One aspect of guitar soloing that I find is often overlooked by those into the metal and shred styles = and particularly with younger players - is bending and vibrato. All so often it seems that guitarists want to jump straight into playing the fast and flashy stuff without learning some of the basic fundamentals. For me personally, nothing is more important than being able to bend in tune and having good vibrato since it’s really where all your emotion and feeling comes from.

There are three basic rules for bending correctly:

1. Grip your thumb: Although when playing normally the correct technique is to position your thumb behind the neck, when bending you actually want to grip your thumb over the top of the neck.

2. Stack your fingers: Whatever finger you’re bending with, you should stack the others behind it on the same string to provide strength and support. Start off bending with your third finger since it’s generally the strongest.

3. Intonation: This means playing in tune, and it’s the most important aspect of bending. The way to develop good intonation is to – and this may sound silly – just listen to what you’re playing and to ‘play with your ears.’

The following bending exercises are all in the common key of E minor, but since the string tension varies up and down the fret-board it’s very important that you practice them in different keys.


To perfect the intonation of your bends, you should practice hitting a note and then bending a note below up to the same pitch. Once you’ve played the original note, you should try and hear it in your head and then bend until it’s exactly the same. Exercise 1 features two of the most common bends in all of guitar – bending to the root note (ex 1a) and bending to the fifth (ex 1b.) Both are whole-tone bends (two frets.)

Hear Exercise 1


Exercise two is exactly the same, only this time we’re going to add in some vibrato (a regular and pulsating slight change of pitch.) The trick here is to make sure you initially bend to the right pitch, and then to add in the vibrato (by slightly releasing then re-bending the string in rapid succession.) As with bends, your vibrato should come from your whole wrist and arm, not just your fingers. Vibrato can be quick and shallow, or long and wide (I prefer the later.)

Hear Exercise 2


This exercise demonstrates how you can combine faster licks with bends to create an aggressive yet emotive sound. It begins with a group of four alternate-picked ascending triplet licks using a hybrid Blues/Dorian scale and finishes with the same bend from exercise 1a. The goal here is to move seamlessly from the fast run into a nice, powerful bend with good intonation and a wide vibrato.

Hear Exercise 3


Similar to exercise 3, this example begins with a series of descending triplets using the E Natural Minor scale and ends on a bend up to the fifth.

Hear Exercise 4


Putting it all together, this final exercise combines a few faster ‘shred’ licks with some nice bends to create an expressive and melodic phrase over a simple chord progression in E minor. Note the half-step bend in the fourth bar where you’re only bending up a semitone (1 fret.) I've also included the backing track for this exercise in the audio if you'd like to play along.

Hear Exercise 5

Check out my instructional video on this issue’s CD for a visual and more in-depth demonstration of these techniques, and just remember that playing fast is secondary to good, in-tune and emotional bending!