Half Pedalling on the A Pedal

Half pedalling is something I’ve kind of steered away from.

Always seemed a bit inaccurate, a bit risky, a bit of a fudge.

But steel players can’t get enough changes. The more changes, the more options.

And each single change that’s added can potentially add a new note to every position you play in.

The half pedal on A you get for free: it’s already there (no expensive modifications, no drilling into yoru pride and joy, no extra weight to the behemoth that we carry around).

All is takes is a bit of practice.

So in this post I’m going to talk about the options that half pedalling offers.


First thing I did was (as I normally do when learning new technique) get the metronome out.

I watched a few of Joe Wright’s videos and he puts a great emphasis on the benefits of just practising actions.

Nothing musical, just the physical action.

So to the beat of my metronome I went A up , A half down, A down, A half down etc.

Trying to be as fluid in the movement as I could be. i.e. not just goign straight for the halfway postion, but easing into it fairly slowly and trying to locate the right note by ear.

I found it pretty difficult but the exercise helped.

So what good does this do us?!

Open Position

In the open position the A pedal moves the 5th note to a 6th.

The half pedal gives us a #5 and the chord is a useful augmented chord.

The change from 5th to #5 to 6 is useful movement in a lot of situations.

A & B Pedals Down

With the B pedal down and the A pedal half down, where we had a major chord, we now have a minor chord.

This is a particularly nice minor position, cos you get a natural 6th on the top string (and 7th). And if you release the B pedal you get a maj 7.

So a kind of melodic minor sound.

A Pedal and Raised Es

In this position where the A pedal is down already, raising it to the halfway position gives us a maj7 chord.

Raising it all the way makes it a 7th chord. This again is very useful harmonic movement to emphasise chord changes.

Lowered Es and B pedal as 7th chord

In this position, we have a 7th chord rooted on the B strings. Raising the A pedal a half gives us a 7b9 chord.

This is a nice altered chord that can be used in jazzy situations or as the 5chord in minor keys.

Again going A pedal all the way down to half pedal to up gives us 9th, 7b9, 7th which is more nice movement.

Lowered Es as Minor Chord

If you lower your E strings then you get a minor chord shape rooted on the G# strings (3 and 6).

Half pedalling the A pedal give us a major chord, and in this position strings 1 and 7 are a flat 7th.

Playing off the Ds

If you lower your second string to D and play off your 9th and 2nd as root, this position gives an interesting maj7 position (with a #11).

In this position, the B strings give us a 6th. Fully pressing the A pedal gives us the maj7, and half pedalling gives another 7th chord.

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4 picks versus 3

I have recently changed from using three picks to four.

Why Bother?

The reason why I changed is because I have a 12 string Uni coming my way and from what I’ve seen of C6 players and Uni players, most use four picks.

From the Uni point of view four picks gives you more range; there’s 12 strings so you need to be able to cover a greater distance.

The other reason is that the extended chords offered by C6 tuning contain more notes, so you’ve gotta be able to pick ’em.

Some C6 players use thumb strums (this is a technique I haven’t really got to grips with) but this can be done in conjunction with four picks too.

Strength and Dexterity

My ring finger is not either as strong or as dexterous as my middle and index fingers so having developed a reasonable three finger technique there was always going to be a bit of a step backwards.

I found picking exercises with metronome (my first approach to developing any technique) helped a lot. I think my ring finger will always lag behind the other two but it is becoming useful now.

Hand Technique

What I’ve found, using four fingers, is that my technique has changed completely. I hold my right hand fanned out and move it across the strings far less. Having a thumb and three fingers available to pick with, there is usually a finger near the string I want to pick, so instead of moving my hand I just pick with the nearest finger.

One thing that I had read was good technique was sticking your little finger out while you play. I never got the point of this before. But if playing with four picks and trying to spread my hand out across the strings, the little finger tip makes more sense. It forces your hand to spread out. And it forces the picking action to come from your knuckles rather than hand or wrist movement. I think this is key to developing an efficient technique.

Alternate Picking

One of the things I had tried to achieve with three picks was alternate picking, or at least trying to be fluid and sequential with my picking rather than picking consecutive notes with the same digit. With three it was easy to run into problems, you could run out of fingers (particularly on the chromatic strings) but the extra fourth finger opens up many options.

It does however mean there are a lot more permutations of picking fingers to experiment with.

Pick Blocking

Very much related to Alternate Picking, I found that having four fingers facilitates pick blocking greatly. It is very easy to run out of fingers pick blocking, and having an extra one is very useful. Also when pick blocking you have to hold some strings down while you play other ones – the extra range comes in handy here.

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Volume pedals continued

So I posted a little while back about volume pedals.

Since then I’ve had to change the pot in my Goodrich a few times and I’m getting a bit annoyed with it. So I splashed out and got myself a Hilton.

It’s totally different. The action of the pedal is smoother, but feels pretty similar, the main difference is the sound.

It has an incredibly clean sound. Obviously there’s no noise while the pedal travels (that’s the whole point of the potless ones) but the actual tone it provides is much cleaner and purer.

Do I prefer it? I dunno. I’m certainly pleased not to have the scratchy noises any more, but part of me thinks that some of the character of my sound has been lost.

I had an interesting conversation with BJ Cole about tone when I last had a lesson with him. He said my sound was much too toppy and advised me to lose some of the treble. A sound engineer (Red from the Half Moon in Putney, London) had said the same thing.

I was kind of reluctant to do this. We came to the psychoacoustic conclusion that my ear had become attuned to this high level of treble, that my hearing saturated it a bit.

I’m now using less treble and happy with the sound I’m getting.

So with that in mind I’m gonna continue with the Hilton and start listening for its strengths rather than focusing on how it doesn’t sound like the Goodrich!

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V – I progressions

The last couple of posts have been a bit dry, this one’s about learning one’s way around the pedal steel guitar.

The V – I chord progression is a mainstay of western music and if you can play round it there’s a lot you can do.

One of the things that has helped me learn the fretboard, and also be able to busk along in the songs I dont know very well (did I mention I’m in a band? well I am and I have my first gig this Saturday!) is being able to play dominant 7 chords all the way up the fretboard, and resolve to the root.

Here are the positions I know for E7 (the V chord in A), and then A, the root.


1 F# _________________________________________

2 D# ____________________________12D__________

3 G# _______3____5B___7B___9B____12___________

4 E  _______3F___5E___7____9F____12___________

5 B  _______3____5____7A___9_____12___________

6 G# _______3____5B___7B___9B____12___________

7 F# ____________5____________________________

8 E  _______3F___5E___7____9F____12___________

9 D  ____________________________12___________

10 B _______3____5___7A____9_____12___________




1 F# ____________________10________________

2 D# ______________________________________

3 G# _______5______8___________12B_________

4 E  _______5______8F____10E____12_________

5 B  _______5______8A____10____12A_________

6 G# _______5______8___________12B_________

7 F# ____________________10________________

8 E  _______5______8F____10E____12_________

9 D  ______________________________________

10 B _______5______8A____10____12A_________

One of the hard things with the pedal steel guitar is voicing chords to make the top notes melodic.

This is partly because of the chromatic strings (the D# and F# strings 1 and 2).

If you want to play an E7 chord with a D on top in the 12th fret position above, the D is on the second string. This D resolves nicely to a C# which, while only a semitone away from the D, is on the 12th fret A position is on the 5th string. A jump of three strings away. Not easy technically or conceptually.

Learning where the melodic notes are in chords on the PSG seems a big part of learning the instrument.

For piano players it’s all there right in front of them – there is only 1 place to play the D or C# in a given register, but for PSG players there is a lot of work to be done learning chord voicings and being able get to them quickly.

p.s. F = raise Es, E = lower Es, D = lower D.


The E7 chord on the 9th fret has got a 9th note in it, but that’s a good sound in most contexts. Certainly if you’re resolving to Amaj.

(If, in the E7 on the 9th fret with the 9th, you want to accentuate the resolution you can take your foot off the B pedal just before the Amaj chord to go from an E9 to an E7b9, but jazzy moves like that could get you thrown out of a country gig:!:)

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another simple thing I’ve practised a lot recently is just playing grips, and moving between grips.

To be an effective accompanist you need to be able to play chords quickly and cleanly and this is pretty hard to do at first.

One thing I’ve practised is as follows:

1 F# _________________________

2 D# _________________________

3 G# _________________________

4 E _________________________

5 B ________5__5__5___5__5___

6 G# ___________5__5b_____5___

7 F# ________5_________5______

8 E ________5__5__5___5__5___

9 D _________________________

10 B _________________________

I find these positions difficult to move between. I dont find the 8, 7, 5 grip that hard or the 8, 6, 5 grip. But playing them one after the other took some practice.

I think practising this generally helped minimise hand and finger movement, which seems to be the holy grail in terms of PSG technique (just my observation).

Players like David Hartley make what they do look easy because there is no surplus movement to their technique.

They keep their hands pretty still (which helps maintain a reference to where the strings are), and they

pick with a firm finger stroke that does only what it needs to. This means the finger has less distance to travel to get back into position, and that it is less likely to hit another string.

Apparently using the joint in the middle of your finger to perform the pick is the key to developing this minimal technique.

This takes practice..

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