String bending and vibrato are my favorite guitar techniques.
The reason for this is that they can make the guitar sound like my favorite musical instrument: The human voice.
In this lesson I’ll give you 7 string bending exercises that will explore this powerful technique so that you can, quite literally, make your guitar sing.
String bending exercise 1: Upward bend
The most important factor in getting string bending right is that you reach the exact pitch you intend to reach.
The most commonly used bends are the half bend, where the string is bent up until it reaches the pitch of a note one fret higher up the fretboard.
And the full bend, where the string is bent up until it reaches the pitch of a note two frets higher.
Wider bends are also used but for the purposes of this lesson we’ll stick to the half bend and the full bend.
In this first exercise you’ll practice upward bends outside of a musical context.
Before bending the string, you’re going to play the note you intend to reach with the bend, the target note.
It is very important that you do this when you practice string bending.
Take some time listening to that note. Many students make the mistake of playing the target note for a very short duration and do not give their ear enough time to listen carefully to its sound.
Or not even playing it beforehand at all, and try to guess what pitch they need to reach while executing the bend.
As a result of that, they rarely reach the pitch of the targeted note correctly, until I correct their bad habit.
Once you can get these two string bends right, try the upward bend starting on different notes on the guitar.
String bending exercise 2: The upward bend in a musical context
The next exercise is a guitar lick using the A blues scale that makes use of both the half bend and the full bend.
String bending exercise 3: Bend and release
There are more options to this technique than bending the string up.
Also commonly used is the bend and release, where instead of bending the string until it reaches the target note and then moving to the next note, you bend the string down again to the original note.
Practice the bend and release outside of a musical context first, and make sure you’re hitting the right pitch before you bend the string back down.
This cannot be emphasized enough.
String bending can make the guitar sing, and bad string bending will make you sound like someone singing out of tune.
It’s better not to make use of this technique at all in your guitar licks and solos, than hitting the wrong notes.
String bending exercise 4: Bend and release in context
Once again, we’re going to use this type of bend in the context of a guitar lick.
Notice the vibrato on the last note. Vibrato is another technique that gives the guitar a sing-like quality.
String bending exercise 5: The pre-bend (and release)
The pre-bend is a bit more difficult to execute than the first two types of bends since you have to bend the string beforehand to reach the target note, pick it and then release the string.
Practice it outside of a musical context first.
String bending exercise 6: The pre-bend in a musical context
Once again, we’re putting this type of bend in the context of a guitar lick.
If you want to add more to your arsenal of guitar licks, click here.
String bending exercise 7: All these bends in a guitar solo
The last exercise is a short guitar solo that makes use of the three types of string bends explored in this lesson – the upward bend, the bend and release, and the pre-bend and release.
Other types of string bends exist but there’s a real lot you can do if you get the three bends described in this lesson right and use them in your improvisation and composition.
Conclusion: More techniques = more options
In this lesson we’ve explored one of the most expressive phrasing techniques on the guitar: String bending.
The purpose of these phrasing techniques is to be able to make the same note sound in a different way.
When you learn a new technique it’s good to replicate the process used here.
That is to learn the technique in isolation first, and then put it in a musical context.
Through repetition, all these techniques will become ingrained in you and you can use whichever you want to express yourself in your guitar riffs, licks and solos.
Each technique will take it’s time to sound great and easily accessible anytime you need it to create music, but eventually using each technique will start feeling like second nature.
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