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How To Play Slide Guitar: Fast & Easy Way To Learn

Continue reading to find out how to play slide guitar. We will guide you through the essentials of this guitar technique and the best tunings to use a slide

Quick Overview

Slide guitar is a unique playing style that adds a distinctive flavor to any musical performance. It involves using a slide (also known as a bottleneck) to glide over the strings of the guitar, producing smooth, gliding notes that are reminiscent of the blues.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of slide guitar playing, including choosing the right slide, positioning your hand and fingers, and practicing essential techniques to improve your playing. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced guitarist, this guide will help you master the art of playing slide guitar and add a new dimension to your musical repertoire.

Let’s get into it!

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How to play slide guitar

Watching someone play slide on a guitar is always a sight to behold and a treat for the ears. While watching any skillful guitarist go about their business is entertaining, the sight and sound of a slide guitar are quite unique.

From country blues to rock classics, guitarists have been using slides for over a century. Originating with the blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta, glass bottlenecks were used to create this warm, distinct sound.

When done properly, slide guitar playing boasts intricate phrasing along with close attention to tone and pitch. But, to get to such a level takes practice. And lots of it!

But, slide guitar is a fun technique to learn and can be used in many styles and genres from blues to folk and rock to pop.

Using a slide on a guitar allows you to express yourself differently. It’s a fluid type of playing and will certainly bring a lot more to your songwriting and performances.

However, in the beginning, it can be pretty difficult to master. There are fundamental aspects of slide guitar playing that you need to understand as it’s not like standard guitar playing. That is why we are here to help you.

Continue reading to find out how to play slide guitar. We will guide you through the essentials of this guitar technique and the best tunings to use a slide with. Want to know now? Open tunings such as D-A-D-F#-A-D or E-B-E-G#-B-E (low to high).

how to play slide guitar

Okay, let’s start sliding!

What Finger Should The Slide Be On? 

While you can use an old bottleneck for a slide, we recommend purchasing a glass or stainless steel model. These are more comfortable and specially made for the purpose of slide guitar.

As for which finger to wear it on, wear the slide on your third finger (your ring finger). While the second finger can provide great control over the slide and the pinky finger allows you to stretch further up the neck, the third finger is a compromise between the two.

This finger is strong enough to control easily, allows you to reach further up the neck, and leaves your first two fingers free to play the guitar normally.

Experiment and see which is your preference. But, as a beginner, start with the third finger to learn the basics. 

Hand And Finger Position On The Fretboard 

Most beginners make the same mistake by placing the slide in the middle of the fret. Instead, it should be at the front end of the fret.

In other words, if you’re playing an ‘E’ note on the fifth fret of the B string, the slide should be on the actual fret itself, not right in the middle of the fifth fret. Place the slide directly above that fret bar that divides frets 5 and 6.

The note will just end up sounding flat and out of tune when the slide is in the middle of the fret. By holding the slide a little further forward, it will find the correct pitch. Play around with this and you will find that sweet spot just by hearing the difference.

Related Article: How to clean a fretboard

Apply The Pressure – But Not Too Much 

To make your desired sound from the guitar strings, you need to apply a small amount of pressure. This should be equal to the same pressure applied for natural harmonics so a lot less than your fingers when playing regular guitar. 

The slide should be in contact with the string but it shouldn’t be pressed down onto the fretboard. If the string is pushed down too much, unwanted buzzing will occur. Just move the slide along the string gently and this should create the correct amount of pressure for a pleasing sound. 

Of course, this takes some time to get used to. The strings will buzz on some occasions but with practice, you should be able to find that sweet spot eventually.

Many slide guitarists actually use guitars with higher actions as these models have a wider gap between the fretboard and the strings so, even with a little too much pressure, the strings do not touch the fretboard. 

The Correct Tuning 

There is no set tuning that is right and wrong. You have an array of fun options here! Nevertheless, most slide guitarists use open tunings where the strings are tuned into an open chord. In other terms, you strum the strings open and they play a certain chord. Moreover, a single barre on any fret also forms a chord. 

This makes it easier to play chords with the slide as you slide from one fret to the next. We recommend starting with open E-B-E-G#-B-E (low to high).

If you have an old guitar with a high action, keep this in an open E tuning to practice your slide guitar on. This means you can play at any time without the hassle of re-tuning every time. 

Standard tuning may not be the best choice for slide guitar but we encourage you to practice this as much as possible too.

This makes it easier to chuck in a slide solo when playing in standard tuning when you have no time to tune the guitar to an open tuning. This will make you a better guitarist and help you play more linearly than just open tunings. 

Muting Open Strings 

To complete the slide guitar learning process, you need to practice open string muting. Now you have the guitar tuned to open E, you know where to place your slide on the fretboard, and you’ve finally found that sweet spot of pressure where no buzzing is shooting out from the strings. If buzzing is still present, you may need to work on your muting. 

If your slide is over a fret, make sure your first and second fingers are directly behind the third finger with the slide on. These should be parallel and dampening the strings.

Therefore, when a note is played via the slide, it will be the only one you hear. Without this muting, other strings may start to ring out and overpower the desired note resulting in loss of clarity and a messy sound. 

Once you have mastered these steps, you can consider yourself a true slide guitarist! 


What type of slide should I use?

There are several types of slides to choose from, including glass, metal, and ceramic. The best type of slide for you will depend on your personal preference and the sound you want to achieve. Many players prefer glass slides for their smooth sound, while metal slides offer a brighter, more cutting tone.

Do I need to tune my guitar differently for slide guitar playing?

Yes, it’s often recommended to tune your guitar differently for slide guitar playing to achieve the best sound. Many players prefer open tunings, such as open D or open G, which allow you to play chords and melodies more easily.

How do I hold the slide?

Hold the slide lightly between your thumb and first finger, with the slide covering the strings. Your other fingers should be positioned behind the slide to mute the strings and prevent unwanted noise.

How can I improve my slide guitar technique?

Practice is key to improving your slide guitar technique. Start with simple exercises to get used to the feel of the slide, and gradually work your way up to more complex melodies and solos. Focus on your intonation, or the accuracy of your notes, and experiment with different types of vibrato and slide techniques.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when playing slide guitar?

Some common mistakes to avoid when playing slide guitar include applying too much pressure with the slide, not muting the strings with your other fingers, and failing to keep the slide perpendicular to the fretboard. Be patient, practice regularly, and pay attention to your technique to avoid these common pitfalls.

Happy Playing!

Passionately invested in the music world for over 20 years, Jake studied music for 14 years at the Royal Conservatory Of Toronto. He has a degree from Champlain College & Bishop’s University in Business & Music. He is the owner of Fly Away Music & Media Studio in Montreal since 2014, with over 500 happy artists recorded, mixed and mastered.

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