Power Blues Phrasiology - Bending

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A keyboard with strings instead of keys

In this article and the next to come, I'll be touching on something essential to blues rock soloing: Phrasing. When I started out, I looked upon the guitar as sort of a keyboard with strings instead of keys. You fretted the note and picked the string and that was that. This attitude also made me focus on cool effects and gimmicks first and on pickups and amp second, but that's another story.

The point is this: There's a reason why the electric guitar is so popular. It's alive, it's expressive and so versatile. Compared to a piano or a flute, the guitar allows you to produce an immense amount of colors and shades on what you play. furthermore the essence of the blues is emotion. Of course all styles of music is about emotion. But blues is about the darker emotions, sadness melancholy, anger, frustration and desperation even. And in my experience, there's no better instrument than the guitar to give life to these emotions.

Bending features

The speed at which you produce the notes you play are really only one element in your expressive tool box. But it's one that takes the most effort and practice to master. Today I'm going to give you a few licks that evolves around bending the strings. Before we begin, there are a few features of your instrument that you want to be aware of:

1. String gauge

As a rule, the heavier the strings, the harder it is to bend them. If you like the sound of extreme bends then you might want to consider using lighter strings like a set of 0.9

2. String material

The material that your strings are made of, influences how soft and flexible they are, and therefore also how easy they are to bend. Go for nickel wounded steel strings if you want to do some extreme bending.

3. Fret size & scallops

The bigger the frets, the easier it is to push the string sideways. If you have hard strings and small frets on your neck, you tend to "loose" the string in the middle of bending it. It slips out of you fingers and back into it's normal position again. This was the primary reason that Ritchie Blackmore started Scalloping his neck with sand paper. Big frets will give you more room to "get under" the string but if that isn't enough for you, check out a scalloped neck and see how you like it.

“I've said that playing the blues is like having to be black twice. Stevie [Ray Vaughan] missed on both counts, but I never noticed.”

B. B. King

How to make this easy

On top of that, there are several things you can do to make it easier to do the bending:

1. Use more than one finger

You can use more than on finger to grab the string and bend it.

2. Support the finger that does the work

Also you can strengthen any finger by pressing the other fingers against it.

3. Develop horny skin on your fingers
(Yes that word used to mean something different)

When you practice bending, you wear of the skin on your finger tips. And this hurts! But it's a necessary process. The body responds intelligently and recreates the skin only the new skin is much stronger. Then you wear it of again and the process repeats itself until you have the fingertips from hell.

Today's licks

Here's today's licks. Listen carefully and really get the sound of them in your head. Then play them yourself and don't stop playing them over and over again until it's easy for you to hit the right notes and replicate the rhythm of the lick precisely.

Bending the Blues