Lap Steel Guitar Playing Techniques: Slides, Bar Pressure, and More

The lap steel guitar is an instrument that offers a unique and expressive playing experience. Mastering its techniques can lead to a world of musical possibilities.

This tutorial will cover both basic and advanced playing techniques unique to the lap steel guitar, providing guidance for players at all levels.

Basic Techniques

Holding the Bar

The bar, or slide, is the essential tool in playing the lap steel guitar. Hold it lightly between your thumb and first two fingers, maintaining a comfortable grip. The bar should be parallel to the strings for a clean, clear sound.

Bar Placement and Movement

Place the bar directly above the frets, not in between as you would on a standard guitar. Slide the bar smoothly along the strings to shift pitches. Practice moving the bar both quickly and slowly to understand how it affects the sound.

Picking Techniques

Lap steel guitarists often use fingerpicks and a thumbpick to pluck the strings. This technique allows for more volume and precision. Experiment with different picking patterns and rhythms to develop your style.

Advanced Techniques

Bar Pressure

The pressure you apply to the bar can greatly affect the sound. Light pressure allows for a softer, more fluid tone, while more pressure creates a louder, more pronounced sound. Experiment with varying degrees of pressure to find the right balance.


Vibrato adds expressiveness to your playing. Achieve this by gently rocking the bar back and forth over a fret. The speed and width of your vibrato can change the emotional impact of a note or chord.


Slants involve tilting the bar at an angle to achieve different intervals or chords. This technique requires precision and practice to ensure the bar remains in contact with the correct strings and frets.

Behind-the-Bar Bends

This advanced technique involves stretching a string behind the bar to raise its pitch. It’s commonly used for adding bluesy bends and expressive flourishes to your playing.


Harmonics on the lap steel guitar can produce ethereal, bell-like tones. Lightly touch a string directly above a fret and pluck it to create a harmonic. These can be used for melodic playing or as accents within a piece.

Combining Techniques

As you become more comfortable with these techniques, start combining them to create more complex and interesting sounds. For example, use vibrato on a slanted bar or incorporate harmonics into your melodies.


The lap steel guitar is an incredibly versatile instrument, capable of producing a wide range of sounds and emotions. By mastering these techniques, you can explore new musical landscapes and develop your unique voice on the instrument.

Remember, practice and experimentation are key to becoming proficient in lap steel guitar playing. Enjoy the journey of discovering all the musical possibilities it has to offer.

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