While most of you no doubt will know of slide guitar playing, and the cool, unique sound a slide produces, many of you have probably never considered adopting this technique as part of your own guitar playing.

For those of you who don’t know, a slide is an object, often made from glass, brass, or metal, that is of a cylindrical shape, and is placed on a finger of your fretting hand. Instead of fretting notes as you would usually do, you glide the slide up and down the strings of your guitar getting a wonderful sound that only a slide can produce.

Here are some reasons as to why you should adopt slide guitar and make it an integral part of your playing arsenal:

• Provided you have some basic skills, slide guitar is simple to get up and running in your playing. You can benefit from the uniqueness a slide will bring to your music almost immediately

• Slide guitar will help increase your creativity, motivation, and inspiration to play guitar. It’s always refreshing and exciting when you have a new sound to experiment with

• The sound of slide guitar is very appealing to most people. Your audiences will love it!

• Slide guitar is not exclusive to any particular style of music. You can use it in almost anything, so it’s very applicable and useful for your guitar playing across the board

• While it can be used in a range of styles, slide guitar is also very often used with open tunings. You will become more familiar with these (ie. open tunings) bringing even more creativity, motivation, and inspiration to your guitar playing!

So, that being said, let’s now take a look at the basics of slide guitar playing, so you can be up and running with it right away!

Slide Technique For Your Guitar Playing

The Slide

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. 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 pic below for reference::

Slide Guitar Pic 1

2. 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 pic below for reference:

Slide Guitar Pic 2

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 do would 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

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 pic below for reference:

Slide Guitar Pic 3

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.

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 bar chord in an Open G tuning:

Slide Guitar Bar Chord

Here are some typical licks that can be derived from this bar chord shape using a slide:

Slide Guitar Lick 1

Slide Guitar Lick 2

Slide Guitar Lick 3

Slide Guitar Lick 4

Slide Guitar 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.

Author's Bio: 

A highly sought after, successful, and experienced, guitar instructor, Simon Candy specialises in the acoustic guitar, regularly teaching, training, and mentoring students out of his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. From styles such as blues, rock, and jazz through to fingerpicking and the like, Simon also offers online tuition for acoustic guitar