Rhythm Workshop: Release Yourself!

July 16, 2014

What goes up must come down. Thus far, all of the rhythmic pitch bends we’ve examined have had inaudible releases. A release is simply a bend in reverse, and audible releases vastly increase the melodic potential of pitch-bending, but it is up to you to determine whether the release of any bend is heard or not. To release a bend, simply return the string to its point of origin—either gradually or in strict rhythm—while maintaining enough pressure to sustain the note. This technique opens up worlds of melodic phrasing options.


Examples 1a through 1e reprise the same one-beat rhythmic bends we began with last month, only in reverse. Here, we’ve got a grace-note release from a pre-bent A in Ex. 1a, a sixteenth-note release from a grace-note bend in Ex. 1b, an eighth-note release in Ex. 1c, a dotted-eighth-to-sixteenth release in Ex. 1d, and a quarter-note release in Ex. 1e. (Tip: Try starting Examples 1b through 1e with a pre-bend.)


Ex. 2a condenses these first four rhythmic releases into a single measure, while Ex. 2b follows suit using only pre-bends. Ex. 2c shows how to adapt the same releases to oblique bends, where two notes are played but only one is bent and/or released.


In practice, these seemingly minute rhythmic variations can have a marked effect on any melodic line. Apply them to a singular lick, such as the one notated in Examples 3a through 3d, and their differences quickly become apparent, especially at medium and slower tempos.

Each release can also be extended beyond beat one, and Examples 4a through 4d reveal what happens when each of our four rhythmic releases is displaced to beat two. You may also extend the same releases to beats three and four, or even into the next measure. (Bonus: For a more blues-y vibe, try substituting halfstep Eb bends for all E’s in the previous eight examples.)

Examples 5a through 5c illustrate how to apply various rhythmic releases to both full and fragmented C-major/A-minor scale sequences, played on a single string or in fifth position. Try recasting them over any chord diatonic to the key of CC(maj7), Dm(7), Em(7), F(maj7), G(7), Am(7), or Bdim/Bm7b5—to produce different modalities.


Strive to recognize real-world applications of these techniques wherever you can. For instance, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of melodic bends and releases than Jeff Beck’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “’Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” from Blow by Blow. Ex. 6 paraphrases Beck’s moves— which include a bent bend (!)—over the song’s introductory Cm7(9)-Abmaj7- Fm7-F/A-C/Bb progression. (Tip: Add the notated volume control swells for total authenticity.) Partially released bends present another avenue for exploration, so for extra credit, try repeating bar 1 with only a half-step release (from D to C#) over A-F#m7-D-E, and observe the melodic and harmonic transformation.

Continuity Alert: Check out Adrian Belew’s rhythmic bends and releases with King Crimson—performed with and without whammy bar—in bars 3 and 4 of Ex. 7c in the February 2014 issue’s Under Investigation. You can also adapt most of the above examples to any of the single-string major scale patterns or combined tetrachords in this month’s Fretboard Recipes.

Next: Combined rhythmic bends and releases.

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