Bends. I will tell you a few things about bends, for no other purpose but relaying some information I have digested from countless filming sessions, interviews, and frankly; listening to people play guitar for 7 straight years.
There are few reasons why, but let's start with you. The novice to intermediate player who battles during the weekend, tries to learn a few songs, but usually wimps out on learning the solo. Your hands aren't very strong, your ear isn't perfect, and your instrument is probably not top tier.
But Chris, how does this affect my bends? Welp, this is why:
Bending isn't for sissies. You can't just grab an instrument and bend a full step.. it takes consistently practicing those bends a half-step-at-a-time, and just about every day. Not only do you need the strength, but also solid technique to leverage that strength. As my pal Emil Werstler would say "that will take some work". Improper technique can also lead to fatigue, overuse, and even injuries if you aren't careful. The ramp up period is critical for developing strong, repeatable technique.
Some will say this is the most important part of bends. Listening to the pitch, landing on your target note, and singing your vibrato. If you don't have the ear, or haven't practiced "listening" for that target note, you ear will fail you while bending. This doesn't come quickly either, and it can take critical focus for listening to your target notes.
So you have worked on your bends and have committed those to muscle memory. You can bend a full step anywhere on the neck. Now you will begin to fight your instrument. You will tug strings out of tune, and intonation of your instrument will start to become more noticeable. That same muscle memory you have developed to bend a full step is now working against you, as your intonation issues are now causing you to bend everything sharp since your ears can't quite hear that just yet.
So this is what you are up against. You are ice skating up hill. There aren't any tricks to making this easier, aside from knuckling up and practicing it everyday. But here's the kicker.
The rewards are epic. For alot of electric guitar players, it is the pinnacle of playing the instrument.
Great bends will give you a platform to sing with your instrument, with vibrato defining your musical personality. Think of Slash on the mountain top playing "November Rain". Think of Gilmour belting out "Comfortably Numb". Think of the nastiness of Dimebag slaughtering "Cemetary Gates". There is personality, soul, and expression throughout these tunes... with unique vibrato and bends as the delivery mechanism. Excluding perfect composition, the execution make these solos stand the test of time.
So that is the why. That's why you shouldn't put your instrument down this weekend without bending the shit out of some strings. It's worth it. I just dug around the JamPlay.com content library for a while checking out our offerings on this topic, and found a bunch. One that particularly fits with this discussion is Prashant Aswani's lesson on Musical Bending and Vibrato (Already a member? Click here for tabs, comments, notes, or asking the teacher a follow up). The full lesson is below.
Sweet Freebie: Musical Bending and Vibrato by Prashant Aswani
Taught by Prashant Aswani
If you haven't heard of Prashant Aswani, I'm glad I can introduce you. He is a badass. Great lead lines, keen sense of timing, sincere vibrato, and some awesome wammy bar flavor. If you are looking to add spice to your playing, or add a few wrinkles to your compositions, he is a great guy to follow. This lesson is #20 in his awesome series, titled "Impact Soloing". Already a member? Access it here.
If you were following closely.. Prashant talks about hours of practice, and sometimes he even gets this exercise wrong. This dovetails into my points above about consistency and repetition, and needing to work this into your regular practice routine. Meanwhile, check out some other cool vids from Prashant, from our friends at EMGTv.
Prashant's Series on JamPlay: Impact Soloing
Tired of playing the same old things when it's time for you to take a solo? Prashant's methodical approach to breaking out of normal patterns and making traditional 'guitar-isms' sound fresh and new will give your playing new legs. Explore what it means to connect with your instrument and play from the heart. Look at new ways to approach arpeggios and modes! Most importantly, learn how to improvise without repeating yourself over and over again! Check out the lessons in this series:
Impact Soloing Series Intro
Do you want to play more musical sounding solos? Do you want to play solos with more emotion behind them? Maybe you're the kind of player that feels stuck playing the same patterns over and over again. If so, Prashant Aswani's Impact Soloing was created for you. Connect your music to your mind and soul in this extensive series on making your solos count!
Learn Those Arpeggios
Before you can play effortless, amazing solos, you need to lay the groundwork. Prashant explains and demonstrates some basic minor 7th arpeggio forms that will be blown wide open in the lessons to come!
With and Around The Major 7ths
In similar fashion to the minor 7th arpeggios, Prashant goes over the diatonic major shapes. Practice the major and minor shapes in different sequences for a challenging warm up.
The Odd Ones
Complete the major scale harmony in this string of lessons based on 5th string arpeggios. Learn some clever fingering and note substitution tricks, and play them with the others for more finger dancing fun!
Now that you have all the arpeggio shapes under your fingers and hot on your mind, it's time to have some fun with them. Prashant shows some cool ways to make these patterns sound very 'un-pattern' like.
Do you want to make your patterns NOT sound like patterns? Prashant looks at some of his favorite ways to add scale elements to the arpeggio patterns shared in this series. The result is a free-flowing and diverse sound that sounds anything but calculated!
First Finger Pivoting
Running out of fingers is a common problem when trying to navigate to different familiar patterns on the fly. This lesson focuses on developing the ability to pivot using your first finger in certain parts of an arpeggio so that your other fingers remain available to pick up the slack.
Now it's time to combine the concepts from the last two lessons. Take the linear additions to the arpeggios and practice moving from pattern to pattern on the fly using your first finger as a pivot point.
Fun With Upper Structure Triads
What the heck are upper structure triads? To get the answer, start by counting by odd numbers. Then, watch this lesson. Using upper structure triads helps you add colorful chord tones to any progression. It doesn't matter how basic the native chord structure sounds. Using this technique, you can flare up anything, even a static "one" chord!
How to Get into Hybrid Picking
If you have tried hybrid picking before and considered to feel a bit awkward, Prashant's approach may be just what you need. He first starts by focusing on the rhythm aspect of the technique while keeping the left hand simple. Give it a try, stick with it, and perhaps you can add a new dimension to your playing!
Think Through Two Modal Progressions
Here's one of the greatest ear training exercises: pick a chord progression, listen to it, play it, and try to hear which mode might sound the best over it. Once you have done this mental work, pick up the guitar, use some of the patterns you've worked on in this series and see what comes out!
Voice Leading & Singing
Chords need melody, and a melody is always stronger with the right chords underneath. Learn Prashant's approach to connecting chords together with melody. Try playing a melody within a moving chord progression, but before you do that, just hum or sing over the chord progression you're working on and see what comes out!
Learn to put melody first and connect patterns, runs, and other ideas with your melody in mind. Prashant is a master at this! Learn from the best!
Double Barring & Lead
Double barring isn't just for rhythm players. Learn how take this technique and inject new clarity and speed into your melodic lines and fast runs!
Double Barring Two String Sequences
Work horizontally on the neck with the double barring technique discussed in the last lesson. Work on each set of two strings for different timbre and harmonic ideas.
New Licks, Combining Techniques
Blend the double barring technique with many of the other techniques taught in this series and learn 3 extended licks or passages that will help you work everything in musically.
Voice Leading & Rhythm Playing
As a guitar player, playing rhythm is your primary responsibility. This lesson demonstrates how to make rhythm playing interesting and even a little 'lead-like' by using voice leading. Learn how to weave a melody into your rhythm guitar part!
Simple Alternate Tunings & Groove
By altering your low E string and keeping it simple, you'll open up some great riffing and rhythm opportunities. Prashant shows you how to work with Drop D and Drop C# for some massive lines and catchy ideas!
Groovin' with the Kick Drum
Listening and grooving with the kick drum may be a big priority for bass players, but it is still extremely important for rhythm guitar players! Learn how to play with and around a kick pattern and focus on the pocket you are creating with your drummer. Keep it simple!
Musical Bending & Vibrato
Have you ever heard a new song or guitar solo and been able to identify the guitar player simply by how they sound? The odds are that you were able to guess correctly because you recognized how they use bends and vibrato. Learn how to develop your own unique style with these important techniques.
Whammy Bar Techniques
The idea of a whammy bar is pretty straight forward, but implementing it musically isn't always so easy. Prashant shows you how to create everything from obvious whammy bar fun to subtle East Indian-tinged sounds.
Everyone Loves a Good Gear Talk!
Prashant discusses his guitar and gear choices for his signature tone. He also reveals his love for messing with guitar aesthetics.
Vibrato & Bends in Context
Now that you've honed in on pitch and accuracy with bending and vibrato, take the concepts and drills presented in the last lesson and apply them in time. You'll be surprised by the cool, quirky sounds you can make when you dial up the metronome!
Prashant improvises over an original track called "Dark Day" and teaches some key passages from the solo. Learn the whole improvised solo from the transcription in the supplemental content section!
Welcome to the 2nd massive and juicy improvised solo from Prashant Aswani! Tracks like this are where it all comes together. Apply what you have been working on in this series HERE!
Melody is key! In this track, practice putting melody first and make arpeggios, hybrid picking lines, and flash a strong second. Learn a few key licks and check out the tab for the full transcription!
Learn a VERY melodic solo and hone in on the intricate rhythm beneath it. Focus on creating hooks and melody in your soloing and making that the main thing that people hear.
Mix blues elements with progressive rock and you get this cool improvised solo by Prashant Aswani. Learn the solo and figure out the rhythm, then take parts of both and apply them to your own writing!
Learn this full song off of Prashant's album "Visions". Learn the melody, the rhythm and the complete improvised solo. This is a MONSTER lesson! Dig in and enjoy!
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And now, a bit of a challenge
And yes, rewards will be given...
If you work on your bends this weekend, I want to see some proof. I want callouses, blisters, or some wear and tear. Post a picture in the comments below (it's Facebook, I think most of you probably have an account) with the following: (1) a piece of paper with your name or facebook handle and (2) your fret hand with some fresh wear and tear. You do this, I'll have the marketing team send you some free gear.. maybe a sweet JamPlay shirt, or even a big ol' discount to become a full member.
Post Your Photo
I want to see your name clearly on that piece of paper, and your knarled up fingers clearly in view. And the cheaters trying to game the system? Go ahead, we are all going to get better at guitar this weekend while you still sound like crap.
Get Cool Stuff
I'm going to send you some free gear, a big coupon to JamPlay, or whatever else we can find around the office to reward you. If you are overseas where shipping is $100 to send even a guitar pick, you may just get a kind email from me. Are you ready to get to work?
Forward. We move.
Thanks a bunch for reading. This was a fun week and a cool topic to discuss. Bends are one of the most signifant ways to make a noticable difference in your playing, and something everyone needs to work on consistently.
I only realized this while drafting this Weekend Warrior, so hopefully the topic resonates with you. Next week? We are going to the acoustic guitar, with some awesome recording tips.