Guitar Slides: How To Use A Guitar Slide In 6 Steps

shutterstock_35052250If you enjoy Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers Band, or George Harrison, then you might be familiar with the technique known as guitar slides that these bands used to achieve that particular “sliding” sound on the guitar.  Guitar sliding is a popular and unique guitar technique that came about in the early 20th century, and was popularized by a Hawaiian guitarist by the name of Joseph Kekeku.

Guitar slides should be mastered, or at least attempted, by novice and experienced guitar players.  If you are interested in expanding your musical talents with guitar slides, we are going to go over how to use a guitar slide in 6 easy steps.

Step 1:  Determine Which Finger Works Best

  • The guitar slide will go on one of your fingers, and your first step in using guitar slides is figuring out which finger to wear the slide.  Obviously, you are the only person who will be able to decide this, since each person will have a different type of comfort level while they are playing.  When you are choosing the finger to use the slide on, remember that one of your fingers is also needed to mute the strings.  Your three best choices will be your middle finger, ring finger, and pinky finger.
  • All of your fingers have pros and cons.  For your middle finger, you can use a large slide to achieve a fat tone in the slide.  However, with your middle finger, you will not be able to play anything with your fingers and you will have a hard time muting the strings that are behind the slide.  If you plan on playing slide only, a middle finger would be a good choice.
  • If you choose your ring finger to wear a slide, you can wear a slide that covers the entire fret board.  This will help you easily mute the strings behind the slide, but in this case, you will only have two regular fingers left to play with.
  • With your pinky finger as a slide, you can play regularly with the rest of your three fingers, but you will only have the option of wearing a small slide that will likely not cover the entirety of the fret board.  This is only useful if you choose to play the blues.

Step 2:  Choose a Slide Type

The type of slide you choose will go into determining the type of effect that you wish to create.

  • Metal slides, for instance, will work best if you want to achieve a heavy sound.  Metal slides are ideal for creating long and slow notes.  This can work well if you are using an electric guitar.
  • If you want to achieve a class sound, such as a “Texas prairie” atmosphere, a glass slide would be a good option to consider.  However, with a glass slide, staying in tune is a little bit more difficult.

Overall, trial and error is going to help you determine which type of slide works best for the sound that you are looking to achieve.

Step 3:  Aim High

When you are using your guitar slide, you will want to adopt a higher action for best results.  This is the distance between your strings and the guitar.  The higher it is, the less scratching, buzzing, and extraneous noises you will hear.  Unless you want to use these extra noises for effect, then you will want to stop the slides from banging or making contact with the frets of the guitar.

Step 4:  Do not clamp

When you are using your slide, make sure that you press your slide only lightly against the strings and move them up and down the neck of the guitar.  You will hear the best effects from the guitar slide when you press the strings that go across the slide.  If you are a serious guitar player, then aim to use two or three of your fingers to create an additional chord shape.

  • Move your slide up and down while you are picking your guitar strings, but try to never clamp down on them.  If you do, you will hear a buzzing noise.
  • Playing several notes on one guitar string at the same time is not a problem, and this is one of the highlights of a guitar slide’s abilities.

guitar slidesStep 5:  Finger Vibrato

Be sure to not overlook finger vibrato, which is an easily overlooked aspect when playing with guitar slides.  To achieve the best musical pitch from your guitar slide, simply move your finger slightly along the slide with care and consideration until you reach the ending of your particular phase.  If you overlook finger vibrato, you could end up with a flat soloing sound.

  • If you are playing in a country blues or blues style, pay close attention to your picking hand.  Most guitarists who use guitar slides will play using a flat, thumb pick, or their fingers to give the tone of their music shape and definition.
  • The speed of the guitar slide is not a factor when playing, as the slide will be limiting in the speed that you play, regardless.

Step 6:  Tuning

When you have all of the basics down for using a guitar slide, you will need to move onto the tuning aspect of guitar-slide playing.

  • If you are just starting out with guitar slides and are a beginner guitarist, you will probably end up sticking to the standard tune: E-AD-G-B-E.  This will also work well on an electric guitar.
  • If you are a more experienced player and you feel more confident in your skills, you can experiment with different types of open tuning.  Open tuning means that the strings will be tuned to sound like a particular chord when they are actually not being fretted.
  • For assistance, enroll in this course on mastering basic guitar chords, or look up some instruction videos or tutorials online.
  • Try to not limit yourself to certain basic tuning styles.  The more varied and different styles that you choose to learn, the more inspired and creative you will feel with your guitar slide to find styles and tunes that you did not know existed.

Strum Away

Above all, when playing and learning any new aspect of an instrument, be sure to enjoy yourself and have fun.  Music is an art and it should be fluid and creative.  Give yourself time and patience to explore what guitar slides have to offer.  In the meantime, this course will give you step by step instructions on how to play guitar and understand guitar music quick and easy.