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My son has two guitar teachers that disagree on something. I'd like to know your opinion to help my son make a decision which way to go.

On rock songs on the electric guitar, when your hand is in a certain position (say frets 9, 10, 11, and 12) and there's a bend up on fret 12, should you use your 3rd finger or 4th?

One teacher says the 3rd because that's the way all the great guitar players do it and because you have more strength using that finger than using your 4th.

The other teach says the 4th because you it's more proper since you're in a certain position to build the habit of using the correct finger and you need to strengthen your 4th finger to be capable.

Thanks for your input.

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    My opinion would align with the teacher who says use the 4th finger. That's the way I do it if I'm in a position where the bend would occur on the fret under the 4th finger, but I have no trouble bending with the 4th finger. Maybe others would feel more comfortable using the 3rd finger.
    – John D
    Jun 30 '21 at 19:47
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    Neither are right. Or both of them. It depends on your fingers. I cannot bend with my 4th finger because it is too small and weak. If I tried to force myself to do it I would injure myself eventually. That said I’m sure others can and do bend with their 4th. Jun 30 '21 at 20:06
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    'All the great players' - that needs some proving.
    – Tim
    Jul 1 '21 at 10:49
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The most important thing about bending is not to bend with only a single finger, if possible. E.g. if you bend with the third finger, if possible, support it with second and first finger.

Both third and fourth fingers are frequently used for bends, and I would advise a student to practice bends with each of them.

Each of the teachers makes valid points. Indeed "one finger per fret" is kind of a reference point. Probably the teacher also tries to encourage the student not to omit the fourth finger in exercise. On the other hand, around the middle of the neck it's easy (and not wrong) to stretch the fretting hand and use the third finger instead of the fourth.

It may also depend on the specific place in a specific song.

Perhaps this is a sign that it's sometimes not a good idea to work with two teachers at the same time, at least not work on a regular basis on the very same songs. Each of them might have useful though different experience to share. Learn from each of them, and then decide on your own what works the best for you rather than quarrel with them on details.

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  • Both teachers have helped him to learn to bend with multiple fingers to backup whichever finger is on the note being bent. Jun 30 '21 at 21:14
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Both teachers need to have a re-think. There's no 'correct' way anyway. We each find our own depending on our fingers, their strength, and where we are on string/fret, and where we are going next, also considering where we were before. All that lot means no two situations and no two players will do the same. The right way is the best way for each player in each circumstance.

Having said all that, it also depends - heavily - on which string, which fret, and how wide a bend. Let's take that 12th fret bend. Which string? We don't know, but that matters. Let's say top string. It greatly depends on where the previous notes were, and where the next will be. If the next ones are higher, I'd advocate index or middle. If they go down again, ring or pinky could do the job.

HOWEVER - what bend is it - 1/2 a fret, 1 fret, 2 frets? Again, we don't know - that makes a big difference. A bend of a semitone or more doesn't need 3rd or 4th finger - it needs both - or even 3 or 4. And with bigger bends, it's not the fingers that do the work as much as the hand. Use 3 or 4! Fingers are only there as an extension.

If this comes as a minirant - it might be! Too often teachers give sweeping statements, when there's no simple answer - hence mine.The question really ought to be pointed at both teachers, and reasons expected. I want my students to question everything I say, and if I can't justify it, to their satisfaction, I really shouldn't have said it.

Dvers - please be kind enough to specify your reasons!

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  • I don't think you'll get downvotes. The guitar greats agree with you - they all use different fingers as needed, and for the big bends - more fingers. I'd trust a Malmsteen, Vai or Blackmore to be doing something right over a teacher who wants to follow the 1 finger [er fret "rule" too far.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Jul 2 '21 at 8:19
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My first inclination is to say that both teachers are wrong; there's no way that one fingering choice applies across such a broad range of circumstances.

(I am also inclined to say that teacher number one is more wrong for mentioning "all the great guitar players" which is not even a thing.)

But, I would like to be more generous in my assumptions and consider the possibility that both teachers were really talking about a more narrow situation than you described.

(Since teacher number two mentioned strengthening the 4th finger, maybe they are specifically thinking about using the practice of this song as an exercise for your son, not as the best way for anybody, any time to perform the song.)

In any case, it's going to depend on what the player's other fingers are doing before, during, and after the bend.

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