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Technique: Bending Strings

The Intermediate Method

String bending is a basic guitar technique, used a lot in blues and rock but also found a bit in most other styles (except classical). The idea is to "bend" (push a string across or over the fingerboard with your left hand fingers) so that the string gets tighter and the pitch goes up.

It is very important to practice this lots 'cos it sounds awful when done badly. In fact if your guitar is in tune, it is very hard to play a note out of tune, unless you bend. If you don't practice bending in tune right away you will risk sounding like a child learning violin, not something you should inflict on your friends or family, or a paying audience :)

This is a very hard technique to teach using only text, so try and watch the video for this lesson a few times.



The Lesson

1. Always use two or more fingers (usually your second and third fingers). At more advanced stages you may use only one finger, but only if two are not available (or if you do a first finger bend).

2. Try to use your wrist to make the bend and use your fingers as levers.  As you work on the technique you should find that it feels very easy when you do it right and very hard to do if you have the technique wrong!

3. When practicing always hold the bent note to check that it is properly in tune (the most important aspect of bending practice).

4. Do not start to use vibrato until you are very confident that your bends are completely in tune.

5. Always make sure that you know the note is that you're bending to, and if it is a tone or a semitone. You don't need to know the name of the note, it can be a visual reference, but make sure that you are bending the right amount and bending to a note that is in the scale that you are using.



To practice bends as shown, use the same finger throughout- usually your 3rd finger.

Play the note you want to bend followed by the note you want to bend to. Then play the original note again and bend it to the pitch of the second note. This will improve your intonation (get you in tune).

Some teachers recommend using a guitar tuner to work on getting it in tune, not a bad idea, but I think that it is better to use your ears - you won't be using a guitar tuner on stage!

Once you feel comfortable with the technique and it feels easy you should start to work on your vibrato. But don't be checking that out until you have your bends right in tune every time, or vibrato will just make them sound even worse!

Listen to the blues masters and try and emulate them. Try and develop the feeling that you can make the guitar sound and way that you hear it!

You should also practice "fast bends" where the note is not held for long at all (Chuck Berry is a good example of this technique), and very slow bends that are held for a long time (like say Dave Gilmore).


Examples in the tab and notation

Download the pdf file - here.

• Example 1 shows a semitone bend on the 2nd string. Make sure you play each note for a whole beat. You will pick the note four times in total!

semitone bend 1

• Example 2 shows a tone bend. Make sure you get it in tune!

tone bend 2

• Examples 3 and 4 both show similar exercises but high up the neck. It is important to play these exercises on ALL string and in low, middle and high registers, meaning around the 5th fret, around the 10th fret and above the 15th fret.

semitone bend 3

tone bend 4


Justin's Intermediate Guitar Method - Foundation Stages 1-5 DVD

Intermediate DVD

The 5 x DVD set for the Intermediate Foundation series comes with all the free Intermediate Foundation lessons found on the web site PLUS 3 DVD ONLY lessons for each stage, nearly 2.5 hours of extra material to help you to be as good as you can be, as fast as possible. Check out the main Intermediate Foundation page for the list of bonus lessons on each stage!

Sales of the DVDs allow me to keep the majority of the content free, so I hope will support the growth of this site too, for those that can't afford to buy stuff! :)

Click here or the image to your left for more information and to order.



Lesson ID: IM-144