HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED HOW PLAYERS
such as Robben Ford, Oz Noy, Joe Bonamassa,
and Larry Carlton execute their lines
in such a fluid way, with great time and silky
soulfulness, while bending strings at the
same time? Well, here is a method that, when
practiced from the ground up, will help you
to incorporate some fluid bends in your
blues, soul, rock, or funk solos.
We will work with the minor pentatonic
scale as the foundation for an exciting
method for incorporating signature bends
into your playing. We do this by taking certain
degrees of this scale and bending (from
a fretted note to a target note) to create new
scales that can spice up our soloing lines.
When scales are practiced in this way as a
routine, with incorporated bends and using
a metronome, in time they become the foundation
and vocabulary for your improvisation
ideas and executing them on the fly eventually
becomes second nature.
Before we start, here are some string-bending
basics that you’ll want to keep in mind:
1) For the most part, bend the top three
(G, B, and E) strings by pushing upwards
against the fretboard toward the ceiling,
essentially straightening your fingers.
2) For the bottom 3 strings (4, 5, and 6),
pull them against the fretboard down towards
the floor, essentially curling your fingers.
3) Always bend with as many fingers as
you have available. Use your pinky, supported
by all other fingers when bending over larger
You should not feel any discomfort. Be
aware of your personal physical limits to
avoid any injury. If you are having difficulty with bends, try a lighter gauge string.
Let’s begin by learning or reviewing all
positions of the minor pentatonic. Many of
us already know the scale in Ex. 1, but it’s
important to know it really well. Now we
are going to take the basic pentatonic scale
and, in Ex. 2, create a blues scale using a
bend from the 4th degree to the b5 degree.
Lines from this scale are useful over minor
blues progressions or grooves, or dominant
7 grooves or progressions.
Go for a fluid sound on your bends.
When ascending, play degree 4 then bend
the note and attack it again at the top of the
bend (b5) to ensure good intonation and
time. Descending, you should do a bend
release, by fretting but not playing the note
(4) until you have bent it to the target note
(b5) then releasing and letting it slide down
to the 4 as you attack. As you become more
comfortable with the time and intonation,
you need not attack the target note either
ascending or descending. This will give you
a silky scoop up and down from the note.
You can check intonation against a fretted
b5 to make sure you are not over-bending.
Once that feels comfortable, try all the
positions of this scale in Examples 3a-3e. The
roots for a G minor pentatonic/G blues scale
are circled and the scale degrees you bend
to are hollow. By using this as your practice
guide, you should eventually be able to
start on any note, any string, and—making
that note a root—play this bending blues
scale to the highest and lowest degree without
After memorizing this scale, try writing
some lines or licks using it in context.
You can use Examples 4 through 7 as jumping-
Now that you have a handle on the
concept of using the pentatonic scale as
the foundation for this method, here is
another scale created from bending a different
degree of the pentatonic. I call this
scale the b3-3 scale. Here we take the flat
3 and bend up to the natural 3. Try it both
ascending (Ex. 8) and descending (Ex. 9).
This creates a sound that is useful over
progressions or grooves that have a dominant
7th flavor, but the simplicity of the
scale makes it very accessible to the listener.
Like we did before, work through
all the positions of this scale, following
the diagrams in Examples 10a-10e.
Check out Examples 11 through 15 using this
scale in context. With this scale you also have the
option to use b3 as a grace note, fretted momentarily
only to execute the bend
There are many more of these scales built from
bending the degrees of the pentatonic. If you really
want to take things to another level, try combining
these two scales! g
Thaddeus Hogarth is an Associate Professor of Guitar
at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He is an author on Berklee Press/Hal Leonard with
Funk/R&B Guitar: Creative Solos, Grooves and
Sounds and a faculty member at Berkleemusic.com with
his course Funk-Rock R&B Soloing
His music, singing and guitar playing can be found on
the Higher Ground Records Label at thaddeushogarth.com. thaddeushogarth.com
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