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How To Bend Guitar Strings

Welcome to video six in the Lead Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson, we’re going to learn an important technique called bending, which helps you express yourself in your guitar playing. We’ll cover two types of basic bends in this lesson, starting with half-step bends and moving on to whole-step bends.

Fair warning though, your fingers are going to be sore after this, just like when you started playing guitar and learning chords. Keep practicing though, because after a few weeks your fingers will be stronger, making bends much easier.

We’ll start with the half-step bend, and let’s stick with the G minor pentatonic scale to practice in this lesson. On the G string, place your third finger on the fifth fret. For a half-bend step, you want to push the string so the note becomes the same pitch as one half-step higher, the same as moving one fret higher up the guitar neck. You can check how you’re doing by playing the note one fret higher and making sure the pitch of your bend is the same.

An unwritten rule when bending strings is to use your available fingers behind the finger you are bending with to help push that string. If you’re holding a note down with your third finger, you can also use your first and second fingers to help bend the string.

Let’s take a closer look at the physical technique of bending. You’ll see that my wrist pivots a little, and my forearm moves a bit with the movement. In the video it looks like I’m slightly twisting my wrist and arm, a movement you’ll want to mimic in your own bends. Be sure to practice bending until it feels more natural, and keep double checking your pitch.

Moving from half-step bends to whole-step bends will feel tougher on your fingers. Put your pinky down on the sixth fret of the B string, and since you’re bending this note a whole-step, it should sound like the note two frets up. Since your pinky is holding the note, you can use your other fingers to help push the B string into a whole-step bend. You’ll notice my thumb has come around to the fretboard, gaining leverage and helping hit the right pitch.

Bending might be more difficult if your fingers aren’t strong enough, but with practice your fingers will become stronger. Now that we’ve seen how bending works, let’s try it out with a few basic licks.

For the first lick, we’ll stick with the minor pentatonic scale and a half-step bend. Start on the G string, put your third finger on the fifth fret, and use your first and second finger to help with the half-step bend. Come back down from the bend and place your first finger on the third fret. Finish this lick on the D string with your third finger on the fifth fret.

Now let’s try a whole-step bend, put your pinky on the B string on the sixth fret and using the rest of your fingers to help with the bend. Hit the third fret with your index finger, move to the G string with your third finger on the fifth fret, and then place your first finger on the third fret. End off this bit with the root note by placing your third finger on the fifth fret of the D string.

Start experimenting with scales you already know, and keep in mind you need to bend up to notes that are in the scale, ensuring the notes will sound good. Here’s some tips for bending with the minor pentatonic scale. On the high E string, if you’re playing the highest note on the sixth fret, you can use a whole-step bend. The note on the sixth fret of the B string can also bend a whole-step. The highest note on the G string, at the fifth fret, can bend a half-step.

Playing the note on the fifth fret of the D string, you can bend a whole-step. Whenever I bend notes from the lowest three strings, I’ll push the strings downwards as there is more room that way. The A string can bend a half-step from the fifth fret, and the low E string can bend a whole-step from the sixth fret.

Pull up the jam track we used for the minor pentatonic scale in the last lesson to work on your bends. Get your fingers in shape, feel free to experiment, and see what sounds good when you play. Listen to my example in the video to see some basic ways to incorporate your bends into a solo.

Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t sound great right away, because it takes time to build up strength in your fingers and work on your ability to match pitch. The most important part is to enjoy the learning process.

Coming up in the next lesson, we’ll kick your skills up another notch with a technique called vibrato. As always, leave any questions you have in the comments section below. See you in the next lesson!