Watch the Bending: Gateway to Expression online guitar lesson by Andy Timmons from Electric Expression
Let's talk about bending. Along with vibrato it can be one of the most defining parts of a player's identity and bending is something I love to do. It's a major part of what I do. So let's break it down a little bit and define some of those components that will help you improve your bending. Let's just start in the key of A minor. Get my echo level right and just a simple bend. We're going to bend from the D. Whole step bend up to E and I'm going to check the pitch of the note that I'm bending to, fretting on the B string, the E note. It's good to have an idea of what pitch that you're intending to bend to, because one of the most difficult things is tuning. When somebody's bending you get exactly to the pitch that you want to get to and talking about the different fingers to use. Clearly you can bend with any finger but the strongest to me is the ring finger and I'll support that finger with the other two fingers. So I've got my index and middle finger along with the ring finger then I'm also anchoring with my thumb. So you've got all these pressure points. You've got the top of the neck with the thumb. Again, I'm grabbing underneath the neck here. At that point, that finger has a lot of strength. Try bending up to the note without any vibrato, as difficult as that might be at first because it does take a lot of repetition to really build up that strength in these fingers but after a while I think you'll get it. There are several different ways you can bend this note. You can actually start from the fretted note and bend up to it. But you can also do what's called a pre-bend. You can actually start the note pre-bent to the pitch desired and bend down. You can also exceed the pitch and go to the next note. It's called an over-bend, but we'll get more to that in just a moment. So that's just a whole step bend. That's going from D to E. Now another way of working on that, like I talked about is fretting the desired pitch. You can do that and do what's called a unison bend. So you're actually bending from one note to another while holding that same note. So it's a two-note cluster and you hear it when it's spot on. This is easier with more of a fixed bridge guitar. The floating trem will tend to bend with you so it might be a little bit more difficult to achieve. But holding the note E on the B string, and then bending up to it from the D on the G string. Classic kind of Hendrix blues. That was just going up the pentatonic in A minor. Then when I got to the top I just bent another unison bend but from the G to the A, which is the tonic of that key. The root, relying heavily on not just the third finger, but the index finger and the middle finger behind it, bending up to the note, then adding that vibrato to it and there's that pre-bend again. That can be a really expressive device to use. Pre-bend descending and then have another note coming below it.
Now something happened there that's another part of bending that I want to talk about and not just a full step, but that was in the blues realm. That flat third can be really nice to bend just slightly. This pulled slightly down on that C note. That time I did a bend with my first finger, but I tend to find it easier if I'm going to bend with the first finger, it's going to be pulling it down instead of bending it up. I just find it easier with that finger to pull down, because it has more strength. Bending up with that first finger you don't have the other guys helping out. The bend that I was talking about previously is in between the C and the C#. There's that same idea, just on the B string up the octave. Now if I had a choice to play, obviously that's the same pitch level, just in a different spot on the B string than on the E string. I get more tone and more stability out of the B string for those notes and you've got more wiggle room, so to speak, for the vibrato. You're on the edge of the neck there, so sometimes I might shift up there just for sonic reasons. I think it's a better tone for me. So we've got the full step bend, the unison bend, the pre-bend, and then up to the tonic.
Now some of my favorite players over time, guys like Stevie Ray and Steve Lukather and Albert King, they'll do pretty wide bends. They'll go beyond just the normal whole step, and they'll go minor third, major third, sometimes even more than that. But one of my favorite places to do that is, bending from the seventh up to the ninth, then up to the root. So I'm actually exceeding the root, going all the way. It's actually easier to do on the G string. I just did it on the B string. But if I start with G on the G string the target note is B. That may be my favorite one when I'm bending from the flat third to the fifth. So three different pitch levels just happened. I did the minor third to the fifth, bent up slightly to that crack between the C and the C#. Then I went up from the fifth to the seventh, the flat seventh. So that's just a minor third bend. Whereas this is a major third, minor third, and then I slid up, sliding from the flat seven to the nine. A little sharp, I need to work on this stuff also folks. So those are some of my favorite bends. Again, building up the strength may take a little while and just being accurate with the pitches. You can see some of my bends are a little out of whack there as well. So I look forward to improving my bending along with you guys. Which leads me to what I think might be a good exercise to work on. It explores some of our horizontal ideas as well and that's just bending from a note to the next note in the scale, all the way up one string. We'll start this in the key of A minor. Going to start down in the second fret. Then I'm going to play the second to the third and that's where the exercise actually begins. So I'm basically bending through the A minor, A natural minor scale or aeolian if you want to call it that. You can descend as well. Now the descending, I was doing as a pre-bend. There's a couple of helpful insights into the way I bend and the way I think about bending. Work on the pitch accuracy and the feel and vibrato of it.