Slides give your guitar a vocal quality and add an emotional layer to your playing. The technique is pretty easy to learn but you can get real fancy with slides. We’ll cover different levels of difficulty from the very basics to advanced neo-soul chops.
You can use slides for both lead and rhythm guitar, as well as on acoustic or electric guitar. So whatever you play, this article is for you.
If you came here hoping to learn slide guitar, that’s a whole different story. Head over to this article instead: “How to play slide guitar”.
Now that we’re on the same page, let’s talk shop. You’ll learn
- Two licks with slides from one note to another
- How to combine slides with grace notes
- How to incorporate slides into R&B and funk chords
- Advanced neo-soul slides
Four ways to utilize guitar slides
In neo-soul guitar, slides are an essential part of that ‘slinky’ sound. That being said, slides are very common in all genres from jazz to country music – most guitar players use them on a regular basis.
To give you some examples:
We asked 12 guitar players to solo over the same backing track and all of them used slides. You can watch the entire video on the Pickup Music’s YouTube channel to compare different playing styles.
Here are direct links to a few slide highlights. Slidelights, if you will.
- Plini uses a long slide down the fretboard to end a musical phrase.
- Tash Wolf approaches notes from a fret below or above with very short slides.
- Kerry2Smooth practically weaves slides into almost everything he plays.
- Tiano Ohara combines chords with slides.
How to play guitar slides
Play a single note and – without picking or strumming the same string again – slide your finger to another fret.
- The first note should flow seamlessly into the second note.
- Maintain just enough pressure to keep the note ringing for the entire slide.
- The pressure of your fretting finger needs to be light enough to slide over the frets with ease.
There are different ways to play slides. You can:
- Slide up or down
- Slide one fret or more
- Slide at any tempo (or until the string stops vibrating and the sound dies off)
- Use any finger (but many people learn this technique using their middle finger)
Practice sliding into a note from below and above
Below are two exercises to help you practice the basic technique of guitar slides.
- The first is a blues lick that ends on a slide up two frets.
- The other is a phrase built from the C major scale with a slide down two frets.
Exercise 1: Blues Lick
This is one of Seth Rosenbloom’s favorite licks to get a slow blues going or as a pickup into a solo. The example is for a blues in C minor.
Practice the slide separately. Once it feels good, try out the whole lick.
- You can use this lick before the I chord.
- Play the note before the slide with your index finger.
- Slide with your ring finger.
Below is a backing track so you can apply the lick in a musical context.
The recording already features a pickup line but you can play your over the existing one and also every time the 12-bar blues lands on the I chord again.
Exercise 2: C major with grace notes
There are two different kinds of slides in this example: a grace note and a slide.
A grace note
- Is so short it doesn’t occupy a note value.
- Is notated as a small note before another note.
- Can appear with a slash – this is called an acciaccatura (play it fast).
- Can appear without a slash – this is called appoggiatura (play it a bit slower).
Hit play on the backing track and try out the lick. Feel free to modify the rhythm in whichever way you like.
If you’re struggling with notes dying off, check out what Tony Polecastro has to say about that over on GuitarLessons.
Combining chords and slides on guitar
You don’t have to stick to single notes when you’re playing slides.
Sliding shell chords
Shell chords are three-note voicings that are often used in jazz, chord melody arrangements, or singer-songwriter contexts.
- Shell chords are easy to slide.
- They consist of the root, 3rd, and 7th.
- All three notes are on adjacent strings.
Below are examples of compact shell voicings for minor 7th chords.
- The root note is on the A string.
- The b3 is next, on the D string.
- Finally, the b7 is on the G string.
Learn these shapes first and then play the exercise.
Exercise: Sliding shells by the seaside
When strumming chords sounds too minimal, you can use chord quakes to fill them out a little and add some movement
- Fret the chord shape as if you were going to strum it.
- Instead of strumming, pick each string individually
- When you hit a note, quickly slide down one fret and then back up to the original position.
- Do this with each note in the chord.
Exercise: Add special sauce to a I-IV chord progression
Let’s say you have a song section that moves between Cmaj9 and Fmaj9. If you’re not familiar with these chord shapes, learn them first.
To add a chord quake:
- Keep your fingers in the same chord shape
- Slide your entire hand back and forth to add the slides for each string.
- Use fingerpicking, a pick, or hybrid picking.
- Keep the pressure of your fretting hand light.
Once this feels comfortable, practice the same pattern with the Fmaj9 chord and then put them together.
This is only one version of a chord quake – you can modify this technique by
- Changing up the rhythm
- Pairing strings differently
Adding slides to funk rhythm guitar parts
Funk guitar parts are often lacking when it comes to harmony. You might be grooving on an E9 chord for an entire tune so you need to find a way to make that one slice of bread taste like a five-course meal.
Exercise 1: Slide on the 1
Slides are one way to add flavor. Simply sliding into the chord from one fret below at the top of the phrase makes a big difference.
Exercise 2: Slides on the 3
This groove ends on a slide. This time dip down one fret and then return to the original chord.
First off, yes, there’s drama in neo-soul and it sounds like this:
But there are also a lot of subtleties that infuse this genre with so much soul. Below is one exercise that combines multiple slides and you’ll learn how to embellish a minor scale.
Exercise 1: One slide, multiple notes
Start this one slowly and make sure you articulate all those notes just picking the string once in the beginning and not again until you get to the B in the last measure.
Then you can speed up:
Exercise 2: The neo-soul minor scale
This next exercise explores a scale and will help you articulate notes with a neo-soul feel.
- The scale is the B natural minor (B Aeolian) scale.
- It shares the same notes as the D major scale.
- In addition to using slides, this exercise also incorporates a hammer on.
Time to transpose these new ideas to another key. Can you figure out how to play the E minor scale with neo-soul embellishments?
Below is a live-band backing track you can solo over:
There are so many ways slides enrich our guitar playing. You can see why it’s worth spending some time on this technique.
If you’re past the basics and want to learn more about how slides fit into your favorite music genre, use our 14-day free trial. Explore our step-by-step courses with daily lessons, and personalized feedback.
Author: Julia Mahncke
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