How to Play Slide Guitar with Minor Chords:
This is a great lesson covering both music theory and slide guitar. If you are a beginner at either, I recommend you try out either the free open d mini lessons or the Open D Tuning Master Course (which covers basic theory and slide guitar). If you’re already up to speed this is a good resource for anyone who has ever struggled to play open tunings over top of minor chords (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t sound very good!)
“When I first started playing slide guitar I used to just play over the 12 bar blues, in say D, G, and A. That would be simple: 5th fret for G, and 7th fret for A and either open or 12th when you’re playing the D. This was fine, but every now and again I’d want to play slide guitar that had other (minor) keys in it. For instance, we might play a song that had a Bm, F#m, or something like that.
What I would do is try to play regularly over it. So if you have a chord progression that goes D, F#m, Em, and A7 my temptation was to play a D, F#, E, and then A – but if you do that it sounds awful as I’ll now show you.
So clearly, playing the chords at those positions doesn’t work so this was the problem I faced. How do you now change what you’re playing to accommodate the F#m and Em chord. I came up with the idea of using relative minors to substitute the chords. So I chose to substitute the F#m with an A chord and the Em with a G chord. If you do it sounds entirely different. Before I show you exactly what it sounds like, for those of you who are unfamiliar with relative minor theory, it goes like this:
Have you ever noticed how a (standard tuning) C chord and Am chord are very similar. There is only one note difference. There is good reason for this. If you look at the notes in a C major scale what you get is CDEFGABC. All the white notes on the piano with no shapes or flats. The Am scale is ABCDEFGA. Again, no sharpes and no flats. So Am and Cmajor have all the same notes, they are just slightly offset. They are the only two keys that do. They are like a twin pair. Am is the relative minor of C.
If we took it to D and played Dmajor. DEF#G#ABC#D and Bm BAC#DEF#G#AB. Its all the same notes, just on a different place on the scale. This is the relative minor theme and the intro to chord substitution. You can substitute an Am for a C or a C for an Am. This is a useful idea for songwriting and developing solos. So if I’m on Cmajor and go down 3 frets to A I get Aminor. We can take that idea and apply it to slide guitar.
So for our chord progression that goes D, F#m, Em, A7, all we have to do is sub an F#m for an A major and sub the Em for a G. These are the relative majors. So we will now play D, A, G, A, much more comfortably. So the backing track remains the same D, F#m, Em, A7, but on the slide guitar we are going to play D, A, G, A, and that will sound much better.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are also Open Minor tunings such as Open D Minor. Once you’ve gotten the hang of Open D and how to play slide, you’ll find this to be an easy transition and you can just as easily play slide in Open D Minor as there is only one string that has a half-step difference.