Vibrato Technique

One of the most important and most often used (and unused by beginners) techniques for guitar is vibrato.

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If you find the information in this lesson to be useful, you may also enjoy my free newsletter which contains many more high quality free lessons on guitar technique. Vibrato technique: One of the most important and most often used (and unused by beginners) techniques for guitar is vibrato. Vibrato helps add intensity and variety to musical phrases, lengthens the sustain of notes and bent notes, and gives the guitar a human-like voice quality. It is played by picking a note and moving your fretted finger up and down, or side to side while the note rings out in order to create a modulation in the pitch. A professional and balanced vibrato technique can take many months to years of playing to master, but once mastered it will drastically increase the intensity and expressiveness of a players guitar phrases. In general:
  • When used properly and efficiently, vibrato can be a incredible tool of expression.
  • When vibrato is not used or used too little, notes have less sustain and musical phrases lack interest.
  • When vibrato is used too often, it loses its effect the listener and becomes gimmicky. Here are the steps to performing vibrato: 1. Fret a note on the fretboard with your finger. Now play the string of that note. 2. While the note is sounding, apply a little extra pressure pushing the string down on the fretboard, then alternate bending the string up or down (raising the pitch) and returning the string back to its normal position (pitch goes back to original pitch). OR Alternate moving your finger from side to side within the fret (raising and lowering the pitch). Usually vibrato is played using the first three fingers, but also the pinky. Playing vibrato with the first three fingers allows for a better grip in order to get power behind the vibrato. This depends on the players preference and/or location on the fretboard. While performing the vibrato, (just as performing a bend) your fret hand thumb will come up close to or above the top part of the neck. From there, apply the vibrato using a combination of power from your wrist and movement from your fingers. Once again, the vibrato should predominantly be a product of the power from the wrist, not the power from the fingers. Types of Vibrato:

    Horizontal And Vertical

    Vibrato is played Vertically and Horizontally, and is created using the muscles of the wrist to power the fingers while the fingers generate the vibrato motions. Both types are used very commonly, and have different situations where they are both most effective.

    Horizontal

    Playing horizontally means that your vibrato is generated by moving your fretting hand finger from side to side while within the fret. This vibrato type potentially has a more narrow range than vertical vibrato, and is commonly used in situations to create a subtle, but noticeable vibrato. This type is regularly used on classical guitar, but is also used on electric guitar. In extreme cases for electric guitar, players will create a very wide-ranged intense vibrato by using this motion spanning across 5 frets or more! This is uncommon though, and can be similarly duplicated with much less effort by using vertical vibrato.

    Vertical

    Playing vertically means bending the string up or down to create vibrato. This motion allows for a potentially wider range of note possibilities than horizontal vibrato. It makes no difference whether the string is bent up or down, it creates the same pitch. This will be decided by the player's preference and/or location on the fretboard. Note: Some players create vibrato by combining these two types into a circular motion with a narrow to wide pitch range. Also, much wider vibrato can be used by the use of a tremolo bar; however I will not be covering that in this lesson. Vibrato has 2 main types measured by 2 factors: Depth(Range): How Far the Pitch varies from its original pitch
  • Narrow: Around a quarter step
  • Moderate: Around a half step
  • Wide: Around a whole step Rate(Speed): How fast the pitch fluctuates back and forth from the original pitch
  • Slow
  • Medium
  • Fast Here is a chart demonstrating the effects of the various combinations of depth and rate:
    To effectively use these various types of vibrato, try practicing each one until you can calibrate for the appropriate time to use each one. As a general rule, you will find that using vibrato with moderate range and medium rate will be effective to use in most notes of your guitar phrases. Using narrow/medium vibrato will be useful for slower passages where it is more subtle. In very intense parts of a song or musical phrase, wide/medium and wide/fast vibrato will be very effective in expressing intensity. Staying in tune with your vibrato: Vibrato can sound out of tune if the new pitch (created by the vibrato) is not returned consistently to the original pitch. Make sure to start and end your vibrato in the middle part of the fret. This can also happen when bending the string, and not returning it to the same pitch each time. To practice being consistently in tune with vibrato, first play the note you are bending to, and then bend to that note. This way it will be easier to hear if you are bending to the correct pitch. Also, you can use an electric guitar tuner to see the exact pitch you are bending to. Practice slowly until it becomes consistent. Additionally, try applying vibrato to various parts of your guitar phrases to see the effects it generates. Most commonly, vibrato can be effectively applied to the ending of your phrases to help sustain and enrich the overall feeling of a note with a longer duration. If you'd like to have free access to more high quality guitar lessons, click here. (C) 2010 Ysrafel
  • 35 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      xHellbound
      I know I'm always praising Tony Iommi, but he definitely has some of the best vibrato in the world. Cool article man.
      Diamond Dave
      I'd definitely like to think that I have quite good vibrato which is good because I really can't play that fast lol
      gynther flynt
      and there's another method- press the string between the nut and the tuners. one open string vibrato...
      An excellent example of this (bending and vibratoing) can be found in the live version of John Mayer's Gravity, from Where The Light Is - CD/DVD.
      Shadowhunter123
      I've gotta check that out tomorrow... but if you don't mind and have some time, please explain once again how you can use the wrist... I don't really get the way I can do that that actually. Probably it's much easier when using the wrist instead of only the fingers to get that vibrato sound or bend the strings.
      alfajores
      this is a stupid suggestion.yes it works but it messes up your neck,even if you do it gently it affects your neck and over time you will start to notice its effect.it might look cool when you see slash or tony iommi do it but just remember they have loads of guitars and they can afford to get the necks replaced whenever they like.just stick to normal vibrato methods
      when you play normal, you sound normal. in a lot of cases , it's boring. where would Jimi Hendrix be had he played guitar "normal"?! i've had my guitar for 6 years and it doesn't show on the neck at all. not that i do it a lot. actually i do it when i want to make an open string\strings vibrate, or take the pitch down... actually, it's all it is. vibrato on open string\strings. and there's another method- press the string between the nut and the tuners. one open string vibrato...
      jerm138
      Any tips on doing a vibrato at the top of a bend? Hendrix does this a lot and I have a difficult time with it. I can get good vibrato on a normal note, but if I bend up a full step, then try to vibrato there I can't get the speed/tempo to be consistent.
      TromboneThunder
      Probably a point already made, but you didn't note that the reason horizontal predominates classical strings is because they don't have frets. Hence more direct and larger range of pitch variation. Jaco Pastorius used that technique beautifully.
      jetwash69
      Vibrato above the nut is a much better idea than bending the neck. Won't work on Floyd Rose, but that's OK becaue you can whammy vibrato on that for open strings. Horizontal vibrato is great for playing with a slide.
      BobChicken
      alfajores wrote: this is a stupid suggestion.yes it works but it messes up your neck,even if you do it gently it affects your neck and over time you will start to notice its effect.it might look cool when you see slash or tony iommi do it but just remember they have loads of guitars and they can afford to get the necks replaced whenever they like.just stick to normal vibrato methods when you play normal, you sound normal. in a lot of cases , it's boring. where would Jimi Hendrix be had he played guitar "normal"?! i've had my guitar for 6 years and it doesn't show on the neck at all. not that i do it a lot. actually i do it when i want to make an open string\strings vibrate, or take the pitch down... actually, it's all it is. vibrato on open string\strings. and there's another method- press the string between the nut and the tuners. one open string vibrato...
      actually, there is another one too, though more subtle- if you play an open string, perform vibrato on the octave above note on the next string. because they are harmonically similar, you will get vibrato. its how you do open string vibrato on a violin
      selena celine
      wow! i juz noe tat there are two types of vibrato.. all tiz while i juz noe tat there are only vertical bt now i noe tat there is horizontal.. wat a new tings to noe n learn.. will practice.. thnx 4 e information!!
      rickyj
      gynther flynt wrote: and there's another method- press the string between the nut and the tuners. one open string vibrato... An excellent example of this (bending and vibratoing) can be found in the live version of John Mayer's Gravity, from Where The Light Is - CD/DVD.
      also the intro to black sabbath - iron man is played like this
      Ysrafel
      Ooh great question! That is something I did not cover in this lesson. That is a good idea for a new lesson! In a nutshell: To get rid of that excess noise you will need to mute the strings above or below the string you are applying vibrato to. This means you will need to lightly dampen the string(s) above the string you are playing (higher in pitch) with your fret hand index finger. Then you need to mute the strings below (lower in pitch) the string you are playing with your picking hand thumb.
      Lou108
      when i do vibrato i tend to get alot of nosie from some of the other strings?
      Eggmond
      alfajores wrote: there's also vibrato of the WHOLE guitar - (gently) push the neck forward and the body back, or the other way around. doesn't work on classic , though... or just strum a chord, and move the neck up and down. nice effect.
      this is a stupid suggestion.yes it works but it messes up your neck,even if you do it gently it affects your neck and over time you will start to notice its effect.it might look cool when you see slash or tony iommi do it but just remember they have loads of guitars and they can afford to get the necks replaced whenever they like.just stick to normal vibrato methods
      muse-ik
      When trying to use your wrist for vibrato, I find it easiest to think of it as anchoring your finger on the string and fret, moving your thumb closer to the top of the neck, and then twisting your wrist. It will naturally move your finger up and down. It's almost a sideways movement. Good luck!
      hawk_kst
      I really don't like horizontal vibrato, you just don't get the same level of control and variety... but it's all down to preference, nice article (=
      Ysrafel
      illyria wrote: i don't get the horizontal vibrat. and i do vibrato b moving my fingers up and down with the string. i don't get the moving of the wrist parts in books and sites. i would like some clear instructions to that
      Thank you everyone for the feedback! I'm glad to help you guys out. Horizontal vibrato means you are moving your finger from side to side within the fret (think parallel with the fretboard). This type of vibrato is used frequently with other stringed instruments, and classical guitar because the strings on these instruments having a much thicker gauge than the strings of electric guitar. This vibrato has a smaller spectrum of range than when (for instance) you bend a string vertically -or up and down- to create vibrato with a range of a half step or more. Once again thanks everyone for reading! I appreciate it very much-
      illyria
      i don't get the horizontal vibrat. and i do vibrato b moving my fingers up and down with the string. i don't get the moving of the wrist parts in books and sites. i would like some clear instructions to that
      ron4ik16
      simple. horizontal vibrato is like a slide on guitar. you just slide the figner fast back and forth within the fret to create a wibrato effect.(but you can also slide between multiple frets to make a WIDE horizontal vibrato. Good examples of a guitar player that uses such vibratos are: George Lynch(Dokken),Warren De Matrini(RATT))
      whysky
      i prefer horizontal vibrato, i don't know, maybe 'cause i play classical but even on the electric guitar i like the sounding of horizontal over the vertical. i only use vertical when i'm playing metal or something crazy, but mostly when i jam i tend to end up the phrases with an horizontal vibrato jaja
      Head BANGER 81
      I play cello as well as guitar so many times i find myself doing horizontal vibrato on guitar when im not thinking about it just becasue that is what im used to. i personally l ike the way it sounds but i feel the change in tone is more noticable than the movement in pitch. when i want the pitch to really move then vertical vibrato is the way to go
      alfajores
      there's also vibrato of the WHOLE guitar - (gently) push the neck forward and the body back, or the other way around. doesn't work on classic , though... or just strum a chord, and move the neck up and down. nice effect.
      Disturbed_EMG
      Not to sound like a dick, but I don't really get the point of these "lessons" on Vibrato. It's really not that hard to bend the string.
      SilverSpurs616
      Good lesson on a somewhat under-used technique nowadays, vibrato is such an expressive thing and unique to stringed instruments!
      Ysrafel
      Thanks for the question! Bass and other instruments with thick strings normally use horizontal vibrato (described above). I would go with that as a bass player. Take care
      GidBass
      does this count for bass to? I'm trying to pull off some tricks like this but big, coated basstrings en heavier action make it incredibly hard!