckle that connects the finger to the palm of the hand.Chapter 3: (02:29) Taropatch Tuning
Open G tuning is often referred to as “Taropatch” tuning. In this scene, Mark demonstrates a few advantages of this fingering. As you can see, basic chords are much easier to play. Laying a barre across all six strings with the first finger produces a major barre chord. Mark demonstrates how to play a D chord in Taropatch tunin.Chapter 4: (11:37) Time to Play Mark begins the scene by introducing tablature.
Note: The following information regarding tablature is taken from Lesson 2 of David Anthony’s Phase 1 series.Tablature Vs Musical Notation
Tablature is basically the simple method of standard musical notation (dots, lines, stems, quarter notes, half notes, etc). For those of you interested in just learning to play and are not that interested in music theory, this is perfect for you. You'll be able to learn to play any song and use proper techniques without being slowed down by learning true music theory. Instead of learning how the notes sound and how long they sustain for, you are told exactly what to play.
This would be like learning a foreign word for example. Instead of figuring out how each letter is pronounced in the language, we simply say the word for you & you repeat it. Did you learn the origin of the word, the specifics on the dialect and the breakdown? No. Did you learn the word perfectly? Yes.
There are, however, a few major drawbacks to tablature. With proper musical notation, you are given the length of the notes as well as the volume of the notes. You might play one note twice as long as the next or perhaps you'd play it half as loud as the previous note. With tablature, you are not given these dynamics.
If you pick up some tablature for a song you've never heard and have no examples of it, we wish you the best of luck; it'll be nearly impossible to get it to sound right. Fortunately, you are usually playing something you already know (who wants to learn to play a song they've never heard?) such as a song or an example played by one of our instructors. It is quite easy to listen to the example & change the length & volume accordingly.Understanding Basic Tablature
There are three basic features of tablature that you should understand:
* The Strings - You will see six horizontal lines that represent the six strings of your guitar: E, A, D, G, B, and E. These are labeled from bottom to top on the diagram (top to bottom on your guitar).
* Numbers - The numbers indicate the fret that the note should be played on. If you see a 5 on the “D” string, you will be placing your finger directly behind the 5th fret on the “D” string (3rd one from the top).
* Spacing / Stacking - As you’ve already learned, musical notation is superior regarding timing on your notes. It tells you exactly how fast to hit the note & how long to wait until you play the next note. Tablature attempts to do this with spacing.
If you see six zeros stacked on each other, you will simply hit all six notes (in this case open strings; no frets should be held) together. If the zeros were spaced out (a diagonal line, essentially) then you would hit them one at a time. In some tablature, the spacing between notes will vary. This indicates if there is a small pause or larger pause between the notes. Unfortunately, this is not an exact science by any means. However, if notes are right next to each other you should realize that these will be hit quickly one after the other. If there is a bigger gap, you should know that there is a longer pause between the notes.
Now is as good of time as any to briefly explain sharp & flat notes. If a note is flat, the sound produced will be a lower pitch than the desired note. If it’s flat, the pitch will be higher. Effectively if you have a flat note (sometimes referenced as “flat” on an electronic tuner), you will need to increase the pitch of your string. If a note is sharp, you will need to lower the pitch of your string.Fingerstyle Exercise
Note: Open the “Supplemental Content” tab for tablature to this exercise.
A.Measure 1-The first measure begins with a basic open G chord. Pluck the first bass note with the thumb. Bass notes are written as half notes in the notation. Then, use the first finger to strum the chord on the high strings. Alternate the direction of your strumming. Every other strum should be an upstrum. Watch Mark carefully to ensure that you are using the correct strumming pattern.
B.Measure 2-In measure 2, the chord changes to D7, the dominant chord of the key. The first string is played open in this chord shape as a result of the open tuning.
Note: Open the “Supplemental Content” tab for a fretboard diagram of D7.
Once you feel comfortable with the first two measures, loop them continuously.
C.Measure 3-The chord remains the same in measure 3. However, the pinky is added to the 4th fret of the high E string. This adds F# (the third of the chord) to the chord voicing. A large finger stretch is necessary to fret this note. As mentioned before, adjusting your guitar strap properly helps immensely when performing wide stretches. Do not get frustrated if you cannot fret this chord right away. Most grown adults with large hands have a difficult time with this stretch at first. Through dedicated practice each day, your hands will eventually stretch far enough to accommodate this chord shape.
Note: Steve Eulberg demonstrates some great hand/finger exercises in his Phase 1 series. Check out Lesson 12 for more information.
D. Measure 4-The final measure makes a return to the tonic G chord. This time around, the high octave root note is added to the chord. The pinky frets G at the 5th fret.
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.
Mark Nelson introduces Hawaiian slack key guitar and welcomes you to his lesson series.Length: 9:11 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
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
In this lesson, Mark teaches a slack key arrangement of the classic song "Brother John."Length: 14:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful Hawaiian piece that he calls "Old Style Slack."Length: 30:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
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
Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful Hawaiian slack key piece called "Salomila."Length: 19:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Mark Nelson demonstrates how double stops are used in Hawaiian slack key guitar.Length: 22:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful piece of music he calls "Ki Ho'Alu Slide."Length: 15:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Mark Nelson teaches a few more turnarounds. He demonstrates how you can link two turnarounds together.Length: 9:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
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
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
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
Mark demonstrates some additional double stops and discusses common slack key chords.Length: 18:30 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
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
Mark Nelson reviews the lesson series up to this point and discusses its future.Length: 16:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
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
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
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
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
Mark Nelson teaches a beautiful Hawaiian slack key song entitled "Playful Popoki."Length: 23:08 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Mark teaches another version of "Playful Popoki."Length: 25:17 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Mark Nelson introduces C Wahine tuning.Length: 10:54 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
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
Mark Nelson teaches a classic Hawaiian slack key piece entitled "Hi`ilawe."Length: 18:12 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
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
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
Mark Nelson teaches a Hawaiian slack key piece entitled "Kowali" in this lesson.Length: 13:42 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Mark Nelson returns to the song "Kowali" and introduces the concept of modulation in this lesson.Length: 11:30 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Mark Nelson returns to the world of Hawaiian slack key with a beautiful piece entitled "Sanoe."Length: 17:36 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Mark revisits the beautiful song "Sanoe." He explains how the song modulates in this lesson.Length: 11:31 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
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
Mark Nelson explores the wonders of the beautiful F Wahine tuning.Length: 29:37 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Mark Nelson shares his rendition of the beautiful slack key song "My Yellow Ginger Lei."Length: 14:55 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Mark Nelson teaches a basic version of the song "Mauna Loa."Length: 10:26 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Mark teaches a more elaborate version of "Mauna Loa."Length: 12:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Mark Nelson teaches a song called "Kawohikukapulani" and discusses the history behind it.Length: 9:19 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
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
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
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
Mark Nelson shares his beautiful rendition of the song "Makee Ailana" in this lesson.Length: 22:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
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
Mark continues his discussion on the song "Tiare Tahiti" in this lesson.Length: 17:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
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
Mark continues his series wrap-up with another great lesson filled with information on tunings.Length: 21:23 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mark Nelson continues his instruction on the catchy tune "Hula Blues" with some fun variations.Length: 23:33 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
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
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
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
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
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
Mark Nelson introduces and explains an open Bb major tuning in this miniseries introduction.Length: 14:09 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Mark Nelson goes over a tune called "Green Rose Hula" in the beautiful B flat tuning.Length: 12:25 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
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
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 â€“ the first widely available instruction method for this gentle art. Keola and Mark co-host the Aloha Music Camp â€“ 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
Our acoustic guitar lessons are taught by qualified instructors with various backgrounds with the instrument.
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