Here is a post from guest poster Leigh Fuge, Head of Content and music teacher behind the http://mgrmusic.com. I think all of the guitarists reading this will enjoy the article!
Bent Into Shape – Major Scale Ear Training
String bending and ear training go hand in hand. As a teacher one question I get asked on a regular basis is “how far do I bend the string?”, while I’d love to give a visual answer to this each time, the answer lies with your hearing. When does the note sound like it’s where it needs to be? This is a skill that is easy to learn but takes a lot of practise to master. Once you’ve trained your ears you’ll be rewarded with the sweetest, in tune bends you can imagine.
What can we do to train our ears and help our string bending at the same time? Well there are 2 key elements to great string bending. Your fingers and your ears. Training these 2 things should come as a package, you need your fingers to be strong enough to make those all-important bends but you also need your ears to be listening, so you know where your pitch is heading.
An exercise I think is highly beneficial for string bending and ear training is to take the notes of the A Major Scale (A B C# D E F# G#) and play them in ascending groups of 3 from the 2nd fret of the G string (Ex. 1). This first part does not use any bending, but it will get the notes into your ears. The first 2 notes of each bar are played as ¼ notes while the third note is played as a ½ note (This extra length is what you should be listening to – get that pitch in your mind).
Once you’ve gotten those pitches in your ear, you can then start to work through the 3 note groupings again but bending each 3rd note in the group (Ex. 2). You’ll be bending the following:
- 4th fret from a B to a C# (Whole tone)
- 6th fret from a C# to a D (1/2 tone)
- 7th fret from a D to an E (Whole tone)
- 9th fret from an E to an F# (Whole tone)
- 11th fret from an F# to a G# (Whole tone)
- 13th fret from a G# to an A (1/2 tone)
Be sure to put the focus on the pitch of the bend. You want to bend it from the note you’re playing to the target note in the scale. Don’t forget to support your bends with multiple fingers, especially the whole tone bends. To play these bends, play the note before you bend it, then gradually bend up to the target note. This works great with a metronome where the first 2 notes are ¼ notes and the bend is a ½ note. Having the bend as a ½ note allows you to hear the range of the bend up to the desired pitch. Practising this with a metronome at a comfortable speed will allow you to slowly increase your speed until you can hit your target quickly.
Watch out for over or under bending. You want to really get the pitch of the target note in your ear by playing it, then bend the previous note up to it (This will help you hear what you’re aiming for with your bend.
Once you feel you’re a little more comfortable with gradually bending the note from the note you play to the target note, and you feel you are hitting the target quite consistently, we can introduce the concept of pre-bends (Ex. 3). A pre-bend is when you bend the string to the desired pitch before picking the string. This will make the exercise more challenging as you’ll be testing your strength and muscle memory rather than your ear. Your ear will act as your guide when you play the note to tell you if you’ve hit the mark or if your sharp/flat. For this exercise, you’ll be pre-bending the note you were gradually bending before.
Once you’ve gotten to grips with playing the scale ascending with the pre-bends, we can flip this around and work backwards from the top note to the root, this will give the exercise a different challenge. Play the scale in descending groups of 3 (Ex. 4) to get the pitches into your ear. When we worked ascending, the note of importance was the third note in each grouping. We played this note as a ½ note and the preceding two notes as ¼ notes. In the case of doing this descending, the important note is now the first one in each bar. This note will become out ½ note and the two notes that follow will become our ¼ notes.
Now, we are going to work backwards: the first note is going to be your bend, for the previously stated ½ note duration, (From the middle note of each 3 group to the highest) which will then be followed by 2 picked notes (Ex. 5). Play the middle note first before gradually bending up to the target note.
As with playing the scale ascending order, the trick is to still use your ears to hear the target pitch. Bending gradually up to the target note will allow you to hear when you’ve hit that pitch. It will also boost your finger strength and fluidity of bending. As with the ascending version, it will also make great finger and ear training to apply pre-bends to the descending run (Ex. 6). You’ll be playing the pre-bent note, followed by 2 picked notes.
Whilst all these exercises run the length of the scale, you can break them up into small chunks. If you’re finding it difficult to move up or down the full range then start off with 1 or 2 bars and get those fluent, then add a third bar and slowly work up to the full scale.
Don’t feel disheartened if you don’t nail this in a few days. It takes a while to train your ears. Relax, trust your instincts and more importantly, enjoy!
About the Author
Leigh Fuge is Head of Content and music teacher behind the http://mgrmusic.com platform, the #1 online community for music teachers & students in the UK. 34,500 music students nationally and hundreds of music teachers from across the world use the platform. He is responsible for creating and managing content for the MGR platform and providing content for MGR partners. He is also a UK based guitar tutor and touring musician.