Basic Bends (Guitar Lesson)

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David MacKenzie

Basic Bends

David MacKenzie gives a crash course on bending in this lesson. Bends can add a lot of soul to your playing.

Taught by David MacKenzie in Basic Electric Guitar seriesLength: 16:12Difficulty: 1.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (00:16) Lesson Intro Dave rips on some licks from the A minor blues scale to demonstrate the topic of this lesson. In this lesson, you will learn how string bends can add a soulful, expressive element to your lead guitar playing.
Chapter 2: (15:59) Basic Bends Bends can add feel, soul, and texture to solos, riffs, guitar melodies, and much more. Dave will teach you the important technical components of this essential technique. He will also demonstrate how to apply string bends to a practical musical setting.

Bending Technique

Note: Some of the following information is taken from lesson 7 of Matt Brown's Phase 2 Rock series of lessons. Visit this lesson for more information about bending.

A. Set-Up Tips for Comfortable Bending

The way in which your guitar is set up will have a profound impact on string bending. A guitar's set-up typically refers to the gauge of strings used, the tuning (standard tuning, down a half step, etc.), and the action height.

Most rock players prefer to play with lighter strings (usually 9 or 10 gauge) because they are easier to bend. The tone of smaller gauge strings is also more appropriate for this style. When it comes to blues, country, and jazz however, most professionals prefer a heavier gauge set (usually 11's or higher). Heavier strings are more effective for producing a biting, "twangy" sound.

The disadvantage to playing with heavy gauge strings is that they are much more difficult to bend. Most players recommend starting with a lower gauge string and gradually working your way up to a larger set. Also, it should be taken into consideration that some people simply have smaller, weaker hands than others. If bending the strings causes any discomfort or unnecessary fatigue, it's definitely a good idea to switch to a smaller set. Many players in the 80's injured their hands as a result of bending large strings. Stevie Ray Vaughn popularized using very large strings (13 gauge) to create his signature tone. What people didn't realize was that Stevie had absolutely massive hands and tuned his guitar down a half step.

Note: If you decide to change to a new string gauge, a new set-up must be performed. Some intonation, action, and minor truss rod adjustment may be necessary. Have this work done by a reliable professional.

B. Proper Technique for Bending

As a rule, it is always important to play with good classical technique. Solid left-hand technique is contingent upon several factors. First, the thumb must be perpendicular to the neck, resting approximately halfway up it. The rest of the left-hand fingers must be perpendicular to the fingerboard. They must be arched and bent at each individual finger joint.

Left-hand technique for bending is the only exception to this rule. In the context of the bend, it is highly beneficial to allow the thumb to come up over the neck. This enables you to have better leverage on the string. Using classical technique, you are relying solely on the strength of your fretting fingers to perform the bend. By bringing the thumb over the neck, you are combining its strength with your fretting fingers.

C. Bending Direction

The direction in which the string should be bent (towards the floor or towards your face) is dependent upon which string you are playing. Generally, the bass strings should be pulled downward, and the treble strings should be pushed upward. Otherwise, you run the risk of running out of room on the neck. There are some exceptions to this rule however. Due to the fingering of certain musical lines, there are some instances when it is easiest to pull the G string downwards. You might also find the need to push the D string upwards.

The direction in which you bend a string especially those located in the middle of the fretboard is mainly a matter of personal preference. If you watch JamPlay instructor Mark Brennan for example, he likes to bend many notes on the G string towards the floor. Dave MacKenzie typically bends notes on the first through the fourth strings in an upward motion (towards the ceiling). He prefers to bend notes on the sixth and fifth strings towards the floor.

D. Pitch Control

To ensure that your bends are in tune, first play the fretted note of the pitch you are bending up to. For example, if you want to bend the 7th fret of the G string up a whole step, first play the note "E" on the 9th fret. This will give your ears a reference as to what the bend should sound like. Be sure to practice bends of different intervals. Half step and whole step bends are the most common. However, bends of larger intervals such as a step and a half as well as 2 step bends are also common.

E. Bending Examples

At 02:30, Dave demonstrates a half step bend from the 9th fret of the B string. This note is G#. He bends this note up to the pitch A. Compare the pitch of the bent note to the note played at the 10th fret (without a bend). Are the pitches of these notes in tune with one another?

Next at 03:00, he demonstrates a whole step bend. He bends the note A played at the 10th fret of the 2nd string up one whole step to the pitch B. Play the B pitch B at the 12th fret as a reference.

F. Practicing Bends

Practice half step and whole step bends all over the fretboard. In the course of playing a solo, you will want to have the option of bending any note to a wide variety of intervals. Also, bends are much easier higher up on the fretboard. Start practicing your bends around the 12th fret. Then, slowly work your way back towards the nut.

Practice bends with all fingers. It is very difficult to bend with the pinkie finger. Work at this process very slowly. When bending with any finger other than the index finger, use the other fingers as leverage. Use the strength of the other fingers to help push the string upwards or downwards.

G. Combining Techniques

You can combine other techniques such as pinch or pick harmonics as well as vibrato to a bend. Dmac provides an example of some Zakk Wylde licks at 06:12. He plays a pinch harmonic, bends the note, and ends in vibrato. That's three techniques at once! Combining multiple techniques is quite common in hard rock and metal solos. Dimebag Darrell, Kirk Hammett, and many others frequently exploit combinations of these techniques in their solos as well as rhythm guitar riffs.

H. Two string Bends

These bends are use quite often in several styles of music. They appear very often in blues, country, rock, metal, etc. Dave demonstrates one such bend played at the 15th fret. He plays the note G at the 15th fret of the highest string. Then, he simultaneously bends the note at the 15th fret of the B string up a whole step. This produces the notes E and G. These two notes are included in the E minor triad as well as the C major triad. Consequently, this bend works well over these two chords.

I. Bends Involving Three Strings

Dave holds the third and fourth fingers down at the fifteenth fret of the 1st and 2nd strings. Then, he bends the note A up a whole step to the pitch G. These notes played together make an entire G major chord. This bend works well over a G chord and an Em chord.

This bend can be fingered a different way. Some players prefer to barre the high strings with the pinkie finger. Then, the third string note is bent with the third finger. Focus on finger independence. Two fingers must remain fixed while one finger must perform bend.

J. Unison Bend

This is probably the most common type of bend that involves more than one string. You will hear this sound in countless guitar solos. Check out the beginning of the guitar solo in "Dazed and Confused" by Led Zeppelin to hear a classic example of this technique. This solo begins with a string of unison bends played on the G and B strings.

Unison bends can be performed between the G and B strings and between the B and E strings. Play a fretted note on the E string with your first finger. Then, bend the note three frets up on the B string. The pitch of the bent string should match the pitch of the fretted note. When applying this technique to the G and B strings, bend the G string note that is two frets higher.

K. Final Thoughts

If you have any questions concerning this lesson feel free to send Dave a message here on JamPlay. The JamPlay staff and community are always willing to help.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Supplemental Learning Material



Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

Alexander10Alexander10 replied

sith si a taerg nossel is backwerds for thi is a great lesson[email protected] replied

Cant relate to he fret positioning on a Jackson guitar.

jeremyprice88jeremyprice88 replied

DMAC YOU MADE ME BREAK A STRING!!!! haha probably my fault, that high e didnt wanna scream like i asked it too :(

alan1965alan1965 replied

What is the right hand doing at the top of the bend? Is this used to mute the strings or is the same bend bent twice? One up then one? Are the strings released at the top of the bend

mckspurginmckspurgin replied

It probably boils down to practice, practice, but I have a continuing problem when bending up, particularly quick bends, of hitting the string above with my bending finger, or pushing the bent string under the string above and as the upper string sort of pops over the bent string since it it pressed down to the fret, the upper string makes a noise as if it has been struck, and blows the whole bend. Very frustrating. The DMAC lesson was helpful but if you know what I am doing wrong in particular and how to correct it, any help would be greatly appreciated.

4695646956 replied

a music teacher told me to mute the above strings with your palm. it works for me easier than trying to mute with your fingers

foxboyfoxboy replied

Hi, I have this problem, too, and a friend showed me that in bends where you use two ore more fingers on one string (because you want to bend it hard), the other finger(s) can be used to mute the string that is touched by the bending finger.

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied

what you may be doing is bending too aggressively with your finger and using to much power, thus hitting the other string. now i cant say for sure as i cant see what your doing. but after trying to replicate myself what you said was happening, that was roughly the only way i could make it happen. you dont really have to bend super hard, and work on being slightly less hard on the bend. work on having the curve of your finger be the connecting point on the string. not the top(towards fingernail), or too much of the bottom of your finger. it will take a bit of getting use to, but your right, along with these tips, hopefully and with some practise you will start to get it down. hope this helps.

marshall laneymarshall laney replied

Great stuff Dave ! Really enjoying your series here , I could have skipped phase 1 but I'm glad I didn't.Have you heard of Pat Thrall ? Well I bought an instruction book that featured him in 1979 & it had that double bending lick you demonstrated as well as bending double stops on the high strings thing is I've still got that book ! Keep 'em coming Dave ML

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied

oh yeah pat thrall, aint heard that name in a while!!! loved his playin with pat travers. they worked well together.

korkkork replied

What i noticed is that DMAC almost never uses his first finger to bend but uses it to dampen any strings that might be accidently hit when bending. I tried to use that technique as well and it works quite well for me.

abatista5abatista5 replied


cmp1969cmp1969 replied

Bends I understand. What I am having problems with is going from the bend to the next note when the tab only calls for either a full bend or a half not a bend and release. Also what is the best method for bending two strings at once. For example a full bend on the 14th fret with the 1st and 2nd string. I have been using a bar method due to the next note.

beck_flanderbeck_flander replied

i had problems with bending before this ty

cdietschruncdietschrun replied

Can anyone help me? I've been playing for 4 months or so now and I still suck at bending. I always seem to end up plucking another string or hitting another string and it sounds awful. Or when bending upwards, when I come down, my nail hits the string up above and sounds awful, just like all my bends. I know what a bend is supposed to do, but can someone tell me where exactly to be putting my fingers/thumb/hand when bending??? :(

jboothjbooth replied

Hey there. Sometimes it's hard to answer questions like this because there are so many variables, including your guitar, how you are holding the guitar, the size of strings etc. One thing to realize is precision stuff like this doesn't come overnight and the best thing you can do is practice the bends EXTREMELY slow, so slow it might be painful, until you get it right. Continue doing it that slow and slowly move up the speed. These Q&A's might also help you out! There's also a couple of other lessons that might help shed some light on the situation:

accordsmagiquesaccordsmagiques replied

Once again a great D-Mac's lesson! However I find the Half and Whole Step Bends explanation for matching the tone of the fret not very easy for a beginner. I hope it will come with experience and practice! Very interesting lesson , a lot of techniques, very useful, good effects remembering a lot of great songs!

jboothjbooth replied

There's actually another lesson about bends coming up on monday, this one will elaborate on it a bit more and give some exercises for you to practice. Thank you for the feedback.

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied

haha, yeah, oops, slipped, how'd that get in there? hee, hee!

ronin808ronin808 replied

cool lesson on bends here man! I also liked tho hammer on and pull off lesson(nice little thunderstruck lick you snuck in there! I was doing that part on the wrong fret before your lesson) thanks again man!!! ROCK ON BRO!!!

Basic Electric Guitar

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

In his Phase 1 series, David MacKenzie will walk you through the basics of rock guitar.

About the GuitarLesson 1

About the Guitar

David discusses the parts of the guitar. He also gives you some basic techniques to get you started.

Length: 31:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Power ChordsLesson 2

Power Chords

In this lesson, David introduces basic power chords. Great fun for beginners!

Length: 10:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Basic Chord ProgressionsLesson 3

Basic Chord Progressions

David introduces some basic chords and chord progressions.

Length: 14:15 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Notes, Chords and ArpeggiosLesson 4

Notes, Chords and Arpeggios

David provides a brief explanation of what notes, chords, power chords, and arpeggios are.

Length: 8:12 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Speed and CoordinationLesson 5

Speed and Coordination

This lesson is all about increasing your speed and coordination. David demonstrates basic picking exercises.

Length: 14:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Chord ExercisesLesson 6

Chord Exercises

David MacKenzie presents a mysterious sounding chord exercise. This exerices is designed to improve right hand technique.

Length: 9:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Practice and DisciplineLesson 7

Practice and Discipline

In this short lesson David talks about practice, discipline, and how you should apply yourself when learning and mastering the guitar.

Length: 6:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Double StopsLesson 8

Double Stops

Double stops can bring new life to your rhythm and lead playing. David provides a short tutorial on what double stops are and how they can be used.

Length: 7:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
The Major ChordsLesson 9

The Major Chords

David covers the basic major chord shapes. Every guitarist must learn these basic chords.

Length: 18:29 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
The Minor ChordsLesson 10

The Minor Chords

David MacKenzie walks you through the basic minor chords. Expand your knowledge of chords with this fun-filled lesson.

Length: 8:15 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Major ScalesLesson 11

Major Scales

Major scales are an essential component of all styles of music. They can also be used as a great way to orient yourself with the fretboard.

Length: 32:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Major Scale JamLesson 12

Major Scale Jam

David MacKenzie explains how to practice the major scales along with a fun backing track.

Length: 11:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
The Minor ScalesLesson 13

The Minor Scales

David MacKenzie proceeds to an in-depth discussion of the minor scales.

Length: 15:36 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Minor Scale JamLesson 14

Minor Scale Jam

David MacKenzie shows you how to play the natural minor scale over a rockin' JamTrack.

Length: 6:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
One String ExerciseLesson 15

One String Exercise

David demonstrates an excellent one-string exercise in this lesson. This exercise will improve your dexterity and knowledge of the fretboard.

Length: 16:48 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Hammer-Ons and Pull-OffsLesson 16

Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are techniques that enable you to play with a smooth, legato feel.

Length: 8:27 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Basic BendsLesson 17

Basic Bends

David MacKenzie gives a crash course on bending in this lesson. Bends can add a lot of soul to your playing.

Length: 16:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Cool Rock LicksLesson 18

Cool Rock Licks

David MacKenzie teaches two rock licks inspired by Yngwie Malmsteen and Kirk Hammett of Metallica.

Length: 12:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Hammer-On ExerciseLesson 19

Hammer-On Exercise

David returns to the world of hammer-ons with a fun new exercise. This lesson includes a JamTrack.

Length: 13:56 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Return to Pull-OffsLesson 20

Return to Pull-Offs

David returns to the world of pull-offs with a new exercise. This lesson includes a backing track.

Length: 12:50 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Practicing BendsLesson 21

Practicing Bends

David MacKenzie returns to bending technique in this lesson. This lesson features a backing track that is designed for bending practice.

Length: 12:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Basic VibratoLesson 22

Basic Vibrato

Integrating vibrato into your guitar playing is a great way to add emotion and soul. David MacKenzie explains the basics of vibrato in this lesson.

Length: 9:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Pentatonic ScaleLesson 23

Pentatonic Scale

David MacKenzie introduces the pentatonic scale.

Length: 5:48 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Minor Pentatonic ScaleLesson 24

Minor Pentatonic Scale

David MacKenzie introduces the minor pentatonic scale in this lesson.

Length: 4:38 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Full Major ScaleLesson 25

Full Major Scale

David MacKenzie explains a two octave pattern of the major scale.

Length: 11:31 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Full Minor ScaleLesson 26

Full Minor Scale

David MacKenzie introduces a two octave natural minor scale pattern.

Length: 12:20 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Full Major Pentatonic ScaleLesson 27

Full Major Pentatonic Scale

David teaches a two octave pattern of the major pentatonic scale.

Length: 6:30 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Full Minor Pentatonic ScaleLesson 28

Full Minor Pentatonic Scale

David MacKenzie teaches a two octave version of the minor pentatonic scale.

Length: 9:20 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Cool LickLesson 29

Cool Lick

David MacKenzie teaches several licks based on common arpeggio patterns. This lesson also includes a backing track to jam with.

Length: 20:40 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Rhythm BasicsLesson 30

Rhythm Basics

David MacKenzie introduces some important rhythm basics in this lesson. This lesson also includes a backing track exercise.

Length: 14:55 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Power Chord VariationsLesson 31

Power Chord Variations

David MacKenzie explains various power chord voicings. By simply moving a finger or two, new power chords can be formed.

Length: 18:43 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Cool Lick ExerciseLesson 32

Cool Lick Exercise

David MacKenzie introduces some new amazing licks.

Length: 29:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Tapping ExerciseLesson 33

Tapping Exercise

David MacKenzie introduces the tapping technique and teaches a fun exercise. This lesson includes a backing track.

Length: 22:44 Difficulty: 2.5 FREE
Tapping Exercise #2Lesson 34

Tapping Exercise #2

David MacKenzie teaches another amazing tapping exercise.

Length: 13:07 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Tapping #3:  Adding Open StringsLesson 35

Tapping #3: Adding Open Strings

The third tapping lesson elaborates on the previous lesson by adding open strings.

Length: 12:59 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Tapping #4:  Diminished Lick Lesson 36

Tapping #4: Diminished Lick

The fourth lesson in Dave's tapping series deals with a monster diminished lick.

Length: 11:02 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Tapping #5Lesson 37

Tapping #5

In lesson five of his tapping mini-series, DMac provides backing tracks that you can tap over.

Length: 8:04 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Tremolo TechniqueLesson 38

Tremolo Technique

In lesson 38, DMac demonstrates some tremolo techniques to add to your repertoire.

Length: 13:54 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Tapping #6Lesson 39

Tapping #6

DMac returns to his tapping instruction with more advanced techniques.

Length: 19:54 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Chord StructuresLesson 40

Chord Structures

In lesson 40, DMac teaches you how to play various D chords all the way up the neck.

Length: 9:20 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
OctavesLesson 41


In lesson 41, David discusses the octave and its uses while playing.

Length: 17:09 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
David MacKenzie

About David MacKenzie View Full Biography Dave MacKenzie has been playing guitar for 30 of his 45 years on this earth. Starting back when he was 14 years old, Dave picked up the guitar and started to learn from his oldest brother, who had played some guitar as well. Dave was hooked, and couldn't learn fast enough! Everything from the Beatles, Chicago, Ted Nugent, The Eagles, you name it, Dave was trying to play it.

Then as with a lot of players out there, Eddie Van Halen came along and changed the way guitar was played! Dave has been influenced by anyone he has heard play guitar, literally! Always keeping an open mind and a humbleness about him has helped him to keep learning new things on, and about the guitar.

Dave has mostly played in top 40 rock, country, and pop bands. He is most recently playing guitar and keyboards in a 80's metal band called Open Fire. They have opened for Warrant, Firehouse, Winger, and LA Guns within the 3 and a half years they have been together, and are now jumping into original music.

Dave believes you should have internal motivation, and passion to play guitar, and most definitely, it should be fun!

As with his playing, Dave will find new ways to show you how to get the most out of your time learning guitar!

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