How to Play a Lap Steel Guitar

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Lap steel guitars are interesting instruments that are fun to play. Lap steel guitars are versatile as well. They can be found in many musical genres, including country, bluegrass, Hawaiian and even rock. Getting started playing a lap steel guitar is surprisingly easy, and with a little practice, you can be on your way to mastering lap steel guitar.

Things You'll Need

  • Lap Steel Guitar
  • Thumb Pick
  • Metal or Glass Finger Slide
  • Sheet Music
  • Familiarize yourself with your lap steel guitar. The key distinguishing feature of a lap steel guitar is that the frets are not used. The strings on a lap steel guitar are raised at the nut and the bridge about half an inch above the fingerboard. You don't play a lap steel guitar by fretting the strings the way you do with a standard guitar. Lap steel guitar players pick the strings with a pick worn on the thumb while running a glass or metal finger slide, either worn on the finger or held along the length of the strings. This produces the characteristic "sliding" sound and is why lap steel guitars are frequently called "slide" guitars.

  • Take time to study tunings. Lap steel guitars are not tuned in a standard guitar tuning. The strings are tuned to open chords. This means strumming the strings together will produce a full chord. There are many different tunings. The tuning you choose depends largely on the type of music you want to play. Blues and rock players favor open G, D, A and E chords. Bluegrass players favor an altered open G, called a high G tuning, which brings the sixth string from an E note to a G. A basic lap steel guitar book purchased in a music store will introduce you to a variety of tunings.

  • Practice coordinating your thumb and the finger slide. You'll be able to produce sounds right away, but controlling the sounds you produce will take time. Pluck a string and move the slide up and down. Vary the speed and distance you move the slide. Apply different pressures to the strings as you move the finger slide. It won't be long before you begin to hear the difference using varied playing techniques.

  • Try different types of finger slides. Glass produces a different tone than metal. Play with a finger slide worn on your finger and then try simply holding one. Stick with whatever feels more comfortable for you.

  • Play along with some of your favorite songs and try making up your own musical passages using the techniques you've been practicing.This is a good way to train your ear and improve your timing. It may not sound good at first, but with time and patience, you'll soon be playing lap steel guitar with skill.

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