The legato slide is one of the first skills every guitarist should learn. Here’s why:
It’s used in a lot of songs.
It gives you a quick way to add style and flair when moving along the fretboard.
It’s an incredibly versatile technique, used in everything from chill blues licks like Roy Fulton’s (below) to brutally catchy metal riffs like those in Lamb of God’s Redneck (warning: explicit lyrics).
Contributor Roy Fulton makes good use of legato slides when playing the blues. Get some of Roy’s tips on blues solos.
What Is a Slide?
Let’s get this straight from the beginning: there are two types of slide you can refer to when talking about guitar.
The one you’ll generally run into when searching for “guitar slides” on Google is the technique known as slide guitar, or the object used for this technique, a steel bar. That’s not what we’re talking about here.
‘This extremely simple technique consists of playing one note and then sliding your finger … [to] a different note’.
We’re talking about legato guitar slides. This extremely simple technique consists of playing one note and then sliding your finger along the fretboard until it plays a different note, letting every fret ring in between.
Here are quick examples of slides on both clean and distorted guitar:
How to Read and Play a Legato Slide on Guitar
A slide is written as a slash in tab. So if you see -5/8-, it means slide from fret five to fret eight.
To slide, play the note that appears before the slash. That’s the fifth fret of the D string in the example above. Then, without lifting your finger, quickly push from that fret over to the one after the slash (the eighth fret). The string will act like a rail and your finger should slide right over the fret wires.
‘The string will act like a rail and your finger should slide right over the fret wires.’
Your guitar should never stop ringing while you do this, and you should clearly hear both the start note and the end note.
Be careful to never lift your finger off the guitar while sliding. If it stops ringing at any point between the first note and your target note, it is no longer a legato slide. Try practicing sliding from one fret to the one immediately next to it if you have trouble with this at first.
The slide should be played during the duration of the start note, and you should arrive at the end note precisely on the beat. Try practicing with a metronome to get the timing down.
You can play slides on just a single string or on multiple strings at once. It’s particularly fun to slide with easy power chords, and lots of great riffs have been written that way. Experiment with it and see what you come up with.
That’s all it takes to play a legato slide on guitar! If anything is unclear or you find yourself getting stuck, just leave a comment below. We’ll be happy to help you out.
About the Author
Justin Golschneider is the Guitar Coach sub-editor. Before chopping off his hair and becoming a professional editor and writer, he played bass in the hardcore band Fractures and lead guitar in the short-lived melodeath band Steel and Crow. He lives in Burlington, Vermont.