How To Play Slide Guitar: Tuning Knowledge And Techniques For Beginners

Hello, budding guitarists! You have landed in the right place if you want to learn the basics of how to play slide guitar.

Over the years, musicians of different styles have improved the techniques and approaches to slide guitar. You could be an innovator one day too. You just need to learn the basics first. As with any part of learning to play guitar, you will need patience and persistence. Some structured guitar lessons may also help once you've got the basics down pat.

How To Play Slide On A Guitar

The slide technique consists of sliding your finger to another fret once you have already played the note. It's a standard technique when playing guitar but gets a lot more bluesy when you use a "slide".

You can use a slide on an electric or acoustic guitar. Although they are most often used on an electric guitar with a bit of overdrive. There is also another type of guitar that sounds great with a slide known as a lap steel.

A Man Playing A Lap Steel Guitar
A Man Playing A Lap Steel Guitar

There are a few different ways you can wear the slide element. They are usually placed on the ring, middle, or index finger. This choice depends on what you find comfortable and how you want to manipulate your spare fingers.

To get started, play a note by pressing down with the finger that the slide is on and sliiiiidddee it up or down the fretboard. Try it out on each finger and see what feels most comfortable for you.

As far as guitar techniques go it is a pretty simple one. However, as you add other fingers to create complex chords the difficulty increases.

To combat this, most slide guitar artists use different tunings. This allows them to play easy chords across one fret. We will dive into these tunings later. First, let's take a look at the different types of slides.

Slide types

It is generally the material that causes slides to differ in tone. The most common types are metal and glass, but we also have, for example, porcelain. I have even seen people use a cut-off plastic pipe from their plumbing as a slide.

Would you believe it? A metal slide has a more "metallic" tone while a glass one sounds a little more neutral.

There is some variation in the size and thickness of the material. This is to account for people with thick or thin fingers. Be aware of this if you have gigantic or tiny hands.

Some may prefer a thinner slide so they can do hammer-ons and pull-offs easier with their other fingers. As a beginner, this is much less important but something to keep in mind.

A Magslide Magnesium Guitar Slide
A Magslide Magnesium Guitar Slide

Types of tunings

If you're talking slides you are also talking open tuning. Musicians use open tuning to create chords on open strings. it also works up and down the neck when pressing all strings over each fret. This allows you to create chords with your slide.

The most common open tunings are Open G (DGDGB) Open D (DADF#AD), or Open E (EBEG#BE).

Some people still use standard tuning with a slide. It is much more difficult though and you must be more accurate with your strumming/picking hand. A lot of practice has to go in to avoid hitting any bad notes in standard tuning. Open tuning is a lot more forgiving, especially for beginners.

How to play slide guitar

First, you must place it on one of the fingers with your fingerboard hand. As we said earlier you may want to try out each finger to see which is most comfortable for you.

I like to use my ring finger as it allows me to shred some notes with my pointer and middle finger.

Some prefer to use it with the index finger, although it is less common.

Once you have the slide over your preferred finger, you float it just above the fret you intend to play. Don't press the strings excessively. Rest the slide lightly on the strings and strum the strings with your other hand.

Once you get a note to sound, slide the slide to the next note. At first, it can be a bit confusing to play just above the fret and locate the exact note. If you have been playing guitar for a while you would be more used to playing between the frets. Be patient, practice slowly, and you will begin to understand how to play with a slide.

How to prevent the rest of the strings from playing

One common problem in playing the slide is that the rest of the strings make sounds when the slide is on them.

You can palm mute the strings you don't want to play with your right hand, or be extra careful not to hit them with the slide. You could have the top of the slide covering the strings you actually want to sound for example.

To pick or not to pick

You can play slide guitar with or without a pick. It depends on what style you would like to play. If you are already more comfortable playing with a pick there is no need to play fingerstyle or visa verse.

With a pick

If you want to get a more hooligan sound, using the pick is ideal. One guitarist who plays slide with a pick is Rory Gallagher. Check out this video for an example of slide guitar with a pick.

Without a pick

If you want to obtain a more melodic and cleaner sound, simply using your fingers is the best option. One guitarist who plays slide without a pick is Derek Trucks.

Slide Guitar FAQ

Which is the best tuning for beginners

These are the two most common tunings for songs that are beginner-friendly on a slide guitar.

E open:

One of the resources used by musicians worldwide, especially in blues and rock, is the open E (Mi) tuning. This makes the open strings sound as if an E chord was being played when all the strings get strummed open (fret 0). For this, it is necessary to tune it as follows:

EBEG#-BE (lowest to highest string)

G open:

Do you like the Rolling Stones? If so, you've probably heard countless songs with open G (G) tuning. That's the way Keith Richards plays his guitar the most, and it's also great for those just starting on the slide. This tuning is as follows.

DGDGBD (from lowest to highest string)

Is It Possible To Play Slide In Standard Tuning?

Many guitarists choose to use slides with standard tuning. Beginners who are not yet comfortable re-tuning their guitar may also opt for normal tuning. This is a mistake for beginners. It is much more difficult to learn to manipulate fingers around standard tuning with a slide.

Starting on the slide may seem complicated. It's possible to get good results in a short time if you're dedicated. This is especially true if you are willing to tune to an open tuning.

Remember that no one model of guitar is right or wrong for the slide. But, an actual "slide guitar"could make life easier. It's also nice to not have to tune and re-tune your everyday guitar.

What's The Origin Of Slide Guitars'?

Slide guitar is prevalent today in several different cultures.

Many people immediately think of Honolulu when they hear these sounds. Hawaiian music is definitely partly responsible for developing this technique. In the early 20th century, a young guitarist named Joseph Kekeku made a slide recording on his instrument. That recording went on to become a hit on the west coast of America.

No wonder that many musicians followed suit and played their guitar on their knees. They were mostly homemade slides constructed from metal tubes or broken bottlenecks. This led to the name bottleneck for slide guitars.

Yet, hundreds of years before the Hawaiians, Africans played simple instruments with strings and wood. 

Famous blues guitarists such as Bukka White carried on this idea. They used their musical careers with a taut wire and bottle known as "Diddley Bow." Slides or similar things were often used with instruments like these.

Which Kind Of Slide Should I Use?

You have the choice between slides made of metal, plexiglass, or glass. There are many different sizes and shapes. You can get long ones for the whole finger and short ones that only cover part of the finger.

The longer ones are like original bottlenecks (which Derek Trucks swears by).  The others are more like a little ring. This type is harder to use as a beginner so you should stick to a whole finger slide to begin with.

It's best to go to a music store with many models to try or order different ones to try out. They are inexpensive so buying a few different types won't break the bank. The important thing is: you have to feel comfortable, it shouldn't be too tight or too loose. The shape and the material later have a great influence on the final sound. Of course, you can also have several models at hand and use them according to your taste and needs.

I prefer to use a plexiglass bottleneck. Plexiglas generates a pleasantly soft sound.

The biggest bottleneck I use is the one made of brass. It's very thick-walled and our absolute winner in terms of sustain. Closely followed by a slide made of steel. These are also relatively thick-walled, then aluminum, and finally the one made of Plexiglas. Of course, you can also lengthen the sound with reverb and distortion or vibrato.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of slides for guitars now. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions and we will get back to you ASAP.

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