Bends: What Goes Up Must Not Come Down

by Jamie Andreas

Here is another technical problem I find myself constantly correcting with students, and so I offer it here since I assume it must be widespread. It reminds us how complex the most seemingly simple actions are on the guitar (if we want to sound good, that is!).

This problem involves a string bend in a very common kind of move found often in playing. The move is a bend done on a string, followed by a note on the next higher string. The sound of the bent note is stopped right before it reaches the pitch of the note to be struck on the next string, and then the note on the next string is struck.

So, for example, we play an A (14th fret) on the 3rd string, begin to bend it to a B, and right before it reaches that pitch, we stop the bend and strike the B as a plain note on the next string. When done right, it sounds like this...... Bend to Plain Note (good)

When done wrong, it sounds like this....Bend to Plain Note (bad).

Can you hear the difference? Can you hear what is "bad" about the bad example?

If you listen closely, you will hear that, right before the plain note is struck, the pitch of the bend comes down after it goes up. It should not do this, it should stay where it was, almost at the pitch of B, and then cut off as the B is sounded on the next string. Almost all students first learning bends make this mistake of letting the pitch of the bend drop, and they make the mistake because of the same technical reason.

What Goes Up Must Not Come Down

The reason is that when the string is first bent there are 3 fingers doing the bend, fingers 1, 2 and 3. But then, the 1st finger must lift off the 3rd string, and move over to the 2nd string, causing an immediate drop of pressure on the bent string. Good players instinctively increase pressure with the two remaining fingers slightly to make up the difference and keep the pitch from dropping. Developing players tend to not notice the change in pitch because they are too busy trying to bend the string in the first place! This is one of the many reasons I am always telling you to record yourself as you practice!

Often, the "bend-plain note" combination is repeated over and over, in which case the 1st finger stays on the plain note, and the bend is done over and over with only fingers 2 & 3. Students will drop the pitch of the bend here also if they are not listening and paying attention. It is very possible, if you are making this mistake, that you are not very aware of it. You, (and your teacher), may simply say, "hmmm, that bend doesn't sound too good". So, check your playing for this problem.

Cutting Off The Sound

Students often have trouble cutting off the sound of the bend cleanly before striking the note on the next string. To accomplish this, use a combination of 2 methods. The first is to let the bending fingers off gently from the string at the moment you strike the plain note. Don't pull at the string as you release. Be aware of lifting the fingers slightly upward as you come off. In addition to this, make sure that you are using the side of the palm of the pick hand to touch the strings down near the bridge. This skill of sting muting is vital for electric players, and must be cultivated. (A special lesson with exercises on developing String Muting is available in the Newsletter Archives, Volume 128, Nov 2.)

Copyright 2005 Jamie Andreas.

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