String Bending Made Easy - Hidden Tips & Tricks
String bending on guitar is one of those things many never get quite right, all due to missing out on a few simple pointers. In this lesson we'll cover everything you need to get squeezing strings like a pro!
Let's Keep it Simple!
Though string bending is an intricate skill, we won't need to examine much music to understand its requirements. Here we'll mainly limit our investigation to just two notes but with a few different ways of presenting them which will cover all the often-missed details you'll need to correctly execute most string bends you'll ever encounter.
Here are the two notes we'll examine, both on the G string. Using finger 1 for the note at fret 7 and finger 3 for the note at fret 9, they should be easy enough to get looping. Note how the pick follows the foot down and up!
The Same 2 Notes With a Literal "Twist"!
Instead of picking the note at fret 9 we can use our fretting hand to stretch the G string until the note we played at fret 7 sounds like the fret 9 note. In Taplature this now looks like: (Click here for demonstration)
The brackets around the 9th fret note indicate that it is played not with the pick, but rather by bending the previous fret 7 note up to its pitch. Here's a bare-bones explanation which we'll flesh out shortly:
~ Place finger 3 on the G string fret 7 note.
~ Place finger 2 on the G string fret 6 (we'll use this for extra strength)
~ Pick the G string
~ Push the now-vibrating G string across the fretboard with fingers 2 & 3 until it's stretched tightly enough to make the sound of the fret 9 note
How did that work for you?
If that first try didn't go so well, let's take a look now at the finer points of things which many miss, usually due to inadequate explanation (like the one I just offered above 😉).
First up ...
Key to classic bending action is being aware of your hand position prior to bending any string. In the video here I demonstrate what the bend ideally should look like without the bending fingers clouding the picture!
You can see that we want is a position for the fretting hand that looks something like this:
Points to note:
~ My palm is angled away from the neck of the guitar, leaving at least as much distance between the outside of the palm and the neck as we'll need to move the string being bent. ~ The inside palm of my hand is snug against the neck, making contact near the base of my index finger. We'll be looking to rotate around that contact point to execute the bend!
~ The tried-and-tested, classic bending motion we'll ideally be looking for is "simply" rotating the palm in towards the neck around the pivot point.
~ My thumb is high,but this is more for comfort than anything too vital to the mechanics of the upcoming string bend.
Adding the Bending Fingers Back In
Below I've added finger 3 at fret 7 of the G string and behind it, for added support and strength, finger 2 at fret 6. To get the change in pitch from fret 7 to fret 9 we'll only need to move the string about 1cm across the fretboard. There's plenty of space between the palm and the neck to allow that!
Here's the same "ready to bend" position viewed from the front:
Notice the angle of the bending fingers. A further benefit of angling the palm outwards is that those fingers now address the strings in this diagonal position meaning that much of the force exerted on them by the strings as we bend goes sideways into their last ("distal") joints. I demonstrate why that's a big plus point here in the video.
The "Behind the Scenes" Role of the Index Finger
Co-ordinating 3 fingers at once can be a can of worms so the index finger shouldn't be used to help bend the string. Most use it to lightly mute the D string (and others) which helps keep unwanted noises at bay. You can experiment with adding that extra touch to things once you've become comfortable with the bend itself. For more on how we can use spare fingers to polish things see here in the video.
Get the Movement in the Arm, Not the Fingers!
When playing much lead guitar my advice is to get the movement in the fingers rather than in the bigger bits of meat (arm and hand). For most bends the exact opposite applies and we're aiming for zero movement in the fingers!
Rotating the palm (along with the forearm like turning a key in the door) while holding our pivot point against the neck and keeping everything in the hand and fingers rigid gets us to the position shown below. The string has been stretched enough that the fret 7 note now sounds like fret 9.
The front view:
Applying those Mechanics For Better Results!
With those suggestions covered let's return to the beat we examined above and look to put these ideas into practice. If it felt out of reach before then hopefully that's now changed.
Begin in the "ready to bend" position with fingers 2 & 3 in place at frets 6 & 7 of the G string. The basic Taplature instructions to get this beat looping are:
1) Tap your foot, pick down on the G string fret 7, count "One" out loud.
2) Lift your foot, lift the pick (ready to pick down on the G string again) and bend the G string until it sounds like fret 9.
A "Hidden" Requirement
One problem students often run into when looping these 2 notes as outlined above is getting the bent string back to its starting position without hearing it coming back down. There's a bit of "behind the scenes" work going on to make that happen.
After step 2 of the above loop we want to pick the plain fret 7 note but we have a ringing bent note to contend with. To deal with that we can add in these extra requirements as we pick the first note again following the bend.
~ Mute the still-ringing G string with the pick and hold the pick against it in position ready to play a downstroke
~ Keeping the pick in contact with it, return the G string to its neutral (unbent) position
~ Downpick through the G string sounding the plain note at fret 7
I demonstrate this essential string-bending skill in the video here. Although these new additions are best first performed separately to see how and why they work, if you spend a little time getting your head fully around the sequence required it won't take long before you can execute it without thinking about it. Only then can it become music!
More on the "Hidden" Skill of Muting Completed Bends
Let's add a couple more notes to the example we used above to give a standard rock/blues cliché lick:
As before we are again presented with the issue of how to get the bend to release without hearing it coming back down though this time while we play a different string. In this case the recommended "trick" is to use the side of the picking hand thumb to mute the G string as we pick the B string. While touching the G string we can release the bend without hearing it return to the neutral position and this allows for a tight changeover from the second to the third note of the sequence without any gap or overspill.
Adding that into the Taplature gives a tiny difference which makes all the difference!
Check the video for a couple of other pointers on "layovers" and finger preparation which show how much often-overlooked detail can go into executing even a simple looking lick like this correctly!
And That's About All You'll Need to Know ... Seriously!
There honestly isn't much else you'll need a good grip on when it comes to bending strings, at least on the high E, B and G strings! (notes bent on the low E, A and D strings should be bent in the other direction often using the fingers alone).
There are always new situations you'll come across involving string bends but the ideas presented above should offer enough to make sense of them all. Did I miss anything here? Struggling to get decent results? Feel free to join me with any queries in the comments below or here in the Taplature Forum where I offer personalised 1-1 tuition 100% for free!
Transform your whole view of lead guitar today!
For those of you hungry for more in this style then you'll find a wealth of examples you can use to apply your new-found bending skill in my ground-breaking Taplature book, "Playing Lead Guitar: How it Works", packed with unique ideas you can start using today to transform your lead playing in double-quick time! An "Aladdin's cave" of insights, tips and "lightbulb moments" you won't find anywhere else and all backed up by detailed video discussion and demonstration. Click the pic below for more details:
How the Good Guys Think!
Be sure to check out all the other free lessons here in the Taplature blog covering what the others miss in easy to follow, step by step fashion and subscribe here if you don't want to miss out on the upcoming articles that help guarantee the fastest possible progress on guitar for all styles and levels!
Enjoy! Old Swanner.
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