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Achieving Success Learning the Steel Guitar!

 Learning to play steel guitar is, by many accounts, a monumental task. All the pedals, strings and knee levers seem overwhelming. Who can remember all that and play music at the same time?

 Unfortunately, the instrument can also seem overwhelming to some who have been playing for years. If you've ever felt your playing has stagnated, been in a rut or lost its passion, you've hit the same intimidating wall a beginner experiences. And believe it or not, the cause for both situations is the same.  I believe what you should strive for is a logical learning system you can use to simplify how your mind thinks about playing steel. 

In my many years of teaching, I've discovered the most successful approach to learning can be conveyed using only three words. When you understand the true meaning of those words, they will reveal the secrets to success. In specific order of importance those words are:  


Each of us has a general understanding of the true meaning and value of persistence and patience, however, grasping the true meaning of perception is much more difficult to understand and comprehend. The dictionary defines perception as:  

  • a mental image
  • a level of consciousness
  • an awareness of the elements, and 
  • an interpretation of a physical sensation 

Each of these elements applies to learning steel guitar. Once you learn how, they will show you the most efficient and least time consuming way to learn.  

Mental imaging is in part, understanding how everything must work as a single thought process. Yet a pedal steel player has to think about how to use the feet, knees and hands. Then you have to think about the chords of a specific song, the song's structure, etc. These are all separate physical and mental determinations that must be mentally managed and constantly pre-planned. How then can mental imaging be a single thought process? 

This seeming contradiction is one of the barriers to the learning process. Most people mistakenly, and in most cases unknowingly, assume their minds constantly make separate decisions for their feet, knees and hands. But, on a conscious level at least, that's not how our minds work. Every day we perform complex tasks which we consider as being simple without thinking of the separate thought processes necessary to complete our intentions. 

For example, most people find the complexities of driving to be easy; the reason is simple.  Before we ever get in the drivers seat, we already have the perception that turning the wheel to the left or right will turn the car, pushing the gas pedal will make it go faster, letting off the pedal will make it slow down and applying the brakes will make it stop.  With all these skills programmed in because of previous perception, all one need do is focus on the environment surrounding us at all times, and in so doing we can successfully maneuver thousands of pounds of machinery moving many feet per second successfully in traffic.

Just imagine having to make an emergency stop upon which your life may possibly depend, and before doing so having to take the time to look down and find the brake pedal.  The truth of the matter is, most every day there are those of us who are risking our life and the lives of others, that our foot will find the brake pedal when needed.  The principles that taught you so easily how to drive, can teach you how to play by utilizing the same perception of intuitiveness relative to steel guitar.

When approaching a stop sign we automatically let off the gas pedal and slowly begin applying the brakes as necessary to come to a smooth stop.  Was that a conscious thought . . . no, we simply completed the task by being focused relative to our intentions while applying the principles of perception.   Try to imagine the many different components of mental calculations and physical applications necessary to issue the command to simply stop at the stop sign; it will astound you.

Isn’t it logical that being aware of the organizational plans, musical circumstances and physical applications relative to steel guitar will allow you to play your steel guitar in musical traffic?  After all, isn't that how we so easily learned something as complex as driving?

Another great example of perception is a baseball outfielder.  The instant the bat makes contact with the ball, the outfielder immediately begins running toward the place where the flight of the ball will ultimately make contact with the ground. This in itself is an amazing ability, for to complete such a task the mind must manage all physical motor skills (the complexity of which is monumental), and in addition it must make all the analytical decisions concerning the angle, speed and trajectory of the ball. After all these tasks are accomplished with the perception of one task, the ball will come down into the pocket of the glove. Although most everyone has this ability to varying extents, few know how they do it.  The truth be known, it was acquired by applying all the definitions of the word perception.  

Even though the ball will ultimately make contact with the glove, how futile would it be to watch the pocket of the glove while running toward the ball?   A silly analogy?  Perhaps . . . but this is something a steel player is doing when he or she is playing and not focused on the single thought perception.

Without perception of how the mind manages physical motor skills which allow the outfielder to race toward the ball while calculating the speed, angle and trajectory, it would not be possible to accomplish the single task of catching the ball in flight, nor could the challenge of successfully learning and playing steel guitar be accomplished without a similar single focused perception.

Mental visualization of perception or watching the fretboard is like watching the ball, and any refocus while playing steel guitar is similar to an outfielder watching the glove while running toward the ball. 

This analogy validates that focusing on the ball in flight while watching only the ball allows all components of conscious thought relative to perception to work the way the mind must function to achieve success when engaged in a complex process. Many things we do every day may appear simple until closely scrutinized.

I have found these principles without question apply to successfully learning and playing the steel guitar.  The mind will accept programming if it’s done with a perception predicated on a logical foundation.  If the mind is distracted by anything, a mental disconnect occurs for an instant and makes it necessary to mentally reboot.  When refocused, the mind must then make the determination as to where the chord progression and tempo of the song has progressed. Looking at anything other than the fretboard, which I refer to as the instrument control panel, has the potential of disconnecting the mind from the playing process, again, just as an outfielder would be disconnected were they to watch their glove while running toward the ball.

There are, of course, exceptions to most everything. We have all observed great players who seldom look at their instrument when playing. Fortunately for us, steel guitar has the advantage of being one of the most visual instruments in existence because the control panel is in front of us totally exposed.  Those who play instruments which are not as visual must rely on a mental engagement in which they are actually visualizing their instrument and the resulting perception. Mental visualization of perception explains those who play with their eyes closed or seem to be focused . . . somewhere out there while performing. This can, of course, be done while playing steel guitar as well, but make no mistake, the focus and perception are ever present and there's no doubt the visual focus inherent with steel guitar can be used to great advantage.

Achieving success in learning steel guitar equates to a perception and an organizational plan based on total logic which enables the mind to view the entire playing process as doing only one thing, and that one thing is playing.

The application of logic allows the mind to accept and organize vast amounts of information very quickly and is an intricate part of perception which can dramatically shorten your road to success while learning to play steel guitar.  If logic is not applied, the mind reverts to scattered rote memorization brought on by having conscious thoughts about too many things unrelated to an organizational plan with a true perception foundation.

Not having an organizational plan and relying on memorization deflects the mind from doing what it does best, detracts from the natural channeling power of the mind, and therefore becomes counter productive to the organizational process necessary for the ultimate goal of perception. 

The following are a few of the critical elements of perception as related to steel guitar for which a proficient and experienced player/teacher can define the specifics:

1.  Find a logically based specific direction to ensure all physical alignment with the guitar is consistent.  Without consistent alignment, the sight parallax between the eyes and the bar-fret relationship will continuously provide a different perspective of positioning which negatively affects the overall feel of the instrument.  Without an overall feel,  consistency is compromised, and in some instances eliminated. The right hand will never find a home, the feet will not consistently locate specific pedals as needed and the mind will continually disconnect from the analytical process while trying to search for the feel.  In so doing the mind short circuits the critical aspect of musical mental flow as defined within the word "perception."

2.  Be sure all playing procedures are correct and applied to total logic and perception.  Determine the most comfortable sitting position behind the guitar ( I recommend considering the 15th fret), how close to the guitar you should sit, how to configure the right hand, determine if it's best to play with your little finger tucked under or sticking out, how deep to wear the finger picks, how to create the proper angle on the finger picks which best fits your playing angle, where to place the thumb relative to the index finger, how to slightly manipulate your right arm so as to ensure consistent pick angles, consider the perceived advantages or disadvantages of using three finger picks and how to hold the bar so it can best be controlled and used to dampen specific strings. 

3.  Exercise extreme diligence when searching for a very clear and precise logically formulated organizational plan. To identify such a plan, find one that uses mathematical applications which will identify chord positioning and ultimately promote the use of mathematical formulas.  Amazingly, understanding and applying only six mathematical formulas will provide the secret to playing most any song. 

4.  Make all mathematical calculations on the fretboard relative to bar positioning by reading left to right and envision all frets from the 12th fret as looping to the left starting at the roller bridge then again reading from left to right from behind the bar while using the fret numbers and markers as points of reference. The perception then becomes that of a circle in that it is unending.

5.  Achieve a single thought perspective of the hands. While looking slightly to the right of the bar, visualize where the root string is located and its parallel line relative to the fret markers. Doing so will provide a starting point perception of alignment which integrates the right hand into the left and creates the perception of oneness.

6.  To achieve a single thought relative to the mathematical process, the eye identifies the chord, and the mind engages the organizational plan and instantly sends command for the physical response the chord itself being the single point of focus.

7.  A perfect example of perception is considering what most refer too as the volume pedal.  Naming it a volume pedal insinuates the mind set that it is used to control the volume, however if it is perceived as an expression pedal, it immediately changes the perception of its function and allows manipulation improvement without conscious thought.

8.  Learn the principals of establishing a smooth and consistent mental flow.  To do so one must pre-plan that which they are going to play. From the very beginning of any song, the mind must have already planned at least two seconds ahead of that which you actually have intentions of playing.  I consider this as consistent mental flow wherein the mind should be ahead by a minimum of two seconds until the song ends. The farther you learn to think ahead, the better you will play because you are providing the mind more time to make all analytical decisions and to send commands for the physical response. The desired results being achieved, the mind would have maintained that same distance throughout the song while continually preplanning the physical response, which then became a smooth flow of music.

The mind must be managed so as to provide a smooth flow of information based on all acquired principles of perception relative to organization, otherwise the mind cannot make the determinations fast enough to issue the command to the physical extremities in time to execute the playing procedures necessary to create the specific musical intent. When the mind falls behind by getting too close to what is actually being played, it provides the potential for becoming mentally disconnected, and the result is, all physical movements become void of thought process. Our hands, feet and knees, are simply servants of the mind, therefore they must receive a constant and timely flow of information. When the power of perception is in place, you will experience the reward of achieving learning success.

The preceding few elements of perception will provide a basis of insight, or perception if you will, which I'm confident will validate what I have found to be true as a result of my years of teaching.

You may ask a great player about the things I have discussed, and some will possibly say, "I don't think about any of those things . . . I just play."  Logic dictates it is not possible for anyone to successfully learn and play without perception which follows a natural path programmed into the minds of each of us.  The reason they might reply as I have expressed is because they have not identified their perception on a conscious level, therefore their ability to perform is being accessed by the subconscious. However, I have experienced when the subconscious is brought to the conscious level, the results of accelerated progress can be astounding. Everyone who excels and succeeds at whatever they do must have perception.

I have observed some who sit down to their guitar and listen to their hands play without a focused thought process. As their hands begin playing “something,” they hope a sound or lick will magically emerge.  If they're lucky enough to find something they like, they must do it over and over in an attempt to program the conditioned reflex while hoping the mind will memorize it and have the ability to recall it when needed. Trying to learn using this approach is all too common and totally opposes the way the mind works.

Organization, not memorization, is one of the answers to achieving success learning steel guitar.  Expecting the mind to memorize countless sounds and licks without an organizational plan, is an exercise in futility and has the potential to extend the road to success out of the lifetime for many.  Most will find themselves in a playing rut, and in too many instances, they lose their desire out of frustration and quit playing.

In contrast, those who have a perception and an organization plan have the ability to identify the chord progression relative to distances as well as substitution and passing chord possibilities so as to provide flawless chord transitions and a smooth musical flow. 

The mind cannot be expected to memorize hundreds of songs and licks, and even if it had the capability (which it doesn’t), it would not know where, when or how to use them, which in itself is a result of not having a perception.  The truth is each song has something in common with the other, and when an organizational plan is applied with perception, it becomes apparent. When organized, different chord progressions and key centers make no difference.  After all, when using the musical number system, there are only seven numbers.

It’s never too late to begin enjoying playing as never before. The journey of learning can be enjoyable and rewarding, just as reaching the destination of achieving your dreams of success. Your personal journey can begin simply with the realization that input without perception is negative input. Immediately start the search for organizational procedures to discover the power of your mind.  Always remember, circumventing the power of the mind is not compatible with the true definition of perception.

I hope my thoughts will help others by providing a direction for those not aware of the power of perception which, when applied, will allow a greatly accelerated learning process and provide a lifetime of enjoyment playing the steel guitar.

I believe the mind is by far the most powerful and amazing creation in our universe. Continually exploring and expanding its awesome power is God's will, His gift to each of us, and opens the door to inner peace, happiness and success. 

Copyright (C) 2004 by Maurice "Reece" Anderson, all rights reserved.

Mental Management "How Is It Possible?"

Consider for a moment what we expect ourselves to do every time we play our steel guitar.

We must remember specific and varying fingering sequences, bar positioning and intentions of manipulation, control the pitch, know multiple positions of the chord being played, remember the chord sequence of the specific song being played and determine what pedal(s) and/or knee lever(s) to engage.  While playing we continually form an opinion of how we are sounding and attempt to make all corrections necessary.

To further complicate the playing process, consider the different song melodies, chord progressions and all the mathematical possibilities of each. And, let's not forget there is a tempo to consider which adds urgency of time and greatly contributes to the overall degree of difficulty.

In the end, how we think and how we play are verified by the sound coming from the amplifier--which is the culmination of all thought and physical participation.

Considering the enormous complexity of everything it takes to play, it's no wonder playing can overwhelm the mind.  It's also no wonder why a vast majority fall by the wayside and in doing so deprive themselves of the possibility and opportunity to experience the joys of playing.

Unfortunately some who lose their enthusiasm because of their frustration and being overwhelmed, may indeed have had the potential of being great players. Instead they unfortunately quit playing because they simply never found the specific procedure necessary to insure success.

Those who pursue logic know there HAS to be a way to engage and manage all these elements of playing. After all, we see and hear great musicians every day . . . so what's the secret?

To find the answer to mental management, we must ask ourselves the following question:

What is the specific process which allows a constant flow of mental and physical management of ALL playing procedures simultaneously, instantly and continuously?

The following is a four-step process which provides you exceptional ability.


First of all, the mind must be uplifted with enthusiasm, motivation, desire, passion and love for the instrument. If it has those attributes, it must then be introduced to an organizational plan. Without such a plan, the only option the mind has is that of vast and complex memorization, which is asking the mind to exceed its capability. As an example one does not attempt to memorize a book, yet because of the organization of the words a perception is provided which is the essence of the story.

There are organizational plans available today that will display the information required to play steel guitar.  There is a way to organize those plans so as to provide instant recall and subsequent execution similar to the way a story is remembered in a book although not memorized.


After the mind has organized the plan, it projects the proposed plan on the fretboard which then manifests itself visually.

Once the organized plan is projected on the fretboard by the eyes, the mind MUST preplan that which it is INTENDING to do, including bar placement, strings to be played and the pedal and knee lever involvement. All this must take place BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO PLAY!

This is a critical point in the entire playing process.  If one is not preplanning and visualizing the plan on the fretboard at least three seconds before attempting to play, the mind is in a deficit BEFORE even the first note is played.


The body is a servant of the mind therefore the hands do what they are told to do. Those who do not fully engage the mind simply listen to their hands play and essentially just chase sounds without organization. Doing this can become a lesson in futility and subsequently many will not continue to play.


While playing, the ears continuously and simultaneously validate the intent relative to the organizational plan AND the physical execution of the preplanned process.

The end result of all things is the sound coming from the amplifier. It is critical the sound must NOT interfere with the preplanning process which again is a minimum of three seconds ahead of what the ear is hearing.


The mind pre-plans, the eyes visualize and project, the hands execute, and the ears continually validate and correct on the fly by means of the subconscious. At the same time the conscious mind is observing the minimum three-second rule and continuously planning ahead until the song is completed.

An example is a baseball outfielder who, when the ball is hit in the air, just runs to the ball and the ball falls precisely in his glove. When he does this seemingly effortless task, that which he has just completed is actually a very complex calculation process of distance, wind, elevation, speed, trajectory, body control, etc. In addition to all those complex calculations, he must also keep his head in the strategy of the game so he knows what to do with the ball once it’s caught.  He can easily and effortlessly accomplish this by simply watching the ball and preplanning the response.

Playing steel guitar can be likewise related. Our ball is the fretboard. Once the bar/fret relationship is established, the eyes must move to the next preplanned position while the ear monitors and corrects everything relative to the sound coming from the amplifier.

Each step of my theory contains many elements which have proven over the years that when followed, the complexity of playing steel guitar can be compared to something as innately simple as catching a fly ball. Adhering to the four-step sequence provides the perception of keeping it simple and allows the mind to perceive the entire playing process as being only ONE THING.  This is exactly that which the mind began searching for the very first time we sat down to a steel guitar. 

Copyright (C) 2005 by Maurice "Reece" Anderson, all rights reserved.

Is There an Advantage?

I'm continually asked, “Are there advantages for a pedal-steel player to also play the non-pedal steel, and if so what are they?”

.I most sincerely hope the motive for my response to this frequently asked question is clearly expressed and accepted in the same positive spirit in which it is offered.

Playing a non-pedal guitar provides a different mental perspective of interval movement and requires increased bar manipulation from that of playing a pedal guitar. Most who have always played a pedal guitar have never visualized a mental picture of the interval movement that is actually taking place when the pedals and knee levers are engaged. Consequently it's only normal for pedal players to take for granted the intervals being altered by use of the pedals and knee levers.

The non-pedal guitar requires the mind to focus on the interval movement (patterns) necessary to form chords and create melodic lines. This can become a marvelous advantage for pedal-guitar players because it engages the mind in a different, yet an organized productive manner by viewing the steel guitar from another perspective than that of engaging pedals and knee levers. In addition, both speed and accuracy are noticeably enhanced by the increased dependency placed on the hands while forcing the mind to focus and engage the entire process of playing.

This is why most of my practicing is done on the non-pedal steel. I'm totally convinced my doing so improves all my musical skills and provides a better focus of melodic lines and chord interval locations when playing my pedal guitar.

The non-pedal steel is experiencing a renewed interest which can be attributed to its unique characteristics.  These characteristics will continue to attract and refocus the attention of all steel players, both non-pedal and pedal, including many of the world’s greatest players.

Should anyone wish to see for themselves if a new perspective and mind set takes over when playing non-pedal, they might consider trying to play the melody to any song on their pedal steel using only single strings while staying in a close fret proximity and not using any pedals or knee levers. Most will find this very difficult, and will feel the mind disengaging from one mode to another, and that other mode will open new doors of musical ideas and more keenly hone the overall playing skills of a pedal player.

I'm sure there are those who believe playing their pedal guitar and trying to think non-pedal will achieve the same results as playing a non-pedal guitar. You can, of course, very easily see for yourself by playing a non-pedal steel. I believe when you do, you will experience a mental transformation which has the potential of enhancing every aspect of playing pedal-steel guitar. 

Copyright (C) 2005 by Maurice "Reece" Anderson, all rights reserved.

Maurice "Reece" Anderson's Acceptance Speech for International Steel Guitar Hall Of Fame 2006

I’m very humbled for having been chosen to be placed along side some of the masters of steel guitar who have distinguished themselves as members of the International Steel Guitar Hall Of Fame.

I’ll try to put this great privilege into what I believe to be the right perspective for me. It’s my honest opinion that my induction into the Hall Of Fame is in no way an award which I deserve.  An award is something won and deserved.  I’d believe myself to be arrogant were I to feel that I deserve the honor that’s been given me today.

Neither is my induction a reward.  A reward is given for service or achievement. The truth is, in my career, I’ve received far more from so many of you than I’ve given. In reality, the respect and esteem represented in this honor is the summary of broader contributions than I’ve personally made. To a much greater degree than I can say, this honor is a tribute to the many influences that have touched my life in a positive way through the years.

There are influences without which I could not, and would not, be standing here today. It’s to these inspirations upon my life that I give credit. As a result of my inspirations, I long ago dedicated my life to three basic principals: FAITH, FAMILY, and FRIENDS !

First, there’s the influence of my faith in our Heavenly Father. Musical expression and the freedom to express it is God’s gift to each of us.  My faith continuously reminds me I’ve been blessed with gifts far beyond that which I deserve. So I must first acknowledge the ONE whose amazing grace has brought me to this moment in my life.

Second, there is the influence of my family. I’m tremendously indebted to my wonderful and loving parents, John and Bess, whose encouragement and support early in my life enabled me to follow my dream of a career in music playing the most beautiful instrument in the world . . . to which I have devoted most of my life.

God called my father home in 1966, but I have no doubt he’s with us here today.

I’m blessed and proud to have my beautiful, loving, devoted and always caring mother here with us.

My brother Jerry always supported and encouraged me through thick and thin. No one could have a better or more loyal brother. As many of you know, Jerry is a principle in the new MSA along with Kyle Bennett, Dave Horner and myself.

Our oldest daughter Risa is here.  She’s married to Dr. Jay Bender who was unfortunately unable to be here because of his devotion and responsibility to his many patients. Risa and Jay have blessed our family with two beautiful children . . . a grandson named Duncan, and a granddaughter named Hailey.  They live in Sherman, Texas. Incidentally, Risa is a professional singer.

Our other daughter Charice is also here with her husband Ronny Cooper. Charice is an artist/painter and has her own company called Infinite Artist, and she’s also a professional singer.  Ronny is in the home mortgage business and I’m delighted he could be here with us.  Charice and Ronny have blessed our family with two beautiful granddaughters, Chelsea and Mariah.  They live in Keller, Texas.

Last, but certainly not least, there is the love of my life, my beautiful wife Teresa. Her love is without condition, her devotion is without limit, her strength and courage have never wavered, neither has her faith in God nor in me. She’s the one from whom I gain greatest strength, stability and encouragement. She is truly the love of my life.

Third, there is the influence of friends.  I must acknowledge with gratitude the many people I’m proud to call my friends . . . those in whom I confide, whose advice I’ve respected, and whose loyalty has remained constant and steady.  To name them individually would be impossible.  It would also be unfair, because I’d probably overlook someone. Suffice to say, I have enjoyed a wealth of good friends to whom I’ll be forever indebted.

Finally, being true to my faith, there is an influence in my life of forgiveness.  Things happen which sometimes damage our relationships . . . that’s a harsh reality. So the question is not whether disagreements and hurt will happen, the issue becomes how to rebuild and restore broken relationships . . . professional and otherwise.  The key is never a judgmental or bitter attitude.  The answer to any disagreement is in the exercise of forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness that is honest and gracious enough to find a way to lay aside differences for the sake of healing and restoration . . . I choose forgiveness!

Thank you for allowing me to join those who have preceded me as members of the Hall Of Fame, as well as those who will come after me.  Others may be more deserving, but none could be more honored and appreciative than I.

Thank you and God bless each of you.  

Reprinted by request.


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