iN ThE WOODShED
String bending is usually the second or third finger’s department, but this month Charlie Griffiths gives that lazy fourth finger a much needed workout.
Charlie Griffiths gives the much underused digit – the fourth finger – a workout with a session in string bending.
The fourth finger is often the weakest and least used by guitarists. Whether you are shredding scales like Paul Gilbert or playing a simple blues phrase a la BB King, the chances are you try anything to avoid playing that finishing bend with your fourth finger, and find some way of landing on your third or second instead. Well, we’re here to break out of those old habits, move out of the comfort zone and expand our playing potential; just like master fourth finger benders like George Lynch and Steve Morse.
In this lesson we will train the fourth finger to get comfortable with bending anything from semitones to minor 3rds, which is quite a distance! The secret to confident fourth string bending is ‘reinforcement’. Using the fourth finger alone to push and pull those high-tension wires can feel almost impossible, and could lead to injury. While we will use the fourth finger to fret the desired bend, our secret weapons will be the other three fingers. The basic premise is that you add extra fingers to the string bend in order to share the load. These fingers don’t have to stay on their own frets; in fact, it’s better if the fingers are bunched together to reinforce the fourth finger as much as possible. You probably won’t need to use all four fingers at once, so you can select which ones make sense to you. A common choice is to use first, second and fourth, taking the third finger out of the equation, as including it can result in a hand position which is too ‘straight’.
In order to further take stress away from your fingers, we need to turn the wrist in order to lever the string up or down. Keep the side of your first finger knuckle in contact with the underside of the neck and grip the top of the neck with your thumb. This will angle your fingers into a more ‘bluesy’ position, as opposed to a more ‘straight’ alignment.
The first exercise is based on semitones, which will warm up your hand and forearm.
We WILL TRAIN The fouRTh fINGeR To GeT comfoRTABLe WITh BeNdING ANYThING fRom semIToNe To fLAT 3Rd
Correct hand positioning will reduce fatigue and allow you to play for longer without getting cramp, so use this exercise to hone your wrist movement and make sure your fingers aren’t pushing or pulling the strings. The second exercise expands on this with the use of tones instead of semitones. Both of these examples require pushing up and pulling down on the strings depending on which side of the fretboard you are on.
Example 3 puts the fourth finger bend into the context of a simple blues lick. Ordinarily, you might opt to play this with first and third fingers and use your third finger to bend, but remember what we said about moving out of our comfort zone?
Example 4 is based around the Minor Pentatonic scale, which comprises both tones and minor 3rds. The test here is to bend between the scale tones, while keeping within the diatonic (scale) framework. Bending a minor 3rd is quite a distance – especially for the fourth finger alone – so it’s all the more important to use your other fingers for reinforcement; also, remember to simultaneously squeeze down on top of the neck with your thumb for that extra bit of stability and control.
George Lynch bending at the top fret using his fourth finger