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How To Play Badass Lead Guitar Licks, Part Two: Creative Bend Application
By Tom Hess - 05/12/2014 - 12:36 PM EDT

Boring guitar solos are usually NOT the result of a lack of musical talent or technical skill. Instead, you will struggle to play killer guitar solos when you use the same process for improving your solos every time. For example, here are the two most common ways guitar players try to make their solos sound better:

Approach 1:Adding on more notes to the solo.

Approach 2:Replacing the old notes/licks of the solo with new ones.

With this in mind, these approaches can work for you some of the time, but when used exclusively, they will NOT help you create truly memorable solos on a consistent basis. To do this, you need to take an additional approach:

Approach 3:Dissect your guitar solo lick by lick and enhance it by changing HOW every note is played. Truth is, by simply changing the way the notes in a lick are played (without actually changing the notes themselves) you can easily end up with a much higher quality guitar solo. On the other hand, if you never invest time into improving the way you play the notes, you will only be able to add new notes to the solo that are just as ‘average’ sounding as the ones you began with.

Check out a guitar soloing demonstration below to see and hear how this idea can easily be used to improve any guitar solo:

Now it’s YOUR turn to improve your guitar solos. Select a solo you would like to improve and implement the steps discussed below to the licks within it. To do this, you have three options:

Option 1: If you have written your own guitar solos, use it.

Option 2: If you know how to play the guitar solo(s) of your favorite band/guitarist, choose one of them.

Option 3: If none of the above options apply for you, think of several guitar licks (in the same key) that you can play consecutively. This will allow you to play through the exercise even if you don’t know how to play an entire solo yet.

In articles I wrote before, I explained how to play better guitar licks using legato technique, double stops and other lead guitar playing methods. You will now learn how to use bends in highly creative and unique ways to play better solos than you’ve ever played before. Note: Yes, bends are not an extremely complicated technique, but there is A LOT more to the nuances of bending strings than most guitarists realize. If you struggle to make your guitar solos sound awesome, then you haven’t yet mastered the creative bending variations I will have you practice below. So DO the exercise and watch it improve your lead guitar skills:

Guitar Soloing Technique #1: Using Bends To Add Depth To Your Licks

Step 1: Pick any lick within a guitar solo.

Step 2: Think as creatively as possible about the different ways bends could be used to connect together the notes in the lick. Usually the first and last notes are the least difficult to ornament using string bends. (Also, make sure your bends are always in tune.)

Step 3 (optional): After bending up to the desired note, increase the intensity and aggression of the lick by using wide vibrato. The following is an example of how steps 2 and 3 would sound like together:

Example– A short guitar lick that utilizes bends and vibrato on the third note and ending note. You will notice two variations: one that uses vibrato on the 3rd note and another that does not: Hear It

(Watch the demonstration in the video above for a more detailed example of this.)

Step 4: Play the slightly changed lick 3-5 times.

Step 5: Repeat steps two through four, only this time bend up to a new note in the lick. Then contrast the way each of your licks sound when compared to one another. Repeat this approach for every note in the lick.

Step 6: Determine which version of your lick you think sounds best and use it to replace the original lick.

Step 7: Choose a new lick in your solo and either repeat these steps or use the ideas in technique #2 (and #3) below.

Guitar Soloing Technique #2: Using Bends Of Varying Speeds

In general, guitar players exclusively use bends in the following manner: They start by striking the note, then they ‘instantly’ bend the string up to match the target pitch. This is what it sounds like: Hear It (listen for the bend on the third note)

Your guitar solos will sound much more creative when you use bends at varying speeds rather than always ‘immediately’ bending to the target note. Here is how to do this:

Step 1: Take one of the licks within your guitar solo and pick two notes within that lick (that are 2 frets or less away from each other on the fretboard).

Step 2: Strike the string and ‘slowly’ begin bending the string from the original note to the higher one. This will move the lower note up in pitch just a little bit (this will make it feel out of tune for the moment).

Step 3: As you near the target note of your bend (after you’ve started slowly bending upwards), quickly speed up the bend to bring it to the target pitch. Then you can either return the string to the pitch you began with or do this:

Step 4 (optional): Apply wide and aggressive vibrato to the note before you continue finishing the rest of the lick.

Example– Here is a slow bend that quickly speeds up toward the end: Hear It

Watch the video above to better understand how this is applied in the context of a guitar solo.

Choose a new lick in your solo and either repeat these steps or use the ideas in technique #3 below.

Guitar Soloing Technique #3: Using A Pre-Bend

Pre-bends are done by bending the string before picking it, then striking it and sounding only the ‘release’ portion of the bend. This is how it sounds: Hear It

Choose any note within your guitar lick and enhance it using a pre-bend. Begin by bending the string up (without picking it) by either a half or whole step, THEN picking it and finally releasing it. Experiment with different notes in the lick to see which one sounds best when played with a pre-bend.

Example: Hear It Observe the slow pre-bend on the first note of this guitar lick (it’s a variation of Lick 1 shown at the beginning of the article)

Keep going through this process for the rest of your solo in order to build tons of innovative variations for each individual lick. Then determine which licks you like best and record the new (slightly changed) solo. Once you’ve done this, observe the creative difference between the original lick you began with and the newer version... you’ll be totally surprised by how much better the new one sounds than the original!

Keep in mind that string bends are only one tool in your arsenal for enhancing the creativity of your guitar licks and solos. The point here is that you understand how important it is to get as much value as possible out of any technique. You should also use the same process with slides, vibrato, picking articulation, tapping, as well as other string bending variations.

It’s easy to enhance any guitar lick/solo using the approaches described above. However, this is only the beginning to playing truly awe-inspiring solos. There exist tons of other approaches you should learn in order to write killer guitar solos - Find out how to become a killer lead guitarist right now.


About The Author:

Tom Hess is a successful professional guitar player, composer and international guitar teacher. He also helps musicians learn guitar online and reach their guitar playing goals. Visit his rock and metal guitar lessons site to read more articles about guitar playing, plus get free guitar tips and guitar playing resources.

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