Take your Slide Guitar Playing from Frustrating to Fun!
For most guitar players, playing slide guitar falls into one of two categories:
- Super frustrating
- Super fun
There’s not much of an in between, and that’s because you don’t know how to use a slide until you do, and then it’s fun. ‘Til then, it can be perplexing. We’re serving up some simple techniques to improve your slide playing, and hopefully get you from category 1 to category 2!
The most basic tenet of team slide guitar is “block your strings”. Those who do not block, do not slide. Check out these helpful string blocking techniques for both hands:
Left hand slide technique
You can start by placing your slide on your 3rd or 4th finger (ring or pinky). It doesn’t matter which! Everyone has a preference, mine is my 3rd finger. Next, you’ll set up your 1st and 2nd fingers to block the strings behind the slide. Let’s put this into action by following these simple steps:
- Place your slide on your 3rd or 4th finger and rest it lightly on the strings. If you press too hard, you won’t be sliding, you’ll be fretting!
- Place your index and middle fingers, flat, across all 6 strings behind your slide.
You’ve achieved your starting position, Padawan. Blocking the strings behind the slide will ensure there’s no extra resonance back there, and will allow you to achieve the clearest and most focused sound possible, without any unwanted string buzz or resonant ringing. Remember, don’t put too much pressure on the strings with the slide, just touch the strings lightly and slide around on the string, without pressing down as if you’re fretting a note.
Right hand slide technique
Once you’ve got a feel for how to use your left hand, it’s time to look at how to use your right hand when playing slide. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a little more complicated to get used to this, but using the technique below can be a total game changer once you’re comfortable with it. You’re going to want to use your first 4 fingers to fingerpick the strings – no flat pick needed here!
- Start by placing your thumb on the low E string, your index on the A string, middle finger on the D and so on. That’s one string group – E, A, D, and G. Your pinky gets some rest here, it can hang out on the sidelines.
- To shift to the next string group, move your thumb to the A string, your index to the D string, and so on. This is the second string group – A, D, G, and B!
- Next, you guessed it, the last string group. Move your thumb to the D string, and have your other fingers fall into place on subsequent strings. This string group is D, G, B, and high E.
By using these string groupings, you are ensuring that you have control of plucking and blocking 4 strings at all times, and you can use your pinky and your palm to block the other 2 strings, depending on which string grouping you are using. It’s important to block the unused strings as much as possible with the right hand as well, and this technique will make it easy to do so!
Let’s put it together
Now that your hands are in place, and your strings are adequately blocked, you’re ready to start playing. Try moving your slide over a fret and using one finger on your right hand to pluck a note. Here’s an example:
- Move your slide to the 5th fret with your left hand.
- With your right hand on the second string grouping (A, D, G, B), pluck the G string with your middle finger – without moving any other fingers.
- You should hear a beautiful note ring out, with great sustain!
- If so, slide your left hand up to the 7th fret, while maintaining the same amount of pressure with the slide on the strings.
Once you’re feeling comfortable, it’s time to get creative. Use your other fingers to pluck the other strings. Use two fingers to pluck two strings at the same time. Change your right hand to a different string set, and play around on a new set of 4 strings.
The world is your oyster, and the oyster is your guitar! If you’d like to take things to the next level, lots of guitar players like to play slide guitar in open tunings. Open tunings can make it more practical to play in a straight vertical line, and since your slide is vertical, it can make it a lot easier to play good notes. Check out the open E tuning featured in our “Alternate Tunings” blog. Try tuning the open E down a step, for open D (DADF#AD), another classic!
Here are some great slide videos to inspire you to keep on keepin’ on while you’re learning this awesome new technique:
Dan Rougeau is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and performer based in Montreal. Check out what he does here.
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