Slides Part 1
In this lesson we will discuss another common articulation: the slide.
Since there are many types of slides and nuances to them, there will be many exercises and song examples accompanying this lesson. On this Slides Part 1 lesson page I'll explain everything about the slides, and the exercises and songs of part 1 will address a certain type of slide. The exercises and songs of Slides Part 2 will address other types of slides.
What is a Slide?
To slide means to glide across or between multiple pitches.
Slides can connect a pair of notes, they can lead into a single note, or follow one.
Let's look at the different types of slides, then I'll follow with tips to make them sound good.
The most common type of slide connects two distinct notes. You hear the starting note and the ending note clearly with a slide through the pitches in-between.
Slides can go up or down. The slide might span one note or many—it depends on the bassline.
The sliding notes aren't random. Some slides on bass, like from the fifth to the root, are really popular. Since slides bring attention to notes, they often lead into strong notes in a bassline like chord tones (roots, 3rds, 5ths). But, slides can also help give a bassline more of a 'singing' quality and may connect more melodic notes from the scale.
Leading Slides/Slide In
Another type of slide slides into a note either from above or below.
What makes this slide different from a connecting slide is that the starting note is undefined. You don't linger on or emphasize the starting point of the slide.
Remember, on a connecting slide you clearly hear the starting note, the slide, and the ending note. But in this slide you hear the slide and the ending note.
Where you start this slide is left up to you and how long of a slide sound you want.
For this type of slide, to avoid hearing the starting point of the slide you need to be sliding as soon as, or before, you pluck the string.
Grace Note Slides
Another type of slide is a grace note slide. Grace notes are brief notes leading into some main note. Grace notes are often played as hammer-ons or pull-offs on the bass, but can also be played with slides. [Grace notes are a big topic on their own, and we'll be covering the many subtleties of them in a separate lesson.]
A grace note slide is like a really quick connecting slide typically from a note a whole-step or half-step above or below a target note.
Rhythmically this slide is too short to write as a connecting slide, but the starting note is too defined to write as a simple slide into a note.
Again, we'll go into grace notes more later.
Legato Slides & Shift Slides
When you arrive at the end note of your slide, there are two possibilities: don't pluck the end note, or pluck the end note.
Most often, you don't pluck the string again when you reach the end note. This is called a legato slide.
Remember the term legato means long, connected notes. The term legato slide might be a bit confusing to you since the notes of any slide will be uninterrupted. Another use of the word legato means that the notes aren't attacked, or plucked, again and that is our use here.
When you do pluck the end note, it's called a shift slide. Shift slides are less common, but if the volume of the end note has faded like it might on a long descending slide, it can be useful to re-pluck the string.
Glissando and Portamento
As you've seen in our lessons, many musical terms are Italian. The most common term for a slide is glissando [Gli-SHEN-doh]. It is often abbreviated “gliss”.
Another term for sliding between notes is portamento.
What's the difference? Glissando means to slide through divided pitches and portamento means to slide through undivided pitches.
If you have frets the pitches are divided—you're not hearing the pitch between the frets. The same applies to instruments like piano where each key is a fixed note—you don't here the out-of-tune pitches between the notes.
If you have a fretless electric bass or instruments like violin, cello, or double bass a slide will go through everything in-between the notes. This is technically called portamento, but that term is rarely used. People will still say glissando.
Players of different instruments will use different vocabulary. You can expect guitar players to say "slide" and horn players and people with Classical backgrounds to say glissando.
Trailing Slides/Slide Out
Sometimes you play a note followed by a slide into silence. The slide out is like the opposite of the leading slide/slide-in. The slide out is on the tail-end of the note.
As you slide, you release pressure off of the string to mute it before reaching a distinct end note.
Horn instruments call these “falls” when descending and “doits” when ascending. On bass and guitar people will simply say “sliding out of a note.”
On bass, the descending fall is much more common than the ascending doit.
How to Make Your Slides Sound Good
Use a Strap
Be sure to use a strap to help hold the bass for you. With slides your hands move around a lot and can upset the balance of your bass. Using a strap gives your hands more freedom.
Look to Where You Are Sliding
The most important tip I'll give you is this: Don't stare at your sliding finger. It's just like when you throw a ball, you don't stare at the ball. Instead, you look at where you are throwing the ball. In the same way, look at the note to which you are sliding. Don't watch your sliding finger. This will give you a nice, even and smooth slide.
The difference is very noticeable on longer slides. If you watch your sliding finger, your slide will speed up or slow down as you try to get to the note on time, and you will hear the individual notes along the length of the slide more.
When you look at the fret you're sliding to, you'll nail it every time. You won't pass up the note.
With practice you'll develop a feel for the most common slides and you won't need to look. For longer more unusual slides you might look. That's OK!
Don't Press too Hard
Don't press too hard. This is a good habit in general, but pressing too hard makes slides more difficult. Your finger will drag more and make playing evenly more difficult. You need just enough constant, consistent pressure, to make the slide sound ring out. With practice, you'll learn just how much you need to press. Experiment and see how little pressure you need for a good-sounding slide.
Press Right Behind the Fret
As I've mentioned before for almost all fretting techniques you want to play right behind the fret. Make sure your sliding finger stops right behind the fret. If you don't the end note may buzz or not ring out at all.
Let the Starting Note Ring
A common sliding mistake is not letting the starting note ring out long enough before beginning a slide. Hold the starting note long enough for it to register for the listener...then slide. It's subtle, but pay attention to it. Your slides will sound much better.
When learning a slide from a recording, really examine how long the note is held before the slide begins.
Watch the Rhythmic Values of the Notes
Another similar mistake is not playing the full rhythmic value of the notes you're sliding between. Be careful not to rush (arrive at notes too soon). It's easy to do when you're distracted focusing on the slide. This improves as you get more comfortable with the slide technique.
Expect your calluses to build up.
String noise is to be expected. You can reduce it with EQ and different types of strings if it bothers you. Or, recognize it as part of the slide sound and embrace it.
Which Finger Do I Slide With?
It's possible to slide with any of your fingers. When choosing which finger to slide with, choose one which lines up your other fingers for the notes to be played after the slide.
For instance, if you slide to the fifth fret with your first finger but the following notes are behind the fifth fret, you're forced to shift back and it's more work. Instead, slide with your third or fourth finger to the fifth fret and the following notes can be played with your first or second fingers.
Many students experience wobbly fingers as they slide. Your sliding finger doesn't need to stand on its tip. It's okay to group your fingers together and touch the string with more than one finger as you slide. Have them work as a unit.
What Do I Do with My Thumb?
What happens with your thumb depends on the slide. Most often your whole hand will move as you slide with your thumb staying behind your first or second finger. On some short slides like half-steps and whole-steps or higher on the neck, your thumb may stay in the same place but pivot. If it seems like you're over-reaching, shift your thumb with the slide instead.
Shifts vs Slides
It's important to note that moving from one place on the neck to another doesn't always need to make a sliding sound. A slide is an audible effect, and one you won't use every time.
Often you move from one place on the fretboard to another by lifting your fingers and not making the slide sound. We call this a position shift, not a slide.
Be careful of sliding between notes where it's meant to be a shift.
Slides between notes are notated with a straight line connecting the two distinct notes.
Sometimes you will see a slur mark written above the line. This is specifies the legato slide where the second note is not re-plucked.
Without the slur indicates a shift slide where the second note is re-plucked. Peoples' use of these markings is inconsistent. It always pays to listen and use your own musical judgment.
Grace notes are written in a smaller font size, a slur, and their note value doesn't count towards to total rhythmic count of the bar. Grace note slides, as I'm calling them, have a slide line just like a connecting slide. Without the slide line, you will likely use a hammer-on or pull-off technique.
Falls (slide-out slides) have a straight or curved descending line after the note which does not connect to another note.
Doits will have a short curved line or a short straight line after the note, and it doesn't connect to another note.
In bass tab you will see similar markings using / or \ connecting the fret numbers like 4 / 5 (slide from fret 4 to 5).
Most students find slides frustrating at first. They'll come out very unpredictably. Don't worry, with practice your slides will get better.
For Part 1 of this slides lesson the exercises and song suggestions emphasize connecting slides. Slides Part 2 will be exercises and songs for slides in and out of notes.