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How To Use Slides Creatively

How To Use Slides Creatively

When choosing what to play while improvising, many guitar players overlook “How” to play something, and often end up focusing on “What” to play. In this article we are going to look at one aspect of “how” to use slides in your improvisations.

First, let’s define what a slide is on the guitar:

• A slide is when you fret a note on the guitar with one finger, and without releasing the pressure you slide that same finger to the next note. In the example below, use your pointer finger and press down the 5th fret on the “G” string, and then without releasing the pressure slide up to the 7th fret.

• A second type of slide is what’s called a “Slide from nowhere”. This means that instead of fretting the note before the slide, you simply pick the string and simultaneously slide your finger immediately to the target note, which results in a “slide” sound effect.

Many times when listening to a student improvise, I am looking for the use of when, where and how often slides are used. In many amateur guitar players, there is almost no use of slides, and instead they pick every single note. By fretting every note, your playing will sound very mechanical, and therefore will not sound fluent or natural to your listener.

In order to break out of the habit of always fretting every note, we are going to look at how we can take a scale or mode and start off by applying slides to first the pattern, then to a melodic phrase.

We’ll use the pentatonic scale for our examples today:

First, play the Pentatonic Scale with picking only.

Second, play the Pentatonic Scale with sliding only. On this example, we are sliding “from” & “to” our starting notes.

Finally, let’s create a melodic phrase using picking and sliding together. In this example, you will see in the first measure that I use what is called a “Slide From No-Where”. This means that I am not fretting the note before the slide, instead I am simply picking the string and simultaneously sliding

After playing each of the examples above, you will be able to hear a significant difference in how implementing slides into your improvisation will improve your sound and creativity. This takes time to develop, but if you practice with a purpose and intend to implement this technique, it will eventually come natural to your playing.

Here is the order to practice implementing slides to your scales/modes.

• Learn the scale/mode first without slides until you have it 100% memorized with no errors. You want to be able to execute any scale at this point without thinking about where you need to place your fingers.
• Play the scale/mode using slides only. This step not only helps you to further memorize the pattern you will be playing, but it also primes you for step C.
• Begin creating melodic phrases while using a combination of picking & sliding. At this point you should be able to do Steps A & B flawlessly.

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Does the shape of an electric guitar affect its tone?

This is a tough question because there is sort of two answers. The first answer is that shape really doesn’t affect the sound of an electric guitar since electric amplification is basically an application of Lenz’s law…essentially vibrating strings over magnets create an electro magnetic field (EMF). Well, this mechanism allows motion to be turned into energy and, in this way, variations in this EMF (frequency signals) are sent through the guitar via electronics and hence into your amp. That’s the more or less simple explanation. On the quest for the perfect sound side of things –  quality guitar headphones with the right guitar amp, will enable a guitarist to appreciate their work – let’s save this for another discussion though.

So..the short answer is that “shape” doesn’t affect tone that much. The much ballyhooed Gibson “Log” guitar is often listed evidence of this fact. Also, if you’ll look at all the hundreds of shapes of electric guitars out there, I think you’ll agree that shape probably doesn’t stack up high on the list. I’m not saying shape doesn’t affect the tone, I’m just saying there are other factors that weight in more heavily.

What people are really asking when they ask this question is what affects the tone of an electric guitar. Honestly, there are so many different contributing and complementary factors to how a guitar sounds that it’s pretty difficult to generalize them. The five broad areas include:

1) Aspects of the guitar itself
2) Playing style
3) Amplification system
4) Effects
5) Environment

If I just focus on number 1 above then I’ll give you *opinion* on the things that affect the tone of the instrument itself. They are probably in this order.

1) Your fingers. Look, if Eric Clapton plays a $10,000 Fender or a $100 Chinese knock-off, he’s going to sound like Eric Clapton. The quicker you get the idea the most of your tone comes out of your fingers, the easier life will be.

2) Pick-ups. Think about the pick-ups as the guitar’s “voice” – the better the pickups, the better the voice.

3) Woods and construction. Now, above I went through a whole thing above about how shape does not really affect tone. That is true in a general sense, but thickness and density of the wood, chambered bodies, and various other construction techniques can change the resonance, string energy transfer, and other qualities that ultimately get “picked-up” by the pick-ups. I’ll extend this thought to include bridge and nut styles as well (e.g., graphite, bone, chrome, brass, Floyd-Rose, string-through, stop-tail, etc.)

4) Strings. I find various strings to have different qualities in both feel and sound – largely due to thickness, construction, and materials. All of these things affect how I play and how the strings vibrate.

5) Electronics. Hey – the signal has to be routed, doesn’t it? Crappy wires + crappy pots = crappy tone.

Did I forget anything? Please post a comment below!

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