** As featured in issue 69 **
It’s my contention that everyone should learn to play slide. Aside from the killer new sounds, it’ll add to your sonic arsenal, it’ll provide you with a new perspective on the instrument that will inspire and enrich your regular playing as well. But as with any style or technique, it can be daunting, to begin with. In this lesson, I’m going to give you five of what I consider to be the most important tips for getting into slide. We’re not going to be studying licks or lines - those will come later. Before we get into it though, here’s another tip for free. Your slide tone will generally benefit from more compression than you’d tend to use for conventional playing. This is going to round out any scratchy high end you might get from using a metal slide (like the ones I prefer), it’s going to even out the volume between notes played with the slide and with fingers, and it’s going to help with sustain. There are a bunch of ways to achieve this, like cranking your amp up or using a compressor pedal, but I’ve chosen the Aclam Dr Robert for this purpose because of it’s superbly chewy and thick tone. Anyway, let’s get stuck in!
TIP NO.1 - DON’T RE-TUNE YOUR GUITAR There’s a misconception that slide playing only works in open tunings, and while there are innumerable slide greats who play in open E, open A or any of a number of open tunings, it makes sense to start out with what you know. By playing in standard tuning, you’re able to play the scales and licks you already know while you get used to the mechanics of using a slide. And while we’re on it, don’t change your string gauge or action height either - it’s not necessary, and if you need a special guitar just to play slide, you’re less likely to stick with it.
TIP NO.2 - WEAR YOUR SLIDE ON YOUR PINKY While it might not feel as comfy as other fingers from the get-go, wearing your slide on your pinky has a whole heap of benefits. It leaves your three longest and strongest fingers free to mute strings, fret notes and even play chords and lines without the slide. This means you can still play rhythm effectively and then use your slide for leads. The more integrated your slide playing is with the rest of your playing, the more you’re likely to use it.
TIP NO.3 - USE YOUR RIGHT-HAND FINGERS One of the most important parts of playing slide is muting the strings you aren’t playing. This is normally accomplished with a combination of the left and right hands, but using a slide effectively makes left hand muting impossible. This means your right-hand fingers will have to take on that responsibility, and it’s much easier to do this without a pick. Use your thumb and index/middle fingers to sound notes, and us ether remaining fingers of your right hand to mute the strings you don’t want to sound.
TIP NO.4 - USE YOUR LEFT-HAND FINGERS While we’re on the subject of muting, you should also use the fingers of your left hand to mute behind your slide. Draping these fingers across the strings will keep your slide notes clean and pure sounding. You should also use the fingers of your left hand for fretting notes! You don’t even need to lift the slide to sound these notes - just fretting behind the slide will bring the string out of contact with the slide and into contact with the fret, sounding the note!
TIP NO.5 - GET YOUR VIBRATO IN ORDER More than any other technique, vibrato might be the coolest noise you can make with a slide. It’s a uniquely vocal sound that’s super expressive - even more than the already very expressive finger vibrato. That’s because you can go down in pitch as well as up, much the way a singer would. So listen to your favourite singers and see if you can cop some of their vibrato for your slide playing. …And there you have it! 5 tips that will have you well on your way to slide mastery!
So what are you waiting for? Grab a slide and have at it…