Everyone loves a good bit of vibrato. And learning to do it well will give you far more expressive power when playing.
A bit of controlled wibble-wobble here and there can make your melodies sound as lush as daisies or as aggressive as Gordon Ramsey after losing the lamb sauce.
It’s the trademark of a guitarist who knows what they are doing, so if you get it right, the whole world is gonna love ya.
And hey, that’s why I’m here!
Today I’ll be going over how the pros do vibrato on guitar along some tips at the end on how to make it sound epic.
What is Vibrato?
Vibrato is basically the oscillation/wobbling of a note, because it adds colour to the music and possesses more emotion than a flat, single note.
You may have even seen it’s guitar tab symbol before:
And…errr… that’s literally it.
So let’s get in to how to actually do it.
How to do Vibrato Using The Wrist
Wow, that sounded worse out loud than it did in my head.
Anyway, applying vibrato from the wrist is the No.1 best way to do vibrato on guitar, so here’s how you do it:
- Place your hand in a bluesy grip and find an easy and comfortable note to play, like the A on the 10th fret on the B string
- Play it and rotate your wrist downward/clockwise, like you would it you were opening a door nob. Keep your finger pressed on the string so that you pull the string with you a bit.
- Rotate back up to the starting point and repeat this motion smoothly.
And that’s literally it.
Have a go with different fingers to get used to it too.
You’ll want to make sure that you layer up all the fingers behind the fret you’re playing when you do this to add more strength.
E.g. When playing the note with your ring finger, keep a hold of the string with your index and middle fingers. 3x fingers = 3x strength.
This will especially help whilst bending, which I’ll touch on later.
But then what do I do on the high E string where there’s no space to pull the note downwards?
Do I just snip that string off and never use it again?
Aha! Great question… sort of…
You’re just gonna have to rotate upwards instead, pushing the string towards the middle of the fretboard and releasing back down again.
Anyway, this isn’t the only way to do vibrato on guitar, there are two more useful ways you should know about…
How to Do Vibrato Using Your Fingers
All the lads who play classical guitar love to add vibrato this way because it’s very efficient and fits in with how they play.
Here’s how to do it:
- Find the same comfortable note you used earlier, but instead of using the blues grip, place your thumb on the underside of the neck, laying out your four fingers parallel to the frets.
- Play the note and pull the string downwards with your finger
- Release and do the same again. Just imagine your finger is a wiggly worm and you’ll get there.
The whole reason people use this style is – surprisingly – not actually because people want to become wiggly worms.
But because it fits the classical guitarist “fast” hand position nicely, where you can’t really rotate your wrist.
So it’s always a good one to have in the toolbox after those quicker runs.
How to Do Jazzy Vibrato
Another totally different way to add vibrato for a new and unique sound is to do it like the jazz folks.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Take the same comfortable note and bluesy hand position you did from earlier.
- Play it again, but instead of sliding up and down to make the wobble sound, you’re gonna want to pull the string towards the nut.
- Then release tension and pull again.
It should sound a wee bit like this:
You’re basically tugging the string towards the nut from the bridge to stretch it rather than pulling it up and downwards.
Kinda cool, right?
Use that one to stand out from the crowd a bit.
Making Vibrato Sound Nice
So you learned how to add vibrato, you picked up your guitar, you played a note and… Yuck!
It sounds frantic and agitated and better without vibrato than with.
So how do you actually go about adding that luscious, creamy vibrato on guitar like the pros?
The first thing you can do is slow down.
Unless you want your vibrato to sound super fast like a buzzing beehive, you’ll be better off at a slow or mid speed.
The second thing you can do is work on getting it even.
Consistent speed upwards and downwards with roughly the same amount of string pull each time is where you wanna be to make it sound smooth.
You can even play your vibrato in time to the song to practice this.
And that’s actually a cool technique in itself:
And the third thing is to keep control of vibrato whilst bending.
This is where most people – including myself once upon a time – fall down because they let the bend slip a bit.
You’ve got to dip the bend a little below the note you’re bending to then back up to exactly where it was.
Loads of people hit the right note with the bend, then add vibrato by wiggling it a bit and end up forgetting that you’re still supposed to be hitting a note.
It doesn’t sound nice and I do not like not nice stuff.
Just keep the bend in tune for me, alright?
Finding Your Own Vibrato
Here’s for the fun bit. Finding your own style!
A few great examples of guitarists who have distinct vibrato styles are BB King, Marty Friedman and Zakk Wylde.
BB King opts for slightly smaller, faster vibrato wibbles, whilst Zakk Wylde and Marty Friedman opt for wider, slightly slower wobbles.
Have an experiment and see whether you prefer expressive vibrato or subtler vibrato and incorporate that into your playing.
Another cool thing Marty Friedman tends to do is to play a note, hold off on the vibrato for a second or two, and then add vibrato.
It creates expectation and tension whilst the note is sustaining as you wait for the vibrato to hit.
Subtle but epic.
He’s actually got an entire video on it here which you may find useful.
Wrapping it up
There we go folks, get used to rotating your wrist, keeping those bends in tune and making expressive guitar faces and your playing will soon sound as creamy as an ice cream parlour.
Remember, as you practice this you’ll be shredding up your fingers and cursing your guitar like never before so enjoy the fun whilst it lasts 🙂
Have fun wobbling!
P.S. If you want to learn the Top 5 Arpeggio Shapes and how you can use them in your soloing, then click here to view my post on that.