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Rick Graham - Vibrato

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 12 **

In this guitar lesson I'd like to take a look at what I consider to be one of the most important expressive techniques a guitarist can have: Vibrato technique. The actual guitar technique itself can come in many forms and often depends on the style of music that you play. What I'd like to do though, is talk about my particular approach to the technique of playing vibrato and the methods I employ to keep my vibrato in top form.

Back in the early days, vibrato was definitely a guitar technique that was high up on my priority list and it still is to this day. I realised early on that in order to deliver a phrase well, I needed to be in complete control of all aspects of my vibrato. Before we go straight into the first methods though, I feel it is vital to understand that Vibrato technique is pretty much the same technique as string bending. For me, the main difference is that with Vibrato, is that we bend the string multiple times, as opposed to just once.

One of the first methods that I used and one that really helped me gain more of an understanding, was to view pitches as an imaginary line. The actual vibrato itself I would view as an oscillation of the pitch and I would see that as a wave. The depth of the wave would directly correspond to the width of the vibrato e.g. the more subtle the wave, the more subtle the vibrato. Once I started to view it in this way it became a lot easier for me to work on the actual technique itself.

A great place to implement this is to take a pitch, for example the C note at the 5th fret of the G string, and at regular intervals, bend the string up a semitone. It is vital that when you are bending, you return to the exact same pitch every time. I cannot stress enough the importance of this. It is a perennial problem that occurs amongst players and is often the cause of a poorly executed vibrato. Once you feel you have total control you can then speed up the process but be sure that you stay in control when you do. Try practicing this in several different areas of the fingerboard and on various different strings too.

The next step is to alter the depth of the wave i.e. the width of the vibrato. Do the same thing but this time make it a wholetone bend. After that do a minor third and so on.  I used to do this for hour after hour and believe me, it works!

The next and far more demanding application of the technique is to apply the principle to a note that is already bent. For example, play the D note on the 15th fret of the B string and bend it up a tone to E and then apply the vibrato. The key with getting a good vibrato here is to apply the vibrato so that we go just below and just above the E note. Again, you must return to the exact same pitches every time you do this or it will not sound good. As with the previous application of vibrato technique, it is important to try the same thing in different areas of the fretboard and on different strings.


You can achieve the effect of vibrato by using different techniques other than string bending too. One very effective method is to use the side to side, classical style vibrato. Lots of players employ this technique to varying effect and I have been known to use it on occasion too! This technique involves applying pressure to the string and then moving the fretting finger in a horizontal, side to side movement. This results in a very smooth sounding oscillation of pitch but it may take some practice to return to the exact same pitch every time. Another technique is the sliding vibrato technique as used by players such as Greg Howe. The way to apply this technique is to slide a semitone above and below the actual pitch itself. It's important to do this at some speed because it just doesn't sound right if performed too slowly.

I hope I've given you food for thought regarding this very important but often overlooked technique. Have fun and I'll catch up with you next issue!

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