Melodic Prebending

Ok so in this post, we’re going to look at Melodic Prebending. This big word simply means bending a note BEFORE it’s played and then released without hearing the release. Playing Arabic scales in soloing largely depends on one mastering melodic prebending. In a nut-shell, our goal is to get where we can prebend notes accurately enough and fast enough to where they sound as if they have their own fret.  Prebending is one thing but being able to do it in context quickly and effortlessly will take some time to develop strength and dexterity in your hands. But don’t worry, it’s not that difficult.

This will be a trying experience for most of you because the guitar doesn’t have these quarter tone frets like arabic instruments or a non-fretted instrument such as a violin. Therefore, by the power of your ear, you’re actually going to have to learn how-FAR to bend and what it should sound like if you bend correctly. There are stages in this process –

Learn prebending – Hear the quarter tone pitch enough to where it becomes natural so you can tell if you played it mistuned – Finally, get where you can play it almost as easy as another regular unbent fretted note. I had to go to Wikipedia and other websites to learn to do it but you have everything layed out for you here so no need to go elsewhere.

Half Sharps and Half Flats

Because a guitar string can be bent, unlike the piano, we can play notes outside of our 12 fret boundaries.In 24 equal music theory, (That’s the small bit of theory on 24 notes per octave rather than 12), there are Half-sharps (+) and Half Flats (-). A half-sharp is simply a note raised a quarter-step and a half flat is a note lowered a quarter step.  Hear what they sound like:

Here is a regular ole D note

And here is a D+ or D half-sharp

Notice the pitch difference is small but noticeable, the more you hear these, the bigger the differences will become and it will really sharpen your ears.

Likewise, here is a plain E note

And here is an E-

These quarter tones have a very unique color that you can’t get in 12 tones per-octave soloing. However, the thing to keep in mind is that because these are new, unique colors; we aren’t used to them, so we will have to learn how to use them.  What is so interesting about this is that we don’t have to be playing quarter tone music to utilize these scales and notes, we can use them in regular soloing over a chord progression.

Bending Exercise

What we’re going to do is play the most common arabic quarter tone interval which is a 3/4 step or “Neutral second” (N2)  You may know of a major second such as G to A and a Minor second such as G to G#. In the past this is all we had, there are two second intervals, but now we have quarter tones. This means that we now have a third second interval which exists inbetween a major and minor second and that is a “Neutral second”  This sound is very, very distinct and you will hear it alot in traditional arabic music.  To play this interval, you would start by fretting a D note on the 2nd string, 5th fret. Then play a D# on the 3rd fret; This is the traditional minor second. I we were to play the D note again, then play the E note on the 7th fret; this would be the classic major second. So to play a neutral second, we have to half-Flat a major second. Now obviously we can’t actually ‘flat’ anything on a guitar by bending so we have to figure out which fret to bend to get the note. Keep in mind the each fret can be split into two notes, one normal and the other half-sharped.

Listen to this Neutral Second on D

Strange isn’t it, the emotion this gives is difficult to describe but being able to use the interval in your playing is really cool. Listen to it a couple of times to get a good feel for it.

Now we’re going to play it. Start by playing the 5th fret and really listen to that D note. Next stop the sound of the A string from ringing and fret the sixth fret but DONT play it. Ok, now bend the 6th fret up just slightly and play it making the bend more or less until the pitch of the note matches the pitch of the second note on the recording sample. If you don’t get it at first don’t be frustrated, it’s a bit difficult so just keep trying!  The Tab is below as you can clearly see:

Got it? May’be or may’be not, it depends on your skill level. Also, try and remember the sound of the E- and sing it too, that helps your ear to get accustomed to it.

Visualizing quarter tones on the Fretboard

To finish off this lesson, I will go over two forms of quarter tone playing on the fretboard.

The neutral second (N2) is the first quarter tone interval we will learn. Here is the neutral second on D again only this time, on the actual fretboard:

In this example, we wanted to play an E- inorder to make the 3/4 step from D. To do this, we simply half sharped the note behind the 7th fret making a D sharp and a half which is the exact same thing as E half flat (E- = D#+).  Oh no, looks like math XD

The Second way is starting from that bent note and moving to a natural note above it.

  This is still a neutral 2nd, only now we’re starting from the E-.

Now we’re starting from a bent quarter tone rather than a natural note. So going from E- or D#+ however you want to put it, to the F on the 8th fret is another N2.  Click the image to hear the N2 on E-.  These two neutral second formations on the fretboard are really the main way to playing most arabic scales with quarter tones. The first would be a neutral second starting from a regular unbent note and the second form is what we will do when we want to play a N2 from a bent note.”

Before moving on to the next lesson, you should be able to play these two forms of “normal to bend” and “bend to normal”  on the notes D and E-.  You can practice the N2 in different keys and probably should but stick to one for now because you have to remember what it sounds like and develop precision for playing this interval.

When you confidently have the N2 down, we will discuss playing scales with it in the next post.


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