Slack Key Tuning

Slack Key tuning refers to a variety of open tunings used in Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar (Ki Ho’alu), a fingerstyle genre of guitar music that originated in Hawaii in the early 19th century. The term “slack key” comes from the practice of “slacking” the strings, meaning to loosen or detune them, to create open chords. This allows the guitar to be played with a more resonant and full sound, as strumming the open strings forms a chord.

There are many different slack key tunings, each with its unique sound and mood. These tunings often have a major chord when played open, but variations exist to create different harmonies. The tunings are often named after the family or region from which they originated, and they are a significant part of the musical and cultural tradition of Hawaii.

A few common Slack Key tunings include:

  1. Taro Patch Tuning (Open G Tuning): D-G-D-G-B-D from low to high. This is one of the most common slack key tunings, providing a G major chord when played open.
  2. Wahine Tunings: These tunings typically have a major 7th note in the bass, creating a sweet and melodic sound. An example is the C Wahine Tuning: C-G-D-G-B-E.
  3. Mauna Loa Tunings: Named after the volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, these tunings often feature a bass string tuned to a note that creates a deep and resonant sound. An example is B-G-D-G-B-D.
  4. Drop Tunings: Similar to the drop D tuning in non-Hawaiian music but applied to other notes, such as Drop C (C-G-C-G-B-E) or Drop G (G-G-D-G-B-D).

Each slack key tuning creates a different ambient sound and allows for unique melodic and harmonic possibilities. Guitarists playing in this style often use fingerpicking techniques to play the melody and accompaniment simultaneously, often incorporating the characteristic slurs and slides that give slack key guitar its distinctive, laid-back sound.

Slack Key Guitar is deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture, embodying the spirit of aloha and the islands’ natural beauty. It’s traditionally played solo, but it can also accompany singing and hula dancing.

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