A question and discussion that comes up pretty frequently among guitar players is how to play slide guitar while in standard tuning.
While it will take some initial effort and adjustments, it really is possible and a great convenience as well.
Whether you are brand new at playing guitar, or someone who has been expertly playing for years, we know you will have no trouble with this new skill after practicing the tips and tricks in our guide.
Why Standard Tuning?
Simply put, it is far more convenient to play slide guitar while in standard tuning. This is the way that most guitarists tend to play, and it stops you from having to tune your guitar differently while playing.
It is also an easier, and almost as effective way to play slide guitar as well.
While it will be nearly impossible to sound just like a lot of the really famous guitarists who have defined the slide sound in the past (for example, Son House and Elmore James are a few), you are given some advantages by playing this way. You are given the ability to have the whole standard tuning vocabulary when it comes to scales, a more emotional sound, and riffs and licks available to you.
If you are playing guitar with a group, or out in public, it really isn’t practical to play slide guitar any other way. With playing it in standard tuning, you do not have to either change your tuning halfway through your jam session or set, or bring several different guitars that have been tuned differently.
Before we get into how to play slide guitar in standard tuning, let’s get you tuned up first.
Standard Tuning Your Guitar
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Tuning a guitar is relatively simple, but the importance of it cannot be underestimated. Making sure your guitar is perfectly in tune before learning to play slide guitar will make it a much easier process to practice in the long run.
The mechanics of tuning your instrument are fairly simple. To adjust the pitch of an individual strong, turn the string’s tuning key on the head of the guitar. When you turn the specific string’s tuning key towards you, you are actually loosening that strong and will in turn lower its pitch. If you turn the tuning key away from you, you are tightening the string and raising its pitch.
Your six strings of a guitar are as follows: E, A, D, G, B, E. Both the lowest and the highest strings are E – they are the exact same note, simply two octaves apart. Each and every note will directly correspond to the pitch the string should make when it is played openly (without your fingers holding down any frets).
When you are tuning, it is a better idea to start with the deepest string (the top E) and work your way down to the highest string (bottom E).
Tuning With an Electronic Tuner
Getting your guitar into standard tuning is easiest if you are using an electronic tuner, especially if you are a beginner.
There are a few different varieties when it comes to tuners. You have chromatic tuners, which “hear” the note you are playing and will tell you what it is currently tuned to, and there are also pitch tuners which play the correct note for you and allow you to match it.
You can also purchase a tuning fork. This will produce the correct pitch for you when you strike it.
Don’t have a tuner? There are some excellent pitch tuners online.
Depending on how long you have been tuning and playing your guitar, you may want something that does the work for you. The chromatic tuner makes it much easier to tune your instrument, as you don’t have to hear the correct note yourself.
However, if you do have a really good ear for pitch, than a tuning fork or pitch tuner may be what you are looking for.
Tuning With a Keyboard
You can also easily tune your guitar with a keyboard as well.
For standard tuning, this is a relatively easy process, especially if you are fairly familiar with playing a piano. All you need to do is tune your sixth string to the E that is two octaves below middle C. Once you have that note perfected, you can easily tune your guitar to itself. Or if it is easier, continue to use the piano to match each individual string to its correct note.
Tuning Without a Pitch Tuner
Lastly, you can tune your guitar without a tuner at all. This is a useful skill to have, especially if you are stuck somewhere without your normal tuning tools.
To do this, you will simply want to hold down the fifth fret on the sixth string. That means you would be playing an A note on your E string. Adjust the string below the E, which is the A string, until it sounds the same as the E string with the fifth fret held down. You can also hum along with it, which makes it a little easier to match as well.
Continue doing this with each individual string, until you reach the bottom E. You will do this the same way each time, with your finger holding down the fifth fret, and strumming the next string down to get the correct note.
You will want to make sure that your top E string is tuned correctly first though, otherwise it may through the whole instrument off. However, if you are just playing alone, that won’t matter as much.
Now that your guitar is tuned and you are ready to play, lets play slide guitar in standard tuning.
How to Play Slide Guitar While in Standard Tuning
To get started, there are a few tips to keep in mind while playing slide guitar in standard tuning.
Make sure that you work towards developing a good slide guitar technique, as this is one of the most, if not the most critical aspects of learning to play slide guitar, especially in standard tuning.
Also, muting your strings is incredibly important, more so because you’re in standard tuning, due to the placement of the notes you are going to be playing.
To begin, first grab a slide. Having a metal slide will allow your guitar to produce a more piercing tone – if your slide is brass it will be much warmer, and steel will be much brighter. If you have a glass slide, it tends to be sweeter and all around warmer, and ceramic or any other material of slide will be somewhere in between glass and metal.
Next, you will want to dampen the strings of your guitar with your wrist or palm of the hand you are picking with. This is a vital step when you are playing slide in standard tuning. This gives you as much control over the strings as possible, and it will allow you to pick your guitar with more precision.
The easiest and safest way to play slide guitar in standard tuning is by playing melodies on a single string. You do not have to, and it is not necessarily the most entertaining, but it may be a great way to start practicing.
Try focusing on the top two high strings, the E string and the B string. These are the simplest ones to start out with, which can make the process seem a little more rewarding when you first get started. They are the easiest because whether your guitar is in standard tuning or open E, they are exactly the same.
For practice, make sure to be kind to yourself and start with the simple three note chords. This will allow you to get some valuable experience with playing slide guitar, without frustrating you too much when you are brand new at it. Simply lay one finger across the G, D, and B, strings to create some simple chords. Then use your slide instead to see how it feels.
This will definitely allow you to easily get started, and as you become more accustomed to play this way, you will be more inclined to get more complicated. Having that steady practice in will ensure that your fingers will know what to do when it gets trickier.
Now that you have done the research and studied our tips and tricks, it is time to start playing.
Have Fun Using This Guide and Good Luck!
We hope that this guide was helpful in getting you started with playing slide guitar while in standard tuning.
It can definitely seem like a complicated, messy process, but know that it will be much more convenient for your playing in the end. Practice these tips and tricks as much as you can, and you’ll be playing like Muddy Waters in no time.
Trying to learn how to play slide guitar in standard tuning? What have you found the most helpful in teaching yourself this skill?