How to Train Yourself to Use Your Whammy Bar Musically
by Sam Russell
Great for: Steve Vai fanboys, creating a more vocal sound from your guitar, ear training, creativity.
In this article we’ll cover some quick definitions, limitations of frets and some ways we can train our brain, ears and hands to work together to create some great melodies via the whammy bar.
Limitations of Frets
Frets are awesome, don’t get me wrong. Maybe limitation is the wrong word here, and “consequence” would be better. A consequence of frets, is that when we move from one note to the next, we have a discrete change in note, we abruptly change in pitch from one note to the next. If we want a continuous change in pitch, we bend a string. However, when we do this, we can only increase the pitch. If we want to decrease the pitch, we have to pre-bend the note… which isn’t really the same.
With a whammy bar, we can change pitch continuously, increasing and decreasing pitch. Now, to play a melody, or part of a melody, using the whammy bar, our ears need to be good enough to hear when we are hitting specific notes.
Training Our Ears and Hands to Work Together
So next up is some exercises to enable you to be able to do that. We’ll play up the following scale of A major (chosen to fit all the notes on the string – click the images to enlarge them):
We’ll be using the whammy to goto the next note up – your ears are probably more familiar with that from bending up to notes.
So here is the first exercise:
So what we are doing here is playing B (fret 12) to hear the sound of the pitch we want to hit. Try to hear this note in your mind, then play A (Fret 10) and use your whammy bar to increase the pitch (pull the bar out) until you hit the B (fret 12) you just heard. Pull the bar out slowly, if you do it too fast you might go past the pitch you are aiming for without realizing it!
Next, we’ll do the same process with the next interval in the scale:
Again, play C# (fret 14) then play B (fret 12) and pull out the whammy bar until you hear C#.
Follow the same process for the rest of the notes in this scale:
Next, we’ll look at bending the string to a lower pitch using the whammy. Following the same principle as the previous exercises, play the note we want to goto first, hear it in your head, play the note we are manipulating, then slowly push the bar in until you hear the first note. So we will play A (fret 10), then play B (fret 12) and push the bar in until we hear A again:
As we did before, we’ll do this for the other notes in the scale too:
Hopefully you’re starting to get the hang of this! Don’t worry if you’re really struggling with this. If you are finding it difficult to hit these pitches, give yourself time, and keep struggling at the exercise for a couple of minutes a day for a few weeks. You’ll find it gets easier and easier to hit these target pitches as time goes on.
The final exercise we are going to look at involves bending down and up to notes:
So we play the A (fret 10), press the bar in until we hear G#, then allow the bar to come back up to A (so the bar is now at rest), then pull the bar out until we hear B (fret 12). As we did in the previous exercises, you may want to pick the melody first to hear it in your head, then use your whammy bar to play the melody back.
We can do this for the other notes in the scale too:
I’ve put the rest of the exercises for this scale at the end of the article to make it more readable.
How to Integrate this Skill into Your Playing
After having fun playing through these short melodies with your bar, hopefully you are starting to hear the sounds you can create that you weren’t able to create before. If you want to integrate this into your playing, spend a few minutes a day over the next few weeks working through these exercises (even the ones you can do well already!). If you want to kick things up a notch, try using some different scales to practice whammying up and down.
© 2015 Sam Russell. All rights Reserved.
Sam is a UK based professional guitar player, who specializes in Metal and Neo-Classical music. After graduating with a masters degree in Astrophysics, Sam decided to pursue his love of music and studied at the British Institute of Modern Music for a year, graduating with merit. A personal highlight was performing Joe Satriani’s “Always With Me, Always With You” for his final performance. After leaving, Sam moved into teaching, eventually setting up his own guitar teaching business in West London, where he continues to help people unlock the potential buried inside themselves. Since leaving college, Sam has been studying with neo-classical virtuosoes Tom Hess and Luca Turilli, in the pursuit of constantly improving his technique, compositional skills and musicianship. To date, Sam has also attended workshops with Guthrie Govan, Bumblefoot, Vernon Reid, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Ola Englund. Additionally, in summer 2014, Sam spent a week in America studying music business with Steve Vai and also interviewed musicians at Hellfest, in an ongoing effort to build networks and understand the mental approach of professionals at the top of their game – the most interesting interview being with Pår from Sabaton.
Performance-wise, Sam played live with a London based heavy metal band for several months (2013/2014), before deciding to start looking for more ambitious people. Previously, while at university Sam played at various venues across the north of the UK and performed regularly while attending music college.
Current projects include writing his debut album (due for release 2015) and transcribing and releasing Bach’s Cello Suite’s for Electric Guitar, available on his website www.SamRussell.co.uk
In addition to working on the music side of his career, Sam has been studying music business with Tom Hess since 2013. Elements of this program include how to add value to potential business partners, creating leverage (time and financially), reducing risk and creating win-win situations.