I’m sure that if you have played guitar for even just a little while, you are somewhat familiar with what a slide is and the technique of slide guitar playing. While you may be familiar with it, you may never have considered adopting it as part of your guitar playing style.
A slide is a cylinder shaped object, often made from glass, brass, or metal, that is placed on either your pinky, ring, or middle fingers of your fretting hand. Instead of fretting notes, you glide the slide up and down the length of the string creating a very cool and unique sound.
So why consider making slide guitar part of your guitar playing arsenal?
Here are just a few reasons:
• If you already have a solid playing foundation to work from, it is relatively easy to be up and playing slide guitar
• It will add great depth to your playing, increasing your creativity on the guitar due to the totally unique sound a slide gives you
• People love slide guitar and will want to hear you play more. The sound is appealing to the “general public”
• You can use a slide in a number of different guitar playing styles and genres, so it’s very applicable to your playing
• Slide is synonymous with open and altered tunings. You can use it in standard tuning too, but inevitably you’ll become a better player in other tunings by playing slide guitar
So, let me take you through the steps needed to introduce slide guitar into your playing.
Slide Technique For Your Guitar Playing
What a slide is made from, as well as the thickness and size of it, contributes greatly to the sound you get. Various types of materials are used to make slides including metal, brass, and glass, each providing it’s own unique tone.
It is beyond the scope of this article to go any deeper into the types of slides there are, however, much like a plectrum, it’s well worth trying a few out to see what appeals to you. You’ll most likely have several slides at your disposal, made from various materials and of various sizes to suit different musical situations.
Which finger of your picking hand you choose to place the slide on is largely up to you. In part it comes down to what you want to be able to do.
For example, if you are going to integrate the slide in with normal guitar playing, then the pinky would be the finger of choice, freeing up your other fingers to fret notes and chords. If you are exclusively using the slide only, then you may choose your ring or middle finger.
Personally, I like to use my pinky so I have the option at any time to revert back to “normal” guitar playing while still having the slide ready to go whenever I need it.
Once you’ve decided what finger to place the slide on, you will need to hold it more or less parallel to the frets of your guitar. Make sure the other fingers of your picking hand are kept together, not separated, and that they are lightly touching the strings.
The reason for this is twofold:
1. You want the slide to sit just above the second knuckle of the finger it is on. Keeping all your fingers together stops the slide from slipping down to the base of the finger. You need to be able to bend the finger that the slide is on. Check the picture below for reference:
2. The fingers behind the slide rest on the strings to prevent any unwanted string noise as you move the slide up and down the neck of the guitar. In other words, they are dampening/muting the strings. Check the picture below for reference:
The frets of your guitar are actually not needed when playing slide. Their only purpose is to serve as a visual aid as to where to place your slide when sounding a particular note. To sound a note, you need to place the slide directly over the top of the fret, not in-between as you would do otherwise do.
You must restrain from placing too much pressure on the strings with your slide when playing. Only a very light touch is required. Any more and the slide will make contact with the frets, producing a sound you definitely do not want.
Typically a guitar with a slightly higher action (ie. the distance between the strings and the fretboard) is best suited for slide guitar playing.
The Picking Hand:
Slide guitar can be played with a plectrum or with your fingers. Each approach will provide a different tone and have it’s pros and cons. You may choose to do both, depending on the situation. I do this myself but find most the time I use my fingers.
Your picking hand also mutes out strings not being used to prevent unwanted noise. You’ll find the thumb is best placed to mute out lower strings, while your fingers, at least those not being used at the time, are best for muting out higher strings.
So let’s say I am sounding a note on the second string with the slide. The thumb of my picking hand would rest against the lower 4 strings as I did this, and either my middle or ring finger would rest on the 1st string muting it out.
Which finger I use to mute here will depend on which finger is busy plucking the 2nd string at the time. Most likely my index will pluck the 2nd string in this case, while my middle and/or ring finger mutes out the top string, by resting on it. Check the picture below for reference:
While this seems like a lot to think about to simply sound one note, it’s well worth the investment of time to train your slide playing this way. If you ignore this detail you will sound average at best. Before long it will become all very second nature to you.
Slide Guitar And Open Tunings
While slide can certainly be used in a standard tuning, and often is, it is also very commonly used in open tunings. The reason being open tunings set your guitar up in a way that is conducive with slide.
An example would be Open G tuning. In this tuning you are able to play a bar chord within a single fret. A slide can only play in 1 fret at a time, so I’m sure you can see how this could be a really handy tuning to play slide guitar in.
The following is a G bar chord in an Open G tuning:
Here are some typical licks that can be derived from this bar chord shape using a slide:
Slide Lick 1
Slide Lick 2
Slide Lick 3
Slide Lick 4
Slide Lick 5
There are many other licks that could be created from this single bar chord shape. See if you can come up with some of your own.
When playing the licks above, be sure to keep everything in mind regarding using a slide that we have covered in this article. With just a little practice you will start to get the hang of using a slide in no time
About the author:
With 20 plus years of teaching experience and expertise, Simon Candy is a guitar instructor out of Melbourne, Australia. He has helped countless amounts of everyday people play their acoustic guitars in innovative and creative ways