A Slide Guitar Lick
The Lesson explained
I have a gig coming up with my band next week so I decided to pull out the Strat and toughen up my finger tips for it. I play the nylon string at home and it doesn't take long for the calluses to soften up. I also needed to brush up on my slide playing and while doing so I stumbled onto this lick. So I decided to make it into a lesson for you.
There is nothing easy about playing slide guitar. Let's get that said and out of the way right up front. It make look easy for me but that's because I've been doing it for a very long time. So don't get too discouraged if it sounds awful at first. But there is only one way to get there -- and playing slide guitar is a whole lot of fun -- and that is to practice, practice, practice. This particular lick is probably way to complex if you've never tried slide before, but you can take any small element of it and work on that for a while, even it's just getting one slide note sounding good.
There are so many things to get right:
1) Intonation. Getting the slid note right on pitch is the most important thing of all. If it's not in tune, it's going to sound sour and no one will want to listen. The correct placement of the slide is directly above the fret wire. You can see that in the video. What is happening is that we're replacing the fret wire with the slide, sort of a fret wire coming down on the string from above. Remember that it's just a tiny piece of the slide that comes in contact with the string. That tiny contact point has to be right above the fretwire. Watch you don't go sharp of the note. Sharp sounds worse than flat.
2) The touch. Don't press down into the strings. Let the weight of the slide be the pressure. Easier said than done at first, but essential. Pushing into the strings will damage your fretwire, so be careful.
3) Wear the slide on your pinkie finger. That will allow you to use other fingers for normal playing. There is a bit of that in this lick. The green circled notes are normal fingered notes, so when they come along, you need to slightly lift the slide off the strings.
4) In the blues, it becomes very east with a slide to really play those so-called 'blue notes'. The 'third' -- the 3 -- of most blues melody lines is neither minor nor major. It sort of lives in between. The only way we can do that without a slide is to bend the flat 3 up a bit. With a slide, we can play any of the 'in-between' notes we want, with ease. Those little arrows in the tab show that the starting note is the flat 3 of the chord(s) and that we move that pitch up a fraction with the slide. You can hear it in my example.
5)Muting. This is probably the hardest part. You really do need to play slide with your fingers, not a flat pick. That's because you need all your fingers and thumb to become muting pads to muffle out any string that isn't being played. If you watch my picking hand in the video, you will see that in action. It's a very busy hand. Thankfully, it's all happening automatically because I have practised this stuff over and over for years. The thumb takes care of the thick strings, the other fingers take care of the treble strings. If a finger isn't plucking, it's muting. Simple as that.
6) Dynamics. This includes how fast you slide up or down to a note (usually up) and how much, if any, vibrato you apply once you get there. In this piece I pretty much vibrato everything. Other times I may slide up to a note, hold it steady for a second then apply the vibrato. You can also slide down out of notes as they're fading. It's all a matter of taste.
7) Vibrato. The technique is to keep in firm contact with the string -- without pushing into the string! -- and moving back and forth. Do this on the 'low side' of the note, low in pitch that is. If you vibrato on the high side (in pitch) it's going to be sharp and sour. So vibrato is really a series of on-pitch > flat-of-pitch > on-pitch > flat-of-pitch > on-pitch > flat-of-pitch. You can see that in the video. The vibrato is happening on the left hand side of the fretwire, the flat side.
8) Be patient! Give it a whirl, when it gets that you want to scream and pull your hair out, stop. But come back to it asap and take up where you left off. Before you know it, you will start to have some control over it and, like I say, once you start getting it to sound right, you'll never want to stop.
I'll do more of these and next time I'll try to make it more basic and easier to learn.
If you want a nice, heavy brass slide like the one I use, you're in luck: I sell them. I also sell a DVD on How to Play Slide Guitar in Standard and Dropped D Tunings.
Guitar Lick by Kirk Lorange
As well as putting together these guitar licks and lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.