String bending is one of the fundamental and most expressive techniques you can employ as an electric guitarist. Every great player has employed bends and many are instantly recognisable just from their own take on bending.
Once you’ve nailed the classic blues curls and screaming rock licks you may like to explore the possibilities of string bending a little further. This week and next we will present a few ideas that build on blues and rock string bending, and hopefully could be a springboard for your own developments.
Bending out of tune is a quick way to spot a weak player, so make sure to perfect your bends or the emotive beauty will be lost. Practice by playing the note you want to bend to before performing the bend to get the right pitch in your ear so you know what to aim for!
String Bending Ex 1 – Pre Bends
To open we have quite a basic lick that reverses the usual process of string bending to create an interesting addition to your articulation toolkit. Instead of picking the string and then bending up to a higher pitch, we will prepare the string by bending up to the desired pitch and then pick it. You can then release the bend to descend in pitch. The tricky part is bending the string to in tune without being able to hear it beforehand as you would with normal bends. It relies on muscle memory of the right amount and comes naturally with a bit of practice.
String Bending Ex 2 – Multiple pitch bends
This idea takes the standard single string bend but after plucking the string adjusting the width of the bend to reach different pitches. Bar one bends the D up a tone to E, then after stopping at E bends up to a further semitone to F and back. The second phrase does the same pattern but on the wider major third leap of C up to D and E. Be careful of your hands here. The strength required for bends of a minor third or more makes it challenging, so warm up and don’t practice it too intensively! The thinner the strings you use also makes it easier (I would advise 10’s or thinner.) Be sure to listen carefully to the intonation of the bent pitches.
I learned this technique from watching shred master Paul Gilbert, but he admitted to taking it from Hendrix originally. The basic idea is to bend a note on one string and in doing so push the adjacent string up with it silently. Then shift the weight of the finger over to the second string as in a barre roll, and after picking the second string, release the bend on that string. The resulting sound is a higher ascending bend followed by a lower descending bend. The second phrase here reverses the idea so try to grab both the top strings in one go as you bend but picking only the B string, descending on it and then bending up again on the E string.
A strong bending technique is fundamental to blues, rock and country styles of playing. This week’s licks are more blues based so listen to Albert King, David Gilmour and Gary Moore for a source of inspiration. Next week we mix in some other techniques such as tapping and hybrid picking to explore more options!