How To Bend Strings

This page will show you the correct techniques for bending strings and how different kinds of string bends are shown in tablature. I’ll also show you how to use bends to create different combinations of rising and falling notes.

When you use your left-hand fingers to push a string up, you raise the pitch of the note. This is a common technique in almost all styles of electric lead guitar. The correct techniques are crucial to getting the right sound.

Bending strings is more common on electric guitar than on acoustic. Most guitarists use light gauge strings for bending. A standard light gauge guitar string set begins with the highest string diameter of .009 or .010 inches.

Most guitarists bend on the high three strings. Those are the E, B and G strings. In a light gauge guitar string set, these are the three unwound strings of the guitar. The low three strings have an outer winding that you can feel with your fingertips. This is the reason that your pick scrapes on the low three strings.

How Not To Bend Strings

Don’t try to bend a string using only one finger. In my lessons, I see many beginners using a one-finger bending technique.

Use Ring and Little Fingers

The reason for mainly using your ring and little fingers for string bends is that you can use your index and middle fingers for support.

Another reason for learning this technique is that this is how every guitarist in the world who’s any good does it. That includes any one you are listening to now.

Two Postures

There are two main postures for bending strings during a scale run. This means that you are playing a scale, probably a pentatonic or a major form. These techniques allow you to place string bends at certain places in these scales.

Look at the hand position in the picture. Use the fingers to the left of the finger doing the bend. In the photo, I’m bending a note with the ring finger.

Example: Try bending the 3rd string at the 7th fret with your ring finger.

Place your Ring finger on the 7th fret of the 3rd (G) String.

Place your middle finger on the 6th fret, and your index finger on the 5th fret.

The first posture is for bending a string on a ring finger note. The second posture is for bending a string on a little finger note. The difference is between ring-finger or little-finger holding the string while you bend it. You bend a string by pushing it upwards, towards the ceiling.

Posture For Ring Finger

This is the easier posture. Most people learn this one first.

Look at the hand position in the picture. Use the fingers to the left of the finger doing the bend. In the photo, I’m bending a note with the ring finger.

Example: Try bending the 3rd string at the 7th fret with your ring finger.

Place your Ring finger on the 7th fret of the 3rd (G) String.
Place your middle finger on the 6th fret, and your index finger on the 5th fret.

Four Parts of a String Bend

String bends involve four separate steps. You can get different kinds of sounds depending on the order of these four steps. The paragraphs below describe the tab symbols used at this site. Tabs from other sources will use different symbols.

Pick Stroke – This can be either an up-stroke or a down-stroke. The ‘pick’ symbol is sometimes left out of the tablature since it’s implied every time there is a number in the tab. A bend can also begin with a hammer or pull in the left hand.

Bend – This is where you bend the string, usually upward toward the ceiling. A bend is usually used to raise a note by the equivalent of 1 fret, or 2 frets. But you can also get ‘microtonal’ notes or ‘blue’ notes that occur in-between. The tablature symbol is an up-arrow with a ‘1’ or ‘2’ above it that tells you to bend the string until the note rises by 1 fret or 2 frets.

Release – What goes up must come down. The release is where you relax the bent string and allow it to straighten again. If a note is sounding as you release, you will hear the note fall in pitch. If the string is muted, you wont hear the note fall. The tablature symbol is a down-arrow with a letter ‘R’ above it.

Mute – This is where you stop the string from vibrating, and so stop the note. The ‘mute’ symbol is left out of the tablature if it is the last step, since muting is implied before you go to the next note. The tablature symbol is a dot with a letter ‘M’ above it.

There are several ways to mute a string:

– with the pick
– with the side of your right hand
– with the fingers of your right hand
– with the side of your thumb above the pick
– by lifting your finger(s) off the fret(s)
– by playing the next note

Common Combinations of String Bending Techniques

Pick – Bend – Release – Mute
This combination gives you a note that rises and then falls.

Pick – Bend – Mute – Release
This combination gives you a note that rises, but doesn’t fall.

Bend – Pick – Release – Mute
This combination gives you a falling note.

Bend – Pick – Bend – Mute – Release
This combination gives you a note that falls and then rises again.

You shouldn’t try to bend strings on guitars with heavy strings. This can be bad for the guitar, and it puts excess stress on your fretting hand. If the guitar has strings heavier than .010 on the high E string, or if you have a wound G string, it’s impractical to bend strings.

Bending Strings On The Guitar

Copyright 2001 by Greg Varhaug. All Rights Reserved.