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The Correct Way To Perform A Bend/Vibrato

The purpose of bend is to shift the pitch of a note higher or lower (if you have a whammy bar). Vibrato uses the same technique as string bending, except, for vibratos, the bends are played repeatedly. It can be used in all playing styles and can add a great amount of expression and emotion to your playing. 

The elements to a good bend/vibrato are technique, accuracy and tone. There are a variety of ways you can use these two techniques. it can be subtle or aggressive, wide or shallow, fast or slow, or a combination of two or more, depending on the sound you wish to achieve. 

Here are the correct techniques required to perform great sounding bends and vibratos:

Having A Strong Pivot Point

The key to a good bend is having a strong pivot point on your fretting hand. This is done by locking the base of your first finger to the bottom of the neck. Once you have a strong pivot point, you will be able to perform a bend with any finger. Note that when using your second, third and fourth fingers for bends, all the other fingers behind the note need to be pressed up against the finger doing the bend for extra support. They don’t necessarily need to be spread out across each fret. 

Having a strong pivot is necessary in order to perform the other mechanics involved in these techniques.

Thumb Over The Neck

Once you have the right pivot point, you will need to make sure your thumb is resting over the top of the neck instead of behind the neck. Your thumb should be roughly aligned with your middle finger. 

This will allow you to gain better control and consistency over your bends and vibratos. 

This is only necessary when you are bending the string. For general playing you do not always need the thumb to be over the neck. So moving between playing regular notes and doing a bend or vibrato will require your thumb to keep switching positions from behind the neck to over the top of the neck. 

Proper Wrist Motions

The correct motion involved when bending a string comes from moving (or turning) the wrist and NOT from stretching out your fingers. Once you have your pivot locked and your thumb over the neck, turn your wrist as if you were opening a doorknob, in order to bend the string towards the ceiling. You should start with your wrist being almost parallel to the wall. As you move your wrist to bend the string, your wrist should turn to face the ceiling. 

To bend the note down towards the floor, perform the wrist motion in the opposite direction. Generally you would only bend the middle four strings in two directions (up and down). The outer two strings can only be bent towards the middle of the fretboard. 

If you are new to this technique, it may feel rather awkward in the beginning while your hands are still getting used to the proper motions involved. Keep a checklist of these proper techniques whenever practicing your bends and vibrato and don’t get too caught up on bending the string to the point where you sacrifice the technique. The more you work on this the more these motions will feel natural. 


Once you have the technique down, you can then focus on the accuracy of your bend. Start by fretting a note one fret above the note you wish to bend. This will be the reference for your target pitch. Then, bend the note one fret before the target note until it reaches the same pitch as the target note. Keep comparing the bent note to the target note. Bend up slowly and make sure to kill the note before releasing the bend. 

Once you are able to consistently hit the target note, try bending the note up without picking it. Only pick the note when you believe you have reached the correct pitch. Compare this pre-bent note to the target note and try to get it as accurate as possible.

Do this using every finger, across all the strings and up and down the fretboard. Repeat with 2, 3 or even 4 fret bends. 

Learning to play guitar on your own can be frustrating and challenging, especially if  you don’t know what to do. Having a great teacher makes the whole process more  fun, enjoyable and gets you real results fast.  

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