Bending Notes and Why You Should Learn This Invaluable Technique

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Have you ever heard a guitar solo from one of your favorite artists and asked yourself, “What is it that he/she does that makes their solo sound so amazing?” What guitarist hasn’t wondered that? When it comes to playing lead guitar, there are many techniques that come into play that determine the difference between a “good” solo and a “great” solo. One of those techniques is string bends.

Many people have a hard time performing string bends (also known as “stretching”). A lot of successful string bending comes from the strength you have in your hands and fingers, which is why I don’t recommend them for complete beginners. They need to develop overall hand and finger strength from playing chords first, then they can focus on the finer points of how to manipulate the strings by using individual fingers. If you’ve been playing for a while and know a few favorite licks but haven’t experimented with string bending, then you might want to give it a go. Below are some common thoughts concerning bending strings.

Why should I bend my strings? Won’t they break?”

Not necessarily. You see, the guitar is one of the most expressive instruments on the planet, so it only makes sense to experiment with various techniques such as bending strings to be more creative in your playing. Say you have a favorite lick or you’ve created one of your own. Now lets say you decide to add a half-step (1 fret) or whole-step (2 frets) bend to just one of the notes in the lick. If you’ve read my article on how to add more “soul” to your playing, then you’re probably familiar with this suggestion, so I won’t elaborate much on it here. Suffice it to say that guitar strings, particularly electric guitar strings, are designed for string bending – not to mention all sorts of other forms of expression.

I’ve tried bending strings before, but I just can’t get the hang of it.”

It does take a fair amount of practice and repetitive finger movement to get a good sound when bending. But the most important key to bending strings correctly is to bend in tune. How? Find a note on the fretboard; any note. Let’s use C note on the 5th fret of the G string. Now play the C and then play the note a half-step higher on the 6th fret; C#. Don’t bend to it; just play it. Play it a few times to memorize the sound of the C# and then go back to the C. Now play the C and actually try and bend up to the C#. Notice how soft the pressure on the bend needs to be to hit the C# from the C. It doesn’t take much, just a little pressure.

Keep doing that until you can bend up to the C# in tune. This not only helps your fingers build muscle memory, but it helps train your ears as well. Now, play the D note on the 7th fret of the same string and repeat the same process, bending up from the C a whole-step to the D while still playing it in tune. The pressure it takes to bend a whole-step is a little more, but you’ll get the hang of it if you keep practicing. This particular whole-step bend is a very popular bend for the key of A when using the first box of the A Minor Pentatonic Scale like I describe in my Texas Blues Guitar by Eric Beaty multimedia course.

But I like the way my lick sounds. Why should I try something new?”

An important part of playing guitar involves being able to express yourself which sometimes means being more open-minded. By all means, if you like the way your lick sounds now then go for it! No one’s stopping you. The whole concept behind using the many techniques described in my course is to help you learn not only how to play solos, licks, phrases, etc. … it’s to help you learn how to play them better.

One of the best feelings in the world is being able to create something or take something stale and put your own spin on it and make it yours. This is where inspiration comes from. You get an idea for a song, solo, or lick and you play what you hear in your head. Then you come back to it maybe a few hours or a few days later and add something else to the mix and voila; you’ve just had a stroke of creativity.

Being a musician isn’t just about learning and playing cover songs all the time. If your heart is really in it for the long haul, then eventually you’ll see how awesome it is to know all these chords, licks, techniques, and phrases and you’ll want to venture out on your own and create something. That’s the beauty of utilizing as many techniques as you can to enhance your creativity.

Think of it this way: An artist has many tools in his kit; paints, brushes, knives, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, etc. But the canvas will remain blank until he puts those tools to use. When you come up with a standard lick, that’s your starting point; your blank canvas. Bends, slides, rakes, vibrato, hammer-ons and pull-offs are the tools in your “kit” – your “bag of tricks” as it were. The only question now is, what musical picture are you going to paint?

Best Wishes and Keep Practicing,

Eric Beaty

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