Guitar Bend Technique Overview | Hub Guitar

Guitar Bend Technique Overview

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Hi, this is Hub Guitar.

Let's talk about the guitar bend.

This technique is extremely popular in blues and rock, but it fits in most styles well enough. You won't hear very much in classical or jazz though. Keep that in mind.

Let's try a few examples of bending. We'll start on the third string, on fret VII. This is a D note. We'll bend up a half-step. I can do that with any one of my four fingers.

Now let's see how far we can bend. For this, we'll use the B string as the higher strings require less strength to bend. Let's fret "A" on the X fret of the B string, and bend it up different amounts.

Notice that bending really messed up my tuning. I actually have to retune the string after if I bend it too much. Some rock guitar players who really like to bend will actually use special hardware to clamp the string in place and prevent it from going out of tune. The rest of us just have to cope.

One more idea: let's do a guitar lick with a small bend, and then move it down by half-step and repeat. This might help you understand that the string has different amounts of tension between its different points. It's stretched between these two points, and the tension on the string is higher as it gets towards the end. So as we do this lick, the amount of strength needed to bend the note will change. That's why we want to always follow what our ear tells us. We want to push the note up a half-step. We don't care how far we're pushing the string; we'll push the string until the note's pitch has reached the one we want to play.

Practicing bends can really bite into your fingers and condition the skin on the fingertips, as well as help you develop strength and even improve your ear.

How to Bend Strings

The guitar bend is a technique used to manipulate single-note lines on a single string. A bend occurs when a note is played, and then the string is pulled, tightening the string and making the note higher in pitch than the first note played. A bend can be executed on any string, with any finger. Most bends change the pitch by one half step or one whole step. However, bends as wide as a perfect fourth or higher are possible. Bends are easier to execute on lighter strings, using a whammy barA whammy bar is a mechanical device found on an electric guitar that allows the player to pull a lever that lifting or lowers the bridge, resulting in a pitch that is higher or lower., or on an electric guitar.

Different Types of Bend

Let’s examine a few bends by using the “A” on fret X of the B string up a whole step to the “B” at fret XII.

Bend Up

    First, there’s the bend up. The note “A” is plucked, and then it bends up to “B”, and is allowed to continue ringing. The new note, “B” either decays away and fades, or is stopped with a picking hand mute.

Bend and Release

    Next, there’s the bend and release. The note “A” is plucked, and then it bends up to “B”, is allowed to ring momentarily, and then is released back down until the note “A” is ringing once more.


    Finally, there’s the pre-bend or ghost bend. The note “A” bends to the note “B” before it is plucked. Then it’s plucked and released down to “A”.

There are other bend techniques, but these are the three that are most common. The exercises below will help you master them. If you are playing an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar with heavy strings, you may find some bends difficult.

Bending Techniques

We have several factors to consider when practicing a bend technique.

We want to be sure we have sufficient force to comfortably pull the string enough for it to reach the intended pitch. The force is related both to the leverage we have in gripping the string and to the number of fingers we use to bend it. If we use one finger we have the most leverage but the least finger strength. Using all four would result in the most strength but the least leverage. Most bends can be played comfortably with two or three fingers.

In addition, we will also likely choose a bend technique partly just based on position, or whichever finger is nearest to the note that will be fretted for the bend.

One Finger Bend

    Many bends can be comfortably accomplished with one finger.

    The ideal finger to use would be the index finger. To accomplish this bend, we'll want to rotate the wrist outward while holding the string with the index finger.

    Note that the bending finger may be able to slide under the neighboring strings to complete the bend.

Two Finger Bend

    Another great technique is a two-finger bend. Using the second and third finger to bend the note, we can use the index finger to mute across all of the strings behind the bend. This lets us focus on executing a clear bend without worrying about noise from the other strings. It also means we can use the pick to attack all of the strings because only the one with the bend note will be able to ring.

Three Finger Bend

    Using three fingers will give you maximum strength and require the least leverage or wrist motion.

Bending Exercises

Exercise #1 – Improving finger strength

Fret the third string at the VIIth fret with your first finger. Pluck the note, bend a half step. The resulting note should match the note at the VIIIth fret of the same string.

Now, put your first finger down on the VIth fret and execute the same bend using your second finger, with the added support of your first finger. Put your first finger on the Vth fret, your second finger on the VIth fret, and your third finger on the VIIth fret, and repeat the note again, this time with two extra fingers.

Do this one last time with your pinky on the VIIth fret and all three remaining fingers supporting the bend. Use the combined strength of all of your fingers to execute the bend. Which combination of fingers feels the most comfortable? To a point, adding fingers gives you more strength, but it also reduces your leverage. Two to three fingers is ideal in many cases.

Exercise #2 – Interval accuracy

Using your third finger, fret the “A” on fret X of the B string. Pluck the note, bend a half step to A♯, then release. Pluck it again, and bend a whole step to B, then release. Bend once more to C. Bend again to C♯. If you’re feeling lucky, try to bend it to D—or even higher. Be careful not to break the string.

Exercise #3 – Accuracy in all positions

Play the following lick at fret XII. Move down to fret XI and play the same lick. Continue until you’ve reached the Ist fret. Since the amount of force needed to produce a half step bend changes depending on what fret you’re on, this exercise will help you to develop accuracy no matter what note you’re bending. Once you’ve done this, replace the half step bend with a whole step bend and repeat.

This exercise will help you learn to bend by following your ear.

Exercise Notation

Half Step Bend

Repeat the half-step bend exercise, continuing down one fret each time until you’ve reached the IIIrd fret and the exercise can’t go any lower.

Whole Step Bend

Repeat the whole-step bend exercise, continuing down one fret each time.

Key Results

  1. Be able to recognize the bends you hear in music, including whether they go up, down or both.
  2. Be able to reproduce the bend you hear.
  3. Be able to use bending in your improvisation to add emphasis and interest.
As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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