Slack Key

Slack Key Songs Playlist:

Slack Key guitar is a tradition of fingerstyle guitar developed in Hawai’i using open and alternate tunings, with its own characteristic turnarounds, harmonies, and techniques. Dating back to at least the mid 1800’s, Slack Key is one of the oldest folk fingerstyle traditions on the guitar.  Along with Hawaiian music in general, the Slack Key tradition influenced and in turn was influenced by other genres of music such as Country, Blues, and Jazz.

The name “Slack Key” refers to the fact that commonly used tunings such as Open G (also known as Taro Patch in Hawai’i) involved tuning down, or ‘slacking’ the strings with the tuning pegs (or keys) on the guitar.  The genre is also often referred to by its Hawaiian language name of Ki Ho’alu (‘To loosen the key / tuning peg’). A wide variety of tunings has been used over the years. Most of the tunings are based on a major chord, sometimes including color tones such as the 6th or (for Wahine tunings) the major 7th.

Although songs from other genres of music have been adapted for slack key guitar, the majority of the repertoire is drawn from the larger canon of Hawaiian music, which encompasses everything from songs based on ancient chants, to songs composed by/for Hawaiian royalty, to tin pan alley esque songs of the early-mid 1900’s, to more modern compositions by popular musicians in Hawai’i. Slack Key guitar music encompasses both instrumental songs as well as vocal songs with slack key guitar accompaniment. Slack key guitar can be used as the sole instrumentation, or in an ensemble context with other instruments such as ukulele, steel guitar, and bass.