A lot of work goes into learning how to bend notes. For quite a while the attention goes into moving your wrist correctly so you have there leverage to bend.
For a while it appears this is simply a physical exercise. This is just phase 1. Once you’ve acquired the physical ability to bend it’s time to get deep into accuracy of bends.
Slight of Hand
Often people tend to look at bends as muscle memory and for obvious reasons. Most have spent so much time building up the physical ability to do bends that it foreshadows the most important part of bending.
Let’s get deeper into this topic. Over time you may have developed an ability to estimate how much you have to bend to reach a whole note.
No mater how much muscle memory you gain, you’re going to hit a snag. This is because bends aren’t always uniform depending on wherever you are on the guitar and tuning.
Does that mean it’s hopeless to ever be able to bend in tune all over the neck? No. It means we have to develop what could be our most important sense for music…HEARING.
The best players don’t just bend a note and hope for the best. It’s not a hail mary. They think about what kind of bend they’re playing. Is it a half step bend? A whole step bend? A minor 3rd bend?
When they bend they listen to hear when thy’ve reached the desired bend interval. That means you have to be paying attention with your ears not with your eyes or muscles in your hand.
That’s nice Mr. Smarypants, but how does one acquire these skills?
Here is an effective exercise to develop the skill of accurate bends.
Tools of the Trade
The first thing you need is a way to loop or sustain a note indefinitely. One of my favorites are the Electro Harmonix Freeze Pedal which allows you to play a note and grab it. It pretty much adds infinite sustain to a note or chard that you “capture”.
The Boss RC30 Loopstation (or similar loop pedal) will allow you to record a sustained note and repeat it over and over.
For those of you technology types out there: I use an app called iTabla for iPhone and iPad. There are options to select drones either on a tambour or harmonium.
Working Class Hero
We will arts with picking a note. Let’s say it an E note. Either freeze, record or set the drone to play an E note.
Now, we’re going to bend into an E note. Let’s start with a half step bend.
There is an E note on the 3rd string at fret 9. This means we would bend into fret 9 from fret 8. That’s one fret below the E note.
The key here is to listen to when the notes match. Forget about what your muscles are telling you. Stop when the notes meet and let the notes hang together.
Try this on different strings in different positions. How about the B string? There is an E note at fret 5 and fret 17.
Once you feel good about half steps it’s time to move onto whole steps. Let’s keep our minds on the E note for purposes of this lesson.
For a whole step bend you would have to start the bend two frets below the desired destination. Doesn’t that sound like nice vacation lingo?
Again, you should listen and stop when the note you play matches the frozen note, loop or drone.
Future is Bright
You can continue this exercise for more intervals as well. Give a minor 3rd a go. Always bend into the note that’s recorded.
Too many people practice bending without a matching ending note. They’re trusting their untrained ears to confirm it’s accuracy. Now, this may be the New Yorker in me, but I say trust nobody. Especially those shady little fingers.
You see, the accuracy of bending a note mainly relies on your ear training. You will be able to make bends more musical if you can control their exact pitch.
Learning guitar is a lot of small achievements that stack on top of one another. We must always keep that in mind. The point of these exercises is not to burn yourself out.
It will take time. Be ok with that. Slow and steady is better then a furry into burnout.
I suggest working on these exercises 5-10 minus a day. Doesn’t sound like a lot right? It’s better to have 5-10 minutes of focused practice then 30 minutes of distractions. A large part of these exercises is listening. Keep your ears fresh.
for more assistance on bending notes