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Bending Steel


Now, before I get further into the technique, here is a soundfile of Thorsten doing half-tone bends. Meaning that he plays a note, and then pulls it up to another note a half step above the first note... then, he releases the note again to the original pitch.

1/2 tone bends

And here is a soundfile of him doing whole-tone bends...

1 tone bends

OK, now how can you practise this? Because... even though a lot of blues-guys sometimes don't bend to the exact right pitch (this is sometimes referred to as "over-bend" and "under-bend") to give their lines a dirtier, bluesier sound (check out some leads by Jimmy Page), most of the time you want to be in tune, you want to bend the note to the exact right pitch.

Even if you do have good ears, it might take a while until you're able to do it without effort. Using your ears, improvising a lot using bends etc. sure will get you there. But I would like to show you a cool exercise I was taught at the MI...

OK, this is how it works. Let's say you wanna work on your whole step-bends. Now, pick a start note (example: F#, 7th fret on the B-string). Your target note is a whole step above at, at the 9th fret of the B-string (G#).

Now, usually you would most likely fret the F#, pick it and then bend it till you reach the G#. That is what most players do in their everyday-playing anyway... it takes a while till you reach the target pitch, and it's a really cool sound effect to do a slow bend. BUT... in this exercise, we wanna work on bending to the right pitch by feel! We will not adjust the bend by ear anymore. This is what you do:

Fret the F# and play it. Then, fret the G# and play that one. Now you know what the target note sounds like. Try to memorize it. Next, fret the F#, pick it. Before you pick again, bend it up as far as you think you need to bend to get the G#. THEN pick the note. That way, you don't actually hear the bend, just the result of it.

Did you bend far enough? Didn't overbend? Congrats. TRY AGAIN!
Did you bend too far? Or did ya overbend? Bummer. TRY AGAIN!

This method - by first playing both the start-note and the target-note to memorize their sound and then bending up to the target-note before you pick the string - will really get your hands used to bending to the exact right pitch, without a need to check with your ears.

You should be able to do these bends without too much correction-by-ear. Why? Well, because you might not always be able to hear yourself well enough to correct bad bending. If you're on stage and there are no monitors / crappy monitors / out-of-reach-monitors, there's no way for you to judge whether you're bending correctly... well, ok, if you look at the faces of the people in the first row, you'll most likely be able to tell when you bend a quarter-step too far. Especially if that happens in the middle of that cool solo in that beautiful ballad.

Anyway, here's how that exercise sounds. Whole tone-steps:

Exercise with whole tone bends

And, half-tone-steps:

Exercise with half-tone bends

Doing this exercise a few minutes everyday will sure help you to improve your bending technique. I didn't mean to say that slowly bending from one note to the other is not correct... it certainly sounds good and is what most of us think about when we think "string-bending". But you should be able to bend "by feel" as well...

One other benefit of doing that exercise is that you can adjust to playing on a different guitar or different string-gauges easily. Usually it takes a while to get used to... say, a set of heavy-gauge strings if you're mainly using light gauge ones. But if you do this kinda exercise on that guitar for a few minutes, you'll kinda "calibrate" on it, adjust to it.

More bending techniques >>