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This article was originally published in issue #13
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Ah vibrato! This is a big fundamental. Get it wrong and it's pretty much game over.
Inspired by our Derek Trucks feature but just don't know how to get your head around slide guitar? Michael Casswell comes to the rescue.
We all agree Derek Trucks is an amazing slide player. But what can you do to even contemplate getting close to what he does? Unfortunately, you have to get the fundamentals nailed first. Hopefully the track I have put together is pitched about right to improve any slide skills you have already, but not so difficult that a beginner can't have a go.
Derek Trucks often favours open E tuning but I have purposely kept this track and my guitar in regular tuning. I did this because the chances are you will more than likely use your favourite regular tuned guitar to attempt a slide solo, rather than have a guitar specifically tuned to an open E,A,D,or G, which are all good fun, but part of the fundamental skill is being able to play some lines and licks in regular tuning. If you don't want investigate my playing over the track and just want jam over it yourself, then all the chords are diatonic to the key of D major except the G min6, where G Dorian works well. Which means for the most part all the notes in a D major scale will work over most of the song.
Unfortunately, to be as convincing as Derek, you need to start thinking about outlining chord tones and playing melodic lines, which is something he is great at. So just playing a D major scale without flare, thought, discipline and chops will not really cut it - but with a little perseverance, simple combinations of notes can sound great with a slide!
The chords are fairly straight forward. We have an intro vamp which is simply F sharp minor with some double stop slides that sound best when played with your fingers. Derek plays predominantly with his fingers, probably because the tone is so much better. Playing slide with your fingers is another fundamental in that Derek Trucks tone. You can use a pick, but it just won't sound as cool.
Then the chords for our A section are D maj7/ F sharp min 11 / X2 B min7 / G min6. Refer heavily to the structure I teach you in the film, but these are the chords.
Similar chords for the B section which are G6-9 / F sharp min11 / X2 E min / B min7 / G min6 / D maj9.
The big trick, with not only slide playing but regular playing too, is playing something that counts over these chords (check out my 'pro concepts' column elsewhere in this issue), so I have tried to put strong melodic lines over each chord which can be delivered in various ways using the slide. Derek will often put in little micro tonal nuances as he ends a phrase. Micro tones could be described as tones between the regular pitch of our regular notes. I have done some of these micro tonal touches as a phrase ends, blending them with vibrato.
Ah vibrato! This is a big fundamental. Get it wrong and it's pretty much game over. The vib is so important when it comes to slide and regular playing. Derek favours a quicker vib, where as someone like Joe Walsh favours a slower, wider, moodier vib. There is no right or wrong speed on this one but it does have to sound sweet and accurate and expressive. For the sake of the track I have used a slightly quicker vib than perhaps I normally might, just to tip it slightly towards Derek's style.
If you check my performance, you may also notice I am playing a lot of the lines along the string rather than being confined in one position. This is something that Derek Truck is amazing at. He will play a pentatonic along one string and it will sound just awesome, whereas I have mostly done the same as everyone else, by using a scale shape and pretty much keeping within a certain position. Doing it the way Derek does it gives a real fresh flavour to the sound and is definitely not a fundamental. It's a very advanced technique!
You also need to choose a slide that works for you. I favour small light glass slides, because most of my guitars are set up with a low to medium action with 9-42 strings, and using a big thick brass monstrosity would just be a nightmare to control, and certainly wouldn't sound any better than what I can do with a glass slide. The slides I use are made by Picato Pete and Dunlop and they work well for me. I buy them in bulk because once you drop them, they shatter. I guess you could throw a thick brass slide at the floor and it would be fine! Getting the slide you are comfortable with is a big fundamental and there may be some trial and error involved.
Muting unwanted strings is also a must, especially when playing in regular tuning as we are for this track. Everybody has their own way of doing this and it's something that's not easily taught. Probably playing a slow simple line and getting it to sing out true and clear without other strings spoiling the magic is a good starting point. I remember as a kid trying and trying to play the slide line from Freebird, until one day there it was, clear as a bell, with no overtones or noise from other strings.
Maybe the last basic decision to make is to decide what finger you are going to use. Derek Trucks uses his third finger. I use my second. Again it's more about what works for you than emulating what Derek does. There are many pros and cons on finger choice, so more trial and error involved.
Our song goes out with some simpler pentatonic type licks which are always good to have at your disposal. Pay special attention to the feel to make them sound cool. As with regular playing, feel, touch and tone is the difference between a good player and a fantastic player, and Derek Trucks is the definition of feel, touch and tone!