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Michael Casswell - Pro Concepts Season 1 - Part 3: Pro String Bending

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 3 **

Welcome again to my Pro Concepts guitar lesson series, where we explore some cool ideas to take your guitar playing up a gear and give it a certain 'something'. I hope you enjoyed last month's exploration into thinking creatively and giving an idea 'musical weight'. We're going to carry on with that theme this month, incorporating some string bending techniques.

String bending is standard issue to all guitarists out there, and the law of averages says that after a number of years, you will be using this as a tool in your playing. So hopefully, you are at the stage where your string bends sound expressive, and not like a dying cat! But just in case you still are at the dead feline stage, in this issue I'll run through some tips and ideas to get you past this painful time in a guitarist's life, quicker.

Firstly, when you practice, check the pitch you are going to bend too, before bending the string to it. It's all about muscle memory, and your hand has to learn what it has to do, on that particular string, with that particular interval bend. Remember, each string has a different tension so, again, your hand has to learn to compensate to perform a bend accurately.

Secondly, use two or three fingers on the string when you bend. The more fingers, the more strength. The more strength, the more accuracy and control. This is especially important for vibrato at the top of a bend, which is another hurdle for your muscle memory. Thirdly, if you use a floating whammy bar on your guitar, you will have to bend a string further in order to reach the pitch you are after, to compensate for the movement of your tremolo as you bend a string up in pitch.

So do bear that in mind if you ever switch between stop tail and whammy bar equipped guitars!

Initially, try to keep your bends snappy and direct, because that gets rid of a lot of the 'dying cat syndrome' which can plague your inaccurate string bend -  'searching' for a pitch to land on! Only until your muscle memory is up to speed, can you even start  thinking about doing those expressive slow bends from the book of Gilmour or Moore. It does pay to record yourself, too, and listen back to how you are doing. As a kid, I took a cassette recorder (giving my age away now!) to every jam, rehearsal or gig, so I could listen back to myself and hear any moments that were great, or any moments that were horrible and never to be repeated. I did this not just for string bending, but for my playing as whole. It really works, and lets you know in no uncertain terms what you need to work on.

Please be critical about your own playing, because string bending and vibrato can instantly say where and what you are as a player, and can be the difference between you being respected and getting work, or just someone that owns a guitar.

There are many aspects to bending a note in way that catches the ear. In the filming of this, I only had time to explore a couple of ideas, but hopefully the musical weight will give you some food for thought - or at the very least, will give you a cool run that you can steal!

As you saw last month, the end phrase or lick that we get to, is only part of the story. What I do in front of the camera is try to show you how to arrive at a cool idea that has massive weight, and get us away from the mundane and mediocre stuff that we have all heard a hundred times before. I don't have a prepared specific idea when we film, just a theme and a creative thought process which I'm trying to get across. So hopefully,  thinking creatively will help me, on camera, compose a run or a phrase that uses some interesting string bending ideas that you can take away and work on. Or at the very least, I hope we end-up with a strong phrase that we can simply throw in a solo.

String bends are a huge subject, and I plan to show you more in future 'pro concept' columns. You can always let me me know if you are enjoying where we are going with this project, on my LickLibrary forum, or my facebook page.


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