How to Play Beginner Slide Guitar

Have you ever wanted to play slide guitar? Ever thought that learning how to play slide was impossible? Been frustrated with your own attempts?

Ultimate Guitar
I'd like to show you a way to start playing the slide guitar in a way that makes sense to you. It will give you the ability to make some otherwise impossible sounds on your guitar, causing your friends, bandmates and others scratch their heads in amazement.

Slide Guitar Is Awesome

What is it about the slide guitar that makes me lose my mind? It is one thing to learn the guitar's labyrinth of notes, scales and chords using your fingers, but it take a special kind of crazy to try and add a slide to all of that.

But, if you're still reading, then you are up to the crazy challenge. Trust me when I tell you that it's totally worth all the frustrations that can and will arise.

You have questions. Let me answer those questions and help clear away any doubt you may have.

Is Slide Guitar Easy?

No. You can't expect to just grab a beer bottle or pocket knife and shock your audience with your awesome command of the guitar. But for those who are dedicated, slide guitar can be one of the most challenging and rewarding things you can do on the guitar.

Should I Even Bother to Learn Slide Guitar?

Yes! You don't have to be a slide master to enjoy the sounds and effects that they produce.

Think of the intro to Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying," the Beatles "Free as a Bird" or the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."

Most people don't think of Jimmy Page, George Harrison or Jack White primarily as slide players. They are guitarists who are looking for new and unusual sounds to give their music depth.

What Kind of Slide Should I Get?

There are hundreds of variations of slides to purchase. Don't be intimidated. Most people use either a glass or a metal slide. I recommend a metal slide at first. When you are learning how to use it, you will eventually drop it.

Buying a metal slide insures that you won't be going to the music store repeatedly buying another one. Just find one that fits the finger you will be using it on.

OK, So What Finger Should I Use It On?

I knew you were going to ask that! There is always debate on which finger to use the slide.

Mick Taylor (of Rolling Stones fame), Keb' Mo' and Johnny Winter use the pinky.

Duane Allman, Son House and Jimmy Page use the ring finger.

Still, Bonnie Raitt and Ronnie Wood use the middle finger. So who is right?

Well, they are all tremendous slide players, so the answer must be:

Use which finger feels right to you.

Experiment. There are benefits and disadvantages to each position. It will feel weird to you regardless which finger it's on in the beginning. Just don't put it on the first finger. You will need that digit to help you mute unwanted string noises.

How Do I Hold the Slide?

Put the slide on the chosen finger and hold it up to the high E string, just letting it touch. Do not put any pressure on the string like when you are fretting a note. Simply make sure the slide is touching the string.

Make sure that your finger(s) behind the slide finger are gently touching the string as well. This mutes the string, making the note you are playing sound more clean and confident.

Slowly move the slide up and down the neck. If you are hearing rattles or noise, make sure your hand is very relaxed.

If this persists, perhaps you strings are too low to the fretboard. A higher action on your guitar will help decrease this problem. You should hear a slow, clear rise and fall of the note as you move.

Exercise 1

Now try to get some control of the slide by playing a specific note. Let's try to play the 12th fret note on the first E string.

Make sure that the slide is sitting directly over the fret. If it is off even by a little bit on either side, the note will not be in tune.

Play the 12th fret E note with your finger. Then try it with the slide. The challenge is to make the note the slide note the same pitch as the fretted note.

Exercise 2

A great exercise for developing an accurate touch is to play where each fret is located, starting at fret one, two, three, ascending until you reach fret 12. Then try to go back down (descending).

This will be where your tone and touch is developed and refined.

Exercise 3

Once you feel confident with the first exercise, and then try to do some sliding up the neck. Here is the G major scale on the E string.

Exercise 4

Now try to jump to each note by lifting the slide off of the neck or mute the notes as you go. Try this exercise both ascending and descending. Your goal is to play the notes without sliding. This develops your control over the slide.
Stay on the first string until you feel confident enough to move forward. Remember to keep a relaxed hand, having your thumb on the "spine" of the neck (center), and to move your hand slightly while keeping the thumb as your contact to the guitar. Use lots of vibrato. That's the real beauty of that slide sound!

Let It Slide

Playing slide will take some time. Allow yourself to make mistakes. One of my favorite things to say to guitarists when learning something new is:
  • Go slow.
  • Take breaks.
  • Have fun!
Want to learn more systems to save time and frustration with learning the guitar? Just give me your name and email address, and you'll get access to my private email list, including strategies and tactics I won't share anywhere else.

About the Author:
Tim Woosley is a guitar instructor, performer and singer-songwriter. He has taught hundreds of students how to be the guitar player they always wanted to be. His site concentrates on helping every guitar player achieve their full potential. He has been teaching guitar for over 16 years and been playing for three decades.

16 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Something that helped me pick up slide was listening to other slide players and watching them play. May help! Some I listened to were Jack White, Seasick Steve, Hound Dog Taylor, Son House and Blind Willie Johnson.
    I never really worry too much about where I'm at on the fretboard, I just let my ear be my guide. If it sounds right, it is right.
    Listen to Duane Allman play slide on Statesboro Blues from The Allman Brothers Band - At The Fillmore East. If you don't want to learn slide after hearing that, you probably never will.
    rain of fate
    Joe Perry is who I have been listening to . I have his Signature slide also . Draw The Line is an excellent slide song . He is one of my slide heroes .I will listen to the slide heroes ( Johnny Winter , Jimmy page , Joe Perry ) and form my own slide sound . Great article !
    Slide is fun when its on, and makes me want to throw things when its off. Still haven't really sit down and made it part of my practice, but after reading this maybe I should try at least 5 minutes on your practice tips. Never know might be able to find another way to express myself. Disclaimer: Never once have I thrown anything realistically other than paper I was writing are too expensive and drywall a pain in the butt to replace.
    Is there some comprehensive videos for me to wach. Where I'm shown how someone else plays with the pro tab system. I don't have a teacher so ultimate guitar tabs has become my teacher with my iPhone. Westerlo.222
    Hey, this one is really helpful! What helped me learn the basics:
    BTW: That whole channel is realy great for learning specific guitar techniques! Have a good one!