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Blues Guitar Lessons: Big Bends

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Now, I'm gonna come back to a subject that
is near dear my heart as it is most
blues guitar players since the 1960s,
and that's the subject of Albert King.
He was one of the most influential
electric blues players of his generation.
And subsequently he had such
an influence on everybody else,
Cleft and Hendrix and
profoundly on Stevie Ray Von.
That it's hard to play blues without
using some of his ideas even if
you've never really heard of any of his
music, which you definitely should.
But we're gonna isolate one
particular technique that he used.
Which it wasn't that he invented it, but
he refined it to such
a point that it was his.
He owned it, and we're talking about big,
big string bands.
Now so
far we've talked about bending the string,
a whole step and
we bent the string a quarter tone [SOUND].
You know the whole step [SOUND].
All common stuff.
We do that every day.
The half step is somewhere in there.
But what happens when you
go beyond a whole step?
You really have to start
to wrench that string hard.
And what Albert did, he was left handed,
he flipped the guitar over
without restringing it.
He was pulling down towards the floor.
He was a big guy.
He was 6'4", 220 lbs.
Probably, that was his fighting weight.
Went up from there.
Big, powerful man.
And ironically, he used skinny strings.
You know, the Blues mythology
is you got to have the giant
strings on there to be any good.
But he used skinny strings.
He also tuned below pitch so there really
was not much tension on that guitar, but
what he did was developed
the ability to bend exactly in tune.
He made that one note sound so expressive.
And if you watch him, you will never
figure out how he's playing cuz
he used an open tuning,
it's upside down, it's just forget it.
But you hear the sound and
that's what we are after,
is how do we capture that quality?
So, I'm gonna give you an exercise.
This is not the result, but
this is a process to get to the result.
And it will help you sort of understand
what goes into playing the Albert King
style sound that so many people do.
So, in order to do this we're gonna
break out of our pattern here.
I'm in the key of A [SOUND].
Normally, our entire universe is
contained within just a few frets there.
We're not moving out of that position yet.
We will soon.
But in order to play
the Albert King style sound.
Now what he would do is he would just
be in that position more or less.
And [SOUND] I'm bending
it as far as I can and
I'm not making it, right?
That's the dilemma that all of us who
play normally tuned guitars have is like,
how do I get that note all
the way up from there to [SOUND]
there without breaking a string or
breaking my finger.
Well, here is one solution.
Instead of playing A on the first string,
play A on the second
string at the tenth fret.
Now, this is a reference point.
Put your first finger on that note,
that's A.
That is our tonic that tells
us what key we are in.
Now, all the bending that I'm gonna
do is gonna be with my third finger.
And in order to do these bends well,
I have to absolutely use my second and
first fingers behind it [SOUND].
Now what I'm gonna do is
bend from the 13th fret,
which is where my finger's located.
Up to the equivalent of the 17th fret.
That's two whole steps.
Now, that could be just a brutal bend,
depending on how comfortable you are.
The strength that you have.
The type of strings you have on your
guitar, the action, everything else.
Or it could be within reach.
On most guitars, that's within reach.
You just have to really want it and that's
what we're gonna do is go after that note.
All right.
So the third finger is on
the second string at the 13th fret.
Now what I'm gonna do,
this is the exercise part.
I want to bend that string as if I'm
playing up the neck, one fret at a time.
So, if I actually do that,
I can hear it [SOUND].
Okay, now bending [SOUND]
there's my first fret.
There's the next one,
try to keep it in tune,
there's the next one,
now we're going for it [SOUND] Whoo!
Now come back down [SOUND] Whoo!
And finally, return to pitch.
And then, put some ice on your fingers.
But what I did there was bend
up in half steps [SOUND].
And release in half steps [SOUND].
It's actually much harder
to release [SOUND].
Because its such a micro tonal
change in pitch in the muscles.
It's hardly even any motion at all but
you can hear the result when you do it.
So there's exercise number one, is bend
up two whole steps in half increments and
release two whole steps
in half step increments.
Now here's another one.
Taking it to another level.
Key of A.
[SOUND] I think of
the notes of the A chord.
Take it up an octave.
This has nothing to do with hand positions
or anything, this is just for sound.
I'm going to try to play the notes
of the chord in tune, bending.
So rather than play them by
fretting each note separately,
I'm going to bend and release.
And nail the notes accurately.
Okay, so again, this is an exercise.
This builds strength.
And then with that strength,
you can start to play music.
Now [COUGH] I'm gonna
start at the 17th fret.
And it's the fifth degree of the A chord.
Then I'm gonna bend up
to the seventh, which is only four frets.
How hard can that be?
Come on.
That's easy.
That's tricky,
coming back down in tune, up
and down.
Okay, all right, that's doable.
Now I'm gonna go from the third degree of
the chord [SOUND] to the fifth [SOUND].
14th fret,
Okay, that's doable.
Now, here's the one that's gonna kill you.
Root up to the third.
Now that first bend is a whole step.
That's my pre-bend, right?
Remember pre-bending?
I gotta hear the pitch
before I actually pluck it.
Keep going up a half step, go up again.
And release it.
There you go, okay?
What's the point?
Well, the idea is that you're
learning how to control
the amount of pressure it takes.
Now, there are recordings of Albert King.
There's a live recording of him,
Live Wire Blues Power is the name
of the album that he put out.
And he plays a solo where he does that.
Right, he plays those phrases using
those bends and creating little melodies.
And it's almost all based
on just that one bend, and
finding all the notes in between.
It's a real blues thing.
He said he started out, his first
instrument was called diddley bow.
And the diddley bow was
a one-string homemade instrument,
you could make one today.
Get a two by four or a four by four.
You put a nail in one end,
get some wire, steal it from some place,
wrap it around a nail at the other end.
So now you got a wire,
it's not that tight though.
So you take a brick and you shove it
under there so the wire is tight.
And you pluck and it goes.
[SOUND] And then you take a bottle,
and run the bottle up and
down that wire and pluck it.
And there's your diddley bow.
It's a slide guitar.
But it has only one string on it.
And so, you develop that one string
kinda thing, where there's no frets.
It's all ear, and you just gotta
find that melody in there somewhere.
And that's the way Albert King played
the guitar, was he found that melody
just by stretching the string until he
hit it, and then bring it back again.
And he was a master, a master.
Now, there's ways to fake it.
There's an interesting video
you wanna see, if you find it,
which is Stevie Ray Vaughn and
Albert King Live in Session it's called.
I think it was recorded for Canadian TV.
They played together.
This was early in Stevie's
career when he was well known.
And Stevie was so heavily influenced by
Albert King, that to see them together,
it's interesting, cuz they played the same
notes and Stevie did an astonishingly good
job of sort of channeling
the sound of Albert King.
But completely different techniques,
cuz Albert used his left-handed,
upside-down, weird tuning thing.
And Stevie had a conventionally
tuned guitar, and
played in the normal
patterns that we all use.
So how did Stevie do it?
Well, he used what we call compound bends.
Albert would go
bend it two whole steps and
then release it
And Stevie would go
Now what that is is really
sounds almost the same, but
I'm bending a whole step [SOUND].
And then, [SOUND] another whole step,
[SOUND] and then releasing it.
Now this particular portion of the neck
is one that we're gonna look at in some
detail, and we'll come back to
melodies and where the notes are and
all that kind of stuff.
But for right now,
it's just a whole step bend, [SOUND].
And then you move your hand down
two frets, and with your first and
second fingers
and another whole step.
That's really challenging.
This is an advanced technique,
even though we're in the intermediate
section of the lessons here.
That's an advanced technique.
It takes quite a while to master
that technique so that it's usable.
But that's a way of kind of
faking the Albert King sound and
that's one that's been used by a lot of
players down through the years as sort of
their version of Albert King.
Another thing that he would do that was so
cool was he would bend
two strings at once.
And that just sort of,
it's weird, out of tune.
But, whereas when we bend normally,
we push the adjacent string up and
out of the way so
that we don't hit two strings at once.
In this case, you deliberately capture
the note under your finger.
So that you get the sound of that
dissonant note dying as it falls in pitch.
And Albert used that,
like there's a recording of his Drowning
on Dry Land where he used that so
beautifully, it was just astonishing.
So there's a lot to think about there but
this is about control and
how to find pitches within pitches.
And whether or not you use those big bends
regularly as part of your style or not,
knowing how to capture that
level of detail is gonna have
a big effect on your ability to phrase and
really make your playing expressive.
Let me play over a rhythm track for
you just for fun, and
use those big bends, I'll sort of combine
different Albert King type of sounds, and
give you some ideas to work with.
So this is in the key of C.
All right, now if I'm in the key of C,
where do I want to put my hand?
Well, first fingers on the tonic on
the second string, that's 13th fret.
Reach up three frets, and that's my
starting point for the big fat bends.
Let's see what happens.
[SOUND] I wore myself
out on that one [LAUGH].
That's tricky stuff, you know?
That's really digging in.
I'm hitting it hard in the right hand.
I'm snapping the strings,
you probably noticed.
I'm bending as hard as I can, but
I've tried to find the melody.
That's the key to the whole deal.
All right.
There's the bend, there's the release,
there's the pre-bend.
There's the release with that
little crying effect.
All of these techniques that we've
been talking about come into play.
And when you do a big wide bend,
it just gives you sort of
a bigger canvas to work on.
It's a lot of fun.
I did the
two string bend together.
I did the compound bend, as we call it.
Where you fake the
you go down like that.
Going up, now do the whole
step bend, and then I reach my third
finger over to continue
All right?
Now, as I said, we're going to talk
about this region of the neck and
the sort of phrases that you
could play in that region.
It's a really important spot for
guitar soloing.
And we're not there yet, we're still
staying in our home position here.
But we're about to venture
into that territory.
And I'll come back to these phrases in
the context of the scale pattern, and
we'll be able to talk in more detail.
But, just mess around with that thing.
Now, I should warn you,
don't strain yourself.
You don't fight your way
through these exercises and,
it hurts, but I'll keep going.
That's not the way to do it.
So if you feel any strain whatsoever,
take a break and don't sweat it.
As your skills develop and
you play longer,
you'll develop more strength and
these things will become more accessible.
But this is not necessarily for everybody.
It's not for every guitar.
Every setup that you have it might
be very difficult for you to play.
But if you can access those notes and
you hear that sound,
that's kind of how you get it.
Okay, have fun with that one.