You probably already know that vibrato is an important technique, but very few guitar players know how to master it. Some struggle for years to get their vibrato to sound good… others take vibrato for granted and hope that it develops on its own (it usually doesn't). When your vibrato is weak, your guitar playing doesn't sound good, no matter what you play (or how fast you play).
To master vibrato, you need to break this technique down to its fundamentals, practice each one separately and then integrate them together. Watch this video to see the process of developing great vibrato on guitar:
Here are 5 tips that will help you master vibrato fast:
1. Know What You Are Looking For
When you practice vibrato, be clear on what sound you are looking for… and what sound you are NOT looking for.
There IS a very clear difference between good vibrato and bad vibrato. Watch the video above to hear many examples of both types of vibrato and pay attention to its sound when you practice.
Good vibrato is always: Controlled, in tune, appropriate to the musical context in which it is applied.
(Bad vibrato is the opposite of one or more of those things).
This does NOT mean that good vibrato must sound “the same way all the time”. The sound of good vibrato may vary depending on your musical style and context.
Sometimes narrow and slow vibrato is the best vibrato for a certain musical situation (hear an example).
Other times fast and wide vibrato is the best for expressing intense power, intensity and drama (hear an example).
The above 2 examples are both controlled and in tune. They may be either good or bad depending on the context they are used in. (Of course many other kinds of good vibrato also exist in between these extremes.)
Here is an example of vibrato that is both out of tune and uncontrolled: hear it. This kind of vibrato always sounds bad (in any context) - avoid it.
Determine what kind of vibrato expresses the exact emotion you want to convey in your music and focus on achieving that sound when you practice guitar. To get help with this, download this free eBook about adding fire and intensity to your guitar licks.
2. Allow Your Hands To Catch Up To Your Ears
The physical motions of playing vibrato on guitar are very simple. All you do is wrap your thumb around the neck of the guitar and rotate your forearm/wrist to do vibrato. The hard part is training your ears to guide your hands to produce the sound you want to hear.
When you play vibrato and it doesn't sound quite right, ask yourself: “What am I missing?” Is the vibrato too slow? Is it too fast? Is it inconsistent? (some pulses are wider or faster than others). Is it too wide? Too narrow? Asking these questions will guide your hands to make the adjustments needed to match the sound you hear in your head.
Do this to develop your ear for identifying good vibrato, so you can master it faster:
Listen to your favorite guitarists and pay attention to how they use vibrato.
Listen to the vibrato of your favorite singers and mimic their vibrato phrasing style in your own guitar licks (for help with this, read this article about how to play better guitar solos).
- Alternate good vibrato with intentionally making your vibrato too fast, too narrow, out of tune and inconsistent. Doing this will make your ears more sensitive to the contrast between good and bad vibrato.
3. Practice “Delayed Vibrato”
Instead of rushing to apply vibrato as soon as the note is played, let the note ring out for about a second and then apply vibrato. This will improve your phrasing in 2 ways:
Using delayed vibrato will make your guitar phrases more dramatic by bringing attention to the vibrato when it is applied.
- Delaying the vibrato prevents you from rushing, tensing up and making your vibrato too fast/narrow and out of control.
See/hear this technique demonstrated starting at 3:18 in the video.
Of course there are times when applying vibrato to a note immediately can also sound great. You will have a much easier time doing this after you learn to do a controlled/delayed vibrato (but not the other way around).
4. Practice Vibrato On Bent And Unbent Notes
Once you can consistently get the vibrato sound you want on an unbent note, begin applying the same approach to a bent note.
Follow these steps:
Step 1. Choose a note you want to bend (starting note) and determine the note you are bending up to (target note). For example: from a starting note on fret 7 on the G string, bend up to the target note on fret 9.
Step 2. Pick the starting note and bend it.
Step 3. Once the pitch matches that of the target note, wait for a moment while the string rings out (delaying the vibrato).
Step 4. Strike the string again and apply vibrato (immediately).
Step 5. Repeat this several times.
Step 6. Move to a new area of the fretboard (such as around the 20th fret or above, or the lower frets/strings) and start the process over. Repeat this several times for 3-5 minutes.
To hear an example of this, watch this video (the demonstration starts at 2:55 in the video).
5. Practice Integration Through Variations
Practicing vibrato in isolation is not enough. You must learn how to vary the sound, speed and width of the vibrato to match the music you are playing. Take a single guitar lick and practice creating dozens of phrasing variations on it (varying how the notes are played). This will get you to fully integrate vibrato into your guitar playing in a fluent way.
To hear lots of examples of how to do this (and to get more help with mastering vibrato in your guitar playing), download this free eBook about playing emotional guitar licks.