Fingerstyle slide guitar lets you play the notes between the frets

Slide Page Photo 3 What makes fingerstyle slide guitar so expressive is the combination of a fingerstyle approach(bass,rhythm and melody)and the vocal quality of the note that the slide produces. It's almost like a mating of the piano and the violin. Let's break it down into it's different components.

For starters, you need to have control of your right hand. If you know the notes that you want to play but can't execute them, you're wasting your time.Take a look at these right hand exercises if you need some help in that area.


The other big component in fingerstyle slide guitar playing is what to do with you're left hand. Not only do you have to put your right hand fingers in the right place, you also have to put your slide in the right place. You can get away with being a little sloppy with your left hand when you are fretting your guitar in the regular way. The fretwire is reducing the length of the string and changing the pitch of the note. With a slide,the slide is reducing the string length. Moving the slide just a fraction of an inch can change the pitch of the note.

Here's an exercise that can help develop develop pitch acurracy with the slide. Play a major scale(do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do) along the length of the string.

Make sure that your slide is located directly above the fret wire. Start on the 1st fret, playing up and down the length of the string then move to the second fret and repeat. Keep working your way up the neck like this. Now I'm going to throw a little curve ball at you. Take the same major scale and play the following pattern:do-mi;re-fa;mi-so;fa-la;so-ti;and la-do. You are playing the same scale but are playing intervals of a third. If this is new to you, take a look at this info on guitar chords. Try to place the slide only on the strings that you are actually playing. When the slide is on strings that aren't being played it can produce unwanted noise.


How do you prevent unwanted noise? Besides not placing the slide on strings that aren't being played, you'll need to mute the strings behind the slide.

Begin by placing the slide on your left hands 4th finger.Lightly rest fingers 1-3 on the strings behind the slide. To see an example of this technique look at this video of the extraordinary Sonny Landreth.


Another useful technique used in fingerstyle slide guitar playing is right hand muting. This is simply a matter of touching the string that's sounding with your right hand fingertip. You use this technique to shorten the length of time that a note sounds.


Adding vibrato brings an emotional quality to your slide playing. Vibrato is simply a slight raising and lowering in pitch of the note that you're playing.

Play a note with the slide and gently wiggle the slide back and forth. This will make a quivery, vocal kind of sound. Fingerstyle slide guitar without vibrato is like food without seasoning; not very tasty.


While some players use a short slide, the majority prefer a slide that covers the length of the finger that the slide is worn on. This makes it easier to cover several strings at one time.

What the slide is made out of makes a difference in the tone produced. Glass generally makes a warmer sound than metal. A thick glass slide will produce a bigger,warmer sound than a thinner glass slide. Copper a warmer sound than metal.

The good news is that slides are inexpensive. Experiment and see what works best for you.


Some players will have a guitar setup for only fingerstyle slide guitar, while others will play slide on their "regular" guitar.

There are pros and cons to both. If you have a dedicated slide guitar you can raise the action on it and use heavier gauged strings. If you use a heavy slide on a setup like that you will get a bigger fuller sounding note.

The down side is that if it's too heavy a setup you may not be able to play it in the conventional way. Also,extremely heavy strings can put too much stress on the guitar's neck.

On flat-top guitars it can also cause problems with the top and bridge. Using your regular guitar to play slide on means that you only have to take one guitar to the gig.

If you decide to have a guitar setup strictly for slide, be sure to deal with a competent repairman. In the case of guitarists who play fingerstyle slide guitar on their regular instruments there are a couple of things that can be done to make it a little easier. One problem is having the slide rattle against the fret wires if you use tunings that reduce string tensions.

If you normally play in open G or open D tunings try using open A or E instead. The increased string tension will give the slide more support. Increasing the tension for the length of time needed to play a few songs shouldn't cause a problem with the neck. Here's another way to approach this situation.

For acoustic guitarists who normally use a light gauge(.12-.53)set of strings substitute a .13 and .17 for your 1st and 2nd strings.

Slide Guitar Tunings

Most guitarists use open (non-standard) tunings when playing fingerstyle slide guitar. The most common tunings are open A, G, D, and E but these aren't the only tunings that slide guitarists use. Some less frequently used tunings are A minor, C, and D minor.

Here's a breakdown of open tunings used to play fingerstyle slide guitar; all tunings begin with the 6th string and end with the 1st string.

  • Open G; D-G-D-G-B-D
  • Open D; D-A-D-F#-A-D
  • Open C; C-G-C-G-C-E
  • Open A; E-A-C#-E-A-E
  • Open E; E-B-E-G#-B-E

This information is the basics of how to play slide guitar. Just like in all other forms of music, there is a lot to be learned from listening to the masters.

A partial list of fingerstyle slide guitar masters would include Tampa Red, Son House, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Duane Allman and contemporary players like Ry Cooder, Sonny Landreth and Johnny Winter. Fingerstyle slide guitar is a powerful, expressive way to play the guitar that is only limited by your imagination.

Return to