Blues Bends: A Getting Started Guide

Lesson #457 • Oct 23, 2022


I’m excited to dive into the blues in this week’s lesson. I’ll show you a beginner’s guide to bending strings — which is an amazing way to add expression to your melodic phrasing – as part of your blues lead guitar technique.

In my lesson I’ll teach you 4 different melodic phrases, each of uses at least one bend for you to sink your teeth into. These can all be played over the A-Major chord, which is what you’ll hear in the jam track I made to accompany my video lesson. While I’m no expert on the topic, I am happy to share the steps I took in getting going with this technique (which was brand new to me) over this past week. I hope you enjoy!

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Slow Playthrough

All 4 riffs shown up-close, with tabs, without talking. These match the tabs shown in my 2-page PDF. A great way to practice things in a focused manner. Requires membership to Song Notes Premium.

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Instructional PDF 2 pages

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Jam Track

Here’s a jam track I use in my video lesson, which repeats the A-major chord (in as pleasing a way as I could play) for approximately 5 minutes. This is a great track to practice over, as you don’t need to worry about chord changes. Each of the riffs I teach can be played over this jam track.

Download jam track as mp3, or listen below:

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Inspiration For This Lesson

Coming off last week’s lesson for Melissa by the Allman Brothers, I had a slight bit of the blues in my ear. In between bits of progress writing up Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam, I found myself doing some late-night noodling over the 12 bar blues. And then something clicked for me.

For the first time that I can ever remember, I started using quarter-note (very subtle) blues bends to spice up some very simple blues phrases I was playing. The impact was quite immediate. The beautifully nuanced expression that that bends make possible hit me like a ton of bricks. While the phrases I was playing were incredibly simple, the “listening” required to really nail those subtle blues bends swept me away. This was literally something I’d never done before in my 20 years of guitar playing.

Bend it enough, but not too much. Take it slow. Hang on the note. Rinse and repeat. Sure, this was just a practice session — but I was feeling it. Here’s a 90 second video from my actual late-night practice session — you can hear some of the seeds that would become this lesson.

After dusting things off the next morning, I realized how much I had to learn with getting the “feel” of bends just right. When I decided to pack this into a lesson for the upcoming weekend, I knew I had to keep it simple. One decision I embraced was using a single chord (A major) as the backdrop. I recorded a jam track and used that to practice these simple riffs — something I’d never done before.

Blues continues to be a topic that I want to explore further, as there’s such a rich & vibrant aspect to the sound. More lessons to come, but I’m proud of this one as the latest hat thrown into the ring.

A couple years back I had a similar breakthrough moment, when it came to flat-3rds and flat-7ths. Until that point, those notes were a big blind spot for me, as they don’t really fall into the notes-in-whatever-key when it comes to music theory & diatonic scales. Yet, these notes are so prevalent in popular music — it was quite impossible not to “hear” them everywhere.

And finally, this short clip from Herbie Hancock is must-watch. On the topic of making a mistake while playing with Miles Davis. Herbie played a “wrong note” and froze in fear, only to have Miles “make it right” through his musical response a few moments later. We all can’t be Miles Davis, but we can bring a sense of no-judgement into our own playing, practicing, and noodling. This was very much in my mind during that practice session which lead to the bended notes that inspired this lesson.

Skip to 2:07 to hear his telling of the story begin.

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