In this free guitar lesson, we are going to look at two simple exercises that will drastically improve your string bends and vibrato on electric guitar.
String bends and vibrato are absolutely vital ornamentation techniques that you must master, if you want your lead guitar playing to sound good.
When we listen to lead guitar players and solos that we enjoy, one thing we are listening for (although, most people would not be able to say this), is that players’ use of ornamentation, and specifically, string bends and vibrato.
What Do String Bends and Vibrato Rely On?
String bends and vibrato both rely upon the same skills:
- Being able to bend the string
- Being able to bend the string to a specific pitch
- Being able to bend the string to a specific pitch and control the contour of that bend through time
Most guitar players have two very specific weaknesses when it comes to string bends and vibrato:
- They don’t have the strength to be able to bend the string to the required pitch
- They cannot recognise the pitch they are bending to
Now, to do vibrato and string bends effectively, we have to be able to control these variables on a millisecond timescale. Fortunately, by slowly training the aspects of this technique separately, our brain will figure out how to do these techniques fast enough – it’s almost like magic!
Why Does Your Vibrato and String Bending Sound Bad?
Vibrato and string bends sound bad when they are out of pitch, and to a lesser extent, out of time.
Imagine you were playing a guitar solo, and someone was twiddling your tuning pegs while you played. It would sound awful, right?
When you cannot reliably target specific pitches with your string bends and vibratos, this is what you string bends and vibratos sound like.
There are two simple exercises that I demonstrate in the video that will help you improve your string bends and vibrato:
Two Simple Exercises to Improve Your String Bends and Vibrato
Exercise 1: Clown Bends
The first thing that we will do, is work on improving your strength and ability to bend the string.
Warning: If your strings are old, you may break them!
Hold down fret 12 on the 2nd string. Now, following the technique in the video, bend it as hard as you can. Bring the string back down. Repeat.
Do this for 2 minutes (if you feel any pain in your arm – stop!).
This exercise is like doing weightlifting for your string bending muscles. It’s going to help give you the strength needed to do great string bends and vibrato on guitar.
Exercise 2: Bending to Pitch
The next exercise, as demonstrated in the above video, is to hold down fret 12 on the 2nd string (the pitch B), and using a clip on tuner (or your phone), slowly bend the string until your tuner registers the pitch C.
Do this slowly, while repeatedly picking the string.
With this exercise, we are training your ears to recognise a very specific pitch. This skill alone will make your bends and vibrato sound much, much better, as you will be able to target specific pitches with your string bends… rather than hitting totally random pitches with your string bends.
Do the two above exercises for just 2 minutes each, per day, for 30 days.
This is an exercise that takes a little but often approach, but it will be highly effective.
If you want to double it up, repeat the exercise on fret 5 on the second string (E), doing the clown bends and also bending to the next pitch (F). Do the exercises here for two minutes each (total practice time should now be 8 minutes).
Do the exercises carefully, slowly, paying attention with your ears, and use a timer – you don’t really need to do any more than a couple of minutes a day.
Apply String Bends and Vibrato to Scales
Once you are getting the hang of doing string bends and vibrato more accurately, it can be fun to start applying these ideas to scales. To start off with, take scales that have notes that are one fret (or a half step / semitone), apart. The standard major scale, the hirajoshi scale and several exotic neoclassical guitar scales all have notes a half step apart.
Look into some of those scales and have a go at bending between those notes.
So, string bending and vibrato. It’s a vital skill to master… and fortunately, the exercises that it takes to master this skill are easy and simple to do. This is a vital part of making your guitar playing sound great. It’s especially important for guitar players wanting to play neoclassical metal on guitar.
Make sure that you are consistent in practising these exercises daily, for 30 days.
Leave a comment below if you have a question, or if you’ve tried this and are seeing results!