This lesson will help you understand the different techniques used to create vibrato along with a blues riff showing how to incorporate vibrato into your playing. So let’s begin!
What is vibrato?
Vibrato is used on many instruments as well as vocal performance, but for guitarists it is an indispensable tool that adds color, depth and expression. Vibrato is simply a rapid alternating bend that can stretch as little as a semitone or less, and up to a whole tone (wide vibrato). The process starts on a single note, for example let’s fret the third string, seventh fret, we pick this note and then do a very small bend, then return back to the original note, this is the process that is repeated rapidly which creates the vibrato (see figure 1.a below). There are two basic elements to vibrato, first is the size of the bend, and the second is how fast the alternating bend is, these to variables determine what your vibrato will sound like. The hardest element to get right is the consistency of the bend, in other words the evenness of tone, it can take years to perfect so the best thing is to start now and dive right in.
Vibrato types & techniques
For guitarists, there are four main techniques to create a vibrato which are:
Standard vibrato technique
This is the most common method where the vibrato is created by bending slightly in either an upwards, or downwards direction (sometimes in both directions), then the bend is released back to the original pitch.
Classical vibrato technique
This method can not only be used for Classical music, but any style. Vibrato is achieved by a rapid sideways movement (opposite to the the standard method) between the two frets either side of the fretting finger, great for a very minimal vibrato.
Circular vibrato technique
This method is one of Steve Vai’s inventions (as far as I know) where vibrato is achieved by moving the fretting finger in a circular pattern from within the two frets either side of that finger, a hard technique to learn but produces very smooth vibrato.
Tremolo bar vibrato technique
The easiest option is using the tremolo arm on your guitar (if you have one) and simply bend the bar down a touch, then bring it back up (repeating this pattern). This method does tend to sound artificial though.
Generally there are two types of vibrato depth which are thin vibrato where the pitch is equal to, or less than a semitone, and wide vibrato where the pitch is more than a semitone and up to a whole tone. If you take a look at the tablature below the video, you will see these two examples written with wide vibrato signified by a wider “saw tooth” pattern.
Now let’s practice some vibrato using these examples before we move onto riff A. Start by fretting the third string, seventh fret and start your standard vibrato keeping an even rhythm and a slow speed until you have the technique down, and remember to keep your pitch equal to, or less than a semitone.
Vibrato Blues riff
Now onto riff A which is a simple blues riff that highlights how to apply vibrato to your everyday playing. Start by fretting the third string, seventh fret and a quick bend and release before landing on the fifth fret applying vibrato to this note. Then onto the fourth string seventh fret, then fifth and back to the seventh fret in a triplet and apply vibrato, then repeat this line before fretting the fifth string, fifth fret, then the sixth fret, then seventh fret in a triplet and again apply vibrato to this note. The last line is a triplet however the first note is actually an eighth note rest, then we fret the sixth string, third fret, then fourth fret and finish off on the fifth fret applying vibrato.
It may take a while to memorize this riff but keep plugging away, you will get there eventually, just play it slow and focus more on technique than speed. Remember that vibrato is a life long experience, it may, and likely will change during your playing career as you move through different styles, it is also an expressive technique so your emotions play a large part too.
Vibrato can be tricky at first like all things when you first start them, bit of a learning curve, just allow plenty of practice time.
Cheers & enjoy!