Jordan Rudess A Pitchbend Primer

I still remember the day my high school buddies showed up at my door with a Moog Sonic V synthesizer.
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Lesson by Jordan Rudess

I still remember the day my high school buddies showed up at mydoor with a Moog Sonic V synthesizer, like the one shown above. After hearing Patrick Moraz shred a bendy Minimoog solo in the song “Someday” with his band Refugee, I bought a Minimoog of my own, and began practicing my own original exercises with pitchbends. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started in using this often misunderstood underrated means of musical expression.

A word about how I notate pitchbend in the examples: Notes not in parentheses are played physically, while notes in parentheses represent the pitch you hear due to pitchbend. V-shaped lines denote up or down movement of the pitch wheel. The numbers show the duration of the bend: either a whole step (1) or a half (1/2). Stemless grace-notes mean that you quickly bend the note right as you play it, so the bend has almost no rhythmic duration.

  • Audio examples - refer to sheet music on pp. 24-27 of October 2010 issue.

 Click thumbnails below for larger images.

1. Blues/Rock Bends

Ex. 1 has an A minor pentatonic riff with bends you’d find in blues or rock leads. I’m bending from the third of the scale to the fourth, then from there to the fifth. I’m also bending the seventh back into the root. Here, I start with the pitch in the center, then bend up a whole step, before I drop back down to the note I originally played.

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2. Interval Bends

The most common pitchbend setting on a synth bends a whole step up and down. Ex. 2 demonstrates bending both whole and half steps. I sometimes set the bender to asymmetrical intervals—the up range to a whole step, and the down range to an octave. This lets me do whammy-type pitch dives.

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3. Guitar Bends

Ex. 3 demonstrates how to start on a note, like the F at the top of this example, and bend the pitch up a whole step, then play that same pitch again without being able to hear the bender on its way back down. You can hear this technique on the song “6:00” from Dream Theater’s Awake album.

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4. Upward Bends with Repeats

In Ex. 4 we bend up to a note, then play that exact note again without a bend. Practice the first three beats in measure 1 as a loop to get the feel for this. The V-shaped figures at the bar lines denote quick downward scoops, and vertical lines at the end of a bend diagram mean you release the bend quickly before playing the next note.

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5. Multiple Bends

Ex. 5 has bends where the pitch wheel is held up while multiple notes are played. Here, the first three eighth-notes are played physically (B, D, B) but sound as C#, E, C#, with a release to B on the fourth sixteenth-note. Note that I don’t use the modulation wheel for vibrato—I use pitchbend exclusively.

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