What is Slide Guitar?

The slide playing style in guitar has been prevalent in popular music since the days of the delta blues in the 1930s. It is mostly used to convey emotion through long sustained notes, much like a human vocal or a violin. It relies heavily on tone and pitch and has been used as the lead instrument on various classic recordings from artists like The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, George Harrison, and many others.

Types of Slides

Various types of slides have been used over the decades. The most commonly used ones are metal, glass, and ceramic. Some of the notable metal slide players include Johnny Winter and George Thorogood, while players like Duanne Allman, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks have commonly been associated with glass and ceramic. Ceramic slides tend to give the most warm tones because of their thick walls. There are also bottle neck slides that can be made from actual wine bottles with the right tools.

Tuning a Slide Guitar

The slide guitar can be approached in various forms of tuning on a guitar. Open tunings are mostly used, but it is entirely possible to learn to play slide guitar in a standard tuning. The most commonly used open tuning is open E, where the tuning of the guitar is set to where the player is able to strum through all six strings and play an E major chord without having to fret with the left hand. Starting from the heaviest gauged string, the tuning would read, E, B, E, G#, B, and E.

Goals When Playing Slide Guitar

The goals when playing slide guitar include clear, pitch perfect notes while performing single note melodies or triads.

Right Hand

You will want to make sure that the rest of your guitar is muted using your right hand when performing your notes on whatever string or strings you may be using. The index finger is mostly used for playing single strings, while the thumb and other fingers mute the other strings to allow the individual notes being played to sustain.

Left Hand

While using your slide, you will be playing your notes right on top of your frets, instead of behind or in front of them like you would with your fingers. Most people play their slides using their middle or ring finger on their left hand, while the surrounding fingers form a triangle shape around whatever finger has the slide to keep it steady. Notes can be played together or individually while shaking the left hand to give the sustained notes vibrato.

Important Things to Remember

Dynamics, volume, and scales are very important when using the slide guitar. Knowledge of notation in scales helps tremendously when finding melodies and leads in a slide guitar, particularly in your higher octaves along the G, B, and E strings. Long notes that sustain often start from a half step or a whole step lower to add dynamic. Triad chords are also commonly used, where three strings are played in a “barre” shape with the slide over the D, G, and B strings. Approaches vary, but those will be covered at length in the future.