(written in 1984)
For those who are beginners on the guitar, take into consideration the importance of using vibrato effectively. Practice it and don’t limit yourself to one type of vibrato.
One thing to be careful about when you start using vibrato is your intonation. It’s easy to put a note sharp when you vibrate it. This could be effective at certain times, but if it becomes overused, it will sound horrible.
There are three different types of finger vibrato that come to mind. They are:
1: ROCK VIBRATO
Vibrate a note by rocking it up and down “from the floor to the sky”, causing the pitch to go sharp only. This technique is the most popular among rock guitar players; e.g., Page, Hendrix and Clapton. Personally I find it limiting (but intend no disrespect).
2: CLASSICAL VIBRATO
You can see most string players using this style. In this technique, you push the string forward, then pull it back. While pushing forward, the string will go flat because you’re causing it to get looser from the tail piece to the fret you’re on. By the same principle, pulling the string will cause it to go sharp. This is an effective vibrato because it modulates between going sharp and flat and makes it easier to control the intonation of the note. The drawback is that it’s hard to get too radical with it. One thing you can do is vibrate over the frets really fast. An example would be to play an E on the G string and slide up and down the neck in the span of a fret each way. Warren DiMartini of Ratt is well known for this technique.
3: CIRCULAR VIBRATO
This is my favorite, for it lends itself to the most mellifluous expression. In this technique, your finger moves in a circular motion on the string. Start by pushing the string forward, then pulling it down a bit. In the process, release the tension from pushing. Then pull the string back and follow by pushing it “towards the sky”. What you’re doing is combining both types 1 and 2, creating a circular motion with the original fretted position being the center.
The reason I’m so fond of this vibrato is that it helps keep your intonation in perspective. The note will go both sharp and flat in the vibratory process. The width and the speed are easy to control.
When practicing these vibratos, start slowly and smoothly. Stay slow but get really wide. Then try fast but skinny vibrato, then fast and wide. Think about being as sensitive as you can. Then try it as harsh and fast as you can without having your finger fall off the guitar (actually, let it fall off if you like).
Now, take all these vibrato techniques and apply them to two-part, three-part, four-part, five-part, and six-part chords. Good luck!
Vibrato is one of the most creative expressions the guitar is capable of. Certain songs will call for a certain type of expression. Let your vibrato do the talking.