The sounds of guitarists like Bukka White, Son House, Duane Allman, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters caught Guitar Lessons NYC Mark Marshal attention at a young age. This led to my dive into blues slide guitar .
The first part of any journey is exploration. To help learn the language I researched music from all blues slide guitarists I could find. iTunes had yet to be hatched and finding underground cd’s was not easy. Luckily for me, a family member was hip to all the old blues cats. My interest in the blues was so strong that I earned the nickname “skip” after Skip James.
Digging deep into blues slide guitar I noticed how each of the artists had their own “dialect” in their playing. Just like everyone’s talking voice or pronunciation of certain words is different.
Here is a fun experiment I have done in prep for blues slide guitar . Put 5 people in a room and put a recorder in-front of them. Make them say a sentence without each other hearing it. Now play back all 5 recordings and listen to how each person stresses words differently. All of these variations are in music just like in language.
Blues is all about subtlety. Perhaps the form is simple but the expressions are not. What makes Muddy Waters different from Son House is very complex and hard to recreate. I’ve spent many years analyzing these nuances.
Normally when you fret a note on the guitar and move to a new fret (without a slide on your finger) you hear the cold switch from one note to another.
The slide glides between notes. Blues slide guitar is more like the human voice. This opens up many colors between notes that don’t exist when you fret a note.
For instance Muddy Waters took full advantage these the other colors. He loved the tension of being right below the pitch of a note. This was no mistake!! This was his advanced sense tension and release.
A lot of players had very distinct styles. Look at Bukka White. He had a way of playing where it sounded like a full band coming from one guitar. This requires a different technique then Muddy Waters to truly capture the sound.
Blues slide guitar may seem intimidating at first and leave you with questions like:
How many techniques do I need to learn to play blues slide guitar?
The answer is it depends on what your interests are. The good news is they piggy back on each other. It’s like working with Legos. You start with a foundation and build up.
Once you get the basics we will focus on a style for a period of time and then add on.
We can start learning the core of Duane Allmans sound. Then we’ll find out where it came from. That path will no doubt lead us to guitarists like Elmore James.
Learning blues slide guitar is like researching a family tree. There is similar DNA.
Some of the topics we will discuss in lessons:
Using thumb picks
Using a flat pick
We’ll talk about what materials are best for what kind of sound. For instance Bukka White used a thumb pick. Duane Allman used raw fingers.
There are multiple ways to mute the strings you don’t want to ring. There is muting behind the slide, muting with your palm and muting with you picking fingers. They’re all effective for different applications.
Depending on what artist were studying there are different guitar tunings. This is a big part of blues slide guitar because it not only changes the timber of the instrument but the arrangement of the intervals.
Elmore James preferred Open D tuning. Duane Allman preferred Open E tuning. Muddy Waters liked Open G when he was in his delta phase. He switched to standard tuning during his Chicago phase.
These different tunings give you access to a group of notes that can be played at the same time with the slide over the strings.
The vibrato used on the slide can be specific to artist. Son House had a very wide vibrato that almost felt like a swaying ship. This is different from the vibrato that Robert Johnson used. This is an important component to the sound of blues slide guitar .
This is the area that is most often ignored. I have often seen teachers instruct the correct notes from slide compositions but not the proper picking hand technique. This is different from using a pick material.
There seems to a view that there is a “new” better technique for playing guitar. As if the original masters were un-educated. This has always rubbed me the wrong way about guitar instructors. I’ve heard things like we don’t play a G chord like that anymore. This is the “new” proper way.
That’s ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with new techniques, but that doesn’t discount old techniques for blues slide guitar .
Where am I going with this? A lot of the blues slide guitar masters didn’t use all their fingers for picking. It depends on the artist of course, but many used their thumb and first finger. Sometimes their second finger. Very occasionally their 3rd finger on their picking hand (although some moderns masters do).
So what’s the difference? This has an effect on the tone of your playing.
Picking technique is a tool. Sometimes you need a socket wrench. Sometimes you need a screwdriver. They are not the same tool and do different things.
There isn’t one technique that overrides this. To simply play the correct notes does not get you the correct blues slide guitar “sound”. I don’t just teach the notes but the sound of blues.
Materials and shapes of slides:
Not all slides are created equal. Shape and size not only effects tone but intonation and string noise as well.
In my classes we will study the “language” of blues slide guitar .
For more info on digging deeper into Slide Instruction