There are a few things that are simply a must know skill in the blues. Using quarter step bends is one of those skills.
There are shades of notes.
That one simple truth about music took me forever to realize. Maybe this inherently makes sense to you, but it was a tough concept for me.
You see, when I first thought about the fretboard, I saw this grid of possible notes created by intersecting the frets with the strings. I guess I thought of the fretboard like a piano (I don’t play piano, but there was always one at my grandparents house). Anyway, all those black and white keys are laid out neatly in a row. The keys are the only options for pitches. No more, no less.
So does the grid-work of the fretboard create a finite set of notes to choose from on the guitar?
Not when you get into string bending.
How String Bending Colors the Notes
Bending strings effectively allows an almost infinite number of pitches to be played on the guitar. When you bend you can push a C note up to C sharp. But, the cool thing is that you can bend it to a sound somewhere in between a C and a C Sharp. The guitar is more like the human voice than a piano in this way.
A person can certainly sing in between a C and a C sharp. I used to doing all the time – it’s called singing off pitch 🙂
But, if done correctly, these out of tune notes that we can access by subtle bending can add a wonderful human-like quality to your blues licks.
In guitar-speak we’ve termed these tiny bends, quarter step bends. You’ll see this written as the fraction 1/4 in modern guitar TAB.
If you’re new to bending altogether, you may want to have a look at this (very) old BGI video that gets a little deeper on the basics of bending.
About the Example Lick
The lick in the video for this lesson is chock full of bluesy little quarter step bends. It’s very difficult to explain the subtlety and finesse required to make these things sound great, but if you use your ears and watch the video closely, I’m sure you’ll hear the sound we’re looking for.
I really recommend taking a stab at this lick, but really the focus should be on the bending. Once you have the quarter step bending technique down, you’ll find them creeping up into your playing everywhere.
I can’t hardly play anything without putting this little bluesy ‘cry’ on certain notes.
So, practice up and have fun with this!