Photo by Andy Ellis
• Understand when and where to combine slide with fretted notes.
• Create drone-style licks using open strings.
• Develop a better sense of intonation. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.
Here’s a thought: You don’t have to exclusively stick to slide technique when that bottleneck is on your finger. Why not use those three other fingers? For this lesson, we’ll explore how to sneak the slide into your “normal” fretted licks. It takes skill and practice to merge the two techniques, but the resulting sounds are well worth the effort. For these examples, we’ll focus on mostly roots and blues-style licks in standard tuning. As we launch into these examples, it’s important to think of your slide finger as a normal finger with a slight extension that lets you emphasize legato lines. Don’t switch back and forth between the two styles … instead, make them one!
Our first lick (Ex. 1) is based around a G minor pentatonic scale (G–Bb–C–D–F). For the first notes of measure one and measure three, use the slide to “bend” the note just a bit before the pull-offs. This works great over a G7 vamp.
Let’s move to the key of A for Ex. 2, which illustrates a good way to hot-rod whatever pentatonic shapes you’ve grown bored with. Play the first measure normally and then bring in the slide for the notes on the 3rd string, while quickly shifting to fingers to fret the notes on the offbeats.
Also in A, Ex. 3 starts in the lower register in open position and then uses the slide to outline the A major pentatonic scale (A–B–C#–E–F#). Note that this lick requires a little bit of playing behind the slide with your index finger to grab that F# at the 4th fret.
Ex. 4 is all about getting the most out of the melody by just using one string. Fret the first half with your fingers, and then use the slide for all the notes on the 2nd string. Try to be as expressive as you can—think like a vocalist.
Ex. 5 starts in open position, where we have some lower register double-stop licks. Where Ex. 3 focused on the major pentatonic, this lick outlines the minor pentatonic. We also do some string skipping with the slide, so when moving it across the fretboard, be sure to use your picking hand to mute the strings you aren’t playing. Muting unused strings with the picking hand is an essential part of playing slide guitar.
Next up is Ex. 6, which is in 3/4 and begins with the slide and a 6th-string drone that creates a sitar-like sound. This line is followed by a simple E minor blues lick that ends on the 3 (G#), while still droning the low E. A classic and swampy blues lick.
A blues lick in C, Ex. 7 has a strong swing feel and could be played over a shuffle. This lick is commonly played with fingers, but here we’ll be playing the double-stops with the slide and focusing on heavy legato.
Blues in flat keys! Ex. 8 is in Ab and starts with some diminished sounds before it straightens out on the minor pentatonic with the slide. As in Ex. 4, we have a lot of movement on the 2nd and 3rd strings, so try to be extra expressive.
Things get a little trickier in Ex. 9. We begin with a double-stop in the lower register, while using the slide on the 7th fret. It’s important to tip the slide when you’re playing behind it with your fingers, so you don’t lose the resonance on the 7th fret. Follow up with a descending run in the minor pentatonic scale.
Fittingly, Ex. 10 is probably the most difficult of these examples. It starts with a jangling open-string lick that you could see as E–E7–Aadd9–G6 with the top two strings ringing out. Follow that up with a similar movement with the slide from Ex. 3, but here we’re sliding from the 12th fret on the G string up a half-step before plucking a double-stop at the 14th fret to flesh out that E triad.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into integrating slide with fretted notes. Just remember to keep your slide hand relaxed, stick with it, and have fun. Most of these examples are based around feel, and don’t rely solely on technique, although that will help. Think musically and dynamically, and the sounds will come. Let me know how you get on with these examples, and feel free to get in touch with me.