Flatpicking for Beginners. Part Two

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Flatpicking for BeginnersFed up with getting sore fingertips from practising the guitar? Are those unsightly calluses depressing you? Or maybe you just can’t bear to cut those nice long fingernails… Whatever it is, we may have the cure. Most of the piece is pretty easy but the ‘fretting behind the slide’ techniques can take a while to master. In case you don’t know, slide (or bottleneck) guitar playing is a term used when the notes are produced with the aid of a (usually hollow) cylindrical object held or placed over a finger of the left hand (the hand that you usually fret with). Originally, this cylindrical object would be the narrow end of a broken bottle (hence the term bottleneck), a knife (not recommended!) or a piece of metal tubing.

Nowadays, the choice of materials and sizes are pretty daunting but I’d probably start off with either a glass or a metal one. I prefer to use heavy glass ones as they tend to sound a little softer but, unfortunately, they are also more prone to breaking (as I found out on tour recently). If you decide to get into slide playing in a big way then it’s usually a good idea to have a guitar set up with a high action and heavier strings specifically for this purpose. A compressor is useful and you may also want to explore the possibilities of altered tunings, but to keep this lesson fairly straightforward I’ve written this piece – a melody played over last lesson’s Counting Crows -type tune – in standard tuning. I recommend to check this slide guitar lesson as well.

Flatpicking Lesson. Performance notes

To begin, first place your hand so that the slide is directly above the 12th fret as shown in Picture 1. Rest the slide on the strings but don’t push down too hard as you don’t want the strings to touch the fretboard (this is where the higher action and heavier strings are useful). Lightly rest your three

remaining fingers on the strings behind the slide (this is for muting purposes and helps to keep everything quiet). As far as the right hand is concerned you can use a pick as normal although I usually prefer to use my fingers as in Picture 2. Again, this makes muting easier and can also produces a more intimate, vocal sound. You may notice that I have my pick held between my first and second fingers. It’s not something that I ever practised, I just looked down one day and there it was! I find it useful, though, if I’m going between rhythm and lead parts. Once you’ve plucked or picked the strings, slide the bottleneck down to the 7th fret. Make sure that the slide finishes directly over the 7th fret and keep the slide in contact with the strings throughout this manoeuvre (see Picture 3.)

So far, we’ve used a G major triad (G, B and D) going to a D major triad (D, F# and A), which have all been produced using straight lines on the guitar. The next chord, however, is an E minor, so I’ve used what I call a ‘fretting behind the slide’ technique. What you do is move the slide down to

the 5th fret (the end of bar 2 into bar 3) and as soon as you get there place your first finger on the G string 4th fret to sound the note B and produce an E minor triad (E, G and B). I’ve given you a slightly side-on perspective in Picture 4 so that you can more easily see what’s going on. Pretty cool, huh? Once again, make sure that you don’t push down too hard with the slide or this won’t work.

For the second E minor triad (in bar 7) I used a different position and again utilised the first finger as shown in Picture 5. This technique will take a little work to perfect, but the musical possibilities are endless!

Bars 9-12 feature a simple single-note melody. For this type of playing I’ll generally use just one finger to pluck the string. From bar 13 I return to the main theme and right at the end slide up from the 12th fret to the ‘imaginary’ 24th fret, as you can see in Picture 6. This is another fun technique which enables you to obtain notes higher than you can actually fret. Remember: use with taste as the novelty soon wears off!

Finally, I’d like to mention vibrato. With the slide you can achieve what I call ‘true vibrato’. In other words, you can slide higher and lower than the actual note. When playing the guitar normally and bending a string, the vibrato is generally lower than the required pitch and for a normal (non-bent) note the vibrato is higher than pitch. With a slide, however, you can achieve both at the same time.

Hope you enjoy this lesson, be good to yourselves (and to each other).

Further listening

Ry Cooder is the guy most people cite so you may want to check him out. Dave Hole is another guy that deserves a listen. My personal favourite, though, is Sonny Landreth, but make sure that you get something that was recorded fairly recently by him (South of 1-10 or Outward Bound) as there are a couple of re-issues surfacing that aren’t quite as good (oh, the price of fame!). And for something completely different, try Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, who plays slide with the guitar on his lap and makes it sound like a sitar. Fantastic!

Flatpicking for Beginners picture 1

Pic. 1. Ready to slide – Position the slide over the 12th fret

Flatpicking for beginners. Picture 2

Pic. 2. To pick or not to pick? You can use a pick go fingerstyle

Flatpicking for beginners. Picture 3

Pic. 3. Keep contact – Ensure the slide doesn’t leave the strings

It’s a part of Flatpicking for Beginners lesson

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 Flatpicking lesson with backing track for free

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28 December 2012 0 comments
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