I have been playing and teaching slide guitar now for quite some time (I’m even starting my new “Slide Guitar Summit” album next week), and I can certainly say that there are no shortcuts when it comes to what the right, or picking hand must do to make you a good slide player! Like other finger-style approaches, slide guitar is very dependent upon one being able to “isolate” the strings you want to play, and to minimize accidental sounds caused by other strings being sounded by the slide.
This is the kind of feat that is either easily and naturally “fallen into” or it’s something that can take painstaking years of trying until it becomes “natural” to you. For some reason, when I wrote my first book, Slide Guitar, when I was just 20 years of age, it actually amazed me just how much I had already come to know about using the proper techniques when it came to blocking and dampening for slide guitar! It absolutely had to have come to me very naturally, because I was so completely self-taught, and as of yet had not really been exposed to many other players who could’ve influenced me. On recordings yes….Son House, Elmore James, Robert Johnson and many others certainly influenced the sounds I was after, but I never got to really watch or be taught by anybody. No doubt, a small amount of early Classical guitar had to have helped my right-handed abilities, and the fact that my teacher always promoted “accent” strokes, and being sure to land your thumb as well as other fingers on adjacent strings wherever possible.
There’s little doubt that this emphasis on the “accent stroke”, where one lands on the adjacent string helped me in becoming a good “dampener” when it came to isolating strings. Now of course, many of the early slide players actually played in a rather “hard” and primitive manner, where many strings were struck at the same time. I took an immediate interest in the Dobro and lap steel styles early on too, so I think that also may’ve helped me become a more “accurate” finger-picker when it came to slide styles, and to this day I enjoy all three approaches; Dobro, lap steel and “upright” slide!
So, be sure to watch my Gibson lessons, read my Slide Book (Oak Publications) and even my Hot Licks videos, and pay close attention to that right hand! It is the main thing that will enable your slide playing to go from just “adequate” to GREAT!
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.