FAQ: If I learn open e tuning slide guitar, can I play in other keys?

This is a question I get asked on a regular basis. I thought I would address it here on the blog.

Many people want to start playing slide guitar. It’s a great way to express a vocal type guitar sound. Nothing else sounds quite like it!

The first decision people have to make when starting to play slide guitar, is if they want to play in standard tuning or some kind of open tuning. If you want to play like Duane Allman and Derek Trucks, it is very important that you try open e tuning.

Some of the licks that Duane and Derek play are nearly impossible to play in standard tuning. You can come close, but it isn’t quite the same.

Some people think that when they learn open e tuning slide, they will be limited to only playing in the key of E unless they use a capo. This is completely false! You can play in any key in open e tuning if you learn the proper positions and scale patterns. It’s all a matter of learning to reprogram your brain to start using different patterns than standard tuning.

Here’s some video of me playing open e tuning slide in keys other than E.

Playing slide guitar in open e tuning seems like a big mystery to many people. I know because I felt the same way. Learning a new tuning, wearing a slide on your finger, and not using a pick seems like starting guitar all over again. In many ways it is. But you have to realize that once you get past a few hurdles, you will start making significant advances.

Here is what one customer just wrote me about learning slide guitar after he went through some of my lessons.

At first the technique to mute every string with the right hand seems impossible, but surprisingly, it doesn’t take that long to master, your fingers sort of rest naturally on the strings after a short time. Anyway, your tabs match the music well, your comments on taste are helpful, your emphasis on which notes you play and why is excellent, you vary the keys, and you tap into that desire to play like Duane Allman (the king of slide). ” – Brian

I’ve tried to help people get past the many hurdles I had when I started playing. It took me a long time trying to figure out by ear what was exactly going on when those guys played slide. I consciously put the lessons in a few different keys so the student would see how you can easily play in different keys when playing in open e tuning.

Without the ability to play in different keys, playing live in a band would be a nightmare! If you want to jam the blues, you have to know all the essential keys to play in or you will be lost! Can you imagine doing a gig and the band announces that the key of the song is in G. You’re in open e tuning and think, oh no! This will not happen if you learn how to use small patterns that you can easily move between keys when playing slide in open e. Combine this with learning intervals, and you will be able to move around the entire fretboard with confidence with some practice.

I hope this clears up the mystery about whether or not you can play in keys other than E when playing in open e tuning.

If you would like to learn more about slide guitar in open e tuning, please check out my Slide Guitar 5 DVD Course.

Happy New Year!

John W. Tuggle

John W Tuggle
John W Tuggle

I love teaching the blues and have created numerous training courses and lessons to learn how to play like BB King, Clapton, Duane Allman, and more. Get Started Now


  1. I just purchased the blues guitar course. I like the way it is structured and presented. I do have a question and it is how do I superimpose the blues scale to the major scale? Do you address this in the course? Also what about the 1-6-2-5 chord progressions; how do I use what I’ve learnt to solo over such a chord progression?

  2. Thanks! I believe I talk about that some in Blues Guitar Method 5. Move the Blues Scale back 3 frets and you can use it in conjunction with a Major Scale. Sounds like country blues. If you’re playing in E, take the E Blues Scale and move back three frets. You are now starting on the C# note on the 9th fret.

    I don’t really talk about the 1-6-2-5 progression very much, but when that comes up you just go to your major pentatonic or BB position and you will sound like BB, Clapton, Duane Allman, SRV and these style. If you start running arpeggios you entering into more a jazz realm which this course is not designed for.

    Hope that makes sense.



  3. Hi John,
    I am a fan of your lessons, they are great!
    I am a slow study of Open E Slide Guitar.
    My goal is to play in a Gospel/Blues band.
    You have Tabs for the scales in some of the Keys in Open E tuning.
    My question is I wish I could get all of the tabs for the scales of the most popular keys
    in Gospel and Blues.
    Is this possible to get!

    • Thanks! I don’t have scale layouts for open e tuning. In my course I teach mostly how to use patterns and intervals to play slide as that’s how I play mainly. I don’t really think about scales when playing slide but like I said, patterns and chord tones.

Comments are closed.