I see… you wanna learn to bend? Like, not just bend, but bend and make it sound epic? Woah, no way! I’m literally about to talk about that, what a coincidence…
So today I’ll be going over how to correctly bend strings and notes on electric guitar, get them in tune, and even add some vibrato for some scrumptious wibble wobble.
Oh yeah, if you’re lucky I’ll even give you some practice drills and a mini solo at the end to put everything together too 🙂
Why do we bend, and how does it work?
When you press down a string at a certain fret, you’re applying tension to the string, right? This stretches the string a little, producing a specific note. If you play a note on a lower fret, there is less tension and the string produces a lower note.
Bending basically stretches the string more, increasing the tension to that of higher frets.
But the reason why bending is cool is that it provides way more emotion and feel than just playing a note normally. And that brings us onto the main point…
When we bend, we are ALWAYS aiming to hit a specific note. These notes are normally 1, 2 and sometimes 3 frets higher than the fret we are bending from.
For example, there’s an E on the 9th fret of the G string. If we bend this note up a little higher and play the string again, we’ll get an F. If we bend this string up even further we’ll get an F#. And if you have superhuman, iron crusted, I’m-as-hard-as-nails fingertips, you could even attempt to bend the string so far that you get a G note.
But at that point you’ll start screaming, running round in circles and throwing your shoes at people because your fingertips hurt so much. So I don’t really recommend that one for beginners.
The Perfect Bending Technique
Alright, here’s the part you actually came here for.
Step 1: You’ll want to start by placing your hand around the neck in a bluesy kinda grip. This should feel natural, with your thumb over the top and almost touching the fretboard.
Step 2: Play the 10th fret of the A string with your 3rd finger, and layer up your 1st and 2nd fingers behind it on the same string. This’ll provide the strength needed for bending.
*You’ll also have to bend at some point with your 4th, 2nd or even your 1st finger on its own. Although you can’t layer anything up behind your 1st finger, you should still layer up all the fingers you can behind any other finger you are bending with.
Step 3: Rotate your wrist anticlockwise, like you would if you were turning a doorknob to enter a room full of mummified Stratocasters from the Egyptian era.
As a result, this will drive your fingers up the fretboard, pulling the string with them. This is key… Make the motion with your wrist and NOT your fingers. Your fingers are just there to hold the string as your wrist drives them up.
Step 4: Keep bending the string upwards – still by rotating with your wrist – until you hit the note exactly 1 fret above the fret you’re bending from.
It’s a good idea to play the 11th fret of the A string on its own as a reference point first. Then bend up from the 10th fret until you match that pitch. You’ll probably have to flick back and forth a few times to get it right, and this is the part that takes practice.
BONUS Step: Once you’ve hit the pitch you’re going for, gently bring the note below and back up to pitch in an oscillating way to give yourself some vibrato. If you don’t know how to do vibrato, then don’t worry, I’ll get into how to do that properly later.
And BAM! Easy as that, you can officially now bend notes on electric guitar.
But obviously that’s gonna take some practice so… er… how about some practice tips!
Quick Tips for Practising Bending
Before we get into some fiery practice drills, I’ve got a couple of epic tips to help you out when practising this phenomenon called “bending”.
Epic Tip No1. – Use a tuner!
Tuners are frickin’ awesome because they literally show you whether you’re in tune or not. That means when you bend up to a note, you can see whether you need to bend further or less further to perfectly hit that note. Plug-in/chromatic tuners tend to work the best for this, so if you’ve got one, use it!
Epic Tip No.2 – Practice all over the neck, and on different strings
Different strings are easier to bend than others, and changing frets will change how far you need to bend the string to hit a higher note. So practising all over your guitar neck will get you used to bending in tune in different places.
That way, when you’re mid-solo and want to slam a bend that melts faces, you can do it and actually melt people’s faces!
*Note: it’s unlikely that people’s faces will melt
Epic Tip No.3 – Take breaks when it hurts
Funnily enough, humans aren’t built for bending. Even I didn’t come shooting out of the womb with rock hard fingertips! So just take it easy, your fingers are gonna hate you for it at first, but gradually they’ll toughen up and co-operate.
Bending Practice Drills
You now know what to do, so let’s get you doing it.
The first drill is kinda similar to what you may have done whilst learning the technique, except it’s been extended a bit:
You’ll now have to differentiate between 1/2 step and full step bends too, muhaha… A step or tone is basically two frets. So when people say “a 1/2 step bend”, they mean a bend hitting the note 1 fret above where you’re bending from. And then a full step bend is obviously aiming two frets higher.
And one that all feels good, we’ll up the ante a bit:
This one’s all about getting you bending in different parts of the neck. Different strings and different frets will need different amounts of bendage to hit the notes you want, so it’s important you spend some time getting these properly in tune.
And finally ladies and gentlemen, the last exercise to get you on the path to becoming a bending prodigy:
Switching between notes mid-bend like this will greatly test your control, strength and ability not to scream in fingertip-pain. And for that reason, it’s gotta be one of my favourites.
How to Add Vibrato to Bends
Yes. Yes! YES! It’s vibrato time.
I’m not gonna lie, bending without vibrato sounds a bit naff… But bending WITH vibrato is as good as a mint choc-chip ice cream in Rome on a really hot day in the middle of June sat on the Spanish Steps which you didn’t even have to pay for because you nicked it from someone and ran away, leaving them in tears crumpled on the floor.
So Step 1 to getting some sweet, sweet vibrato, is to bend up to the note that you want to add vibrato to and hold it:
Step 2: Lower the bend a little, just so it dips the bend slightly out of tune.
Step 3: Raise the bend up to pitch again, back to where it was before.
Step 4: Repeat this up and down wobbling motion to add vibrato to the note.
Play around with the speed and extent to which you want this vibrato to be present. Guitarists like Marty Friedman and Zakk Wylde enjoy some aggressive, wide wibble wobble, whereas BB King tends to enjoy a smaller, faster wibble wobble.
Have a play around and see what you like. Just don’t go too fast with it, otherwise it’ll sound rushed and tense. The point is that when you bend notes on electric guitar, the bends should sound better with vibrato, not worse!
Vibrato Practice Drills
It’s my favourite time, it’s your favourite time, it’s practice time! Actually, that’s probably nobody’s favourite time…
But anyway, to help you get your vibrato chops up and running, I’ve got a couple of drills and mini licks for you to have a go at.
So here’s the first one:
A nice mix of everything we’ve learnt so far there. And remember to make sure every bend stays in tune!
Also be wary not to let the bends dip too far when adding vibrato. A lot of people let the bend gradually slip as they wobble, which sinks the bend out of tune like the Titanic. Just don’t be one of those people…
So here’s for our next mini lick to practice your vibrato and bending skills:
Here we’re using simpler notes, but making everything more exciting by playing with the vibrato in a style inspired by Marty Friedman. Having said that, the tab for this lick is about as useful as a shuttlecock against a grizzly bear…
So listen to the audio and try to replicate the same kind of expression with each bend using your ear to guide you.
It’s this kind of control over vibrato that can make you sound like a seriously good guitar player, without even doing anything flashy.
And that brings us onto our final lick, with some different finger bends:
For the first bend, use your 3rd finger like we’ve practised… But for the next bend, use your 2nd finger and layer up your 1st finger behind it. And for the final bend, use your 4th finger and layer up all your remaining fingers behind it.
They’ll feel a bit weird initially, and even to this day I still hate having to bend notes on electric guitar with my pinkie. But do you know what? I’m an absolute beast, so I don’t complain, I just do it!
Wow, I kinda inspired myself a bit there…
Ways to Make Bending More Interesting
Great, you can do the technique, you can bend in tune, you can add vibrato, but still… Something feels like it’s missing… Is it control, emotion, or your wallet that I just ran off with whilst you were distracted?
All three are possible, so here’s a list of some great techniques to help you bend notes better on electric guitar:
The Bluesy Bend
Short, snappy, and easy as anything, the bluesy bend features a slight tug and a choke.
You don’t even have to bend all the way, just start the bend and choke it early on. They key is that you don’t want to hear this type of bend descend again, which is why we choke it on the way up.
You ask a driving instructor what their favourite kind of bend is, they’ll say a roundabout. You ask a guitarist what their favourite kind of bend is, they’ll say a unison bend. That’s because they sound just sooo cool.
Ever since Led Zeppelin came out with these in the 60s, guitarists have been known to worship these bends like a deity. Used at the right moment with some aggressive vibrato, these bends can add some real cut and crunch to a solo.
But it’s important that you don’t subconsciously bend the higher string upwards too, otherwise everything will sound out of tune = bad.
Sometimes you just want a bend to cut through hearts and slice through the subsconscious of your audience… And that’s where crunchy bends come in.
You’ll want to start by muting with your palm a few strings lower than the one you want to bend. Then as you go to play the bend, rake through these muted strings on the pick swipe through.
I’m not gonna lie, I entirely and unashamedly robbed this one from Guthrie Govan. He’s one of my favourite guitarists, and it just sounds so goddamn sweet… so who can blame me?
Yup, you see it now… The trick is to bend up, pull the bend back down quickly and slide up to the higher fret to bend again. Plus, you’re not allowed to play the string more than once whilst you’re at it.
It’s tough getting those slides right, but MAN it’s worth it!
I have an entire post dedicated to teaching you how to tap like a pro on guitar, but the basic essence is this… You bend, hammer-on with a picking hand finger at a higher fret and then pull off with the same finger.
Delicious. I tend to use my middle finger for tapping because my index finger is busy holding the pick, but you should experiment and find what’s easiest for you.
Tapped Harmonic Bends
As if tapped bends weren’t good enough, you can turn them into harmonics too!
To play harmonics on the open strings, you lightly rest a finger above the 5th, 7th or 12th fret and pick it, right?
So if you bend up and then gently touch the string 5, 7 or 12 frets above where you’re bending from, you’ll create a harmonic.
And that’s not even the best bit… You can add vibrato to these harmonics too, like you would with a normal bend! Pff, bet you can’t do that with open strings 😏
Ahhhhh I love Marty Friedman! He’s well known in the guitar world for his expressive-AF vibrato, and the flicks he adds on to his bends.
You’ll want to give the string a quick tug first before releasing the full bend. It sounds great, and if there’s any guitarist to learn bending and vibrato from, it’s this guy.
He also did a video for Guitar World entirely based on how he makes his vibrato sound unique, so be sure to check down below if you’re interested in that.
A Mini Solo to Put it All Together
Because I’m super awesome, I’ve made you a solo to practice…
I just knocked it together quickly to try and combine as many ways to bend notes on electric guitar as I could. So hopefully you enjoy having a go at it:
And when you can play that, you can safely call yourself a bending pro.
Wrapping it Up
Congratulations! You can now correctly bend notes on electric guitar like a beast, so give yourself a friendly pat on the back for that.
Bending is just one of those things that either makes you seem amazing if you get right, or like a legless person running a 100m sprint if you get it wrong…
So it’ll be well worth the time and fingertip pain it takes to get good at it. Get used to the technique first, then get fancy later.
Anyway, I’ve been Sam Olverson,
Have fun bending!
P.S. If you want to learn the 5 pentatonic scale positions on guitar and how to use them to improvise + write your own solos, then click here to view my post on that, and take the next step towards lead guitar mastery!