If you haven’t checked out the slide guitar, you’re missing out. It’s a sweet sound that takes the guitar to a whole different world. Essentially, it involves using a cylinder, often glass or metal, to hold down the frets and slide from note to note. It’s a totally unique and cool sound.
One of my favorite songs that uses slide guitar is The Boxer in the Mumford and Sons cover. Check it out on YouTube here.
Still, most people who are experts slide guitar play it all the time, but it’s fun for even slide enthusiasts to pick up every once in a while. If you are, check out these 6 basic tips that may help get you started.
If you love it and want to take it seriously, check out the lessons on Guitar Tricks. This is where I first learned how to play it.
Check out online guitar lessons with Guitar Tricks.
#1 Aim For The Frets, Not Just Before It
When we fret the strings normally on the guitar, our goal is to press down as close as possible to the fret without touching it. This gives us the best pitch, tone, and accuracy.
But slide guitar doesn’t work this way. As you hold the slide over the strings and press, you actually want to aim for pressing right over the fret. This gives you the best pitch and sound on slide and helps avoid weird buzzing sounds.
It takes some practice to transition between aiming at the two different spots, but you’ll get it in time.
#2 Give Your Strings More Space
I’m generally a fan of low-string action. It’s much easier for most people and as long as you don’t go too low, it has few drawbacks.
With slide guitar, the strings need more space. Raise that action a bit by adjusting the truss rod inside the guitar body attached to the neck. If you’re not sure how take it to a music shop. They should do it for free. It takes ten seconds.
#3 Use A Tuner And Slow Down
George Harrison (songwriter, one of the best guitarists of all time, member of the Beatles) loved playing slide guitar, but he complained a lot about the sound of other players. He’d say they used the “loose” nature of the slide’s sound as an excuse not to learn about playing the exact right pitch.
He’s right. There are a ton of slide players who sound horrible in a band because they don’t know where to aim and listen in for the center of the sound. When playing a line, slow way down, get out a tuner, and make sure you know exactly where to play and what perfectly in tune sounds like.
#4 Check out different tunings
Hardcore slide players love to play in an open tuning. The most common is open G, where the strings are tuned (from low to high) at notes: D G D G B D.
This lets them focus on the open tones and makes it more of a lyrical or solo-driven instrument. But there’s nothing wrong with learning on standard tuning as well. A number of amazing guitarists do this to switch from rhythm guitar to slide guitar in different sections of a song.
It’s your choice, but try out both and see which you prefer.
#5 Practice Right-Hand Muting
A lot of new slide guitarists don’t think about muting the string with their right hand (or strumming hand). This often results in a crashing of tones that don’t fit together. Take some time to practice letting your right palm/wrist rest on the lower notes you’re not using at the time. Make it a goal to be able to isolate one string, two strings, and three strings.
#6 Practice, Practice, Practice
Picking up slide guitar is essentially re-learning the whole guitar. Yes, you’ll know how the frets and notes work, but outside of that, it’s a whole new ballgame. Give yourself some grace and don’t give up before you put in the work and practice to get better.
Give playing the slide guitar a shot. I think you’ll be surprised at how much fun it is.