Guitar for the advanced

BENDING    There are few things to remember about bending
1. Always try to use more than one finger to push the string. You may not always be able to, depending on the passage you’re playing through, but using one finger is painful and more often than not you won’t reach the desired pitch. If you use very light gauge strings, you might succeed, but the more fingers you use, the easier (and less painful) it will be. You can see in the image that I’ve got three fingers all lined up on the one string and they are all assisting in pushing it sideways across the fretboard. My ring finger is the one that’s got the note under it; the middle and index are just helping with the push. With enough practice, this becomes automatic and your hand will know in advance how to organize the fingers as you’re playing in order to achieve this group effort.2. Bending is usually done on the thin strings. The thicker they get, the harder it becomes, so don’t feel discouraged if you can’t bend the A or even the D string. I usually confine my bending to the E and B strings. 3. Strings become ‘stiffer’ toward the nut and the bridge, so the best area to bend is somewhere up above the fifth fret. Again, a lot depends on the gauge of your strings, but trying to bend a string on fret 2 is a lot harder than fret 7 or 10.4. Make sure you keep a good solid contact with the fret wire. You need to keep applying the downward pressure on the string at the same time as applying the sideways push. The point of contact needs to slide across the fretwire cleanly so that you don’t choke the note off. A nice smooth action is needed.5. Try not to bend the pitch up beyond the target note. It will take a lot of practice and listening to be able to stop the bend when the pitch reaches the target note’s pitch. Being slightly flat of the desired pitch is much less disturbing than being sharp, but it will always sound best if you reach the desired note and stop.


Vbrato is that wobbly sound you often hear, in guitar solos especially, or when the player is playing melody lines, but you will also hear whole chords being ‘vibrato-ed’. It’s a technique that applies to most instruments and singing, the physics of which are to alter the pitch of the note in a pulsating manner. Singers do it with their voice boxes; we guitar players do it by altering the tension on the string once we’ve plucked a note. It’s done to add expression and can even extend the sustain of the note as it dies away, but mostly we do it because it sounds neat. There are a couple of ways of doing it on a guitar.The classicalway is to move your finger back and forth along the line of the string between the fretwires wherever your fingertip happens to find itself. You need to be quite firm about it, and it’s always going to be a very subtle effect, so don’t expect great wide variations in pitch. I’ve always found that the action is more in the arm/wrist/hand that the fingertip itself. Don’t think too much about the finger, concentrate on moving the weight of your forearm, but stay relaxed. Let gravity do the work. The other way, by far the more common way on steel string and electric guitars, is to physically wobble the string sideways across the fretwire. You don’t need much sideways movement, just enough to raise the pitch slightly, but you must allow the string to quickly relax back to its normal tension, then reapply the sideways pressure, and relax again. It’s not the easiest technique to master, but once you do you will be able to alter the depth and speed of the vibrato at will. You will hear many players wait a second or two before applying it, letting the note sit still for a while, then wobbling it. Singers do the same with their voices, and it’s a good idea to listen to singers and copy their timing ideas. Most players wind up with their own sound when it comes to vibrato. BB King, for example, has a very distinctive sound and way of playing vibrato. He’s instantly recognizable once you hear that vibrato. He seems to lift everything but his fingertip off the finger board and flutters his hand like a butterfly. It’s a very personal technique, involving microtones and nanoseconds, so make sure you experiment as much as you can with it to find your way of doing it.


Natural harmonicsThe physics of vibrating strings is a complex subject in which I have no expertise, other than twanging music out of them, so I won’t pretend to know the details. I do know that when you strike a guitar string, the note that you hear is called the ‘fundamental’. It’s by far the loudest note created, but along with it you are also hearing ‘harmonics’. These are subsidiary tones that accompany the fundamental, and are responsible for making each instrument sound the way it does.Guitar ‘harmonics’ are created when you lightly touch the string with your finger at specific positions and then pluck the string. This causes both sections of the string, to the right and left of the spot you’re touching, to vibrate simultaneously, giving a bell like quality to the note. It’s best to quickly remove your finger as you pluck. What you are doing is damping the fundamental and only hearing the harmonics. There are three main points along the string where you can this: the fifth, seventh and twelfth frets … directly above the fret-wire. At these points, the string is divided exactly into fourths, thirds and halves respectively. The purity of sound comes from these perfect fractions of string ringing together. If you try it anywhere else on the string, you hear a dead sound without any ring.The movie shows the technique quite well. Artificial harmonicsArtificial harmonics are those created on a string that’s already fretted by the left hand. The right hand must do the light touch AND the pluck at the same time, AND the position of the light touch must be five, seven or (usually) twelve frets away from the fretting hand … a lot to think about. You can arpeggiate whole chords using artificial harmonics by following the same shapes as the chords your fretting hand is forming … 12 frets up the neck. So you have to imagine that the 12 fret is the nut, and then you have to see those shapes up there and gently touch the strings exactly above the fretwire, all the while plucking them with your ring finger. If you have a lot of time on your hands, this is something you can practice.Pinch HarmonicsPinch harmonics are the same as artificial harmonics, but instead of using your index finger and ring finger, you use your thumb and index in a pinching action on the string. You need to touch the string with the side of the thumb (above the appropriate point on the string) and then pluck it with the index finger just behind the thumb. It’s a lot easier to on electric guitars and if you move your thumb along the string as you continue plucking, you will hear a whole lot of harmonics ring out as your thumb crosses over the nodes, which is where the string’s vibrations cross over.



Pull-offs are a very common guitar technique, something you will want to get happening as soon as you can. They’re mostly used when playing melodically, but can also be used when playing chords, especially the open shapes. A ‘pull-off’ is the opposite of a hammer on. Where hammering on allows you to go up in pitch without picking the new note, pulling off allows you to go down in pitch. That’s because when you pull a finger off a string to another fret, it can only be toward the nut, which lengthens the string, and the pitch must go down.Of course, you must already be holding down the next note(s). The action is a kind of sideways pulling twang and release from the finger holding down the first note, so you’re actually plucking the string with the fretting finger. When enough twang is applied, the string vibrates as the new (already fretted) note. The movie above shows a bunch of pull-offs. These hammer-on/pull-offs become second nature very quickly with a little practice, and really come in handy. The term ‘legato’ is used to describe this way of playing.


When you play a note and then ‘hammer’ your finger down on the string higher up the fretboard, WITHOUT picking it again, you’re executing a ‘hammer-on’. They are mostly used when playing melodically and you want to go up in pitch from one note to another without picking both notes. You pluck the first, then hammer your fingertip onto the new fret position. The vibration from the initial pluck continues on and the new note rings out. You need to be very positive about bringing your fingertip down, however. That string has to be shorter before it knows what hit it. Only then will the ring carry through both notes.If you’re slow and meek about it, the note will die. You’ll find that when you get good at it, you can make any note ring out without any picking at all, that the firm hammering action is enough in itself to get the string a’ringin’. Hammer-ons only ever let you go up in pitch, since, by their very nature, you are always going to be shortening the string. Shorter string = higher pitch. Hammer-ons are the opposite of pull-offs, and you’ll find that they usually go together in a line or phrase; that you hammer-on going up, pull-off coming back down. The movie goes into it all in detail.


My favorite way of playing guitar is to use my bare fingers rather than a flat pick. I have always had trouble controlling plectrums (plectra?) … they would either swivel around between my thumb and forefinger, or I’d drop them (usually inside the guitar) or I’d lose them all and have to use bits of cardboard or pieces of plastic as picks. I eventually decided to forget about them altogether and just use my fingers. I did experiment with finger picks and a thumb pick, but once again, if you lose or break one, you find yourself up the creek. I have grown to love being in direct contact with the strings, but many finger stylists do use thumb pick. It all comes down to personal taste and comfort. Fingerstyle and fingerpicking are not quite the same. Figerstyle I guess does include fingerpicking, but the latter is more pattern oriented and is really a fancy and rhythmical way of playing arpeggios, whereas fingerstyle is a way of orchestrating the guitar … playing bass lines, melody lines and chord fragments at the same time, weaving them all together into one ‘part’. Fingerstyle, to my mind, maximizes the potential of the guitar. Not many instruments allow you to do this and to simply strum or play single note lines seems a waste. There are well over a hundred fingerstyle lessons on this site, of all levels of difficulty, so you’ll have plenty to work on if you enjoy this way of playing as much as I do.

Squeling on guitar

The opinions, views, and ideas expressed , do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of the Guitar Society. Send all thoughts, comments, disagreements, and rants to All e-mails will be considered for publication.

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