Pedal steel is one of the most recognizable sounds associated with country music. Electric guitar players have been trying to copy its sound since the 1950’s. By learning how to imitate the pedal steel we can change our whole perspective on how we see the electric guitar -- the bends that are possible, the expressiveness of the instrument, and it’s unique approach to phrasing.
In Jason Loughlin’s collection of 30 Pedal Steel Licks, you’ll learn ways to bend triads, incorporate bends into our arpeggios, play jazz-inspired altered lines, bend double stops, contrary motion bends, play some classic pedal-steel intros, and a whole lot more.
”Pedal steel guitar evolved out of lap steel guitar in the 50's and starts to really come into focus by the late 50's. Here's what we need to know: There are two common tunings, E9 and C6. These tunings vary depending on how many strings the steel guitar has. For most of this course, we're trying to make bends that correspond with the pedal and knee lever bends.”
Jason will demonstrate the lick over a backing track and then break it down for you emphasizing the key techniques and harmonic approaches in play.
Climbing the Fence: Lick 1 ”"Climbing the Fence" is a lick in G based on a common steel concept. We're arpeggiating through a major chord in sets of three. Though each set of three is descending, the first note of each set starts on a higher chord tone each time. Play staccato, pulsing with the fretting hand so notes don't ring into each other. After we finish arpeggiating with triplets, the lick wraps up with a couple bends. First is a double stop bend with D and G, the fifth and root of the chord. I keep G on top and bend D up to E. This is called an oblique motion bend. One note stays and the other moves. Next is a double stop of D and G. The last bend is operating in the same way a steel guitarist does one of the most common moves on the instrument. We're using an open D chord shape at the 14th fret and bending the fifth to the sixth and hammering the 3rd to the 4th. This is recreating steel guitarists pressing down the A and B pedals to change I chords to IV chords.”
Seesaw: Lick 2 ”"Seesaw" is a Tom Brumley lick that's used on countless Buck Owens recordings. Steel players love to play IV chords over I chords. The theory name for this is called a secondary sub-dominant. This arpeggiates the Ab and Db major chords. We arpeggiate the Ab chord starting with a double stop and use a bend to get to the third of Db. After playing the root and third of Db, we'll do a release bend to get back to the fifth of Ab. The pattern is played twice.”
The Windup: Lick 3 ”"The Windup" is a Llyod Green lick from a Tommy Collins recording. This lick over D mixes diatonic and chromatic movement. The key here is to try to make the notes ring into each other and get it to sound as legato as possible. We start with a bend release from the third to the second and then slides back up again. Next, we'll bend the third up to the fourth and play the sharp four on the next string. We'll play this pattern again on the fifth and then diatonically walk up to the root. The second half of the lick starts with outlining the arpeggio and then jumps up to a double stop of a b3rd and b5th. This double stop will be pre-bent up a half step, so we can do a bend release from the 3rd and 5th down to the b3rd and b5th. Then we move down to the 2nd and 4th, and diatonically down to the root and 3rd. These big intervallic jumps are common for steel players.”
The Tailor: Lick 4 ”"The Tailor" is a Buddy Emmons lick that shows off his tendency to turn dominant chords into altered chords. In this example, we're in A going from a V chord to a I chord. Emmons uses the V chord as a playing field to add altered notes. It starts with chromatically connecting the six to the root. Then in the next section, it arpeggiates down from the 11. In order: 11, 9, b7 and 5. Now we get into the altered sounds. Emmons bends into the sharp 9 then down to the flat 9. Then we cross strings to the #5. Now we'll use the diminished scale and descend down from the 3rd to connect to the root of the I chord.”
Fishtail: Lick 5 ”"Fishtail" is a lick that shows off two big steel concepts over a V to I progression in C. The first concept is to use a chord tone as a pedal tone or a note to pivot from. This lick starts by sliding in and out of the 5th of the G chord. We alternate between the 5th and a root and 2nd. This sets up the double stop thirds in G moving up the neck. For each third, we set it up with a diatonic bend release. We resolve to C by using a C triad and doing bend release from the 4th down to the 3rd.”
Floating Thirds: Lick 6 ”"Floating Thirds" is less of a true steel guitar bend and more of adapting steel bending to standard guitar. There are bends we can do on guitar that are not typical or even possible on pedal steel guitar. In this lick, we're taking the interval of thirds and walking down the top two strings diatonically. I've included some common embellishments to this interval including bends, bend releases and half step approach bends.”
Reaching: Lick 7 ”"Reaching" has us bending double stops over a I-IV-I-V-I progression in G. Rather than using an oblique bend, which is the most common approach, we're using a half step bend to get up to the 5th and b7th of G. We're trying to recreate a steel slide. The second part of this lick bends the 4th and 6th up and down a half step and resolves on the 3rd and 5th of G. We transpose this lick to the C and D chords for the rest of the progression.”
Offsides: Lick 8 ”"Offsides" is a seemingly simple lick by Lloyd Green but packs a powerful concept. Steel player are always anticipating a chord — their lines set up a chord change. This lick is meant to lead you into a G chord. We start with a half step approach into the 5th and move right up the scale to the 2nd. The next move is to set up the bend, in which we start on the root and play the fifth on the first string. As this note is ringing, we play the A on the B string and bend it up to the third.”
Swinging: Lick 9 ”"Swinging" is a note-for-note transcription of Ralph Mooney's kick off to "Swingin' Doors". The progression is a F chord into a Bb, this being a V-I progression. This intro lick includes a treasure trove of great ideas: First is the use of the IV over the I. This is our secondary subdominant. Next, we take the root and third of F and use a release bend to lower the A down to G. This will create an interval of a second, typically a pretty dissonant sound. We slide this interval down a whole step to access the b7th and root of F. Tapping into the dominant 7th is going to help pull us into the Bb chord. In Bb, we're outlining the chord tones by targeting the b7th, 5th, 3rd and root. We connect the 3rd to the root diatonically by bending in and out of the 2nd.”
Rake the Yard: Lick 10 ”"Rake the Yard" is a Ralph Mooney lick that will have us raking down chord inversions over a track in the key of D. The progression will be V7 to I or an A7 to a D chord. We'll start by raking down an A7 arpeggio from the b7th down. Then, we'll move to a Gmaj7th arpeggio over the A chord. Though it will look like a Gmaj7th shape, against the A7 it will sound as a A13th arpeggio. F#(13th), D(11th), B(9th) and G(b7th). Lastly, I'm raking down an F#min7 arpeggio. This will sound as a major 6th chord over the A7 vamp. E(5th), C#(3rd), A(root) and F#(6th). We'll end our lick over the D chord by creating a sus4 double stop bend and releasing down to the 3rd of D.”
Close Call: Lick 11 ”This lick is inspired by John Hughey and his use of the interval of a second. Our progression is I-IV-I in F. We start by moving up a F chord in double stops and then use the 3rd and 5th to slide up to the 5th and b7th. As soon as you get to these two notes, you bend the 5th up to the 6th. This will create the interval of a second. This interval will resolve nicely into the root and 3rd of Bb. We come down the Bb chord in double stops. While still in Bb, we play the 5th and 6th of Bb. This is another 2nd interval. By bending the G up to A, we turn the interval into the third. This resolves into the F chord.”
Sixes and Thirds: Lick 12 ”"Sixes and Thirds" is a Llyod Green lick from a Tommy Collins recording that switches between the interval of a 6th and a 3rd. This change represents steel players changing pairs of strings. These two intervals are closely related. If I bring the lower note of a third up an octave, it becomes and 6th. The progression is I-V-I in E. We start by moving up an E chord in double stops and jump to the 3rd and root of a B chord. This is our 6th interval. We move this down chromatically to the 2nd and b7th. Next, we start on the same two notes but this time the root is on the bottom. We'll move this down to the b7th and 2nd. Now we have an oblique bend. The third of B is on top. We bend the 6th into the b7th. The last bend is the classic A and B pedal steel bend. This moves the bottom note of the triad up a whole step and the top note up a half step.”
Trampoline: Lick 13 ”"Trampoline" is a Lloyd Green lick in C that pivots off of the third. We'll be using a half-step approach bend in and out of the third. In between each of these bends will be playing a note from the C scale. When we get to the 4th, which is F, we'll hold this note and do a bend release from the third to the second letting them ring into each other. We resolve to the root.”
Juggling: Lick 14 ”"Juggling" is a Ralph Mooney lick in F that can be found all over the place. Instrumentalists have been playing this lick or some variation of this before pedal steel guitar was even invented. Maybe it came from Mooney's days as a guitarist? We're playing a triplet rhythm throughout the lick. Melodically, it's an approach note down to a chord tone and then you jump two chord tones down. We start by approaching A from a half step above, jump down to C and then set up our approach note to F. It's a pattern you repeat for each chord tone. You can also start it wherever you want. The lick ends with two quarter note hits on the 5th and root.”
Twisty: Lick 15 ”"Twisty" is a Hal Rugg lick that does a quick bend from the 3rd to the 4th over a B chord. Sliding or bending from the 3rd to the 4th is a common embellishment for steel players. The trick with this lick is to keep strings ringing into each other as much as possible. In the second half of the lick, we're embellishing out of a root position B chord at the 7th fret. We start by arpeggiating down to the 3rd and then bend it up to the 4th. Then we pivot off of the F#, release the bend back to the third and down the scale to the root.”
Building Blocks: Lick 16 ”The "Building Blocks" lick is designed for steel bends on guitar. Not all of these are common or possible on steel guitar. I've taken three major triad inversions in D on the top three strings and show you possibilities for embellishments. For the first three ascending triads, we'll bend the bottom note of each triad to either the next note of the scale or approach it from a diatonic step below. For the descending triads, I wanted to show you how you can alter two notes each triad to change the to the closest IV or V chord.”
Cascading: Lick 17 ”"Cascading" is a common steel concept. The basic idea is to descend down a scale and letting all the notes ring into each other. We're doing this in D major. The first example has no bends and crosses strings in places to maximize the amount notes ringing. The second is the same scale using bend releases between notes that steel players could use pedals to change.”
Pressing Forward: Lick 18 ”"Pressing Forward" is a Lloyd Green lick in Eb that can be used to set up a chord change. Rather than using just a major scale, he uses a chromatic scale starting on the 3rd of the chord you're approaching. We use half step bends and let notes ring across strings to recreate the legato articulation of a slide. The last bend can be a tricky one. We're playing a 6th interval off of F and D and we bend the D up a half step to Eb and F up a whole step to G. This lands us on the third and root of an Eb major chord.”
Coming and Going: Lick 19 ”"Coming and Going" is a contrary motion bend by Ralph Mooney. Contrary motion means you have two voices moving in opposite directions. Typically, this is used to set up a new chord or begin a solo. The progression is a V-I in Db. We start with a unison bend. On the first string we'll play the Ab, and on the second string we'll bend G into Ab. The next move is to release the bend and bring our Ab on the first string up a half step to A. Move the A up to Bb and the G down to Gb. The last move is a prebend into Gb and fretting C on the first string. We're going to release the bend and simultaneously slide the C up to Db. We'll use this idea on strings 3 and 2.”
Slinky: Lick 20 ”This Hal Rugg lick shows how we can take any lick or melody and make it sound "steely" by using bends and bend release. This lick is V-I in A. On the V chord, which is E, we start by doing a half step approach bend into the root and move up the arpeggio from the third into another approach bend into the root. Now we bend the 2nd up to the 3rd and arpeggiate up to the root. Now change position to the 12th fret. Here we'll play the 3rd and 5th and pre-bend the b7th to the root. Release this bend down to the b7th and play the third and back to the 7th while letting them ring into each other. Then we play the 2nd and 5th of the A chord and bend the 2nd up to the 3rd.”
Pullups: Lick 21 ”"Pullups" is a lick in C that shows you how to embellish the interval of a 6th. We'll do this over a V-I progression. Each interval is built off a chord tone. The first three have a half step approach to the bottom note. The next two use a diatonic bend into the bottom of the interval. In the next measure, we'll bend the bottom note up a whole step and the top up a half step. This allows us to go from a major sixth to a minor sixth. We release that bend and slide down to the b7th and 5th of G and down again to the 5th and 3rd. Now we have to set up the C chord. We do this by playing a C on the 1st string and bending the D up a half step to D# and up another to E.”
Boppin: Lick 22 ”"Boppin" is an Emmons lick that comes off more like a bebop guitar lick than a steel lick with a couple exceptions. The progression is over a I-IV-V-I in G. We start up a G arpeggio playing root, 3rd, 5th and a half step bend into the next root. Then we use a diatonic passing tone to the 3rd, 5th and root. Now we begin to add in altered notes. Our first descending note is a #5 into a 5. Then, we walk down to the root. The lines over the C chord are diatonic using bend releases, bends and slides to get closer to Emmons' articulation. Over D, we are using a G blues scale lick but harmonizing it with double stop bends. We end with the root of G and use a half step bend into the root an octave higher.”
Mirror Image: Lick 23 ”This Jay Dee Maness inspired lick comes from his work on the classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo record by The Byrds. Our progression is a I-IV-V-I in G. We start with unison bends on the root and 3rd in G that that turn into double stop bends off of the high root and 3rd. To set up the C chord, we pick out double stops from a G7 triad. Our double stop bend in C is a 2nd on the bottom and the 5th on top. We bend the 2nd up to the 3rd. Over the D, we'll walk down the G major scale using unison bends back to the root.”
Trilling: Lick 24 ”Here's a classic Mooney lick that ornaments the third of a chord. The main part of the lick is built off of a 6th in A. The bottom note is E and the top note is C#. We're hammering onto the 4th from the 3rd and pulling off back to the 3rd, then walking down the A arpeggio. When we get to the 5th, we bend up to the 6th. While holding this bend, we play the root above and then release the bend back to the 5th. This implies the secondary subdominant. We'll slide that note down to the C# and bend it up a half step to the 4th. Hold this bend and play the root on the 1st string, then release the bend back to the 3rd. This is another subtle way to imply the secondary subdominant.”
Stepping Stone: Lick 25 ”"Stepping Stone" is a Hal Rugg inspired lick that uses an arpeggio pattern over a I-IV-V-I in G. We'll tweak this pattern to incorporate a bend over the IV chord. When we get to the V chord, we're using ascending double stops through descending chords voicings. The progression is D-D7-D6-D7.”
First Floor: Lick 26 ”"First Floor" is a bending concept for guitarists that embellishes triads on the A, D and G strings. Off of this string set, we'll be bending the G string by pulling down with the first finger. Our progression is a waltz in C over a V-I progression. We start with a G triad diatonically bending in and out of the 3rd. Then, we move down to a G7 triad releasing a bend from the 9th to the root. The next G7 triad bends the 6th in and out of the b7th. The last G7 triad releases the 6th down to the 5th. For the C chord, we are only using two notes. The 3rd on the bottom and the 7th on top. The 7th will be an approach bend into the root. Out of 8th position we'll embellish the top note of a C triad with bend releases, slides and bends.”
Bell Tower: Lick 27 ”"Bell Tower" comes from the great Buddy Emmons but is a commonly used technique. We're using artificial harmonics to get a chimey bell like effect. This is a waltz in A over a I-V-I-V-I with a simple diatonic melody. I've picked the fingering and fretting here to maximize notes ringing into each other.”
Curly Q’s: Lick 28 ”In this Curly Chalker lick, we're arpeggiating down an E chord with a cool little twist. We're going to alternate between E triads and the secondary dominant. In this case, the secondary dominant is B7. We're grouping our triads into sets of threes by using a triplet rhythm.”
Back Door: Lick 29 ”"Back Door" is a lick in the key of C, and we'll be using a C Mixolydian scale harmonized in thirds. I'm moving down the scale while sometimes chromatically bending double stops to connect one diatonic interval to another. For this example, I'm playing on the D and G strings. This gives me the ability to do some creative bends by having room on the fretboard to bend the D string up and pull the G string down.”
On the Rails: Lick 30 ”"On the Rails" is a lick put together show how steel players move across a set of strings to glissando through intervals. This lick is over a V-I in Bb. We start with a bend release turning a 5th interval into a 6th interval. We'll slide up on the same two strings to the 5th and 2nd and again to the root and 5th. Next, we bend the 2nd up to the 3rd while keeping the root on top. Then, we slide this interval up to D and Bb and release the bend down to the C. To set up the Bb chord, we'll pre-bend up to G and Eb and release them down to F and D. This will imply a F9 resolving to Bb. Then, we'll slide up to the root and 5th of Bb and hammer on to the 6th. With this new shape, we can slide up a whole step bend into the 3rd and root and release down to the 5th and 3rd of F.”
Jason will explain and demonstrate all of the key concepts and approaches along the way. You’ll get standard notation and tabs for all of the performance studies. Plus, Jason includes all of the rhythm tracks for you to work with on your own. In addition, you’ll be able to loop or slow down any of the videos so that you can work with the lessons at your own pace.
Grab your guitar and let’s get play pedal steel with Jason Loughlin!