One of the most important aspects of rock and metal guitar soloing – if not the most important – is bending. In today’s shred guitar environment, it’s quite common to see players with phenomenal technical skills; however, when bending notes it sounds weak and out of tune. While it’s all well and good to shred across the neck, if your bends suck, it effectively renders everything else meaningless. Good bending, I believe, has more in common with blues soloing than any sort of shred pyrotechnics. Coupled with vibrato, bending notes is a vital tool for expressing emotion, as well as for conveying your individuality as a player. As such, in this column I’ve come up with seven key tips for good bends – to help ensure that they are powerful, emotive, and in tune.

1. Intonation

This means playing in tune and it’s the most essential aspect of good bending. If you bend a note too much or too little, it will be sharp of flat respectively. This sounds awful! You should always ensure that a note is bent to exactly the correct pitch. Practice this by picking a note on one string, playing it, hearing it in your head, then moving down a fret or two and bending so that the pitch is the same as what was just played. For example, play an E on the 2nd string 17th fret, move down to the 15th, and then perform a whole step bend back up to the E note. Ultimately, the key to perfecting good intonation is to really listen to what you’re playing and to use your ears!

2. Grip Your Thumb

Standard left hand technique, especially for fast ‘shred’ playing, involves placing your thumb behind the neck with your fingers parallel to the frets. However, when bending you actually want to do the opposite and grip your thumb over the neck with your fingers angled slightly towards the headstock. This is the more old-school, bluesy approach to bending, and it definitely produces the best results. Gripping your thumb over the neck gives your fingers some leverage to push against, and it creates a bending movement that involves your wrist and forearm. This allows for more powerful, accurate, and aggressive bending. Conversely, if you bend with your thumb at the back of the neck, it means that it’s really just your finger (instead of your whole arm) doing the bend. Therefore, it’s harder to control and will sound pretty weak and inconsistent.

3. Stack Your Fingers

Whatever finger you’re bending with, you should stack the others behind it – resting them together on the same string. This provides strength and support to the finger doing the bend. So, when bending with your second finger, rest your first finger next to it. For third finger bends, stack your second and first fingers behind it. Bending with your fourth finger can be difficult, but having your other three fingers down will help.

4. First Finger Bends

Bending with your first finger is a slightly different technique to bending with the other three. Rest the other fingers together against your first and angle them considerably towards the headstock (still gripping your thumb over the neck). This creates a pivot point between your hand and the neck and helps facilitate the extra strength needed to push or pull the string.

5. Strength and Control

Practice bending a variety of different intervals – one fret, two, three, four frets, etc. Try bending from different notes and on all the strings. As a general rule, for strings one and two you bend by pushing up, and for strings five and six you bend by pulling down. Strings three and four can be bent either way. There are all sorts of different ways of bending besides the basics – bend and release, gradual bends, pre-bends, pre-bend and release, etc.

6. Vibrato

Once the intonation is good, try adding in vibrato (by slightly releasing and then re-bending to pitch in rapid succession). Vibrato can be fast or shallow, or slow and wide. The key is to make it consistent and to use what’s appropriate for the song.

7. Scale Knowledge

A thorough knowledge of scale construction and intervals will help in determining what note you should aim for and how much you need to bend. For example, if you’re using E minor pentatonic and want to bend the E root note, the next note in the scale is a G (tone and a half higher). So you would have to bend the equivalent of three frets.

I hope you find these bending tips helpful. Just remember, good bends will make whatever you play sound better!