The Proper Shape of a Bend

by Jamie Andreas

One of the things that seems to always need to be corrected in electric guitar students is the sound of their bends. To fix that, the first thing we have be clear on is the physical aspect of how to bend, the proper use of the forearm-wrist-finger as a unit to transfer force to the string, as opposed to what is usually being done, which is to use the finger alone to "push" the string. (this is explained here........)

Even after the physical aspect is set right, it is still common for a student to have a bad sounding bend, and the reason is a combination of not listening to the sound they are making, and not having a clear enough idea of what that sound should be.

Beginners, and many long time players who are really still "beginners", always focus on just pushing the string. They think that if they just push that string when they bend, they have done their job, they can punch out and go home! They do not hang around to actually listen to the sound they have made! And most importantly, they do not mentally imagine and hear the sound before they move their fingers. They just move the fingers! It is the "Hail Mary" approach, move the fingers and pray everything turns out all right!

We cannot practice this way, without the proper Intention. It is as if I were to reach my finger to push a button, and instead of very purposefully directing my finger to the button to make sure I accurately touched and pushed it, I just stick out my hand in the general direction of the button and hope for the best! We cannot be mentally absent at any moment during playing.

After this subtle mental behavior is identified in the student, we move on to understanding what is wrong in the sound, and how to correct it. When a student just "pushes" at a string in their attempt to play a bend, the result is a very quick, bad sounding bend. The purpose of a bend is to cause a very pleasurable change in the pitch of a note without an attack to the string for the second note. So, we hit the string to sound our first note, we let that initial pitch linger for a brief instant, and then begin to raise the pitch at an even rate until the ending pitch is reached at the right moment in time. The process looks like this.....

Listen to a bend done with the WRONG SHAPE................................Listen to a bend done with the RIGHT SHAPE

Of course, in music, there is no ultimate right and wrong, sometimes someone might want the clipped sound of the "wrong" shape, and there is no arguing with that. But most of the time, the bend is done with a curved shape, and in any case, playing the guitar is all about knowing what you want, knowing how to get it, and knowing if you DO get it!

Copyright 2005 Jamie Andreas.

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