Chromatic for Diatonic Players
Part 4 - Slide Ornaments

by Winslow Yerxa

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In the last installment we explored the slide on a purely mechanical level, putting it in play by itself and in various combinations involving slide change, hole change, and breath change. We were functioning in a music-free zone for the sake of getting used to the building blocks.

Now it's time to explore some musical uses of the slide. So, what is it good for?

The slide lets us play all scales in all keys. That's way too big a subject to get our arms around all at once. However, the slide also lets us play ornamental figures that depend on slide movement. It occurs to me that a few bluesy riffs in C minor will allows us to explore some ornaments and learn a new scale while staying in the home key of the instrument.

A simple lick
Here's a simple melody fragment that uses the slide:

You go from blow C to draw D, then raise D to E-flat by pressing in the slide button. Then you go directly from C to E-flat, pressing in the button while you go from blow to draw. Try playing this a few times slowly. Sounds like it might be part of a gospel tune.

Click here to hear it.

Now, you may have noticed that in going to E-flat, you pressed the button a little late, especially going from C to E-flat. So you get a tiny sliver of D before you land on E-flat. This could be a mistake or it could be something cool, like a slide ornament--using the slide to create little moves that add interest and variety.

Slide Jab
This particular ornament is called a slide jab-on the way to a slide-in note you start with the slide out, then jab it in quickly. For example, you're about to play E-flat, but you start with the slide out so that D sounds momentarily at the start of the note. Here's a simple lick that uses it:

Click here to hear a slide jab.

Reverse Jab
Let's say your target note is not E-flat but D. Same hole and breath but with the slide out. What if we start with the slide in, sounding E-flat momentarily before we let the slide out to sound D? This is a reverse jab, the opposite of a slide jab:

Note that we are approaching D from C played as Draw 4 with the slide in, not as Blow 4

Click here to hear a reverse jab:

There are two more simple slide ornaments we can create with these notes, the slide bump and the slide dip.

Slide Bump
Let's play from C to D:

Note the little squiggle above the D. That's a slide bump. We play the D, then immediately bump the slide in and let it out. The note bumps up to an E-flat momentarily, then returns to D.

Click here to hear a slide bump.

Slide Dip
Now let's do a slide dip. This works with a slide-in note like E-flat. You start the note with the slide held in, momentarily let it dip out, then immediately press it back in. The note momentarily dips from E-flat down to D then back up.

Here is a slide dip notated. Note the slightly different squiggle over Eb:

Click here to hear a slide dip.

Slide-out and slide-in notes
Each type of ornament works only on a slide-in or a slide-out note:

  • Slide jabs and dips work on notes that are played with the slide in. They use the slide-out note as a note of approach or alternation.
  • Reverse jabs and bumps work on notes played with the slide out. They use the slide-in note as a note of approach or alternation.

C and F can be played as either slide-in or as slide-out notes. This means they can use all four types of ornament, so it's worthwhile exploring both ways these notes can be played, as we'll see in the following examples.

Here is C as a slide-out note, using a reverse jab and a slide bump:

Click here to listen.

Here is C as a slide-in note, using a slide jab and a slide dip:

Click here to listen.

Here is F as a slide-out note, using a reverse jab and a slide bump:

Click here to listen.

Here is F as a slide-in note, using a slide jab and a slide dip:

Click here to listen.

Putting it to work
Now, I'm going to give you three simple lines in C minor. Learn to play each one straight, as written. The slide-in versions of C and F are noted below the slide-out version. Try learning them both ways.

Here's the notation for the first line:

Click here to hear the first line played straight.

Here's the second line:

Click here to hear the second line played straight.

Here's the third line. It may not sound like C minor yet, but it will once you start to ornament it.

Click here to hear the third line played straight.

Now, what I want you to do is figure out ways to play these lines and include the four ornaments you just learned.

Here are audio examples of ways you could ornament these lines. I won't write them out. Figure out how these lines work, or figure out your own, or both.

Ornamented versions of Line 1:
line1a.mp3 | line1b.mp3 | line1c.mp3 | line1d.mp3

Ornamented versions of Line 2:
line2a.mp3 | line2b.mp3 | line2c.mp3 | line2d.mp3

Ornamented versions of Line 3:
line3a.mp3 | line3b.mp3 | line3c.mp3 | line3d.mp3

You may notice that what you come up with reminds you of the playing of Stevie Wonder. The basis of his style proceeds logically from the premises described in this article.

In parting - the blues scale

These exercises have sort of pussyfooted around the blues scale, which again is important to early Stevie Wonder playing and can benefit from the use of the slide ornaments described here. In parting, here is the blues scale, stated in a slightly modified form to make it play like a melody:

Click here to hear it played without ornaments

Next time:

We'll pick up where we left off with tongue blocking and apply it to some D minor chordal lines.

Notation Key

Please visit for a notation key.

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