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Right Hand Logic

To learn to play pedal steel I needed a logical approach to help me see what was going on. To do this I divided things into three main sections. They were the physical, the mental, and the musical. Each of these were then divided into section until there was an outline that developed. The most important part to me was the right hand and the picking of the strings. All of the pedals, knee levers, music theory, fancy gadgets, mental practice, and third strings, really won't mean anything if you can't place the strings in motion. I started by looking at the simplest move that could be made on a steel and the simplest way to convey that message to someone else.

The simplest move is the thumb picking an open string. In traditional tab we would see all ten strings and the fret would be marked between two lines. This takes up a lot of space that we could use to show some additional information. I just simplify things by showing you only the string that is being used. The right hand movement is then tabbed right over the line that represents the string. The left hand movement is on a line below and can be studied separately from the right hand moves.

This graphic to the left shows S10 and a line. The line represents string ten. The T is for the thumb. 1 = the first finger. 2 = the second finger. The right hand movements are written right over the strings. Below we see the fret. The purpose is to put the emphasis on the right hand. By isolating a movement we can build up the muscles and the coordination that are needed to use the small moves to make up those great licks you want to play. The left hand is tabbed at the first fret.

The next logical move to show is the first finger picking a string. To do this we can change the fret and the string. We still only use one line to represent the single string that this move takes. Above is the first finger, picking the 6th string, open. Simple as that. This method of tablature makes seeing the small things that go together to make complex licks, at lot easier to deal with. If you go through all the little things, that combine to play pedal steel, the amount of information can be overwhelming. Start slow and add things to the basics and you'll be a better player in the long run. If you're going through a period in which you don't like your playing, go back to your right hand and work on things that will make you smoother. After you get those going, you move on to the left hand. This time spent at your steel will help you be a better musician.

The next logical move above, is to play the second finger on any of our strings. As you practice a certain picking technique, concentrate on the movements first. The tone that you are looking for will come to you when your hands develop the ability to play that tone. Before you spend the money on a new gadget for your sound, look to the most important aspect of your playing. Picking the strings.

A good exercise for each of your picking fingers, is to pick each string on the guitar. Two ways to practice this is to play one string with your thumb 25 times. Then do the other two fingers. You can use any string and should at least get each right hand pick used to picking all of your strings. For the beginner, this is what you need the most. The more advanced player can make up drills and exercises that help to build up that strength and stamina that your right hand needs.

Our three graphics above move ahead in a logical order. We've studied each finger on its own and now we put the two together. First the thumb and first finger pick two adjacent strings. We are looking at the groups of two. As we move on, we can look at all of the possibile groups of two. Our next graphic is the thumb and second finger. I've given all of the examples fret markings, but learn to play them on different groups of strings and at any fret on your guitar. The left hand is getting a work out helping out the right hand. We will also study the left hand all by itself. For now concentrate We have a total of three combinations of two right hand digits. They are the thumb and first finger, the thumb and second finger, and the first and second finger.
We've looked at them in groups of one, groups of two, and now we need to look at groups of three. There is only one and it is what I call a pick grip. Those are studied all by themselves to make them easier to grasp.

All of these moves are used at one time or another when you play the pedal steel. The only thing I do work on them on their own. That way the right hand doesn't get in the way of left hand learning. Just a little right hand logic.