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Andy James - Bending & Vibrato

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 22 **

This month in Metal Edge we're taking a break from some of the terrifying technical guitar exercises we've been looking at in recent guitar lessons. Instead we're going to look at bending and vibrato technique, which will take your sound and guitar soloing to the next level.

What I've noticed on my travels around the world is that with the rise of the internet generation and tab it's become easier and easier to find videos of guys showing you this lick, that scale, this arpeggio, this new tapping technique etc, but the more and more they focus on playing as many cool notes as they can, they forget that there are other elements to our sound that make people want to listen to us.

I'm going to make the comparison to Guitar Pro here. In every issue of Guitar Interactive we provide you a selection of tabs in Guitar Pro software which allows you to open up the file, hit play and listen to what I'm playing, or how Rick's sweep picking arpeggios go, or Tom's fusion runs, or whatever. The notes are all right, but it doesn't sound like the person playing it, it's missing that human element. Not just the right note, but how hard I picked it, finger tone, vibrato etc. There are so many factors that come into play to stop us sounding like a computer, and none of them are as important as vibrato.

Vibrato is the shaking of a note when you play it so the pitch “vibrates” up and down. The beauty of this is that if 10 guitarists all play the note C#, they'll probably all sound different, because each player will apply a slightly different vibrato. When you put it like that, vibrato could be seen as a guitarist's signature. If Angus Young plays one note, you can probably tell it's him, and if not, then you can definitely tell that it's not Steve Vai for example.

As mentioned in this month's video, you're going to want to listen to the great players of our generation and forget about all the shred licks, just focus in on their vibrato and ask yourself “what makes this guy unique?”. Everyone from John Petrucci and Steve Vai to Yngwie Malmsteen and Zakk Wylde all have great vibrato (also completely different vibratos). My top pick would probably ex Danger Danger guitarist, Andy Timmons. Just a quick spin of a song like “Deliver Us” will reveal an incredibly expressive and controlled vibrato which helps to pull you in to every note he plays.

We don't have any tab this month as there's really not much in the way of exercises to play, instead you're going to be doing your homework listening to and watching the greats and trying to imitate their sounds, but I can certainly give you a few pointers.

Firstly, the strength and control needed to execute a good bend and vibrato comes from the wrist, not the fingers. You are NOT just opening and closing your hand to move the string, actually, your fingers need to stay completely stiff. The motion is comparable to putting a key in a door and unlocking it. Focus on that feeling, the fingers stay firm as you “turn the key”.

The other important thing, which I stress in the video, is accuracy. Test yourself. Play the 15th fret then the 16th and then bend the 15th up to the 16th. Then do the same with the 17th, then the 18th. Then try pre-bending to those notes. You're aiming to get a feel of how much power is needed to get a desired change in pitch from your strings, and that will depend on the string gauge and scale length of your guitar. When you can do this, you'll find you ability to control your vibrato will be more consistent.

Until next month, keep rocking!


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