As previously mentioned in the last blog, open tunings are the most commonly used tunings when playing slide guitar. However, it is entirely possible to be versatile in standard tuning with the right approach. Players like Warren Haynes, Mick Taylor, and Jeff Beck have each perfected this method in their own way, but this article will focus on what matters most for beginners who are just getting started.
Goals and Important Things to Remember
As fundamental as it sounds, perfect pitch is key when playing slide guitar in any tuning. Make sure your guitar is in tune because wrong notes while playing slide will be immediately jarring. Your left hand will rest in the barre position on top of the frets of the notes that you are playing while your right hand plays the notes you want to hear with your thumb and index finger. Any unwanted notes need to be muted out with the other fingers on your right hand. Visit my last article, slide guitar basics, for additional information regarding posture and finger placement.
In standard tuning, the most commonly used chords when playing slide are called triads, where three notes are grouped together to make a chord. In this case, most triads will be played in a barre shape over the D, G, and B strings with the slide. This article will focus on playing a major C chord triad, which, in standard tuning, include the notes G, C, and E, which is your major third.
Playing a C Major Triad
When playing the C major triad, make sure your slide is on the 5th fret of your D, G, and B strings. Use your thumb and index fingers on your picking hand (usually right) to play those strings, and use your thumb to mute your E, and A strings. You can also slide notes from one string to the next using your thumb and index finger (Example: Slide from your B note on your G string on your 4th fret to your E note on the B string on your 5th fret) You can also play your fifth fret on your high E string (A note) over a C major triad, and you can also play those notes together in your triad to form a chord. Remember to shake your left hand to give your notes vibrato – this also helps your notes sound in tune!
Learn your scales within the triad to find melodies with the slide. The notes in a C major scale include C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. You can use the same methods with your fingers to perform melodies within your scales the way you would when performing triads. Use half and whole step slides between your notes to create an emotional dynamic in your lead playing.
For a full I/IV/V progression where the I is a C Major, you can use the same approach with your triads on the 4 and 5 chords, which would be F and G. Both are still used on your D, G, and B strings as well, with the F triad on the 10th fret and G triad on the 12th fret. These progressions are often used in rock n roll, country, and blues, and can be applied to any key.
Practice and Patience
Playing slide may not come so easily at first, since it is a completely different skill set, so be sure to keep practicing and utilizing the techniques listed above. The left hand positions may feel unnatural at first, but like anything that’s new, consistent practice is key!