Mastering Guitar Slides: Theory, Technique, and Musical Examples

This article explains how to use slide technique on an electric or acoustic guitar. If you want to learn how to play the guitar with a slide instead of your fingers, go here.

Sliding is a phrasing technique that allows a guitarist to control the sound of a note after it has been played.

It is widely used in most music genres, including blues, rock, heavy metal, jazz, and country, due to both its utility and its effect.

A slide is executed by picking a fretted note and then sliding your finger up or down the string without losing contact with it to reach another note.

Uses of guitar slides

Guitarists use sliding technique for two primary reasons:

1. Utility – Slides allow guitarists to move freely across the fretboard. They are useful for connecting scales, arpeggios, licks, and solos played at different fretboard positions.

2. Effect – Slides, like hammer ons and pull offs, allow guitarists to create a legato effect. In music, legato means “play smoothly”. This can be done in a variety of ways on different instruments, with slides being one of the most common on the guitar.

Aside from legato, slides allow for other sound effects, such as accenting notes. Throughout this lesson, we’ll look at some of these different effects.

How to play slides on guitar

To perform a slide, place your finger on a fretted note and slide it to a desired note up or down the neck on the same string.

In the following example, you will perform slides on the G string, both ascending and descending. If you’re new to slides, begin with notes that are close together, a fret (Ex. 1) or two (Ex. 2) apart.

To get your slides to sound right, keep the following in mind:

  1. Use appropriate pressure. If you don’t apply enough pressure, you won’t hear the slide, and if you apply too much, your finger won’t slide. Ensure that you maintain pressure throughout the slide.
  2. Use your fingers strategically and consider the notes you’ll play after the slide. For example, do not slide to the ninth fret if the next note is on the eight fret or lower fret. If you do this, you will run out of fingers!
    As a result, you should practice playing slides with your left hand’s index, middle, ring, and small fingers so that you can quickly choose the most appropriate for the situation.
  3. The position of the thumb is critical when performing slides. If you’re sliding between notes that are close together (one or two frets apart), the thumb should turn around like a lever but not change position. If you’re playing wider slides, your thumb should move with your hand.

Types of slides

Ascending or descending

As seen in the examples above, slides can go either up or down a string on the fretboard.

Legato vs shift slide

To play a legato slide (Ex. 1), select the first note and slide your finger to the second. To play a shift slide (Ex. 2), do the same, but pick the second note upon arrival.

The two are notated differently in that a legato slide has the sign of a slur above the notes.

Slides 2

Grace note slide

A grace note is a note that is so short that it has no rhythmic value, but it takes a small rhythmic space from the previous note or the note it will resolve into.

Grace notes are used to ornament or embellish the target note and are executed using hammer ons and pull offs, bends, or slides.

As shown in the example below, the grace note is smaller than normal notes in music notation.

Slides 3

Slide in or Slide out

A note can be embellished by a slide by either being slided into, or slided out of.

The slide can start from either a higher or a lower note on the fretboard, which gives us four options:

  1. Slide in from below (Ex. 1)
  2. Slide in from above (Ex. 2)
  3. Slide out downwards (Ex. 3)
  4. Slide out upwards (Ex. 4)
Slides 4

Double stops and Chords

In each of the preceding examples, we are sliding one note at a time; however, two notes (double stops) or more notes (chords) can also be slid into and out of, as we will see in some of the exercises below.

Guitar slide exercises

Now that we’ve explored the most common uses of slides, we can start training how to use them and put them in a musical context.

In the first example all the slides are legato slides, use your ring finger to play all of them.

Slides 5

The next exercise should be played with one finger throughout. Use it to practice each of your four available left hand fingers.

Slides 6

The next exercise introduces more melodic elements. I will leave it to you to decide which fingers you will use to slide the notes. When deciding on fingering, keep the notes following the slide in mind.

Slides 7

The following is another melodic example that uses similar concepts as those described above.

Slides 8

The next example makes use of grace note slides.

Slides 9

Playing a double stop on the guitar means playing two notes simultaneously.

The following melodic exercise is a series of double stops, some of which are slided into each other.

Slides 10

Power chords are technically double stops, not chords. Chords are groups of three or more different notes, and a power chord is made up of two (the three notes in the example below are due to the root note being repeated at the octave. These do not count as distinct notes when constructing chords).

However, when played with distortion on the guitar, the power chord usually takes the place of a full chord (hence its technically incorrect name).

The following is a power chord guitar riff that makes use of slide technique.

Slides 11

In the last example, slides are used together with other legato techniques – the hammer on and the pull off.

Slides 12


Sliding is a common and powerful guitar technique you should start learning at a beginner level, perfect at an intermediate level and use with ease at a more advanced level on the guitar.

Make sure you give slides the practice time they deserve so that you can use them with all four available fingers, and in different musical contexts.

You may consider giving a donation, by which you will be helping a songwriter achieve his dreams. Each contribution, no matter how small, will make a difference.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *