Don’t confuse guitar sliding techniques with slide guitar. Slide guitar requires a glass or metal tube placed on your fretting hand pinky finger to play notes that give a unique timbre.
Sliding on the guitar means to play a note and then slide your fretting finger(s) to a different fret while maintaining pressure on the string. The pressure allows you to lay multiple notes in a legato fashion. This article covers the basics of this guitar technique.
Slide guitar vs guitar slides
The coolest slide sound on the guitar is that which is made with a glass or metal tube on your finger. However, that is not what this article is about. But picture the blues guitarist or a lap steel country guitar player wailing away at his strings with a slide. That is slide guitar.
Guitar slides on the other hand is just a fretting hand technique that is an easy embellishment to incorporate into your playing.
Here is a quote from a very old classical guitar book:
“…the slide is performed by one finger of the left, which slides along the neck in passing over all the frets, from the 1st to the 2nd note, after having struck with the right hand the first of the two notes. The slide produces a good effect on the guitar because it imitates the sound of the voice…”
The Slide p.41 Carcassi Classical Guitar Method (New Revised Edition, Carl Fisher)
You can play a guitar slide as legato or as a shift slide
Legato slide: Play a note then slide to your 2nd note and let the note sustain.
Shift Slide: Play the 1st note then slide to the 2nd note and pluck the 2nd note as well.
Guitar slides can be played by sliding up to a higher note, down to a lower note, or both in combination.
Portamento vs Glissando guitar slides
It’s interesting that the book by Carcassi first published in 1836 doesn’t say anything about glissando or portamento. He only mentions “the slide” method or embellishment. If you try researching these two types of guitar slides you will find what I did – a lot of contradictory definitions.
So here is what I believe are the distinctions between the two types of guitar slides:
Glissando is when you slide a finger on a string from one note to another. The entire slide from 1st note to last note is played smoothly. Here is the definition from Dolmetsch:
… a continuous slide in pitch…the left-hand finger is placed on the string and then, as the note is played, the finger slides up or down the fingerboard. The beginning and endnote of the glissando are written and connected by either a straight or a wavy line. Usually the word gliss. or glissando will be written above.
And here is Dolmetsch’s definition of portamento:
…a smooth glide between the two notes, including all the pitches in between…For other instruments, such as guitar, it means sliding through all of the possible notes between the two written pitches.
Confused yet? Let’s keep it simple. You don’t have to take a test or remember definitions.
You are either:
- Trying to play with a lot of feeling and emotion and so are going slow and sounding all the notes in between the first and last note (portamento).
- Or you feel a need for speed and you are doing a quick slide and you don’t care about the notes in between the first and last note (glissando).
And for all I know I have the definitions of glissando and portamento reversed. The names and the definitions don’t matter. It’s knowing the differences as options to work into your solos that count. For free to comment below and school me on the proper definitions and I will make a change to the text.
Guitar sliding variations and Tab examples
Here are some ways to vary your guitar slides:
- Short interval slides, e.g. major 7th into the root.
- Large interval slides, e.g. minor or major 3rd into the perfect fifth or root.
- Legato slide: pick only the 1st note then slide to the 2nd note.
- Shift slide: pick both the 1st and last/target note.
- Sliding to a target note vs…
- Lifting off the string after sliding (no target note).
- Slides can also be performed with double notes.
- And finally, a 0playing fast slide vs slow slide.
A couple of things to think about are what to do after a legato vs shift slide. I would definitely have the target note for a legato slide as a chord tone and add vibrato. However, for the shift slide where you pluck the 2nd note, that screams guitar bend.
Here are some blues examples of portamento used over an E7. You can slide from the b3 to the perfect 5th as in the 1st measure or from the major 3rd as in the 2nd measure. For the last 2 measures, the slide is from the perfect 4th to the b5 and back to the 4 again. Experiment!
Here are examples of large interval slides from the b3 of the root E and then in reverse – E to G.
Guitar sliding or just “slides” are very simple to play. Jut keep the string pressure as you slide your finger and try every variation you can think of. Vary the direction of the slide, interval size, and speed and tack other guitar techniques on at the end of the slides. It’s woodshedding time.
Check out my 25+ Guitar Techniques article for more ideas for your lead playing.