This month we’re going to talk about bends. Guitarists from Django to Hendrix to George Benson to Eric Johnson to Tom Morello and so on have utilised the bend as part of their articulation arsenal. For many bending will be something you’ve always done but for others it’s a daunting mystery world…let’s try and take a few steps to get them under control.
The idea of bending a note is to bend or alter the pitch of the note up to a higher pitch. Typically bends are a semi tone or tone but you’ll hear people bending up a minor or major third and more (depending on string gauge and hand strength!). Figure A shows the notation of some bends. All semibreves (worth 4 beats) the first bar bends from E in the fifth fret on the second string up a semitone to F. Next we have a tone bend from E to F#. Bars three and four are one and a half tones and two tones (E to G and E to G#).
Regarding the actual technique of bending I’d recommend starting with your 3rd finger on your left hand on the actual fretted note. Then to add strength reinforce the bend with your 2nd finger on your left hand in the fret behind that (in this case the 4th fret). Now pick the note note as you normally would (unbent) and then bend the string up towards the lower strings on the fretboard.
The important thing with these is to listen for the correct pitch. You can even use a tuner to check that you’re bending to the desired note. This can take some strength and control to hit that note cleanly and confidently each time. Start slowly and then increase the speed to almost bend the note instantly as you pick it. There are many ways to play these (slow and fast bends are very common) so there’s no wrong or right – it’s more a matter of getting used to the technique and the sound.
A good exercise for working on pitch is playing a Major scale with bends. Let’s take E Major (Figure B) and try playing it all on the second string. E Major is played E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E and uses a combination of tones and semitones (T-T-S-T-T-T-S in fact). Written as crotchets the exercise has one note per crotchet beat. Start slow and then increase speed as you get a feel for the exercise. Of course this can then be transferred to other strings and other scales and arpeggios. It really is a great sound when used sparingly and musically and can be heard in rock/blues/country/metal and more. More bending next issue!