Creative Slide guitar playing

It is true that limitation can be the mother of innovation, and this is particularly true in the world of slide guitar. Where essentially melodies are played with just one finger along one or two strings at a time, forcing us to embrace a different way of writing and constructing melodies because of the limitations. This in itself can be a very creative process.

Gypsy jazz virtuoso Django Reinhardt for instance damaged his hand and could only use two fingers, due to an accident involving a caravan fire when he was 18 years old . It is amazing to think that the incredibly fast runs, and sheer musicality and individuality of his lines were more than likely developed in part due to this limitation. The limitation forces innovation, as conversely too many options sometimes can cause option anxiety and actually stifle creativity .


By playing with a more horizontal approach as opposed to a traditional vertical kind of way, we have to think differently and break away from the old patterns. This more linear horizontal approach has a lot of possibilities for both melodic structure and expression.

We can see that this linear horizontal approach when playing melodies along one or two strings with a slide facilitates consecutive note choice, i.e. notes that are next to each other in the chosen scale .To jump notes and ‘arpeggiate’ is more difficult when playing along a single string , and if we do jump, we can slide through the notes in between, almost like ‘passing’ notes .This approach to melodic construction is non more true than in India, where the instruments design facilitates the way it is played. An example of this would be the sitar with its long neck and only ‘two’ main melody strings . Melodies are played by zig zagging through the consecutive notes within a raga and using additional ornamentation like slides bends and jerks to further enhance and express the melody . This approach is one of the important identifying features of melodic construction in Indian classical music, and like the sitar the slide guitar is also ideally suited for this purpose and is now popular in many forms of Indian music.

Many players of all abilities can benefit from learning slide guitar. Advanced players for instance, who would perhaps normally gravitate towards playing in a very technical way by using everything at their disposal, can and do occasionally benefit from the inherent melodic and highly expressive nature of forming melodies with a slide on one or two strings. This is not to imply that slide playing is easy or simplistic but merely to demonstrate that occasionally a different approach can yield new ideas.

When playing slide there are of course many important points to bare in mind, and one of them is the need to practice intonation . All the great players say that this is number one on the list, and must be practised meticulously. So learning slide is an excellent way of acquiring good intonation. Another one is the importance of listening to and copying singers with all the nuances in pitch, tone and dynamics that this involves, and slide guitar of course is ideally suited to this task, after all the human voice is the oldest and most expressive of all instruments . A good exercise with regards to this type of expression is to take a simple set of notes perhaps from a vocal line and play it without the slide on, using one or two strings, then try it with the slide, with all the glides, vibrato and pitch nuances Then hear how the melody comes alive.

It cannot be stressed enough that it is important to listen to as many players and different types of music as you can, both simple and complex, in order to get an understanding of the subtleties, and what is indeed possible.

A huge variety of music that features slide guitar, is now available from all over the world with many different styles and artists emerging please take some time to check them out.

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Clinton Beale