Bending Techniques and Exercises

Knowing how to properly bend notes can add greatly to your ability to express yourself through your guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
Good day all!

I know I promised previously that I will be doing a lesson on commonly used riffs and phrases, but I realized before I do that it's best to do a quick lesson on bending.

Bending notes adds a lot of flavor to your playing, and helps you express yourself much better.

In becoming good with bending, you will need to use your ears quite extensively as you must be able to recognize when a note has been bent to the correct pitch. Practicing this may be boring at first, but when you get it down it's invaluable to your musical repertoire.

Let's take a look at a single string on the guitar neck to get a feel of where our notes sit. I'll use the third string, which is G:

G |G#-|-A-|A#-|-B-|-C-|C#-|-D-|D#-|-E-|-F-|F#-| and then back to G.

When moving up one fret while playing, for example on the string above, if we move our finger from A to A#, it is referred to as half a step or one semitone (also referred to as minor second). Moving up two frets, for example A to B above, it is referred to as a whole step, or a whole tone (also referred to as major second).

All that bending entails is fretting a note on one of the strings, and instead of playing a note on the next fret or two frets up, you bend the note you are playing up half a step or a whole step to the same pitch as the desired note.

For instance, playing the B-note on the 4th fret of the 3rd string, as indicated above, will produce a C-note when bent up half a step, or C# when bent up a whole step.

There are two major aspects of learning how to properly bend notes:
1. Developing a proper bending technique.
2. Training your ears to recognize the correct pitch you are aiming to achieve.

I'll discuss technique basics briefly.

From past experience, I've come to realize that the most taught technique is to use either your second finger (middle finger) or your third finger (ring finger), place it on the note and to add support and stability to your bend, you can put the remaining fingers behind the fretting finger to help bend the string upwards. Of course, when you are playing the top E-string it is not possible to bend up, so you will be pulling down.

It is very important to practice the technique from the first time you learn this, I learned the bad habit of always bending down, except with the bottom E string. Even though I don't have a problem bending, it has proven to be a little restrictive doing it this way.

The second aspect of learning to bend notes properly comes in training your ears.

A good way to do this in your early days of practicing, is to play the same note on another string and bend the note on the string you are practicing on to match the pitch of the first note you played.
E |--F--|--F#-|--G--|--G#-|--A--|--A#-|--B--|--C--|--C#-|--D--|--D#-|
B |--C--|--C#-|--D--|--D#-|--E--|--F--|--F#-|--G--|--G#-|--A--|--A#-|
G |--G#-|--A--|--A#-|--B--|--C--|--C#-|--D--|--D#-|--E--|--F--|--F#-|
D |--D#-|--E--|--F--|--F#-|--G--|--G#-|--A--|--A#-|--B--|--C--|--C#-|
A |--A#-|--B--|--C--|--C#-|--D--|--D#-|--E--|--F--|--F#-|--G--|--G#-|
E |--F--|--F#-|--G--|--G#-|--A--|--A#-|--B--|--C--|--C#-|--D--|--D#-|
For instance, you can play the 3rd note on the B-string which is D, and then bend the C on the 5th fret of the G-string up a whole step to match the first note. This is useful if you want the note to ring out while you bend it on another string.

You can even make it easier and just play the note on the same string. Play any string on the 7th fret, and bend the same string up on the 5th fret a whole step to match the previous note. With this exercise, you can't have the previous note ring out though. This is better to do after you've mastered the first exercise above.

A lot of the licks and phrases I will post in my next article will require you to use bending.

Chaos Into Harmony

This is something I picked up in a video I watched which actually sounds quite cool when used correctly. It involves the lower E-string, B-String and G-string.

This involves playing two notes together on two different string and as they ring out you bend the first string to match the note on the second string. The reason I named the section chaos into harmony, is because when you do this you hear two notes sync up once the first note is properly bent.

When using the E and B strings, you place your first finger on the E-string, any note but I will use G as an example (third fret)

You place your ring finger, or if you either can't stretch that far or feeling brave your pinky on the B string 3 frets up, for our example it is F (6th fret).

Now play the notes together and without bending the E-string, bend the B-string up a whole step. This takes the F up to G which means they sync up.

This works the same on the B and G strings, but with these you place you ring finger only 2 frets up. So if you play E on the 5th fret of the B-string, you play D on the 7th fret of the G string and bend it up a whole step to E.

Different Ways to Add Flavor to Your Bending

Apart from all the above, bending can also be broken down further and customized depending on the feeling you want to achieve. It's difficult to explain without showing, but I'll try my best to briefly explain.
  • Slow bend - Bending the string slowly.
  • Delayed bend - Start out by bending slowly then speed it up.
  • Vibrato bend - While bending you use vibrato either when already bent or while bending.
  • Bend/Mute - You bend the string up and mute before bring the note back down.
  • Mute/Release - Exactly the opposite, the note is played while the string is bent and the bend brought down to the original note.
I know this has been quite a lengthy article/lesson, but bending is a very important aspect of becoming a good guitar player. Bending is quite difficult to explain only in words and better when taught practically. But I hope I could inspire some of you to practice bending again and master all aspects thereof.


3 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Bends must also be controlled and consistent, IMO.
    Jacques Nel
    Without a doubt. It's good to learn to use your ears from early on, if you are able to register what sounds good or what sounds bad you automatically end up picking the perfect bend without even thinking about it.
    Pretty decent advice for beginners although you have the terminology reversed for the E strings. The "low" E string is actually the sixth string or thickest string on the guitar (closest to the ceiling when strung traditionally) and the "high" E is the thinnest (closest to the floor). Pitch-wise the low E therefore sounds lowest . In other words, the traditionally strung/tuned guitar goes: Low E, A, D, G, B, High E; 6,5,4,3,2,1 respectively. Great advice about using your ear and pitch matching with the adjacent string; unison bends). Unfortunately many of my students, particularly blues players, have already developed the habit of just bending to any arbitrary pitch and just bend as some sort of effect. The unison bends you recommend will definitely help that problem. A couple of good songs/examples to practice the unison bends you mentioned are the intro to "Highway Chile" and the solo to "Manic Depression" by Jimi Hendrix and the intro to "Green-Eyed Lady" by Sugar Loaf or the Pat Travers cover. Thanks for addressing an often overlooked topic.