Bent Out of Shape: Guitar Rehab, Part 2 — Building Finger Strength with String Bends

Welcome to part 2 of my new series of lessons for guitarists who have spent a period of time away from playing.

"Guitar Rehab" is designed to get you back into playing, and each lesson will help you rebuild your technique.

In the last lesson, we focused on a rhythm guitar exercise to help warm up your picking wrist, build stamina and increase the accuracy of your picking and fret-hand coordination

For this lesson, we're going to focus on building our fretting-hand muscle strength with a series of exercises built around string bends and vibrato. This lesson will mix rhythm and lead playing using the same backing track from part 1.

When I started playing again after taking a few months off, I immediately noticed how weak my fretting hands where when trying to execute string bends and vibrato. These exercises will gradually build up your finger strength and stamina. Each exercise will become progressively more difficult and require stronger technique.

Before we begin, just a quick word of caution: If your hands start to ache or you feel tension/cramp-like feeling in fretting fingers when bending strings, it's time to take a break. You can injure yourself if you try too much too soon. Try to start gradually by practicing for about 30 minutes and then taking a 30-minute break. In the next lesson, I'll talk more about how to schedule your practicing when starting to play again.

This first exercise is the same open-string pedal riff from part 1 with a simple phrase at the end involving two string bends. The first is a unison bend that involves anchoring your first finger on the string above and bending up to that pitch with your second and third finger on the string below. The second is a regular bend. I suggest using your first, second and third fingers to execute it.

Exercise 2 is a unison bend exercise following the bass line of the backing track. You descend through the A minor scale playing unison bends on the B and G strings, ending with the same phrase from Exercise 1.

After that, we combine whole step and half-step bends to create a simple melody. You bend up a full step and hold the note. Then you bend up another half step so you are now three semitones higher than the original fretted note.

The final exercise is another style of bend similar to unison but where you alternate pick each string one at a time instead of playing them both together. On the backing tracking after playing this exercise I have left this section looped for several times so you can improvise a solo at the end. Good luck!

Will Wallner is a guitarist from England who now lives in Los Angeles. He recently signed a solo deal with Polish record label Metal Mind Productions for the release of his debut album, which features influential musicians from hard rock and heavy metal. He also is the lead guitarist for White Wizzard (Earache Records) and toured Japan, the US and Canada in 2012. Follow Will on Facebook and Twitter.

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