How to teach yourself to play a lap steel guitar

Written by carl hose
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Lap steel guitar is a stringed instrument similar to a traditional guitar except that players either play the guitar resting on their lap or sitting on a stand. Lap steel guitar is found traditionally in country, bluegrass, and blues music. Lap steel guitars are also heavily associated with Hawaiian music. Teaching yourself to play a lap steel guitar can be both enjoyable and rewarding, and with the resources available today, teaching yourself to play isn't too difficult if you truly want to learn.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Lap Steel Guitar
  • Finger Slide
  • Basic Instruction Book
  • Lap Steel Sheet Music
  • Lap Steel Recordings

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  1. 1

    Purchase a beginner's lap steel guitar book. You can find one, or order one, from any music store. A good starter book will show you various tunings used for the lap steel guitar, teach you how to get basic sounds from your lap steel, and teach you to play a few simple songs. Many of these lessons are available online at no charge (see resources).

  2. 2

    Purchase a couple of bluegrass or country CDs that feature lap steel players. A good starting collection is "Legends of the Lap Steel Guitar" on Horse Rock Records. You should also pick up a CD or two of Hawaiian music to round out your collection. Listening to the style will help familiarise you with the lap steel guitar and the type of music the instrument is capable of.

  3. 3

    Get a digital tuner and try out various tunings for your lap steel. From thickest string to thinnest, E, B, G, D, A and E is a standard tuning for the lap steel guitar, but there are many different tunings that offer easier access to specific chords (see resources).

  4. 4

    Practice making sounds with your lap steel guitar. Unlike a regular guitar, you don't press the strings of your lap steel down on the neck. You wear a metal or plastic slide on one or more of your fingers and a pick on your thumb, then you apply pressure to the strings and move your finger slides over the strings as you pluck with your thumb. Even a beginner can get a few sounds from the start.

  5. 5

    Get familiar with tablature and learn a couple of simple lap steel guitar songs. Tablature is graph featuring six lines that represent the six strings of your lap steel. Numbers written over the strings indicate where to play notes and lines with arrows indicate slide direction. You can purchase lap steel music books from a music store or even find some online free of charge. Playing is the best way to improve, so grab a couple of lap steel tab songs and practice (see resources).

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