Moveable Chord Grips for 8 Strings (C6/A7 Low F)

I’ve been playing around with two three-note chord grips or shapes for the C6/A7 low F tuning recently that have a really nice dark and smooth feeling to them. To me they sound a little more complex than a typical swing sixth “bar position” chord and are really easy to implement quickly. These help break me out of the same old first position playing or bar playing (i.e. Bb over the 10th fret.) I can’t use them with every song but if a song’s harmonic structure allows it, then it really sounds deep. I use my ear as the best judge. Great for a lot of western swing, jazz and blues.

Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk seems to be a great piece to illustrate how this works. It’s chord structure is basically a 12-bar blues. I’ve recorded and tabbed out the head for both melody and rhythm tracks. I outline three grips overall. (No slanting!)

The Grips in the Melody:
The first one using strings 8, 5 and 3 (low to high) over the 5th fret in a Bb chord (or 1 chord). It uses chord tones: root, M7 and M3 (Bb, A and D.)

The second  one using strings 7, 4 and 2 (low to high) over the 5th fret still over a Bb chord. It uses chord tones: M3, m7 and perfect 5 (D, C and F.)

I use one or sometimes both grips in measures one and two and measures five and six and the first grip each time at the end of the signature motive.

Rhythm Grips:
A third grip is used in the rhythm part and is easily applied to a thousand other blues or jazz pieces and another demonstration for the versatility of this tuning. And all three chords can be played just one or two frets from each other. The first chord: Bb7 (or I chord) uses strings  7, 6 and 4, (low to high) over the seventh fret. So that’s chord tones: 5b, 7 and M3 (E, G# and D).

Then moving to Eb7 (or IV chord) I move one fret down to the sixth fret. I stay on the same strings but the chord tones change. Now it’s 1, 3 and 7 (Eb, G and Db).

Eventually the F7 (or V chord) comes around and that’s one fret up from the Bb to the eight fret. Again, the same strings and again it’s chord tones 1, 3, 7 (F, A and Eb) .

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Download my PDF here.

Download my Tabledit file here.

What’s Tabledit and where can I download the free player?

Note that Mike Neer does a related tab for Blue Monk with a fantastic lesson on tenths.

Did I get something wrong? Please let me know and I’ll fix it and learn!

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Lesson Response to Mike Neer’s Sweet Georgia Brown Tetrachord Exercise

Here’s my take on Mike Neer’s final exercise in Steelin’ Scales and Modes. The notes are his – all quarter notes from the tab/notation. So I re-approached it and made up new phrasing – which is informed by his notes. The point of the lesson is to demonstrate how single-note phrasing can use particular modes to help make dominant seventh chords resolve into the next chord.

How Recording Software Helps Me Practice Everyday

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Being a busy father with a full-time job makes being an active musician a challenge but not impossible. (Having an understanding wife is key here.) Free time is short so it’s important to be efficient and resourceful when practicing.

For me, most weekday mornings (and some weekends) I wake up early before the rest of my family (5:30 AM), make coffee and sit down in the kitchen with my lap steel and a laptop computer. Garageband (we’re Apple dorks) comes native so I use that to record myself for a few simple practice tasks:

  1. Keeping a goal
    Setting up a recording session forces me to consider what it is I’m working toward – a particular song or even something technical like modes and scales.
  2. Listening to myself
    For me this is the most important of the list. Listening to myself on playback is so different than listening to myself live or in the moment.  It helps keep me objective. As in, “Wow, I’m surprised how that was sorta sucky. I’ll try it again.”
  3. Staying in time
    I record with a click track to help me listen for the rhythm – a skill super important to playing live. By myself I’m not on beat even if I think I am (revealed by the last point). A click or a metronome is perfect even for running single-note or chordal scales when it’s just me with no other accompaniment.
  4. Staying on task
    Recording every day helps me stay focused on my goal (my first point). With the recording interface in front of me on screen, I stay on task better. I can hear and see what I’m doing. And I’m more efficient with my short amount of practice time. Without it, my mind tends to wander and I’m off practicing something else off schedule. And, I know exactly where I left off last session. I record almost everything even if I’m not saving anything. I just rerecord over the same track until maybe I eventually do have something to save and show others. This preserves a continuity of my thought process even if I’m practicing in short bursts.

I’m sure Garageband isn’t the only or perhaps even the best product for this task but it’s what I have. And I try to be resourceful with what I happen to have.

Image caption: My current project: Executing Mike Neer’s tetrachords in the context of Sweet Georgia Brown with the ultimate goal of improvising solos better. Garageband is pretty simple to use for basic tracking, importing tracks and songs, and amp sounds. Perfect for my daily practice routine.

The Value of Jamming with Others


I hate nothing more than a bad jam session. Poor taste, too many pickers or excessive volume can easily spoil something intended to be a fun learning experience. However, if you can find the right group, jamming can be gratifying and inspiring.

A good jam session gets you the experience somewhere between a live show and practice at home. Mistakes don’t hurt your ego as bad and you are still bringing every bit of your A game. Plus you’re not necessarily married to a regular band or combo so you can attend when it’s convenient or try out new material you wouldn’t necessarily play somewhere else. Seems obvious, right? Well it can be hard for me to find a good session sometimes for steel.

But that’s not the case for me with the Heartland Steel Association’s Bi-Monthly Steel Jam at the Northtown Opry in North Kansas City. The amount of knowledge, taste, and ability (both E9 and C6 tunings) with this group is staggering. Many of the players on pedal steel guitars learned on lap steels back when there were no pedal steels. (A couple guys have early stories about engineering their own pedals and pull rods on their Fender Customs or Stringmasters.) And there’s a couple guys that have only ever played lap steel. (Frankie Kay being one.) 1960s and 1970s country is a clear favorite in this circle but there’s a fair amount of old swing as well.  So I try to soak up as much expertise as I can.

Always set against a solid live bassist and drummer, every steeler gets a turn to choose the song and then a round-robin system to solo. (You better be paying attention when it’s your turn if one or two guys wave off their turn in front of you.) It’s a great way for me to learn or be introduced to new material very quickly. (I bring my note pad or my iPad.) If I don’t feel I can contribute a decent enough solo then I lay out and let the next player take a turn and I just wait for the next song. Also, it’s a great way to get experience directing a band or other players. I bring lead sheets for the songs I want to play but may be unfamiliar to others. Then I kick off and end the song. 

For the last three years I’ve only brought a C6 lap steel to this jam but for this session I set up my Zumsteel D-10. (In Kansas City four out of five pedal steels are a Zum.) There’s just so much rich E9 being played that I wanted to soak some of it up. And I got to try my C6 neck with the group – strung up with only eight strings and without pedals for now.

Seems difficult to think a jam session with 10 or more steel guitars would be worth a damn but this one really is great. Good music and great people.

The video I took was of one of the regular vocalists.

Steelin’ from Mike Neer

Morning routine.

Do steel guitar-related puns ever get old?  Not sure,  but I do wanna bring up that a significant part of my practice life in 2013 has been centered around Mike Neer’s Steelin’ Scales and Modes book.

This tetrachord exercise (below) recorded in three tracks – though not super pretty in execution – is something I’m proud of simply because before Neer’s book I’d have little idea how to approach the theory behind scales and modes and how they’re applied. The point is not that I’m harmonizing three scales (bla) it’s that I have the basic set of tools to make this work or at least understand how it works.

The harder part – doing this in all 12 keys – is yet to come. Maybe one a month for a year?

I try to steel whatever I can retain from Mike Neer and his blog, his YouTube channel and his Steel Guitar Forum posts.

The Secret of New Material

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I was looking a back at my mishmash archive of recorded practice notes and found something that reminded me of where my interest in jazz standards got started.

A few years ago I played with a county band whose lead singer loved doing an annual Christmas show. (This was a new idea for me at the time.) He’d bring well-chosen Christmas songs to our rehearsals – material I’d never heard. One of these was  Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heuse’s The Secret of Christmas – one that’s still rarely covered by anyone. And I loved it because it made me feel like we’d really stepped into playing something other than just country music.

More than just three or four chords the lead sheets he payed for online and I took home and studied the chord structure for how my pedal steel could fit in. And recored it to GarageBand (putting together all the backup parts from scratch). And even though the band preformed it as a vocal song I put together my own together study track – hitting the intro, verse, chorus and ending one time each.

And in doing my iTunes research of how it’s been arranged in the past I drew a lot from Ella Fitzgerald’s version from what I found later to be her Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas album. Especially the ending (even though now my approach makes me cringe a bit.)

It’s not perfect but looking back I can see how this was a pivotal moment in my interest and direction. It wasn’t overnight but I did pursue a lot of swing and jazz material later.

And I also began appreciating more obscure Christmas music – perhaps the best takeaway for me at the time.

Three Chords and the Truth About Difficult Chord Harmonies

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Not many songs have haunted me like John Coltrane’s iconic Blue Train from his Blue Note album of the same name. It’s minimal melody and austere harmony set up an emotive head.

That said the piano chord harmonies are pretty complex for this country boy so I almost didn’t notice it’s a 12-bar blues – three chords. (But apparently Coltrane was really rooted in the blues.) A big thanks to Mike Neer’s responses on the Steel Guitar Forum for the support and advice to getting the chords right (or at least very close.) I had originally posted my audio with chords that were inaccurate and I was happy to be corrected. (Cm7 is not the same as an Eb7#9.) So hopefully I’m a lot closer now.

So, below represents me sticking my toe into the mid-century jazz ocean. No blowing here. Just harmony/chord studying. By far my fav (and prolly everyone else’s) Coltrane piece. Eventually I’d like to expand this recording into a solo section.

Eb like the original:

Note there are three parts to this arrangement (lead, harmony and rhythm) and that I tabbed all three parts into a single line of notation below for simplicity. In no way does my arrangement suggest bar slants starting on measure 13 – it’s just the two lines in harmony. The rhythm chords are intended to emulate the piano in the original arraignment’s head.

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“After all the investigation, all of the technique-doesn’t matter! Only if the feeling is right.”
― John Coltrane

This post was originally published at All Aboard the Blue Train. Bad I know, but I was exited to post. And as always please let me know if there’s something I’ve gotten wrong. My purpose here is to learn.

Download my PDF tab here

Download my TablEdit MIDI file here