Cylindrical in shape, and usually made from brass, glass, or metal, a slide is an object that you place on a finger of your fretting hand to glide up and down the strings of your guitar, as oppose to fretting notes as you would otherwise do.
I’m sure the vast majority of people reading this article will already be familiar with what a slide is and the sound it produces, however many will have never considered actually using a slide in their own guitar playing.
Here is why you should make slide guitar part of your playing:
So read on and I will run you through the basics of slide guitar playing, so you can get up and going with it immediately.
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:
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.
You can use either a pic or fingers when playing slide guitar. A different tone will be produced depending which you choose, so experiment. Personally I prefer to use my fingers most of the time.
Whichever you choose, the picking hand, apart from doing the obvious (ie. plucking strings), also needs to mute out strings not being used at any given moment.
Your thumb is used to mute strings lower than the one you are plucking simply by resting it on them, while a combination of fingers, not being used at the time, mute strings higher than the one you are plucking.
For example, if I am wanting to sound a note on the 3rd string with the slide, my thumb would rest against the lower 3 strings to mute them out, while my middle and ring fingers would touch/rest on the top 2 strings to stop them ringing through.
I would then be left with my index finger to pluck the 3rd string, which I have now isolated.
Check the pics for reference:
All this seems like a lot of work in the beginning to simply sound a note, however you will get use to it, and it will all become very natural and automatic to do before long. Most importantly, your slide playing will sound so much better when muting out unwanted string noise. It’s the difference between sounding like an amateur and sounding like a professional.
Open tunings and slide guitar playing go hand in hand. This is because open tunings set your guitar up in a way that makes it easy to fret chords with your slide.
For example, an open G tuning sets your guitar up where you can play single fret bar chords. Pretty handy considering your slide can only be in a single fret at a time, don’t you think?
Here is an example of a simple bar chord in an open G tuning, played with a slide:
From this simple bar chord you can derive many cool slide guitar licks. Here are a few to get you going :
Notice we are mostly targeting notes in the bar chord to create our licks here.
When playing the above, keep everything we have covered in mind regarding your slide guitar technique. Things will get much easier for you in only a short amount of time.
About the author: Simon Candy is in regular high demand as a guitar instructor, educator, trainer, and mentor. Focusing particularly on the acoustic guitar and styles including blues, jazz, rock, and fingerpicking, Simon also provides lessons for acoustic guitar players online