I think one of the most important things in lead guitar playing is vibrato. While it is one of the most important things, it is also one of the most overlooked and under practiced. A player’s vibrato really defines and adds to their style. Some players are trademarked from their ultra wide vibrato like Zakk Wylde. Taking the time to develop your vibrato is one of the most important things you can do for your playing. Sometimes we spend hours practicing scales and sequences, but how often do we concentrate on things like getting a smooth vibrato on our 4th finger? With that said, let us take a look into the world of vibrato.
On a guitar, there are basically 3 ways you can do vibrato. There is what I like to call “classical guitar vibrato,” the more common “electric guitar” vibrato, and whammy bar vibrato.
Classical Guitar Style
Classical guitar vibrato is performed by planting your finger on a note and wiggling your finger back in forth in a wave like fashion. If you don’t understand what I am talking about, watch an orchestra play. Pay attention to how they do vibrato, same type of thing.
- The advantage of this kind of vibrato is that you can both raise and lower the string pitch. Another advantage of this kind of vibrato is that you can more easily control the amount of vibrato that you add to a note you are executing.
- The disadvantages of this type of vibrato are that it impractical to do in conjunction with bending, and it doesn’t get those artificial harmonics to scream off the fret board.
Electric Guitar Style
Typical electric guitar vibrato is where you pick a note and pivot your forearm back and forth so your finger moves the string horizontally to the fret board. Try to think of classical vibrato as up and down, and electric guitar style going sideways. If you need to see how this is executed, grab a video of just about any guitarist and watch them go.
- The advantage to this type of vibrato is that it is great for getting artificial harmonics to scream off the neck and assault the listener. The second advantage is that it is great for bends. Few things sound as aggressive as a huge bend (1 ½ steps or more) and then landing into a wide screaming vibrato.
- The disadvantage of this type of vibrato is that when you aren’t bending a note, you can only make the pitch go upwards.
Whammy Bar Vibrato
The last type of vibrato that some players do is with their whammy bar. The theory is that you can use your bar for a much smoother sounding (or crazier) vibrato than a human finger can pull off.You can also do really crazy stuff with it too just listen to Steve Vai.
For some reason, I am asked this question a lot. I’ve found a lot of guitarists, especially beginners, aren’t sure which type of vibrato to develop. My answer is ALL OF THEM! The more tools you have in your tool box, the better you can build a house. Knowing how and when to use each type of vibrato will make you a much better lead guitarist. A lot of lead guitar players overlook the classical style vibrato because it is more subtle and isn’t as aggressive. Each style of vibrato has its own flavor. Use all of them to your advantage, and make sure you take the time to develop your vibrato.
Exercises to Develop a Solid Vibrato
Developing classical vibrato is easy in my opinion. Simply take 1 finger at a time, place it on the 12th fret of the b string. Fret the note, pick the string, and start wiggling your finger back and forth slowly. Try increasing the speed. Then try going really fast. Try to get even back and forth strokes. Keep your finger’s central pivot point at the tip in the same spot and let the rest of the finger tip do the work. It is paramount that you spend a few minutes a day with each finger. You are going to want to spend more time with your 3rd and 4th finger. Many people forget to practice this on there weaker fingers. IT IS PARAMOUNT THAT YOU DO THIS!Concentrate on getting a smooth and fluid sound.
Developing standard vibrato takes more time and work. Again, take 1 finger at a time and practice this with just 1 note. Where this gets hard for most people is practicing this on bends. What I’ve always done is to play a whole step bend, and then practice a narrow vibrato so that you don’t knock the note too much out of pitch. Work on getting the finger strength and consistency in your vibrato first. After you’ve developed a narrow vibrato, start working on widening it. It is much easier to develop your finger muscles in this fashion because you are taking small steps. You will find that this type of vibrato is supreme for getting pinch harmonics to jump out of your amp as well. Putting tons of work and full concentration into getting your bends to sound great will go a long way in your playing style. Put in the work and reap the benefits.
Learning to do whammy bar vibrato is pretty much self explanatory. Just start experimenting with the thing and see what you can come up with. There are many slap and flutter techniques out there that have some really cool effects you can put in a song.
You should practice all of these vibrato techniques daily. Most importantly, you should be practicing your improvisation and concentrating on using these techniques all the time! The better your vibrato, the more polished your style will sound. Good luck and happy holidays to you! I’ll see you in 2005.
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