How Guitar String Bends Are Notated

By Mark Phillips, Jon Chappell

More than any other type of guitar articulation, the string bend is what makes your guitar talk (or sing or cry), giving the instrument almost voice-like expressive capabilities. Bending is nothing more than using a left-hand finger to push or pull a string out of its normal alignment, stretching it across the fingerboard toward the 6th or 1st string. As you bend a string, you raise its pitch by stretching that string.

In guitar tablature, a bend is indicated by a curved arrow and either a number or a fraction (or both) at the peak of the arrow, which tells you how many whole steps to bend the note. For example, the fraction 1/2 means that you bend the string until the pitch is a half-step higher than normal, and the numeral 1 above a bend arrow means that you bend the string until the pitch is a whole step (or two frets) higher than normal.

The following figure shows what bends look like in standard notation and tab. Notice that there are three different standard forms of bend.

  • An immediate bend (a). Pick the note and then immediately bend it up.

  • A bend and release (b). Pick the note; then bend it (without repicking), and unbend it (release it without repicking) to its normal position. This bend is different from an immediate bend in that you see it notated in a specific rhythm. This type of bend is also called a bend in rhythm or a measured bend.

  • A prebend and release (c). You prebend the note — bend it before you strike it with the pick. After you pick the note, unbend (release without repicking) the string to its normal position.


Usually, when you perform a bend, you push the string toward the 6th string (or toward the ceiling). But if you bend notes on the bottom two strings (the 5th and 6th strings), you pull the string toward the 1st string (or toward the floor); otherwise, the string slides right off the fretboard.

Not all publishers use these standard bend indicators. Instead, they show the pitch of both the unbent and bent notes, with one of them in parentheses or printed very small. To avoid confusion, make sure that you verify what system your music uses before you start playing that music.