For this second instalment of Guthrie Govan's five-part series on string bending, our intrepid guitar hero shows you how to add more expressive and vocal bending techniques to your vocabulary
My last column introduced a bending approach in the familiar context of the minor pentatonic scale. This time, we'll be applying a similarly systematic approach to seven-note diatonic scales and also introducing a few new inflections to your bending vocabulary…
The following examples are (almost) all based on the E major scale, which contains the notes E, F#, G#, A, B, C# and D#. Some of the following ideas work best when applied 'positionally', with the fretting hand rooted in one small area of the fretboard and using multiple strings, whereas other ideas show more of their true potential when you stay on a single string and utilise the whole length of the neck to achieve melodic range.
Let's go through the examples in sequence…
Ex1 illustrates a whole fretboard's worth of the relevant seven notes, and it should prove to be an equally handy reference for both approaches. The aim of this column is to develop a vocabulary of bending building blocks to apply to any seven-note scale.
Ex1 chart (right-click to download)
Ex2 picks things up from where we left off last month, illustrating the systematic quest for every possible melodic bend within a given scale shape. Each group of three notes comprises the starting pitch, followed by a reference target pitch (provided by the scale shape) and then finally the bend itself.
When you become more confident with your pitching, you can happily ignore the first two of every group of three notes and focus exclusively on the bends: as a starting point, however, it can be very helpful to be able to hear the target pitch of the bend before attempting it.
Naturally, you can apply the same approach to all six strings in any major scale shape, but this example illustrates the basic idea.
Ex2 tab (right-click to download)
Ex3 will also look familiar to those readers who worked through last issue's column: it's the pre-bending version of Ex. 2 and it requires a little extra confidence, as you essentially have to guess the correct amount of bending before striking the string. Practice makes perfect…
Ex3 tab (right-click to download)
Ex4 is an example of a less positional approach: staying on one string like this feels somehow more vocal, which can often encourage a more melodic way of thinking.
The basic concept of this example can also be used as a good test for your ear: try playing through the seven notes of the scale, in the position of your choice, and then try to find all the appropriate notes and accompanying bends on any given string, without referring to any tab or neck diagrams.
Ex4 tab (right-click to download)
Ex5 brings some sliding into the mix. Sliding and bending can complement each other very effectively within a lick, as each of these approaches tends to add a certain fluidity between one note and the next, adding more of a human quality to the phrasing.
It's important to focus on ensuring that the target note at the end of each slide (the F# at beat 2, for instance) rings out with as much volume and clarity as possible: try to slide with confidence and focus on the idea that the note at the end of each sliding motion needs to sound like a distinct melodic event.
Being fluent with this mixture of bending and sliding will hopefully bring out some of your inner Mike Landau, and it's a great way to connect different scale shapes mid-phrase.
Ex5 tab (right-click to download)
Ex6 is slightly trickier than it looks, as it requires you to execute two movements at once. Once you've bent the original note up to F#, the idea is to release the bend while sliding up two frets towards the un-bent F# at the seventh fret.
Try to make this double movement as fast and efficient as possible, and the result should be a quirky-sounding effect where you hear two different versions of the same note in rapid succession.
Needless to say, it's worth trying this all over the neck as it works with any two adjacent scale notes. If you're feeling adventurous, you might also enjoy applying this idea within a pentatonic scale.
Ex6 tab (right-click to download)
Ex7 illustrates what happens when you slide in the opposite direction. The basic movement is similar, but now we're releasing the bend while sliding down in pitch, so there's a little more melodic information in each three-note cell here.
If you experiment with the speed of the slide and the bend release, you should be able to make this sound something akin to that Vai-esque 'bouncing whammy bar' trick…
Ex7 tab (right-click to download)
Ex8, our final quirky bending idea, takes inspiration from the pitch-wheel style of note bending popularised by synth players such as Jan Hammer.
As with the last two examples, Ex. 8 requires you to do two things at once, and the fun part occurs between the second and third notes of each three note group.
At that point, you need to release the fifth-fret bend while hammering on at the seventh, and your goal is to disguise the descending pitch of the bent note being released. This works best if you focus more on the hammer-on motion while trusting the release of the bent note will happen naturally.
At first, I would recommend starting at a slower tempo, trying to execute the release/hammer motion as fast as possible, but taking every other aspect of the lick at a very relaxed pace. Enjoy exploring these ideas and exercises and stay tuned for some more bending licks next issue.
Ex8 tab (right-click to download)
Guthrie tours the UK and Ireland with The Aristocrats from 12 December - head to the band's site for dates.