Slack Key / Kī Hō’alu: Reading ABOUT it

A followup to the previous post that provides recommendations for listeners to explore the diversity within the Hawaiian slack key / kī hō’alu guitar tradition. This post provides recommendations for information-rich resources to read.

1. Writing ABOUT Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar

This section is titled “Writing” and not “Books,” because the most informative source available began life as a book manuscript but got posted online instead:

Dancing Cat Records Hawaiian Slack Key Book

Among the contents of this amazing resource are: a brief history,  technical essays on sub traditions and tunings, and a comprehensive discography of pre-Dancing Cat recordings.

There are many instructional books and DVDs now available for sale, and they will be the focus of a separate post. There are three notable books among the lot, however, to highlight here.

Keola Beamer, First Method for Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar. Published in 1973, this was the first instructional manual devoted to the rural kī hō’alu style heard on the 1940s and 1950s recordings–on Hawaii-based record labels–by Gabby Pahinui, Tommy Solomon, Mike Hoomanawanui, and the 1960s recordings by Ray Kane and Leonard Kwan. The nahenahe sound of ki ho’alu slack key guitar playing is distinct from the “Hawaiian Guitar” style that was wildly popular in the 1910s and 1920s, and heard in the recordings–on major national record labels like Columbia, Victor, Edison and Brunswick–of Hawaiian artists including Sol Ho’opi’i, Frank Ferera, Helen Louise, Pale K. Lua, Ben Hokea, David & Queenie Kaili, Walter Kolomoku, Sam Ku West, and King Benny Nawahi.  Keola Beamerʻs book followed in the wake of his solo recording debut “Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style” (Music of Polynesia MOP-22000). In the Preface, Keola makes the following observation: “Until the advent of this book there has been no written music for the Slack Key, no analysis of Slack Key technique, and no systematic approach to the understanding of the kinds of tunings used. Perhaps this in part explains that while there are hundreds of amateur and professional guitarists in Hawaii who play Hawaiian music, only the smallest handful has learned Slack Key.”

Mike “Mika’ele” McClellan, An Advanced Workbook for the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar (1992). This book is filled with vignettes of talking story with Hawaiian musicians from all walks of life. The tablature notation used for the songs, moreover, represent performed versions of the tunes, many in a range of different tunings. The result is a book that is filled with descriptions of a wide range of practices and approaches to slack key playing.

Peter Medeiros. Hawaiian Slack Key: A Lifetime of Study (2009). This text is written from the perspective of an insider who grew up surrounded by Hawaiian music. It combines detailed discussion of tunings, comparative transcriptions based on recordings, and methodical instruction in specific techniques.

2. Taropatch.net:  Online Community

TaroPatch.net: “an online community dedicated to Hawaiian slack key guitar and ‘ukulele.”  Born in 2002, the forums on this site host lively conversations among fans, students, and master artists. Separate forums on slack key, steel guitar, and ‘ukulele host technical queries from students, discussions on instruments, and lively exchanges on current events and issues facing the Hawaiian music community in the present. The forums are moderated, and occasionally when passions sometimes escalate into overdrive, threads do get closed down for the sake of preserving community harmony. Separate forums on performances and recordings are quite current.

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