How To Make Your Guitar Vibrato Technique Perfectly Controlled & In-Time

Want to make your guitar licks sound more expressive with vibrato technique?

I'm sure you already know that vibrato is the #1, most expressive technique in your creative arsenal as a guitarist...

...but, did you know?:

There is much more you can do to use vibrato to make your guitar licks more expressive based on specific musical situations.

One thing is to use vibrato that is perfectly controlled and in time with the beat of the music you are playing above.

Learn how t do this right now by watching the video below:

Click on the video to begin watching it.


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Always Keep Your Vibrato From Becoming Out Of Tune

Playing with vibrato out of tune is the cardinal sin of this technique.

How does one know if they are in tune or not?

Here is when your vibrato is in tune:

After the string has been struck and is bent up to the next pitch, it does not stop anywhere in the middle. This means whether returning to the original pitch or on the way to the target pitch.

Keep your vibrato stays in tune by picking the target pitch first. Then pick the string and bend it up to match the pitch as a separate motion. Over time, work on bring these two motions together in a controlled manner.

Practice with a metronome by bending the string up and down once per beat for an added challenge.

Use A Variety Of Different Kinds Of Vibrato

Vibrato isn't just done in the same way every time.


There are tons of ways to use vibrato to enhance the phrases in your guitar playing and solos.

Don't use just one or two approaches with vibrato. This gets old fast. Over time you begin to develop a vocabulary of uses for vibrato that are great very being musically expressive in different scenarios.

Two types of vibrato include:

Wide and fast: The distance between the initial pitch and the target pitch is 1 whole step or more. The rate at which you move between pitches is at a fast pace. This feels very intense and dramatic – good for the final note in a solo.

Narrow and medium: The distance between the initial pitch and the target pitch is less than 1 whole step. The rate at which you move between pitches is at a moderate pace. This is great all-around vibrato to use to enhance your notes.

Use Delayed Vibrato To Add Drama To Your Bends

Make sure not to leave your bends lifeless by not adding vibrato to them.

This is great to practice with the timing approach from the video as well.

While bending a string, add vibrato to the note at the highest point of the bend by:

Striking the string to re-articulate the note.

Waiting a moment.

Adding vibrato.

I can this using “delayed vibrato”, and it sounds very intense!

…But don’t overdo this approach.

Even something as cool as this can easily get old quickly if you use it too much within a single lead guitar solo. At first, use it to emphasize the first or last note in a solo you are playing.

Then slowly expand from there to involve it in your overall lead guitar playing until it feels like second nature.

Now that you know how to play with top-tier vibrato, you're ready to integrate this skill with other areas of your lead guitar playing.

Here are some great general idea to keep in mind when soloing and using vibrato:

1. Delay the vibrato on the most dramatic/emotional notes.

In other words, don't always apply it right away after picking the note. Instead, let the note simply ring out without vibrato and THEN do the vibrato about 1 second after.

2. Leave more space in between the phrases of your solos.

This gives you more time to think of good phrases in advance.

3. Don't play too many notes.

Don't be afraid to let some notes simply hang there and ring out by themselves using various ornamentation techniques such as slow bends and vibrato.

Now get quick tips to help you improve your lead guitar playing and integrate them together with vibrato in your practice schedule:

Focus on quality over quantity in your lead guitar playing.

While soloing, focus on playing high-quality phrases that are well-connected with each other.

This works especially well in a long solo where a theme can get developed and returned to as the backbone for the solo. The point is that when the solo is over, the listener can still remember how the solo sounded by recalling the main theme you kept coming back to.

As examples of what I'm talking about, listen to songs like “Black Star” by Yngwie Malmsteen, “For The Love Of God” by Steve Vai or “Always With Me Always With You” by Joe Satriani.

Notice that even though there is a lot of different techniques being played in each of these songs, yet you can still hum the main melody and identify the track just by hearing it.

To develop your guitar soloing to the next level, practice getting good at developing a single phrase a solo before switching to a new phrase rather than playing every phrase once and constantly switching to playing new licks every few seconds (a common mistake).

This achieves several things:

  1. It makes the solo sound more like a song within a song as it has a series of themes it is based on.
  2. It gives you some more time to think of the next awesome lick to play (after you develop the first one enough times) to make the best musical choice for where to go next.
  3. It helps the listener to maintain interest to the solo even if it’s very long.

So the process to follow is this:

Take a single phrase and develop it to turn it into many different variations.

For example, by changing the rhythm and keeping the notes the same, changing some of the notes but keeping the rhythm the same, adding a few extra notes, removing some of the notes, changing just the final note, play the phrase in a different register an octave higher or lower), etc.

Did you know that soloing with just one note can be incredibly expressive?

Improve the sound of your improvising and phrasing by making the last note of each phrase sound as amazing as possible.

What you don't want:

You play a solo and create some cool phrases but when you get to the final note of each phrase it always sounds very dry and anti-climactic. You either played that note in a very plain way each time (with no phrasing ornaments) or you applied vibrato/bends to the note in the same way every time.


Practice playing one note phrases focusing on expressing the maximum emotion you with a single pitch.

There are LOTS of ways to express yourself well using just a single note, such as applying vibrato, bends, slides, double stops etc.

Integrate these same ideas into your current phrasing(so that your last note always sounds very convincing and dramatic for the listener, because it is the final note of each of your phrases that stands out.

Try this:

Choose any scale you want and pick a note within it.

Play the first chord from the scale you chose (for example: A minor if you chose an A minor scale). Then immediately play the single note you chose.

Pay attention to how the note you chose feels over the chord.

Then do this for each chord in the key.

This shows you how you can get tons of expression without even needing to add more notes.

Here is a demonstration of how to squeeze more emotion from every note you play on guitar.

Using a metronome creatively improves your sweep picking.

Problem: Sometimes while playing sweep picking arpeggios fast, we get out of rhythm due to some notes being easier to play than others.

This keeps the pattern from sounding tight and totally pro.

Here is how to fix this issue:

First, try to exaggerate the problem.

So, if you always play ahead of the beat on one note, focus on purposefully playing intentionally behind the beat. This helps you to break out of the pattern of always playing ahead to bring you to the center of the beat.

Another way to work on this is to record yourself playing and then shift the recorded track manually to be on the beat.

So, if you record yourself playing and see that everything is consistently ahead of the beat, copy the track into another part of the grid and drag the track to the right slightly to make it line up with the beat.

This gives you a couple versions of arpeggio.

Now listen first to the incorrect version and then the correct version. Have the metronome playing as well.

Notice the difference between both versions.

This helps you become more aware when your timing is off.

Question: “Tom Hess, how can I make my tremolo picking more consistent?”

Answer: It’s common for guitar players to tremolo pick in a steady stream of 16th notes.

One thing that helps is to mentally divide up the steady stream of endless 16th notes into many groups of 4 notes per beat (16th notes).

Make this even more effective by using more forceful picking to accent every 1st note of the group of 4 sixteenth notes. This allows your brain to more easily follow what you are playing and control your hands better.

Additionally, dividing tremolo picked phrases into segments of 4 notes can be a small mental reminder for yourself to relax (and keep various area of your body free of excess tension) every few notes.

When you simply play an endless and disorganized stream of notes it is more difficult to control your hands, since your mind doesn't know what to focus on.

Playing with distortion is critical to making fast scales cleaner.

When playing scales, listen for extra string noise coming from the strings that aren’t supposed to be ringing. This happens a lot on the high E string and while changing scale positions.

Sometimes this can be very subtle if you are playing with a clean tone, but if play with distortion, this noise becomes much more audible.

Try this:

Practice with distortion about 75-85% of the time.

Distortion does not mask mistakes, it makes them very loud. This is good!


Things such as extra string noise become very noticeable and when they are noticeable, it tells you what needs to be fixed.

Use distortion to really hear where the string noise starts so you can mute it. Because of the nature of distortion, you cannot get away with muting improperly without hearing negative feedback from your amp.

And this is a good thing!

Mute any unplayed strings with your picking hand using thumb muting guitar technique instead of palm muting technique.

This image shows you how to do it:

Muting guitar string with thumb finger

Question: “Tom Hess, I find my guitar licks and solos to kind of drift around without clear or interesting ideas coming to mind. What can I do different to get better?”

Answer: Practice connecting your phrases more smoothly in the solo without leaving very large gaps in between each phrase you play.

It is good to not overwhelm the listener with a nonstop flow of notes, but you also shouldn't be leaving too big of a space between each phrase.

Think of playing solos in the same way as you approach speaking.

When you play nonstop all the time without ever taking a break, the listener tunes out the music in the same way that he would tune out a speaker who was speaking without ever taking a pause to catch a breath.

On the other hand, leaving too much space between each and every phrase is also not good and is equivalent to speaking to someone but pausing for a very long time between each sentence.

There must be a better balance between separating your phrases enough to avoid overwhelming the listener while achieving better continuity in your playing to let one phrase flow seamlessly into the next without an overly long pause.

Too much of either extreme is not good.

Work on achieving a better balance between these areas. This becomes more and more natural as you continue working on improvising and soloing.

You know how to play lead guitar that is expressive. Now it's time to become the best lead guitarist of anyone you know. Let me help you get going today by taking interactive guitar lessons.

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