By Ron Dickson
String bending is one of the most important aspects of lead guitar playing. Without it, phrases can sound dull, uninteresting, and can lack dramatic expression. Many guitarists, while they may be very advanced from a technical standpoint, are lacking in their application of great string bends into their playing as it tends to be overlooked by the cooler things to practice. The purpose of this article is simply to cover the basics of string bending and address the common issues that are most prevalent with guitarists at any level.
The Mechanics of a String Bend
Thumb Placement: Your fretting hand's thumb can make or break your level of control while string bending. If you are placing your thumb on the back of the neck, especially lower on the back of the neck, it can be very easy to lose control and feel very awkward when bending. While some people can do this with great success, many people cannot. The other option for thumb placement is to have your thumb be placed over the top of the guitar neck. This will give you more stability for when it is time to execute the string bend. This tends to be the most common and effective method for thumb placement.
Note:It is also important to mention that you should do what gives you the most control and is most comfortable for you. Do not play string bends, or anything for that matter, if tension is occurring in your hand or arm. Slightly different hand position work for different people so just be aware of this to avoid injury.
Use Your Wrist, Not Your Fingers:The motion of bending a string should come from your wrist and not your fingers. Trying to do a successful string bend with only your fingers will result in many problems. You will lose a massive amount of control, you will not be able to be as consistent, you will not be able to bend as high, and it will be difficult for you to apply vibrato to you string bend if desired. You will have more power and be able to execute the string bend with much greater ease when using your wrist.
Support the finger:The motion of bending a string should come from your wrist and not your fingers. Trying to do a successful string bend with only your fingers will result in many problems. You will lose a massive amount of control, you will not be able to be as consistent, you will not be able to bend as high, and it will be difficult for you to apply vibrato to you string bend if desired. You will have more power and be able to execute the string bend with much greater ease when using your wrist.
Grip the Neck: Trying to bend a string without gripping the neck is a very similar to not using your wrist for the bend. It will result the same issues discussed previously. You want to have part of your hand touch the bottom of the neck, around where your fretting hand's first finger meets the palm of your hand, touch the bottom of the neck in order to give yourself a leverage point. Use this point as a pivot. Again, this will give you more control and strength resulting in easier bends
Bend to Notes in the Scale/Key: A string bend, is essentially pushing or pulling the note you are currently playing to a higher pitched note. This note that you are bending to will be another note in your key and most likely the next note in the scale that you are currently playing. Be sure that the bent note matches exactly with the note you are trying to bend to.
Common Problems with String Bending and How to Fix Them
These are the most common issues that people have with string bending. You personally might have one or all of these. If you do not have these issues, great! No matter what, these issues are important to keep in mind as they will give you greater control and more musical sounding string bends.
The Bend is Out of Tune or Out of Key: This is perhaps the biggest problem that people have with string bending. They have the strength to bend the string, but are lacking the accuracy to make it fit within the key/scale being performed. With string bends, the note that you are bending to is essential. If you are having problems with this, record yourself and listen back. Or play the note you are bending to, record it and try to bend the string so it sounds exactly at pitch. The ears and the fingers need to learn to “hear” the target note and reach it
Sloppy Bend: The main way that a bend will sound sloppy is when the strings that you are not playing make noise. This can be very distracting when bends are played with this extra noise as it takes a lot away from the phrase and does so very quickly. You should use your fretting hand to mute higher pitched strings that you are not playing in the bend and use your picking hand to mute the lower pitched string that you are not playing. This will make a massive difference in the quality of the string bend.
Awkward Curve:: This issue tends to be most prominent when a string bend is being performed within a phrase. When string bending, the bend should have an even curve to it. Most of the time, this problem sounds like a slow bend at first and the bend speeds up as if to catch up and hit the correct bent note in time. To gain a lot of control over a string bends curve, you should practice with a metronome. Let's say for this example you set the metronome to click on quarter notes within a 4/4 meter. Play your starting note on the first beat then bend to the desired pitch. You should reach the desired note at the second beat. Hold the bend until the third beat. Then release the bend back to the starting note by the 4th beat. Make sure it is very rhythmically tight.
No Definition: This sometimes can resemble and elephants trumpet when the bend is done and doesn't really go anywhere or return to a place. Try to think of the bend as playing two or more separate notes, each note needs to be heard in it's own right. A bend must have a start and an end, if the bend is to a pitch then it stops at that pitch and ends, it doesn't then drift off to some in-between pitch before the next note is played. If it is a bend and release, it goes from the starting pitch to the target pitch, pauses, then returns all the way to the initial pitch. Without the pause the bend lacks it's clarity and definition.
About the Author Ron Dickson is a professional guitarist and teacher in Fife, Scotland. He regular plays live in the Fife and Tayside areas of Scotland and teaches in his home town of Glenrothes and the surrounding area. Contact Ron if you are looking for Guitar lessons in Fife, Scotland.