Hey there everyone in TrueFire Land! I hope all is well and that you’ve been enjoying all of the great articles, lessons, interviews and podcasts provided in TrueFire’s Riff Journal. It’s been a while since I released my 50 Jazz Rock Licks and 50 All-Purpose Pentatonic Licks courses so I thought I’d drop in here and show you some tasty licks using half step bends!
From my perspective, half step bends seem to be a path less traveled for many guitarists. (Though many guitarists play them unintentionally when going for whole step bends.) If used in the proper context, half step bends can create some really interesting colors. The lick examples I’ve provided in this lesson have a nice mix of half step and whole step bends, along with hammer-ons, pull-offs and various picking combinations. The licks are all based around familiar pentatonic shapes, so they should be quite useful for novices and pros alike. Let’s get started.
This lick combines notes from the A Major pentatonic and A minor pentatonic scales. It starts with a clichéd blues influenced hammer-on from the minor 3rd (C) of A minor pentatonic up to the Major 3rd (C#) of A Major pentatonic. From there, check out the 1/2 step bend from F# to G (6 to b7) in bar 2. Hold that bend and add some vibrato if possible. (Be sure to keep it in tune!) For the last two bends in the lick, you basically just bend the note C (b3) enough to pull it slightly out of tune and make things a little funkier! (Not quite a 1/4 step.) I’ve included pick strokes in the notation, but they’re really just a guide. Experiment and find what works best for you. Also, for tuning practice you can play the fretted note (G) at the 8th fret on the B string as a reference pitch and then practice bending from (F#) a half step up to (G) and match the pitch. That may be a good exercise to practice before even tackling this lick example if you’re new to bending. This lick sounds great over an A7 chord!
Here’s a killer pedal steel-styled lick combining A Major and A minor pentatonic with a bit of hybrid picking and some tasty 1/2 step bends. The trick is to bend the note F# (natural 6 of A Major pentatonic) at the 7th fret on the B string up 1/2 step to G (b7 of A minor pentatonic) with a picked downstroke and then hold that bend while playing notes (B) and then (A) on the high E string with the middle finger (m) of your picking hand. Then release the 1/2 step bend back down to (F#) while letting the note (A) on the high E string ring out. This lick sounds great over an A7 chord, but it could also be used over an Amin chord for a wicked pedal steel-influenced Dorian lick. I love playing this lick with an overdriven guitar tone, though it sounds great clean as well.
Gary Moore has always been an influence on my playing. Time, tone, touch, technique, Gary had it all! This lick is influenced by Moore’s use of half step bends. You can visualize this lick around A minor pentatonic, or A natural minor (Aeolian) if you wish. It features a half step bend from the note B (Major 2nd) on the high E string up to the note C (b3). Add some vibrato to those bends and make sure to keep the pitch. Again, give yourself a reference pitch and practice bending into it as a bending/tuning exercise. Check out Gary Moore’s Still Got The Blues and The Loner for some of Moore’s classic half step, blues-inspired bends. This lick sounds great over an Amin chord – especially with a 6/8 or 12/8 feel.
I had the opportunity to share the stage, trade licks and teach alongside legendary country guitarist Brent Mason this summer at the Crown Guitar Fest in Montana. Here’s a really nice country-styled lick I heard Brent play that’s based in A Major pentatonic. Although, it does get a little gritty with a half step bend from B (Major 2nd) to C (b3). For fun, I transposed the lick into four octaves for a nice variation. You can sequence all four octaves of the lick together as transcribed, or feel free to stick to one or two octaves if you’d prefer. Brent played this one with a Telecaster using the bridge pickup, but I like it with my Les Paul and a little dirt too. This one sounds great in A Major.
I hope you enjoyed this lesson on half step bends. If you’re looking for more licks like the lesson examples I’ve provided (along with a wide variety of others), please check out my TrueFire 50 Licks courses or pop by one of my group masterclasses sometime. More importantly, try to come up with some of your own great licks using half step bends and have some fun.