The Mechanics of String Bending

by Zack Uidl and Jeff Treadwell
Paramount Music Academy

String bending is one of the most important aspects of lead guitar playing. Without it, phrases can sound dull, uninteresting, and can lack dramatic expression. Many guitarists, while they may be very advanced from a technical standpoint, are lacking in their application of great string bends into their playing as it tends to be overlooked by the "cooler" things to practice. The purpose of this article is simply to cover the basics of string bending and address the common issues that are most prevalent with guitarists at any level.

The Mechanics of a String Bend

Thumb Placement: Your fretting hand’s thumb can make or break your level of control while string bending. If you are placing your thumb on the back of the neck, especially lower on the back of the neck, it can be very easy to lose control and have it feel very awkward. While some people can do this with great success, such as Doug Aldrich for example, many people cannot. The other option for thumb placement is to have your thumb be placed over the top of the guitar neck. This will give you more stability for when it is time to execute the string bend. This tends to be the most common and effective method for thumb placement.

It is also important to mention that you should do what gives you the most control and is most comfortable for you. Do not play string bends, or anything for that matter, if tension is occurring in your hand or arm. Slightly different hand positions work for different people so just be aware of this to avoid injury.

Use Your Wrist, Not Your Fingers: The motion of bending a string should come from your wrist and not your fingers. Trying to do a successful string bend with only your fingers will result in many problems. You will lose a massive amount of control, you will not be able to be as consistent, you will not be able to bend as high, and it will be difficult for you to apply vibrato to you string bend if desired. You will have more power and be able to execute the string bend with much greater ease when using your wrist.

Dig Into the Neck: Trying to bend a string without digging into the neck is a very similar to not using your wrist for the bend. It will result the same issues discussed previously. You want to have part of your hand touch the bottom of the neck, around where your fretting hand’s first finger meets the palm of your hand, touch the bottom of the neck in order to give yourself a leverage point. Again, this will give you more control and strength resulting in easier bends.

Bend to Notes in the Scale/Key: A string bend, is essentially pushing or pulling the note you are currently playing to a higher pitched note. This note that you are bending to will be another note in your key and most likely the next note in the scale that you are currently playing. Be sure that the bent note matches exactly with the note you are trying to bend to.

Common Problems with String Bending and How to Fix Them

These are the three most common issues that people have with string bending. You personally might have one or all of these. If you do not have these issues, great! No matter what, these three issues are important to keep in mind as they will give you greater control and more musical sounding string bends.

  1. The Bend is Out of Tune or Out of Key: This is perhaps the biggest problem that people have with string bending. They have the strength to bend the string, but are lacking the accuracy to make it fit within the key/scale being performed. With string bends, the note that you are bending to is essential. If you are having problems with intonation, you can plug your guitar into an electric tuner, and bend your starting note to the desired bent note while checking yourself with the tuner.
  2. Sloppy Bend: The main way that a bend will sound sloppy is when the strings that you are not playing make noise. This can be very distracting when bends are played with this extra noise as it takes a lot away from the phrase and does so very quickly. You should use your fretting hand to mute higher pitched strings that you are not playing in the bend and use your picking hand to mute the lower pitched string that you are not playing. This will make a massive difference in the quality of the string bend.
  3. Awkward Curve: This issue tends to be most prominent when a string bend is being performed within a phrase. When string bending, the bend should have an even "curve" to it. Most of the time, this problem sounds like a slow bend at first and the bend speeds up as if to catch up and hit the correct bent note in time. To gain a lot of control over a string bends curve, you should practice with a metronome. Let’s say for this example you set the metronome to click on quarter notes within a 4/4 meter. Play your starting note on the first beat then bend to the desired pitch. You should reach the desired note at the second beat. Hold the bend until the third beat. Then release the bend back to the starting note by the 4th beat. Make sure it is very rhythmically tight.

Basic Exercises

EX 1:
A good way to improve your intonation is to play the note you wish to bend to by itself, go back to the previous note in the scale, and then bend up to that note. It would be most beneficial to practice this on all the strings.

Example 1
click on image for larger view
audio click here to hear example

EX 2:
Here's a very common repeating blues lick. You want to make sure you bend the string a full step with each repetition. Some players make the mistake of not bending the note far enough because they're more focused on playing the lick fast than playing it in tune.

Example 2
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audio click here to hear example

EX 3:
Like the previous example, this is another repeating bluesy lick that is very commonly used. This is good for practicing vibrato on bent notes in the context of a lick. Typically, when you do a bent-vibrato, you don't want to apply the vibrato to the bent note right away. You'll want to delay the vibrato a bit as it will sound better.

Example 3
click on image for larger view
audio click here to hear example

EX 4:
The final example is a short lead section demonstrating ways you can apply string bending and vibrato into a solo. Click here to download PDF.
audio click here to hear example

String Bending Mastery

Just like anything related to music and guitar playing, string bending will take practice to master it. Be patient and persistent and the technique will come. One thing that can also help is listening to, and analyzing great guitarists with great string bends and phrasing. Here is an abbreviated list of some guitarists we recommend you listen to in order help your string bending:

  • Gary Moore
  • Jeff Loomis
  • John Petrucci
  • Doug Aldrich
  • Michael Amott
  • Andy LaRoque
  • Yngwie Malmsteen

Further Learning

Do you want even more information? Send an email to for a free backing track and excerpt from the e-book Expression: Mastering Bending and Vibrato. You will be given the backing track, a section from the backing track with an example lead guitar section that incorporates string bending, the notation for that example, and the excerpt from the e-book.

And of course, if you have any questions related to anything in this article, or anything at all, do not hesitate to contact Zack or visit

© 2011 Zack Uidl. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.


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