Axeology w/ Sav Izzi

Sav Izzi
5 min readApr 3, 2019

The Art of Bending

In this installment of Axeology, I would like to talk about one of the most identifiable techniques synonymous with guitar. The string bend. There is an emotional vocal like quality when bending notes on a guitar. When done right it instantly draws the listener’s attention to what you are playing. Creating a connection between you and the listener that keeps their interest and wanting to hear more. When done wrong it sounds like you are out of tune, playing out of key, or are an unskilled player. So let’s talk about the right way to hit your string bends and perfect the art of bending.

I can recall as a novice player attempting this technique. I was a finger bender. In short, I would attempt to play a lick and hit a half step or whole step bend. I would fret the note and push the string up with my finger. The result would be either me unfretting the note during the bend or the note weakly changing in pitch but never quite reaching its target note.

Fret Hand Placement

The first place I would start when working on bending is simply playing a note. Fret a note and pick it cleanly (Ex.1). Make sure you can hear the note ring out. If you are muting your notes or playing them staccato you will not be able to execute a bend on that note. This is because when you bend a note you are raising its pitch anywhere from a ¼ step to 2 whole steps from its original pitch. So proper note execution is a crucial prerequisite to developing great string bend technique. The next thing you want to do is play the note right next to it. Same string just one ½ step higher on the fretboard (Ex.1a). Listen to the change in pitch between notes. The 2nd note is the pitch you want to bend to. You can always check your bend intonation this way.

Now for the bend. Let’s play a ½ step bend on the G string. Fret a note with your ring finger, let’s say the note D# on the 8th fret of the G string. Use your index and middle fingers to fret the 6th and 7th fret of the same string (Ex 2).

Laying your fingers this way supports the bending finger. In this case the ring finger. The next thing you want to do is take your thumb of your fret hand and hook it around the neck of the guitar, as shown (Ex.2a). A common mistake beginners make is try to bend with only their fingers. However, the key to executing a great bend on guitar is using the wrist of your fret hand. That is where your power comes from and allows you to reach the correct pitch(E) you are bending to. This allows the necessary ulnar deviation of the wrist to effectively play string bends on the guitar(Ex. 3, Ex. 3a).

Blues Bend Example

Now that we have the form down let’s try a blues lick in A utilizing a ring finger bend (Ex. 4). Remember to use the other fingers of the fret hand to support the bend and use your wrist.

Ex. 4

Share the Love

Now that we are comfortable bending with our ring finger we can practice using the other fingers of the fret hand. This next example (Ex. 5) is a blues motif that incorporates a ¼ step bend with the 1st finger of the fret hand.

Ex. 5

Classic Lick

This next example is an Em pentatonic classic rock lick popularized by players like Jimi Hendrix (Ex. 6).

It starts with a whole step bend on the G string of the 14th fret using the 2nd finger of the fret hand. From there play the notes on the B and high E strings at the 12th fret. Then play a pull-off from the 15th to the 12th fret of the B string using the 3rd and 1st fingers of the fret hand. Repeat to your heart’s content.

Ex. 6

Rocking Out

The following is a short solo over an E groove(Ex. 7). It includes a variety of different bends. Including unison bends. Unison bends involve 2 strings. For example, in Bar 1, the notes D and E are played on the B and high E strings on the 12th and 15th frets. Play both strings and bend only the note D up a whole step. The resulting pitch is E which is the same as the note fretted on the high E string. These take some time to learn but are well worth it. They instantly add some dynamic punch to your playing and are a great way to begin or end a solo.

Ex.7

Next month we will shake things up and talk about how to lay down a groove with our rhythm playing.

Sav Izzi is a guitar instructor, songwriter, and musician based in Chicago, IL. He currently performs with the Chicago funk, rock, and soul group BabyBrutha. His debut album The Mad Chill Sessions will be released later this year. For column questions and music related inquiries contact: savizzimusic@gmail.com

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Sav Izzi

Sav Izzi is a guitar instructor, songwriter, and musician based in Chicago, IL. He currently performs with the Chicago funk, rock, and soul group BabyBrutha.