We know a steel guitar can not be strummed like a guitar for consistent rhythm playing. However for certain types of music the steel can lend itself to a rhythm approach.
I’ve been interested in rhythm chord comping for lap steel for awhile and have come up with a technique for how I approach this in terms of both rhythm and chords (voicing and movement.)
This technique is particularly useful if I am in a situation without another musician to provide rhythm. I love to play in small combos and jam situations so this really has come out of necessity. And like Franky K, I too simply love playing chords.
Much influence for me has come from country and swing rhythm guitar. And in this way, this technique depends as much on string muting (palm muting) and syncopation as it does notes being played. Perhaps it’s not as versatile as standard guitar voicings but a steel guitar with an 8-string split-tuning does have enough options to hold down the meat and potato chords changes (and likely more) within a song.
I’ve demonstrated and tabbed out some specific executions of this in previous posts but here I’d like to focus more on the general approach. The chord vocabulary.
Like I mentioned, the tuning used is important: C6/A7 with a low F. (Very related to pedal steel.) The C# and F allow for more “straight bar” options.
Currently I use about five different string grips that yield seven different chords. I try to keep my voicings on the thick strings to help keep a consistent tonality to the rhythm.
Below are the grips I use to approach rhythm playing and how they can start to fit together.
In the video above I am using all but the diminished chords shown here. Blue Monk is a great example for how these chords can be used for back up rhythm as well as phrasing like in the head. (This video happens to only captured the later part of the tune.)
Now getting away from the video, below are a few ways these chords can be used together for very basic chord progressions. These two examples happen to be in the key of G but the same chord grips and moves can be used all over the neck in other keys. Tunes similar to Blue Monk uses the 1, 4, 5 changes shown below and the 2, 5, 1 changes demonstrate another very common chord progression.
As always, this is a work in progress for me and hopefully it might help others who are of a similar mind. Please let me know if you see errors in my thinking or execution. Going forward, my goal is to expand upon this and make it more versatile to other music styles.
And finally, I hope to hear feedback or input from others on this subject.