String bends on the electric guitar: pulling strings like a pro

Mirco Sontag
Mirco Sontag

Guitar teacher

Last update: 19.07.2021

Anyone who has seen Steve Vai in ‘Crossroads’ knows the legendary scene in which he defeats his opponent by bending into the 29th fret.
We will tell you all you need to know about this technique and how you can amaze your audience with string bends.

Bending is explained in the video

Reading very long text is not for you? No problem – in the following video we’ll explain to you what bending on the guitar is all about.

What does bending mean?

Bending is a playing technique that is mostly used on the electric guitar. You strike a guitar string and bend it up or down.

Changing the tension of the string alters the pitch and intentionally produces an unclean sound. Nevertheless, bending requires precision.

This technique is often used in the rock or blues genre

How does one pull the strings correctly?

  1. Put the fingers of your gripping hand in a slightly slanted position on the fingerboard

  2. Unlike usual, place your thumb over the fretboard

  3. The index finger slightly touches the other strings to mute them

  4. Pluck a string

  5. The middle finger and ring finger pull the string up or down on the corresponding fret

  6. The pulling is done from your wrist – keep your fingers in position

Tip: Whether you pull the strings up or down – the pitch is always raised.

What types of bending are there?

There are different ways to apply this technique. You should already know what half steps are – the following two examples illustrate the differences:

  • Semitone bend: The distance between the starting pitch and the next fret on the same string is a halftone

  • Ganzton-Bending: The distance between the starting pitch and the next but one fret on the same string is a whole tone

The following types of string pulling have become established:

Simple Bend
With a simple bend, you first pluck a string and then bend it down.

Released Bend
The Released Bend is played by bending the string down and then plucking it.
When the string is released again the pitch is lowered.

Smear Bend
With a Smear Bend – as the name suggests – the notes sound washed-out/smudged.
Pull a string at the pitch of the note that follows the bending – it is located on the next higher string.

Unison Bend
Play a Unison Bend by plucking two strings simultaneously and bending one string by two semitones.

How to detect a string bend in tablature

A bend is represented in the tablature by a ‘b’.
If the string needs to be pulled in the fourth fret to reach the target tone in the fifth fret (semitone bending), the notation looks as follows:

6 tips to improve your string bending and making it easier

1) Of course you can use any finger for bending. If you use both the ring and middle fingers to pull the strings, you will have a lot more strength.

2) Avoid nasty background noise. Other strings like to slide under the pulled one. Mute the remaining strings with your index finger by touching them lightly (do not press them!).

3) Place your thumb over the edge of the fretboard. This creates a fist whilst bending. Due to the counter-pressure of the thumb, you will need less force to pull the strings.

4) Listen to the target note first. This way you can check the intonation when you bend.

5) Finish the bend in style. Otherwise, the playing technique will quickly make your guitar sound crooked or out of tune. “Brake” the sound before you take the pressure off the string. Another fancy option: Go from a bend into a vibrato.

6) Use thin gauge guitar strings. The thicker the string, the more power you need for bending

Exercise to perfect your bending technique

Bending requires precision. The following exercise will help you to hit the target note correctly and bend perfectly.

  1. Play the target note of the bend.

  2. Now execute the corresponding bend.

  3. Nun spiele das entsprechende Bending dazu.

  4. Switch between two notes played cleanly and the corresponding bend – back and forth until your bending sounds perfect.

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