Guitar slides can sound amazing.
In the hands of a capable guitarist.
Otherwise, playing with a slide is not going to give you the best results.
That’s because you really need a good ear for music to use one effectively.
Of course, you also need to know how to use a guitar slide correctly.
The first part comes with lots of practice. The second, I can help you with today.
Keep reading to learn exactly how you should use your guitar slide to ensure the best possible sound and to make playing with it as easy as possible.
Table of Contents
- 1 How To Use A Guitar Slide
- 2 How To Use A Slide On Guitar: Final Thoughts
How To Use A Guitar Slide
Using a guitar slide is not what I would call easy. It adds a number of challenges to the technical aspects of playing, but it also makes things much harder musically. In order to use a slide effectively, you first need to understand exactly how it works and what it does.
Understanding How Slide Technique Works
While it may not seem as flashy and challenging as popular shred techniques, playing your guitar with a slide is actually far more challenging than people think. There are a few reasons for this.
The most important reason is that you open up the unused potential of your instrument, basically giving more options for pitch, aside from the usual 12 notes in an octave.
Effectively, using a slide is like playing a fretless instrument. You get a true glissando and true vibrato.
When playing your guitar the usual way, you can only go up in pitch and back to the original note, unless you’re using a “floating” vibrato bridge that goes both ways.
Although primarily associated with blues music, the slide — known as the “bottleneck” technique — finds many applications.
It’s also mostly implemented for lead playing, not rhythm, but there are some cases where it functionally serves as a backing, playing chord progressions.
What To Know First If You Want To Play Slide Guitar
As mentioned, using a slide opens up new possibilities. But this comes with new challenges. Your guitar will no longer be in the 12-notes-per-octave grid.
All the pitches in between two notes are also open. While that has the potential to sound amazing, if performed by a seasoned guitarist, it can get incredibly difficult to get the right pitch.
Another challenge is the strings ringing out. This is also something that you can deal with, of course, but it requires a lot of practice and control over your fretting hand, as well as your picking hand.
If you want to play a note, your slide should be positioned right above the fret. It’s not the same as playing conventionally and pressing down the string in between two frets.
Fret wire is what determines the pitch when you play any note on the fretboard. When using a slide, you should stick to that rule.
If you’re sliding up or down to a note, that’s okay. But your “final destination” should be right above a fret.
Which Type Of Slide To Choose
There are different forms of slides to choose from. They differ in materials and dimensions. Most are made out of brass or glass, while some options also include porcelain.
Most of them are designed to go over a whole finger, but some are shorter and cover only half of the finger.
There are also some different sizes for larger or smaller hands, but for the most part, an average brass slide can be a great way to start.
Different materials can also affect the tone. Brass can sound brighter than glass. It may also help you sustain a note for longer.
How To Hold A Slide And Position Your Fretting Hand
In most cases, guitarists hold the slide on the ring finger of their fretting hand. Although this is the most common practice, you can also hold it on your middle or pinky fingers.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about this. But it is best to not place the slide on your index finger.
The ring or pinky finger might be the best option, since you’re then left with at least two fingers to play in the regular way, if needed. You can also use those fingers to mute the strings, but we’ll get to that.
When playing with a slide, your fretting hand fingers should be pointing up, roughly perpendicular to the neck and parallel to the frets.
Your thumb should be positioned as usual, touching roughly around the central axis of the neck. But it should not press too hard on the neck, compared to your usual playing.
It is just there to give you more control and keep things stable. You should be able to move your hand up and down the fretboard with ease.
The slide itself should not press down on the strings. It should make contact and functionally act as a moving fret of sorts.
Pressing down on the frets would just make things sound worse. Just keep that contact and let the strings ring for as long as you need them to.
Muting The Strings
One of the most important aspects of using a slide is muting the strings that you don’t want to ring out. If you’ve tried to play with a slide without any previous knowledge, you may have noticed how all the strings ring out.
This is one of the reasons I mentioned that you should keep at least two fingers behind the slide. Those fingers will act to dampen the strings. The only strings that should ring out are the ones you pick. You want to mute the rest.
If you place a slide on your ring finger, the index and middle fingers will do the muting. They should rest on the strings without pressing down on them. However, make sure that you maintain contact with all strings, even when you’re moving your hand up and down the neck.
You can still do palm muting with your picking hand, but only in combination with your fretting hand muting the strings behind the slide. The string, or strings, that you’re picking should still ring out freely. You can use the palm of your picking hand to stop a string from ringing out when needed.
Fingerpicking Or Using A Pick
One of the most common questions with slide guitar is whether you should use a pick or go with fingerpicking. Both options are valid. It just depends on what you’re aiming for.
Picks can help you achieve a brighter tone in most cases, but fingerpicking, or even chicken picking, could give more options.
If you’re just starting out, I recommend that you start with a pick and let the notes ring out. You can use the other fingers of your picking hand that are at your disposal to mute out the strings when required.
In most cases, it’s easier to use higher action when playing with a slide. It’s not mandatory, but it’ll be easier for you to play this way.
How To Use A Slide On Guitar: Final Thoughts
Using a slide to play your guitar opens up a world of possibility. It essentially makes your guitar fretless, meaning you are no longer limited to the notes. However, this also makes things much more challenging.
Knowing how to use a guitar slide correctly is important, if you hope to actually make it sound good. But it is only half the battle. The other is developing an ear for pitch, because you’re going to need to be able to distinguish between various pitches when you use a slide.