Guitar Vibrato Technique | Hub Guitar

Guitar Vibrato Technique

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Vibrato is one of those techniques that most players seem to develop subconsciously, without giving it deliberate thought.

But vibrato is one of those things that really gives you your own playing style. It's worth thinking about whether you want to play with vibrato, and if so, what kind of vibrato you want to use.

In this lesson we're going to talk about two different attributes vibrato can have: its speed, and its width.

And we're going to explore a few different kinds of vibrato: a slow, wide vibrato and a fast, narrow vibrato. This tends to be the spectrum that vibratos fall on because it's easier to play a narrow vibrato fast and it's easier to play a wide vibrato slow.

A subtle vibrato can really make your guitar tone shine, so practice your vibrato and discover yourself how this technique fits into your style.

Overview of Guitar Vibrato

Guitar vibrato is a technique where the string is repeatedly rocked back and forth. This causes the pitch of the note to quiver a bit, but not enough for it to turn into a different note, or even sound out-of-tune. Think of it as many bend & releases, done rapidly. This technique is not often practiced deliberately. But if you want to have a great-sounding vibrato it pays to spend some time thinking about how to make this happen.

Guitar Vibrato is Heard In...

Vibrato is important to many styles, including most forms of lead guitar. Blues guitar and gypsy jazz guitar, both very different stylistically, are both known for their frequent use of this technique.

It should be noted that vibrato is not emphasized in jazz or classical music for guitar, especially the heavy vibrato one hears in other musical styles. In fact the blues or rock player learning jazz may sometimes bear the brunt of a bit of disdain if they can’t “play cleanly” without adding a heavy vibrato. This is a stylistic difference, so if you want to play jazz with vibrato, go right ahead! Understand the conventions of style, but go ahead and break from them if it makes you happy.

Uses of Vibrato

  • Add emphasis and decoration to notes
  • Add sustain to notes, giving them a longer life
  • Highlight musically important notes
  • Feels Pretty Good

How To Use Vibrato

Your vibrato technique will have three different properties. One of these is directly related to your skill level in controlling the output of the instrument, and the other two are of taste and style.

Qualities of Vibrato

  1. Consistency: this prevents vibrato from being bad. A good vibrato is controlled, accurate, and consistent.
  2. Width: the width of the vibrato, or the amount of bend used. The degree the note is pulled out of tune. A narrow vibrato is very subtle. The wider the vibrato, the more obvious it sounds.
  3. Rate: the speed of the vibrato, or the rate at which the tiny bends are repeated. A very fast vibrato can have a jarring sound and is often used in gypsy jazz. In lead rock guitar, a slow vibrato is often preferred. A slow vibrato is also subtler than a wide vibrato. But naturally, narrow vibratos will tend to have a faster rate than wide vibratos. That’s because a narrow vibrato has less distance to travel during each micro bend, and so the rate of bends is usually going to be faster.

Vibrato Exercises

Slow, Wide Vibrato

    In this first example, we’ll play a minor-ish melody down the guitar neck. we’ll add a wide, slow vibrato, which is good practice to develop the technique. To use this kind of vibrato, we’ll “shake” the note a bit with the fret hand finger, pulling it out of tune and then letting it come back in tune. Just like a little miniature bend.

Fast, Narrow Vibrato

    Now Let’s try the same technique, but with a faster vibrato. we’ll make the “shaking” technique smaller and more narrow, and shake a bit faster.

Micro Vibrato

    There is also another variation of the vibrato technique that uses very a very small motion, allowing for a faster (and narrower) vibrato. This can be accomplished by rocking back and forth on top of a note, or even by pulsing up and down. (into the fretboard).

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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