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Bending the Blues

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String Bending in Blues Guitar

The Guitar in general, is a very emotive instrument and this manifests most clearly in Blues Guitar.  Blues Guitar is never about technical proficiency, or playing hundred-mile-an-hour solos.  In fact, many argue that the 'fancier' you try and play and the more notes you use in your licks, the more you move away from the signature Blues sound.

The most important aspect of Blues Guitar is FEELING.  A musician that can create stir up an emotive sentiment with his lead licks is an accomplished Blue lead Guitarist.    Our main aim with Blues is to create feeling with our guitar and this is what string bending will help us with.  String bending will make your guitar cry and moan and create the heart-rending feeling we're looking for.

A quick refresher on String Bending

String bending was introduced in the Guitar Techniques lesson, but we're going to go in some more detail here.  Like its name implies, string bending is the bending of a string to achieve a specific sound.  By bending a string down or up, you'll produce a note higher than if the note was played regularly on a fret.  So for example when you're plucking the 5th fret and bending the string upwards, the note may end of sounding like you're playing the 6th of 7th fret.

How to Bend notes

There are two ways to go about with bending the blues.  The one is using the joints of your fingers to bend the string upwards.  The other method is done by keeping your fingers at an angle on the fretboard (NOT parallel to the frets), and then using your hand and wrist-motion to bend the strings.  These photos illustrate:

A detailed look at the important role of string bending in Blues Music.  This lesson will teach how to properly perform string bending, and incorporate it into you Blues playing.

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Proceed from Bending the blues to the next lesson - Pedal Tones
String Bending
It's also a good idea to rest your thumb on the top of the neck and pull your bending finger towards and away from your thumb.  This helps add some stability to the bending motion.
Bending Exercise

This exercise is a great way to test your bends and see whether you're bending them far enough (or too far).  On the Tab below, you'll play a note, then a second lower note and then bend that string to sound the same as the first note.  This is what it looks like:
String Bending Tab
Watch the video below to see what this tab should look and sound like.  Pay close attention to the sound of the bends and how they correlate to the previous note played during the lick.
As you practice this Blues lick, Make sure you get the bends right and mute the strings at the top of the bend to avoid the seagull effect on the bend going up and down in a scooping fashion.
Quarter Tone Bends

A Classic Blues bend is the quarter tone bend or 'curl' that, unlike regular full tone bends, only adds a small bend to the string.  This achieves a great effect.  In the Tab below I'm indicating a curl with a   ^   sign.  In this exercise I'm playing the Blues scale, adding a curl on every C note.
Quarter Tone Bending Lick
Watch the video below to see what this tab should look and sound like.  In this video, I'm playing the Blues scale in the key of A, position 1.  I'm adding a curl bend to every C note in the scale.
Got it?  Great Stuff!  Let's try a final bending the blues lick where you can show off your newly acquired bending skills.  Here's the tab:
Bending Lick
And here's what it should look and sound like:
Wrapping Up

The importance of bending the blues i.e. string bending in Blues Guitar, cannot be overstated.  Techniques like the quarter tone bend can turn a piece of ordinary music into a Blues riff or solo.  So take time to practice the quarter bends and get your bends to sound smooth and snazzy.

Next in the Blues Guitar series we'll look at one more common technique used in Blues Guitar.
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