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The Bends!

The Bends

One of the most valuable techniques to learn as a lead guitarist is how to bend a string. Bending a string, by pushing or stretching it from one side of the fretboard to the other, increases the tension on that string, and results in the pitch of that string going higher.

String bends always raise the pitch of a note, with the distance of rise being determined by the amount of force applied to the string by the player. Generally speaking, we cannot raise the pitch of a string much beyond 2 ½ tones, because the fretboard doesn’t allow enough space for more than that.

Glossary of Terms:

The push of the string is called the bend, and the return of the string to its starting point is called the release of the bend.

String bends require a lot of left hand finger strength, and the best way to develop that strength is by…bending strings. Bending is easiest in the 12th fret area – at the middle of a string – and hardest in the 1st fret area where the strings are stiffest. Whenever possible, a player should use the fingers that are behind the one that is on the note being bent to help with the push. This is called reinforcing a bend. This can’t be done when bending with the 1st finger, so bending with it is not easy.

I find it easiest to describe the various types of string bends to my students by having them imagine the shape of the curved line that would result if we were to plot the rise or fall of pitch caused by the bend on a graph, shown over the amount of time elapsed.

Let me explain myself. If a note is played and held for a moment, then bent slowly upwards to a desired pitch, the line would begin flat for however long the beginning note was held; as the bend begins it would curve upwards until arriving at the desired pitch. If, after reaching the top of the bend, the player allows the bend to release slowly back to the original pitch, the curve would also drop down. What results looks almost like a little hill and shows the pitch climbing up one side to the peak and then lowering back down on the other side. See below. The speed of the bend would determine the angle or slope of the curve. A fast bend and release would look like this: We might also choose to extend the time spent at the peak of the bend: This time, after the release of a fast bend, we immediately bend the string back up again without picking it, then release it: Bends, of course, do not need to be released – if you bend a string up to reach a desired pitch, then dampen (silence) the string with your right hand fingers or pick, all the listener will hear is the upward curve of the bend. By silently releasing the string and re-bending you could make a group of upward-bent notes.

One can also silently bend a string up to a point at which they hope it will be at the desired pitch, then pick the string and release it back at whatever speed they wish. This is how you make your guitar cry.  🙁 This technique is officially called pre-bending, but I’ve also heard it referred to as ghost bending. Prebends can also be silently released.Bends can have more than one component to them. A bend may rise a whole tone, sustain a while and then rise some more up to an even higher pitch. This makes the curve a little more complicated. With a slow release from the peak of the second bend added, here’s what this would appear as:So, as demonstrated, bends and releases can take many different forms, and there are more beyond what I’ve shown here. By combining these ideas in interesting ways you can come up with some pretty cool ways of expressing yourself as a soloist.

Let that be a lesson to you.  😉

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