Here I’m going to talk about some guitar string bending techniques that will give you some new ideas as well as add control and expressiveness to your guitar playing.
When you get this right, the expressiveness you can bring to the guitar is awesome – just listen to the likes of David Gilmore, Robben Ford, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Steve Rothery and you’ll see what I mean!
I want to show you everything you will need to start improving your string bending with real feeling and control or maybe just add a little to what you already know!
I’ll go through:
- A reminder of what string bending actually is;
- Some common descriptions used for string bends;
- Some tips for good technique and control;
- Examples of different string bends you can use.
A Reminder of What String Bending Actually Is
String bending on the guitar is the act of pushing or pulling the string across the fretboard; by applying pressure sideways, you slide the string along the fret.
This looks like you are bending the string, hence the name. What you are actually doing is increasing the string tension which raises the pitch of the note being played.
Make sense? Try it, you will hear the note go up…
It is a way of getting other notes without moving your fretting finger, but it is also a way of getting a lot of feel into your playing as we’ll see further on in this article.
Some Common Descriptions Used For String Bends
There are a few ways that string bends are described, so I thought it would be useful to explain some of them here.
First though, I want to explain the link between frets, semitones and “steps” as these words are often used interchangeably.
I hope this doesn’t confuse you, but I think it’s important that we all understand these terms before we start using them!
Each time you move your finger a fret up the guitar neck, you are increasing the pitch of the note by one semitone and this is sometimes called a “half step”.
So, “one fret”, “a semitone” and “a half step” all mean the same thing!
Ok so far?
Now, two frets will mean a full/whole tone or a step; this means that “two fret”, “whole tone”, “one tone” “full step” or “step” all mean the same thing!
You will also see “three fret” – which is the same as “tone and a half”, “minor third”, “3 semitone” or “step and a half”. (a minor third is an interval of 3 frets on the guitar).
Right, so with that explained, let’s look at what these terms actually mean!
A one fret bend or semitone bend means that you push/pull the string along the fret until the pitch of the note reaches the note you would have gotten if you’d played the string one fret higher.
Just stop a moment in get that straight!
Play the note on the G string at the 5th fret – now play the note at the 6th fret on the G string. Go back to the 5th fret and bend the string (push it along the fret) and listen for the note to reach the same pitch as what you just played at the 6th fret.
Congratulations – you’ve just executed a successful “one fret” bend (or semitone, or half step – remember?).
Now, of course, you can work out 2 fret and 3 fret bends (3 frets is quite difficult, so leave this for now if you like). Use the same principle as above – play the note 2 frets higher, then go back two frets and bend the string until you hear the same note…
And that brings us to…
Some Tips For Good Technique And Control
Tip 1 – Use as many fingers as you can!
Most bends (but not all) will be done by “pushing” the string across the fretboard – upwards. This means, for example, if you were to bend the B string, you’d be pushing it upwards towards the G string.
If the note you are bending is being fretted using your 2nd, 3rd(ring) or 4th(pinky) finger, use the other fingers behind it as these fingers (especially the pinky) are not really that strong. By using more fingers, you will increase strength, but more importantly, control.
So, use two or more fingers whenever you can for added support.
Tip 2 – Index finger bends
I personally use my index finger for bends as well, and these are quite often on the G or D strings. I will pull these downwards (G string being pulled down towards the B string for example).
This may not work for everyone, but try it out, I find the index (1st) finger to be strong enough to do this.
Tip 3 – Play the target note first
When practicing string bends, try to play the note you are aiming for then do the bend straight away – this will help you practice getting the right note.
For example, play the 7th fret of the G string, now immediately drop your finger to the 5th fret and bend listening very carefully to check you get the same note.
Tip 4 – Blues breaks the rules!
As always, when playing “the blues”, there are occasions when you don’t necessarily want the exact note to come out and blues breaks the rules – again!
Guitarists will often do a “curl” or “quarter step” bend on a note just to give some expression to it.
Most often, this is done on the minor 3rd (the C note if you are playing A minor blues), and it kind of implies the major 3rd sound (one fret higher) without actually reaching that pitch.
Don’t worry, I’ll demo in the video lower down.
Tip 5 – Concentrate on vibrato, make it sound good!
When putting vibrato on a bent note, it is important to remember the “center” of the note.
A lot of guitarists will bend a note, then use release and re-bend to get vibrato.
Well, what is wrong with that?
Nothing – if you like the sound; but…the overall effect is that the note sounds flat – I.E., the overall tone is lower than the target note.
So, instead, try pushing through the bend (slightly above target pitch), then release and re-bend – this way, the bent note sounds in tune but has some nice vibrato.
Examples Of Different Uses
So far, we’ve talked about bends in terms of bending up to a note, but there are many ways to use string bends on the guitar. Here are just a few examples.
- Bend and release – Obviously, you can bend a note up and then release it back to the original note. But you can also vary the speed of the bend and/or the release to put more expression into it.
- Pre-bend – This is the idea of bending the note up first, silently, then playing the bent note and releasing; don’t forget to try different speeds of release as well.
- Bend to imply – This is just a string bend, but then playing the actual note you’ve bent to afterwards. There are examples in the video, but, for example, you can bend up the 5th fret on the D string then play the note on the 7th fret afterwards. Or, bend the note on the 8th fret of the B string, then hit the 5th fret of the thin E string.
- Combo bends – Where you bend a note, release and bend again for example. This can take many forms, but the idea is that you are using the bends multiple times on the same fret – again, examples in the video.
- Bend and play other notes – Many examples here, but you might bend a note up, leave it sounding whilst you play a different note elsewhere. You might even then release that bend afterwards. You can also strike two notes at once and bend one of them; really, the possibilities are endless but I give you a couple of examples in the video.
As you can see, the art of string bending opens up huge possibilities for expressiveness and different sounds and it’s a great weapon to have in the armory.