Vibratos are possibly the most used technique for stringed instruments all along the history of music. So, electric guitar couldn't be the exception. This technique consists of giving the string a little oscilation while the note is ringing. Depending on how we do the oscilation, we'll get different modulations of the sound, which will give us an enormous variety of possibilities in order to do a good performance. Despite there are several different ways of vibrating notes, they can be classified in two clearly differenced types, according to the movement of the left hand(or right for those left-handed):
01. Rock guitar vibrato.
02. Classic vibrato
The vibrato technique for rock guitar, is very similar to the bend technique. In fact the movement of the hand is the same, except that it is cyclic and "bends" less the string than a real bend. According to this, it is possible to say that rock guitar vibratos are a series of multiple slightly and rapidly played bends. Classic vibrato features a different movement. The finger is fixed at the fret where note that you're going to played is, and the hand is moved slightly in a cyclic way, taking care of keeping the finger motionless.
To be clearer, rock guitar vibratos feature an up-to-down movement; instead, classic guitar vibratos feature a forward-to-backward movement. The modulation you get from the use of any of these vibratos is a little different, but it's valid in the same way. So, it is advisable to practice both, try to dominate them and use them according to the interpretation you are performing. Another thing: In both vibratos, the movement needed to play may come from the arm(reccommended for beginners) or from the wrist (this one is more difficult, and only after very much practice you can get a good sound), like Carlos Santana's vibrato.
Vibratos are easy to be identified in a tablature. They're represented by a ~ line beside the note and there can be one or several of these lines, depending on the vibration needed. We can also mention another type of vibrato, although it's not performed by a fretting hand. The one I mean is those you can play with the vibrato stick (or tremelo)of the guitar. This is commonly used when the guitarist wants to vibrate the sound of a whole chord instead an only note, but can be also used to vibrate single notes. The curious thing of this type, which makes a difference with the other two, is that you can play lower pitch vibratos. I mean, the other two types feature an oscilation going from the original note pitch to a higher one. Using this third type you can do the opposite: oscilate notes from the original to a lower pitch. So, if you pull the stick you'll get the first ones; if you push it, you'll get this last one.
Well, just as we've seen it, vibratos don't mean too high technic difficulty but you can be sure playing a good vibrato requires hours and hours of practice. Most times the expressivity of a solo lies in the way you vibrate notes. A good vibrato will mark the feeling you want to transmit to the audience, that's why you must work it in a special way. A good exercise is to set the metronome at a relaxed tempo (120 bpm for instance) and vibrate a single note for about three minutes; then there comes the difficult: try to make it sound the less monotonous possible during that three minutes. Even using an only note, you can vary the rythm and the dinamic of the vibration. Try to transmit some "life" to that note and that's where the key of a good vibrato is. Final advice:
- Use your index or your middle fingers.
- Experiment with the rythmic and dinamic of vibratos.
- Try to transmit your feelings, your spirits and your mood to your way of playing.
With the adequate practice, you can make really interesting melodies and solos using this vibrato techniques without needing very rapid movements, terrific artistic technique or magic tricks. Practice until you dominate it; just with some discipline this technique will be yours. Good luck!
- JC Rea.