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Blues Guitar Institute

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Completing the 12 Bar Blues Progression with a Slide

Lesson ID: TB055

Almost everything that we want to learn on guitar can be stripped down to it’s core elements and built from the ground up.

In the last several Tuesday Blues lessons, we’ve worked really hard on building a solid base of slide guitar skills and this lesson will bring them all together.  Before we get into the last few elements that will be introduced in this lesson, let’s take a second and review the steps that led us here.

STEP 1: Open G Tuning

I don’t think it’s 100% necessary to get into an open tuning to play slide guitar. There certainly are folks out there that refuse to return their guitar to play slide. I get it, retuning is a pain.

But, I firmly believe that using an open tuning is the quickest way to get great sounds going in your slide playing.

I highly recommend starting with an open tuning. For me, my tuning of choice is Open G. Perhaps it’s because some of my favorite blues songs are in Open G or just because it’s one of the few open tunings that I can remember 🙂

Here’s the tuning from low to high:

D – G – D – G – B – D

Watch the video lesson that shows you exactly how to get there: Introduction to Open G Tuning

STEP 2: Basic Shuffle Rhythm in Open G

Now that we’ve changed the tuning, everything has changed! You’ll make chords in different places and things seem crazy all of a sudden.

Down is up.  Cats chase dogs.  Everything’s different.

It’s important to find a couple of chords that will serve as home base in this topsy turvy world.  In blues, the important chords to find are the I chord, IV chord and V chord.  If you don’t know what I mean by all those Roman Numerals, check out this lesson:

What Every Guitarist Should Know About Roman Numerals

The best way a blues guitarist can get to know this unfamiliar world is to relate it to what we already know. So, we worked in a basic 12 bar blues shuffle in open G.

Lesson:  Blues Shuffle in Open G Tuning

STEP 3: Adding the Slide

Now it’s time for a little fun. OK a lot of fun.

Enter: Slide.

In Tuesday Blues 47:  Slide in Open G, we took the shuffle out of the mix for a second and focused just on creating a cool slide rhythm focusing on the all-important I, IV and V chords.

As fun as that lesson is, we should spend some time talking about some of the more technical aspects of playing with a slide

Type of Slide

You can play with a glass, metal or ceramic slide. I have all three and change it up regularly. Each type of slide has it’s own unique sound and I really dig them all.  I have slide commitment issues…

The Fit

The most important thing about getting a slide is to get on that fits. Make sure it’s not so tight on your finger that your poor digit is turning purple. Make sure it’s not so loose that it falls off.  Look for a snug fit.

Tips for Playing with a Slide

There are a few fundamentals that you should focus on as you begin to tackle slide playing.  First, let’s look at the guitar itself.

Raise the Action

If you have a second guitar that you can setup with higher action, you should.  The higher your strings are from the fretboard, the smoother the slide sound will be. There’s a happy medium to be found, because if your action is too high your fretted notes and chords will be tough to play or worse, won’t sound right at all.

If you just want to dip your toe in the slide pool, you can skip this step. But, if you want to go all in, take your guitar down to a good shop and have it setup for slide playing.

I setup one of my electrics for slide and it made all the difference.

Play Over the Fret

I played guitar without a slide for years before ever getting the nerve to put a slide on my finger. I trained myself to play just behind the fret. When you do that, you get the best contact and the result is a solid note.

This does not translate to slide guitar.

If you ‘fret’ behind the fret bar, you will be out of tune!

The goal is to place your slide directly above the fret.  Maybe this is intuitive, but for me it wasn’t and for probably a solid year, every note I played with a slide was horribly out of tune.

I decided that slide wasn’t for me and didn’t attempt to pick it up again until a few years ago.

If you’re brand new to slide guitar, aim for playing just over the fret. Stop short and each note is flat.

Dampen Behind the Slide

This took me a LONG time to get down. I wear my slide on my ring finger which leaves my index and middle finger free behind the slide. I don’t see many folks wearing the slide on their index finger, so I’ll assume that you have a finger or two free behind the slide.

I highly recommend using those free fingers! Put them to use by laying them lightly over the strings behind the slide.

STEP 4: Add Some Licks

After you know where to focus your playing in Open G and have gotten a little familiar with sliding around the neck, it’s time to really turn the heat up and start introducing some slide licks.

Remember to keep good contact with the strings while using the slide and I can’t emphasize the importance of that dampening technique enough. Now let’s look to Tuesday Blues Lesson 51 and Lesson 53 on how to work in some licks while maintaining a strong shuffle rhythm presence. You’ll pick up some great licks over the IV chord in Lesson 54.

STEP 5: Putting it Together

Finally, in this lesson we are going to focus on bringing the entire picture into focus. We’ll not only take a look at what to do to round out this progression, but we’ll bring all of the previous slide lessons in this series together.

Nail this and you’ll have an entire 12 bar blues progression in open g that really incorporates some sweet licks. Just push play to get started.

Good luck with this one and let me know if you have any troubles or questions.  BGI is all about you. It’s all about getting you the guitar skills you want and need. So, don’t hesitate to reach out by leaving a comment below.

Play On!

When you are ready, there are two ways I can help you:

Back Porch Blues Course:  A proven system to fingerpicking the blues.  This step-by-step course guides you through building fundamental fingerpicking skills.  Plus, you’ll learn three levels of a delta blues style performance study to put your new skills into action.

Become a myBGI Member: Membership comes with access to Back Porch Blues plus over 70 step-by-step courses.  Get proven results with one of myBGI’s structured Roadmaps.

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