Bending you strings, believe it or not, takes practice. Actually, let’s rephrase that; bending your strings in order to achieve a desired effect (such as emotion, mood, or even extreme variation) takes practice.
It isn’t as simple as wiggling your string back and forth—or at least it shouldn’t be that simple. You should put just as much time and effort into developing your vibrato technique as you do learning to slap, tap, sweep, or solo on your bass guitar.
In this article, we’ll go over some basic things that will help you to develop a good sense of vibrato and maybe, in time, even a great sense of vibrato.
Did you know that there are different degrees of bends? Well, there are. Just like tuning, bends can achieve different notes using a different means. Whereas tuning a string pitches a note upwards or downwards, bending a note shifts a note upwards or downwards. The difference? Simply the technique.
The most common type of bends are the quarter bend, the half bend, and the full bend. These name all refer to the amount of steps from the root note (the note being fretted and bent) the movement is; a quarter step, a half step, or a full step.
That means that a great way to practice your bends is with the use of a tuner. Try plugging into your tuner and executing a half step bend. You may find it difficult to reach exactly one half of a note with your bend, and just like tuning, you may have to make adjustments up and down in tuning to reach the correct note.
For example, if you are playing an E, you need to reach and E#. The tuner will help you to determine when you reach that note and, since you can see the readout, how far you needed to bend to get there.
Suddenly, your tuner is more than just a tool to help you stay in the right tuning.
Another thing that will help you to develop a good vibrato technique is working on the speed of your bends. Heavy metal players in particular tend to fall into that wiggling habit that we mentioned earlier, which is to say they hardly bend the string, just wiggle it back and forth fairly quickly.
This doesn’t do much in way of mood or emotion, so the perfect thing to do is to work on bending slowly, quickly, and at any speed that seems attainable.
This will help you to develop more control over when you bend, and help you to add and subtract value from your bends at any given time. It will also help you to better fit your vibrato into pieces that you are working on, regardless of the style.
In the end, the best way to develop your bass guitar vibrato technique is by practicing. Set aside a bit of time each practice section in order to work on your bends. As you progress, try challenging yourself by adding them into licks and riffs. Have fun!
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