String Bending Exercise

A lot of young guys develop tons of speed chops but one dead-giveaway that such a player may be inexperienced or unseasoned is that their bends are not in pitch (or are slightly out of pitch) Here's an exercise that will help you with your pitch, your intonation, and your ear. This will probably seem VERY tedious and rudimentary to you at first, but I PROMISE you, THIS WORKS, and there is GREAT VALUE in doing these exercises.

IMPORTANT: (this may not be news to you) When you bend strings, ALWAYS bend notes on the E A D strings DOWN toward your toes, and bend notes on the G B E strings UP toward your chin. Why? Because to go to play certain kinds of licks, if you don't bend your strings in the correct direction, you will struggle/stumble through them.

You need a metronome for this exercise. Do this exercise plugged in. No distortion is required.

Start with the basic blues box and the standard fingering across all six strings: E1-4, A1-3, D1-3, G1-3, B1-4, E1-4. What you're going to do is play these notes (as described below) WITHOUT bending the string at all four times each. Just fret the notes.

Set the metronome at something slow like 40 or 60 bpm and play this: (Low E string, 5th fret, notes A to C)

1-4 rest/rest/rest

1-4 rest/rest/rest

1-4 rest/rest/rest

1-4 rest/rest/rest

Note that each time you play the figure, you play the A-C figure as two 1/8th notes on the 1-beat, and hold the C note so it sustains throughout the three 1/4 note "rests."

So mentally, you count it as follows:

A-C, two, three, four

A-C, two, three, four

A-C, two, three, four

A-C, two, three, four

Now you're going to play the exact same figure, but instead of fretting A and C your going to FRET the A and then BEND the A (with your index finger) to the target note C as it would sound if you fretted it at the 8th fret.

So this time around it's played like this:

1-bend/rest/rest/rest

1-bend/rest/rest/rest

1-bend/rest/rest/rest

1-bend/rest/rest/rest

Again, each time you play the figure, you play the A-C part as two 1/8th notes on the 1-beat, and hold the (bent) C note so it sustains throughout the three 1/4 note "rests." So mentally, you count it as follows:

A -(bend-to-C), two, three, four

A -(bend-to-C), two, three, four

A -(bend-to-C), two, three, four

A -(bend-to-C), two, three, four

Recap: So you play the A-C figure a total of 8 times. The first four times you just FRET the second note (with your pinky) so the target note sticks in your head. The next four times you BEND the first note to that target note. In this case your bending the A with your index finger to the target note C (as it would sound at the 8th fret)

Now you're going to apply the same principle all the way up the blues box pattern. The next pair of notes in the pattern would be C to D (E 8th fret and D on the A string 5th fret). So this time you FRET it like this:

4(E string)-1(A string) rest/rest/rest

4-1 rest/rest/rest

4-1 rest/rest/rest

4-1 rest/rest/rest

count it like this:

C-D two, three, four

C-D two, three, four

C-D two, three, four

C-D two, three, four

Same deal -- play the C-D as two 1/8th notes on the 1-beat, and hold the D note so it sustains throughout the three 1/4 note "rests."

Now the bend part: Instead of FRETTING C and D your going to FRET the C and then BEND that 8th fret C (with your pinky) to the target note D, (as it would sound fretted at the E/10th fret or A/5th fret)

So this time around it's played like this:

4-bend/rest/rest/rest

4-bend/rest/rest/rest

4-bend/rest/rest/rest

4-bend/rest/rest/rest

count it like this:

C -(bend-to-D), two, three, four

C -(bend-to-D), two, three, four

C -(bend-to-D), two, three, four

C -(bend-to-D), two, three, four

Then you apply the same principle for the rest of the note is the blues box:

1-3 on the A string (D-E) . Four times fretted, four times bended.

3-1 on the A and D strings (E-G). Four times fretted, four times bended.

1-3 on the D string (G-A). Four times fretted, four times bended.

3-1 on the D and G strings (A-C). Four times fretted, four times bended.

1-3 on the G string (C-D). Four times fretted, four times bended.

3-1 on the G and B strings (D-E). Four times fretted, four times bended.

1-4 on the B string (E-C). Four times fretted, four times bended.

4-1 on the B and E strings (G-A) Four times fretted, four times bended.

1-4 on the E string (A-C). Four times fretted, four times bended.

This completes the exercise in ONE position. Now you take the exercise and play it in ALL positions on the neck (in any order you like). You can methodically progress up or down the neck in half steps or whole steps or you can jump around. I used to start at 5th fret and do whole steps up to 15th fret, then go back and work frets 0-5. Be sure to work your sharp and flat positions between the boxes.

Notes:

You're always bending with your 1st, 3rd, or 4th finger. Each time you're at the first/root position of the box (the "1"), you're bending with your index finger, when you're at the "3" position, you're bending with your third finger, and when your at the 4 position, you're bending with your pinky (ideally -- you can substitute your third finger if you must, but using the pinky (supported by the fingers behind it) will strengthen your pinky and make it more useful in general).

After FRETTING the pair of notes the first four times, if you don't trust your ears to hit the target note in-pitch during the bent part of the exercise, what you can do is RECORD the ENTIRE exercise with all the notes FRETTED (none bent). This gives you a recorded template to work along with, and ionce you have that, you go back and play along with your tape -- the first four of each fretted and the next four bent

What this exercise does is that it really IMPLANTS the correct pitch in your ears and the correct muscle memory in your fingers to do your bends in pitch all over the neck. Do this a 20-30 minutes every practice day for a month and you'll probably have it down cold. It's boring, but it's going to really improve your intonation and your overall control.

Get it?

As a beginner, I tended to bend flat (which I think is more common than bending sharp for beginners).  This exercise cured me of that, but note that even once you master your pitch, playing at very loud volumes can effect your ability to correctly hit your pitch. And even for the pros. For example, every now and then you'll hear Sykes' vibrato a bit flat on a live recording.  It's not that he doesn't have good ears or good control, but because when you blast away on stage for a while at concert volumes, it's easy to get some ear fatigue, and you may, for example, lose some of your ability to hear highs.  And this can effect your ability to hear/hit the target pitch.

 

 

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