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Blues Guitar Lessons: String Bending

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I don't know about you, but
the first time I ever picked
up an electric guitar,
the first thing I did was I went.
I just wanted to bend that string so bad.
Because when you're playing an acoustic,
that fights you every step of the way.
And I think I was in a music store,
I can remember this.
I was at a music store and
there was a Telecaster.
Not this one, but
another one sitting there.
I picked it up and bent that string.
Man, yeah, that's the sound right there.
I didn't know what I was doing but
I just knew that I liked that effect.
It's so guitar and it's so expressive.
So let's talk about string bending.
I would imagine that if you've been
playing the guitar like I was,
you know, for more than ten minutes you've
probably already been bending strings.
So we're just going to talk about
kind of refining your technique and
how to incorporate your
technique into a blues style and
of course use it within
the context of the 12-bar.
What about bending technique, well there's
two ways to bend, the third string.
For starters, we're gonna.
[SOUND] I can bend it by
pushing it toward the ceiling.
[SOUND] Or, I can bend it by
pulling it down toward the floor.
Now, the choice is really
a matter of context.
How does that help me get into
the note and out of the note?
In and of itself, they're the same, but
it will make a difference depending on
how you incorporate it into a phrase.
We'll look at it and
see how that works in context.
But in both cases,
I'm using supportive fingering.
In other words,
I'm using three fingers on the string.
And [SOUND], when I bend the pitch up,
we're talking about
a whole step bend here.
Now we've done the half step, or
actually I shouldn't say the half step,
the quarter tone.
[SOUND] There's no real
difference in the technique,
it's just a matter of degrees,
you just push it further.
But when I bend the whole step,
I'm not just bending sort of wherever.
I'm bending to match a pitch.
So the first step in
learning to bend accurately
is to know where are you bending to?
What's your destination?
If I'm gonna bend from the fourth
note of the scale to the fifth,
which is probably the most common whole
step bend, then what I do is I play
the fourth [SOUND], I play the fifth
[SOUND], and then I use all three
fingers behind that note on the fourth
degree there on the third string.
[SOUND] And I push that note up until I
think I've matched it, then I check it.
I want to hit that note spot on.
[SOUND] It's irritating
when you hear somebody go.
[SOUND] Just like no, no, no.
That's just out of tune.
Now bending to a blue
note is not out of tune.
[SOUND] That's delivery.
Bending a whole step, that's deliberate.
But, [SOUND] that's not delivery.
That's just sloppy, right.
So have your pitch distinctly in mind, so
from the fourth degree to
the fifth degree, a whole step in.
I can pull it down.
[SOUND] Just have to be careful.
[SOUND] Now in both cases,
you notice that my thumb is hanging
over the top of the neck, and
as a rule, that's where the thumb
lies in blues technique.
What that does also is anchor my hand.
It gives me a fulcrum against
which to bend that note.
So it's difficult to bend accurately
when your thumb is behind the neck.
I'm not saying you can't,
I'm just saying it's more difficult
than having your thumb over.
So I'm gonna use my thumb over
the top all the time when I bend.
So, from the [SOUND] fourth to the fifth.
[SOUND] The next one, very common bend
from the seventh [SOUND] to the eighth.
[SOUND] Now depending on your string
gauge that can be a tough one.
I've got 11s on here.
My second string, I think, is a 13.
I don't know.
I should look at the package [LAUGH].
It's not a particularly stiff string, but
in the context of the other strings it
has a little resistance to it,
which I like personally.
But I have to really
push that note up there.
It takes some strength.
I have to have all three fingers there.
Now talk about your calluses,
you've been playing for a while now.
We've been going through
a bunch of lessons here.
If your calluses have not built up,
this is when they're gonna get built up.
There will be some pain involved,
no doubt.
I've got grooves in my fingers just
from doing what we just did here.
But fortunately,
my calluses are there to help cushion it.
So, just consider that to be a fact of
life, but I finger the string normally,
as if I'm just fingering it in a passage.
[SOUND] But I push it up.
Now, here's another very
important part of string bending.
When I push that note up
towards the ceiling [SOUND],
what happens to the next string over,
the third string?
Well, I'm actually pushing it to the side,
out of the way.
there's a slight gap under my finger
between the third string and
the second string.
So as I push,
I don't gather the two strings together so
that they're [SOUND] like that.
That gives me a sound that
I don't want to hear.
So I [SOUND] put my finger down.
I sorta rock my finger
as I push the string up.
Maintain that little gap there.
So that I don't hear the third
string as part of the bend.
And at the same time, in my picking hand,
I keep the heel of my hand down so
I mute the strings as I release.
[SOUND] And I [SOUND] don't hear any
extra noise coming from open strings or
any notes other than the note
I'm actually bending.
[SOUND] [SOUND] So I find my pitch.
[SOUND] I put all three
fingers on the note.
[SOUND] I bend carefully to be sure
that I don't capture an extra note or
an extra string under my finger.
I mute with the right hand.
that's the essence of string bending.
And using it in context is just
doing that exact thing more quickly.
Now the other common string bend that
you find, there's the four to the fifth.
[SOUND] The seventh to the octave.
[SOUND] There's the third to the fourth.
[SOUND] Right?
Again, you check your pitch, bending from
the eighth fret here up to tenth fret.
[SOUND] That's a tricky note, right?
It takes a lot of strength [SOUND]
to bend that note right up to pitch.
Now it's common when you bend that
you don't necessarily bend every
note exactly the same all the time.
In other words.
[SOUND] Alright, now that sounds
like [SOUND] a whole step bend, but
it really wasn't.
That was a blue note [SOUND] because
I followed the seventh [SOUND]
with the octave, the combination sounded
very similar to a whole step bend,
but if I do a whole step bend [SOUND]
I have to be sure that I'm spot on.
So normally in a phrase you'll hear
a combination of blue notes combined
with a next note up in pitch and
then actual whole step in.
What we're going for now is,
is get that whole step bend accurate and
consistent so that you can count on it.
Now there's one other bend I want
to mention before we get down to
application here and that's bending
also from the third degree of the scale.
[SOUND] There it is on the first string.
Bending that same note
on the third string.
[SOUND] Now there I have
to shift out of position.
I'm using my third finger to play A,
the root or the tonic.
[SOUND] And then I use my first and
second fingers together.
I don't want to bend the whole
step with one finger.
It's not gonna work very well,
so I use two fingers there.
[SOUND] And the third string is a little
easier to bend then the others.
And I used a little
vibrato there which I'll
show you in a minute.
Now in terms of application, it's very
common to combine bends with pull offs.
And I just did that actually,
in the context of those phrases.
So I bend it a whole step.
[SOUND] Release the bend, just let
it come back to the original pitch.
[SOUND] And then pull off with the finger.
[SOUND] Doing the same
thing on the second string.
First string.
Now when I'm bending on the first and
second strings I'm reaching up that
extra fret to have the strength.
then I have to reach back down.
It's a stretch to my index
finger to do the pull off.
That takes some practice.
But the idea there is you're
creating a legato phrase,
the notes flow from one to the other.
There's no break in the melody.
All right, so
we've got the basic techniques.
Now let's put them to work.
And we'll do a little call and
response here using bends like
we did with the blue notes.
And I'll play a phrase
that includes a bend.
And you play the phrase back at me and
you can listen to this thing over and
over again and
kind of capture the details of it.
So we're playing in tempo now in the key
of A over this shuffle rhythm track and
that's going to prepare
us to go to the next step
which is to use bends over the 12-bar.
Here we go, one chord shuffle.
Okay, a little smorgasbord
of string bends there.
Now one technique I'm using quite
a bit is the string bend [SOUND] and
you bend to the same pitch as
the fretted note on the adjacent string.
In other words, I bend from
the fourth to the fifth [SOUND] and
then play the same note on the second
strings [SOUND] and often combine that.
T-Bone Walker, who was the guy that
really wrote the book on
electric guitar blues
back in the 40s,
would use a lick like this.
Notice that?
That was kind of his trademark.
Chuck Berry stole that one and
used it as one of his key licks as well.
[SOUND] Now there the only difference
is that you bend the note,
and then you mute it by
bringing your thumb back down.
You pick the note [SOUND] and then bring
the thumb back down to mute that same
string so
it makes it a little bit more rhythmic.
[SOUND] We'll take a little bit
of a look at T-Bone's style
later on in the context of jump blues and
examine that technique more.
But that's sort of a basic picking
technique, [SOUND] the adjacent string.
So the next thing to do is to put this to
work in the context of a 12-bar, and for
that purpose I've got a track
queued up here in the key of G.
Now why the heck are we changing keys?
Well you want to get comfortable in all
keys and certainly G is a very common key,
of course, everybody is going to want to
play blues in that key at some point.
The techniques are the same.
And by moving them down two
frets you do all the same stuff.
I want to get you out of
the habit of always thinking in A.
We tend to do that as guitar players.
That's our home key, but we're going to
do the same techniques I just showed you,
same bands and all that,
in the context of a 12-bar blues in G.
Let's give it a shot.
Now I used pretty much the same exact
techniques we went over earlier.
You've got a
There's a bend to the adjacent strings.
The pull off.
Now that one,
the trick there is that it's the stretch.
[SOUND] And then roll the finger over.
Reach way up for
that bend.
Now, there I bend the third string
[SOUND] and reach up to the first string.
you get
the idea.
They're all kind of variations on a theme.
Whole step bends, the blue note bends.
And by the way, there's no law that says
you can't combine bends with slides.
As you develop a style,
each of these techniques kinda
takes a place in your vocabulary.
Some players prefer to
slide rather than bend.
In fact there's a school of players
that are the real old school
blues guitar guys, they dress like they're
in the 40s, baggy suits and all that.
Refuse to bend a string, dang it!
They didn't do that back in the day.
Then there are other players who
are so-called string stretchers,
who will bend that string
as far as it'll go.
There are kind of different
schools of blues guitar playing.
And they are all great
if they're done well.
So your choices, how much do you
like to incorporate that thing.
Don't think of it as a technique,
think of it as an expression.
In a way of expressing the note.
Okay, so now you've got some
stuff to chew on there,
working on those whole step bands.
Integrating them in to the pattern.
And into the 12-bar, so go ahead and
work on that and come back and
we'll talk some more.
Now I wanna add to the string bending
vocabulary with a couple of variations
that you hear from time to time.
They're a little bit more specialized, but
they add to the kind of the range of your
bending skill and the sounds as well.
The first one is called a pre-bend.
A pre-bend is when you bend
the string before you pick it.
Now, with our string bending so
far, I've said,
find the note you wanna bend
the string to match the pitch.
[SOUND] So you're kind of finding that
note by working your way up to it.
And over time, of course,
you get very accurate with that.
Pre-bending kind of takes it to
another level because it says, okay,
find your pitch.
Now, bend the string,
[SOUND] without picking it.
In other words, you have to bend
that note to pitch by feel.
And that's a little trickier,
because you have to know exactly
how much pressure is required.
It's gonna be specific to your guitar,
your touch, the strings you have.
If you change to a different instrument,
use different strings,
it all changes along with it, right?
So, you have to really
develop a sensitive feel for
exactly how your guitar
feels under your fingers.
But this is a technique actually that
I probably first was aware of when I
heard Hendrix, who by the way I
consider to be a blues guitar player.
Who just put his playing in
a radically different context, but
really was playing straight
up blues almost all the time.
And on the, I think it was
All Along the Watchtower, he went.
So, he used
a combination of bending
skills there where.
[SOUND] Right?
That's a pre-bend.
Now, what makes that different from
a normal bend is normally you would hear
the note go up.
Right, you hear it rise and fall in pitch.
But the prebend.
what that gives you is just
a slightly different quality.
We're talking subtleties here, but
that's what blues phrasing is all about.
It's all about detail,
it's all about subtleties.
And every detail changes
the story just slightly.
And when you add up all those details,
that becomes your sound and your style.
That's what makes you sound like you,
So, each minuscule detail is
something that we need to examine.
So, the basic idea is what I described.
You pick your pitch.
[SOUND] And then you bend that string and
say, I think that's about right.
[SOUND] Too far.
[SOUND] Closer.
[SOUND] Too flat.
I got it.
Now, once you've been
able to find that pitch.
[SOUND] Then, you create the effect.
And by bending it,
[SOUND] and releasing it.
It creates a kind of rubbery sound.
That's how I think of it.
Just a different quality on the bend, so
think of that as a variation that
you can apply to any of the bends.
Now, combined with that is the technique
of pre-bending, and then, letting the note
bend on the way, or release I should say,
on the way back down, like this.
This is a technique that you would hear in
Albert King, one of the great
string benders of all time.
And what it does is make the note cry.
I mean you feel that right away.
All right.
Again, I'm using my finger and that's
because Albert King played with his bare
fingers, and
it really gives you the Albert King sound.
So there, I'm bending up a whole step.
[SOUND] Pre-bending, and then.
And each time I pre-bend back to
that note, then hit it and release it.
Prebend, hit it, and release it, and
it just gives it that kind of
crying quality which is very cool.
Now, we've already looked at,
[SOUND] using the first and
second finger to bend on the third string,
up a whole step.
So, within that position, we've covered
most of standard whole step bends.
You can bend more than a whole step,
of course.
We'll look at that in some
detail a little bit later on.
You can bend half steps.
Just think of bending as a different
way of expressing a note,
which otherwise,
you could just pick and move on.
But the bending gives
it a different quality.
Let's do a little call and
response with pre-bending,
and some of the other effects.
And see how that sounds in context.
Now, I did a couple of things in there.
[SOUND] Something like that.
That's what I call a compound bend.
What I actually did there was,
[SOUND] bent the third string at the fifth
fret with two fingers, of course.
[SOUND] Pre-bent it up a whole step.
then I reach over with my third finger and
continued the bend like this.
That's a tricky
little number right there.
We're gonna see that later on
in a different context, but
that's a way of creating
the effect of a much wider bend.
So, basically there you have a cross
section of kind of standard and
some non-standard technique for
string bending that
you can build into your phrasing and
use pretty much where you like.
So, I'll leave it up to you to
put that to work over a 12 bar,
same basic rules as all the other
techniques that we've talked about.
You play your same two bar phrases,
you breathe, you know you vocalize.
And now, you build those bending
techniques into the mix there, and
you can come up with a really
wide variety of expressions.