Do you want to play country or blues music? Then you absolutely must try slide guitar! Read on to find out how to get started and our best tips for playing your first slide guitar song. 

What is Slide Guitar?

Slide guitar is a playing technique in which notes are created by running a slide across the strings. A slide is a glass, ceramic, or metal tube that you can wear on a finger of your left hand. While pressing down on strings along the fretboard produces a single note, sliding across them with a slide produces a sound that changes in pitch quickly. 

Can You Play Slide on Any Guitar?

Yes, you can play slide on any guitar or any stringed instrument. For a clean sound, it’s best to adjust the action on your guitar—the distance between the strings and the top of the frets. The more space there is, the less likely you’ll be to accidentally hit the frets with your slide and create a clattering sound. 

With Any Tuning?

If you’re just starting slide guitar lessons, standard tuning is a great option because you don’t have to re-tune your guitar or learn new chord patterns. However, strings in standard tuning don’t create a complete chord, so you’ll always have to mute strings to make sure they sound good together. 

Alternatively, you can use an open tuning, where the strings create a chord even when you’re not pressing anything with your left hand. This allows you to create new chords simply by sliding along the fretboard. When you’re ready to move beyond beginner slide guitar lessons, open G, open A, open E, and open D are all great tunings to try. 

How Do You Learn to Play Slide Guitar (and Is It Hard)?

If you’re already an experienced guitar player, you should have no trouble learning to play slide guitar. Once you know the basics, you can make it as simple or as complex as you like. 

Step 1: Pick a Finger 

There are no rules about which finger to use for slide guitar, but most players use their pinky because it leaves the other fingers free to form chords, add riffs, or mute strings. 

Step 2: Use the Correct Position

Regardless of which finger you choose, it’s important to keep the slide completely straight and perpendicular to the strings. Otherwise, your strings will sound slightly out of tune. 

Rick Payne demonstrates how to correctly position the slide. 

Step 3: Try Sliding

Using a slide doesn’t mean pressing down on the strings—just lightly touch the strings over the fret, much like you would when playing harmonics. The strings shouldn’t touch the frets as you slide across them. 

Step 4: Try Vibrato

Vibrato adds life and movement to your strings. Once you’ve arrived at your desired fret, try quickly moving your slide from left to right. The slight variation in pitch is what creates the vibrato effect. 

Step 5: Learn to Mute

Muting will allow you to isolate the strings you want to play. There are two ways to mute—you can use the spare fingers of your left hand or the outer edge of your right hand to lightly touch the strings you want to mute. Ideally, you should be muting in both places. 

Step 6: Practice

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to learn and practice different styles of slide guitar. Start with Delta Blues slide guitar lessons—slide guitar is a hallmark of this style. When you’re ready for more, be sure to check out Rick Payne’s class Play Slide Guitar 'Beyond The Delta', where you’ll learn other styles like Chicago, Texas, Hawaii, and many others. 

Ready to Start Playing Slide Guitar?

Play Slide Guitar 'Beyond The Delta'

Written By
Sayana Lam

Sayana Lam

Sayana is a musician, writer and graphic designer based in Toronto, Canada.

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