How to Play A Slide Guitar?

If you are in sync with the American tradition, a slide Guitar must have been in your mind when thinking about entering the world of acoustic instruments. What is even more interesting is that a slide guitar is not only suited to traditional guitars.

You can play it with almost any sort of string instrument. However, playing this extraordinary instrument can be a challenge in your early stages. Even for intermediates, it is sometimes not so simple. 

Get Started

To help you out in the attempt of mastering playing with a slide guitar and to share some key techniques and properties of the instrument, we have compiled this guide. 

Let us first start with some essential information after playing the slide guitar.

Wondering which finger or where to wear the slide on?

If you have already watched some of the artists play with this instrument, you will already know the answer. Any guesses? For those who guessed anything other than ‘your ring finger/ third finger in the hand’, you are incorrect. 

Now, why the ring finger? Well, imagine wearing the slide guitar on the middle finger (the second in your hand). It will take up too much control of the slide. This will somehow make the movement slightly stiff.

Well, why not the pinky finger (the fourth in the hand)? Can you really reach the neck of the guitar smoothly and easily if you wear it on the pinky finger?

This is most understandable if you are using an acoustic guitar or a non-cutaway one. You will also have too many free fingers on the back of the slide and this will pose a hurdle in the normal playing.

The ring finger will give you a decent balance between the aforementioned options. You can still maintain control while being strong enough. You can use your index and middle fingers to play normally, easily make your way to the neck of the guitar as well as hold it pretty steadily and straight enough between the index and the pinky fingers. 

You may, after some tries, realize that you really do prefer some other finger in this case. That is no issue. It is simply a suggestion from our end to begin the journey with your ring finger. 

Where do you think the slide should be- middle, front or back end of the fret?

This is often a confusion and sometimes even a misconception among many professionals as well that the slide needs to be placed at the middle of the fret. You rather have to ensure it is towards the front end of the fret. For instance, think about the note of ‘E’.

When this is at the fifth fret on the second or B string of the guitar, the slide has to be placed, not on the middle point of this fifth fret, but rather on the fret itself, just on top of the bar that divides the fifth and the sixth frets.

Why though? Well, trying playing once with the slide in the middle of the fret. You will realize when the note starts to become flat, i.e. reduces to a level below the actual pitch. You will sound terrible at this stage- fully out of tune.

You can only bring it to the correct pitch when you take the slide much further towards the front, exactly at the dividing point of the targeted fret and the fret that follows it.

This might often go unnoticed if you are playing without the company of anything else, but when you start playing over something, you will easily catch it. You must develop this technique from the very beginning of your slide guitar playing techniques. 

What to do about the pressure?

The answer to this is not going to be complicated- you simply have to synchronize well with the pressure of the natural harmonic. The correct amount of pressure is exerted when the slide stays in good contact with the string.

However, this string cannot be pressed too much down to the fretboard. Why so? Well, such a pressed contact will give rise to unnecessary and undesired buzzes. When trying to follow the correct method, you should try to completely forget the existence of the fretboard.

Just try to move the slide along a string which is simply suspended in the middle of the air, without any fretboard supporting it. 

If you are not still aware, let us tell you a secret. There is a thin line between no making any contact with the string at all and simply pressing the string down towards the fretboard.

And this is exactly what distinguishes an expert player. Some artists try to play guitars at super high action in order to widen this line that we have described. 

Is there any concern about using a specific tune?

In all honesty, you have a wide range of options to choose from when it comes to finding the correct tune to use. If you want to know what is the most popular, the answer is ‘open tunings’.

This kind of tuning simply refers to strings which can be tuned as such that the open strings form a chord. A single barre will act the same way at a certain fret. Why so?

Well, chords can only be played by the slide alone in this stage. You can also move easily between the strings at the given fret. Among open tunings, Open E,A, D and G tunings are widely used. 

Another option is the standard tuning. While it cannot be termed as the best tuning for a slide playing, it definitely deserves quite a lot of practice. If you decide to add a slide solo to a chosen song under normal tuning, you will first need the slide solo in the standard tuning as well.

This will enable you to find several new licks and allow you to play differently. The linearity of this will be pretty higher than that of open tunings. 

Not to forget, if you master the skill of putting the correct amount of pressure under normal tunning, you are going to have a smooth ride in playing the slide guitar. 

What is an extension nut? 

When you think about playing a slide guitar, what do you think you need for sure? The answer comprises of only 2 items- the guitar of course, and something that can allow the use of a slide.

Nevertheless, among some players, the extension nut is a common item in the list too. This is nothing too complicated- neither always super necessary, though handy for sure.

It is an accessory which is especially designed for slide guitars in order to allow the strings to be raised higher above the frets, thereby bringing out a ‘high action’.

If it is not necessary, why should you opt for such an extra accessory? Like we mentioned, it is pretty handy. Why do we use the slide guitar? In order to push the strings flush alongside the frets that exist on the guitar.

It will help prevent taking the strings too much out of the key or even avoid the unwanted buzzing sounds that are produced against the frets.

As a beginner, you may realize that this accessory will give you a lot more confidence and safety. Its exclusivity to slide guitars also make it a good pick for your gadgets when trying to play slide guitars. 

What is the open string muting?

In three words- the final step. With the guitar under the open tuning E, the slide on the ring finger and correctly placed over the fret, you are in the perfect position to start playing.

However, if you are not satisfied with the quality of the sound being produced, you must be needing to go towards sorting out your muting.

You should ensure that when your ring finger is in motion around the neck of the guitar, with the slide in the right place, your index and middle fingers should be sitting exactly behind it.

This is necessary to dampen the string that serves as a base for the sliding fingers to engage in the play. In this situation, you will be able to hear the note at which the slide is actually playing. Otherwise, the strings might go out of tune, losing the desired clarity and sounding distorted.

You need to ensure that these strings do not, at any cost, ring out. And hence, such open string muting is necessary.

Concluding Remarks

You are now well-informed about the basics of playing the slide guitar. It can certainly serve you as a skeleton to start working on, following each advice and steps with utter concentration, so that you can climb on the next level. These are some of the most essential tips which can be useful to you even when you are able to slide all over the fretboard. 

Read: How to Play BM on a Guitar.

Leave a Comment