People Get Ready - A Slide Guitar Lesson.
The Lesson explained
I uploaded a slide guitar version of this great Curtis Mayfield tune to YouTube a few years ago and I've had many requests for a lesson ever since. Here it is. It's in the key of D and I'm in Dropped D tuning again.
I tried to find the original backing track that I made in Guitar Pro, (a great program for creating midi tracks) but couldn't find it so I did a new one. The progression is pure major key, all related chords, so nothing tricky going on there. But this lesson is all about slide and playing single line melody and it's a good one as I managed to include just about every technique I could think of.
I played this on my Strat using a slightly over-driven sound. I went through a pedal board a friend of mine made me, into my sound card and then into Adobe Audition on my PC. I also added a touch of delay.
You'll see in this video how I blend normal playing and slide into one hybrid style. This is something I have developed over the years. I gave up on open tunings a long time ago. I found that my brain can really only accommodate one fretboard layout. I do like to know exactly what I'm playing and I know where to find it all in standard tuning. I consider Dropped D standard tuning. It's just that bass string that gets jogged out of position and I rarely play melody down on that string, so for all intents and purposes, I'm in standard. What I like about this hybrid style is that I can intersperse normal, fretted notes in amongst the slide notes. Since normal fretted notes are always in tune (assuming the guitar is tuned properly), playing them keeps re-setting your ear, and the listener's, to the right pitch. Playing slide, by definition, means playing all kinds of 'out-of-tune' notes so it's a good way to keep the overall sound nice and in-tune.
In this version, I start the whole thing with a line consisting of normal fretted notes ending with a slide note. I do a little twiddly bit to that note by habit. You don't need to do that of course, you can just keep it straight, and then I go back to normal playing. The second phrase is the same: start with normal notes and the last is played with the slide because (in this case) it's already there in position right above the end note of that phrase. So the choice of where to use the slide comes down to taste, dramatic effect or opportunity. After a good deal of practice, this happens on the fly. The next phrase (0:20 sec) resolves that first section on a root, a D note. I play the first as the open string then slide up to the fifth fret for the last note and hold it there.
You will also see/hear a few examples of what I touched on in the last lesson: hitting a slide note and keeping it static for a couple of seconds and then bringing in the vibrato. Again, this is just my taste at that moment.
At 0:38 I resolve the seconds section as I did the first, but I stay there 'shimmering' that D note out of string for what turns out to be 13 or so seconds. This is a neat thing you can do with a slide on your pinkie. The slide almost becomes a violin bow. By lightly touching the string and moving it back and forth against the string, you can generate a note, or a whole chord, and keep it going for as long as you like. In this case you can also hear a high A note start to emerge after a while. That's the A note on my thin E string (which is a 5 of a D chord). The reason it's starting to ring out is because that thin string is not muted. Look at my left hand; during that whole 13 seconds, my thumb is muting the bass string, my middle finger is muting the D and G strings by lightly touching them, my ring finger is muting the B string. The high E string is open, not muted, and the top of the slide is shimmering that high A note out. I didn't show that properly in the virtual fretboard unfortunately as the graphic of the slide I made is too short, but you can just hear it start to ring out at about 0:50. Small, but neat, detail.
The second half is played up the octave. All the same thinking and techniques apply here. Notes 'behind' the slide -- on the headstock side of the slide -- are often played as fretted notes, the slide handles the others with any desired dynamics. It's SO easy to add dynamics with the slide.
At 1:07, the phrase resolves to a D chord and in this position, at the 7th fret, it so happens that I can grab another note under the slide and turn that resolve into a double stop, adding to the drama there. I do that again at 1:24.
I end with a few long sustained notes and I hold them static for a second, then start applying the vibrato/shimmer effect. You need to be very precise with the placement of the slide when you do that. Notice that (apart form the very last time) I don't slide up to those high A notes at the tenth fret. I hit them clean. Lots of practice is needed to get that right. You need to get slide directly over the fretwire while everything is muted, then pluck it.
The left hand is doing all the work, really. The switching back and forth of muting fingers is the key to getting this to sound right. Without that happening properly, it would be a cacophony of howling, sliding, cats fighting in the night noise. The thumb is the muter of any strings below the note being played; the other finger tips handle the top strings as needed. It's something that requires total concentration and application until, magically, it just happens automatically with no thinking at all.
Until the next lesson,
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 Lesson 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.