String bending is a technique used to raise the pitch of a note by stretching the string in an upwards or downwards motion. String bending is a versatile technique used across many styles but particularly found in rock guitar solos. String bends can be described as a twisting of a door knob motion where the movement of the string is created from the wrist, not the arm. You will mainly be using your third finger to bend the strings and fingers one and two are used as a support to help bend the string up by bunching up behind the fretted note that is going to be bent. You will also use your other fingers for string bending but not nearly as much as the third finger.
As you move further up the neck the tension in the string decreases so you will find it easier to execute bends on higher register notes found frets 10 onwards. Attempting to bend strings around the 1st and 2nd frets will prove difficult until you have built some string bending strength because the string is much more tense here.
The most common type of bends you will find are the whole tone and half tone bends where you bend 2 frets or 1 fret respectively. Other bends you may experiment with over time are the Micro-tonal Bends where you bend a note a quarter to three quarter steps, this is often used to add a bluesy sound to phrases and takes away the perfect sound from a scale. For great use of micro- tonal bends listen to Guthrie Govan for an exotic take on this interesting technique.
When you begin bending strings you will find it difficult to sound the way you hear all your favourite players sounding but be persistent and follow my guidance and I know you will see results. It is hard at first to bend the note and sustain the desired pitch without going flat or sharp but follow this little trick to make sure you are sustaining the correct pitch.
Play the 7th fret G string note and then the 9th fret G string note so you know where you are staring and where you will end. Then bend the 7th fret note with the third finger with the support from the first and second fingers, once you are sure you have reached the note you are aiming for then hold it there and let the note sustain. If you are not sure if you sound right then repeat the process checking for the target note. Try this on different strings at different areas on the neck.
Exercise 1- Reaching Desired Notes
Exercise 2- Reaching Desired Notes and Adding Vibrato
Adding vibrato is where it gets a bit harder but it is at this stage where your string bending comes alive. Bend to the desired note after hearing both the first note and second note to aim for and once reached, let it go very slightly flat and then push back up to reach the desired note in an even motion. Repeat this motion at a constant rate to create the vibrato you hear from your favourite players. There are different levels of vibrato, Zack Wylde is known for his wide aggressive vibrato where you create a wider interval of bent and unbent movement when adding vibrato. There is also subtle vibrato where you move ever so slightly around the desired note.
I remember attending a guitar seminar from Paul Gilbert in 2005 and being very interested to hear that after years of playing Paul found out how to string bend and could not stop doing it all day long. He talked about his string bending heroes such as Jimmy Page and it was a moment that stuck with me as he showcased some seriously impressive string bending licks at high volume!
If you are note sure about how you can use this newly found technique in your playing then maybe you need to learnt about scales, chords, arpeggios and general guitar theory. If you want to further your playing then please read Be The Guitarist
Stay inspired and have fun