Slack-key is a Hawaiian style of guitar playing. It is based on a finger style of picking, in a multiple Open Tuning format. This can be achieved when one or more strings are de-tuned until all of the guitars six strings form a single chord when strummed together, frequently it is in a G major chording. The strings on this guitar were of a modern nylon origin. They are more commonly known as a classical guitar strings.
The history of this playing style is said to have originated from Mexican cowboys. They were introduced there in Hawaii in the late 19th century to help out with cattle that was brought there. They gave Hawaiians some guitars and taught them basically how to play it and then left, allowing the Hawaiians to develop the style on their own.
The Slack key guitar approach adapted to the rhythms of native Hawaiian dancing along with harmonic construction of the Hawaiian music genre. This style was a matter of national pride in the late 19th century. This, combined rhythms from traditional dance meters with imported European forms, drew its melodies from chant, hula, Christian hymns and the popular music brought in by the various peoples who visited this exotic location.
In all honesty, every time I hear the reference to Hawaiian music, Don Ho always pops up in my mind. To some of us, it has a unfair or even silly musical stigma attached to it. It may take some time to break free from it, but today’s Slack-Key or Hawaiian music is much more complex then I remembered. I can hear/see this musical influence in Michael Hedges style for sure! Man that guy just F—ing rock!!!
The way in which they play this, can be paralleled with drone picking I guess? Bruce Cockburn, and to the more sophisticated music observer Elizabeth Cotton, is the most popular musician that comes to mind when drone picking is brought up.
The guitar player uses a alternating-bass pattern, usually played by the thumb on the lower two or three strings of the guitar. The melody is played on the three or four highest strings, using any number of fingers. This may sound fairly simple to pull off but IT’S NOT THAT EASY TO DO! I always have to re-think my left hand finger patterns very carefully or even un-learn what I already know, in order to venture off into what I call “the gymnastics of the finger picking” on my right hand!
So has anyone ever heard of or used this distinctive style of finger picking? And if so, do you have exercise that we could use to perfect this dying art?
Keep on Jammin’