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Beyond Blues: The Bends

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Beyond Blues: The Bends
Bending strings is one of the coolest guitar techniques, and when it comes to playing blues, bends are essential. The most obvious bend is the whole-step. What solo would be complete without a bend from the b7 to the root, as in Fig. 1?


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But let’s look a bit deeper, shall we? In a minor-pentatonic scale, we have two intervals we can use for bluesy soloing, the whole-step and the minor-third bend. The scale formula for the minor pentatonic is root–b3–4–5–b7. Let’s apply this formula to the key of C (C–Eb–F–G–Bb) and look at the cool—and sometimes overlooked—bending options.

There are two minor-third intervals in the scale, C–Eb and G–Bb. The bend between the root and b3 as shown in Fig. 2 was a staple of Eric Clapton’s playing during the Cream era. This is often called an overbend, but really all we’re doing is bending within the scale. I’ve got to say I love this sound. Check out Clapton’s playing on Wheels of Fire for a great lesson on this particular bend. Actually check out everything he plays on that album!


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We move to the other minor-third interval in Fig. 3. This is a classic sound that I first picked up from listening to Jimi Hendrix. Now we have covered whole-step and minor-third bends, but let’s go deeper. In Fig. 4 we have a lick in the style of Albert King that will add a “blue” note, which will bring some half-step bends into the mix. Make sure to keep each bend in tune.


or download example audio


or download example audio

In my previous column [“The Composite Blues Scale,” June 2011], I discussed the composite blues scale, which is basically a scale derived from mixing both the major and minor blues scales. This adds some very cool notes that we can bend up to and out of. In Fig. 5, I take advantage of these half-steps by bending the 6 to the b7 and ending with a very cool bend from the b3 to the 3 of a C7 chord.


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Fig. 6 is a slick little move that works great over C7 and contains a bend from the 3 to the 4 in a very Jeff Beck-like fashion. The last example, shown in Fig. 7, is a cool move that advances chromatically from the b3 up to the 5—all done with bends.


or download example audio




or download example audio

Take your time with these examples. Bends can very easily land you in trouble if you play them out of tune. As an exercise, I suggest you first fret the note you plan to bend to, then bend into that target note and try to match the fretted pitch. If your fingertips are sore after checking out this lesson, you’re on the right track!


Jeff McErlain
Jeff McErlain is a New York City-based guitar player, producer, songwriter, and educator. He performs regularly in NYC and abroad with his trio and blues band. Jeff has a number of instructional DVDs available at TrueFire.com, and he is a featured instructor for the National Guitar Workshop. Jeff's latest CD I'm Tired is available on iTunes or at jeffmcerlain.com.

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