Buying things through the links below cost you no more but help keep this site alive! Thanks, J

Justin Guitar - Free Guitar Lessons

TE-008 • Vibrato on Technique

Many people have problems developing vibrato technique. It is a hard thing to learn and if you think about too much, you risk making it sound very unnatural. That said, in this lesson I will show you some exercises that should help you find a natural vibrato. It is a technique used on all types of guitar (electric, acoustic and classical) and in every style, though jazz guitar tends to use very little vibrato.

You might find that watching the videos before reading the text will be helpful, so you understand the sounds discussed below! As usual, the video is at the bottom of the page.

The Basics

The aim of vibrato is to make the guitar sing. Take a little time listen closely to a great singer and try and notice the way that they hold a note and let it's pitch go gently up and down. That is usually what you are trying to achieve with vibrato.

There are three common techniques which you should try to master, and then you can experiment with blending them, or making your own style of vibrato. The three types are Classical, Standard and Free. These are just my names for them and you might find them called other names from other teachers.

Classical Vibrato

Classical Vibrato is usually performed on nylon string (classical) guitars, but is equally effective on electric or acoustic guitars. It is quite a subtle vibrato, the change in pitch is very small, but it can make a great difference to the quality of the note!

The change of pitch comes from moving your hand from left to right while leaving the full pressure of the finger down on the note. When you move your hand toward the neck you are in effect pulling the string and making it tighter, and therefore the pitch goes up. When the hand moves toward the body of the guitar you are making the string slightly loser and the pitch goes down. It is moving between these two points and gives the sweet and even texture of classical vibrato.

Notice that the only part of hand touching the guitar is the finger holding down the string, the back of the hand is not touching anywhere!

It is most commonly used in ballads where you might hold one note for some time If there is vibrato used in (traditional) jazz it will be this type. It is used a lot in classical guitar but also used in many other styles, and can even be used on chords!

Ex. 1 - Classical Vibrato
It is good idea to be able to use this vibrato on any note and with any finger, so after developing the technique on just one note (recommended note is the D found on the third string, 7th fret), you should try this exercise.

Simply play every note as shown and add vibrato to it! You should experiment with different speeds of movement and also starting slow and speeding up on each note! This is a very easy exercise to play badly, so take your time, do it SLOWLY and work on making your vibrato sing!

Classical Vibrato


Standard Vibrato

The standard vibrato used by the majority of guitarists in most styles is this one. It can be subtle or outrageous, wide or small, sharp, smooth and a thousand other adjectives! This is the one that you really should try and master.

The technique used is very similar to that used for string bending, so if you have not seen the lesson on that technique, I would suggest that you go and check out that lesson before getting onto this one - TE-005 • String Bending.

The "secret" to getting this type of vibrato working well is to get a solid pivot point. Without your first finger locked up against the neck, you will never get it smooth or strong.

To make the most of your vibrato practice you should practice pushing the string above and below its central position (where it sits if you don't touch it!). When you do it for real, you might find that you do more pulling down than pushing up - this is fine, but best to practice moving it both ways, it will help you get the 'circular' feel for it.

You should be able to use this type of vibrato with any finger, but it is most commonly done with the first or 3rd fingers (the same as bending), so give those fingers the best workout.

It should be noted that this vibrato is a lot harder on strings 1 and 6 (the outside strings) because you can only push the string in one direction, or you risk pulling the string off the neck, which can sound awful.

Ex.2 - Standard Vibrato
Again before using this exercise , you should work on getting the D note sorted, and make sure that your technique is correct.

You should remember too that you ought to experiment a lot with this type, make it wide and fast (like for rock guitar) and then small and slow (for a ballad) and everywhere in between!

For this I would recommend that you just play random notes all over the fingerboard and alternate which finger you use to do the vibrato. Start with your first finger and play any note with vibrato, it really doesn't matter what note. Then put your second finger somewhere else, a different string and a different area of the neck and play another note with your vibrato. Then continue doing this with your third and fourth fingers, each time moving to a new part of the guitar neck. The idea here is to get used to using the vibrato all over the neck with all your fingers. You need to be able to get this going anywhere!

Remember that this tab is an EXAMPLE - you should use random notes, and just keep the finger order!

Standard vibrato

Free Vibrato

This type of vibrato is included here because it is a quite a popular type, but I must admit, that this technique does not work well for me. I like to hold the neck while I play, and to release the neck just when I am trying to get my music the most expressive just doesn't do it for me. But it works for Eric Clapton, so who am I to argue!!

The technique is similar to the classical technique, in that the hand releases the neck and the only point of contact is the finger holding down the string. But with the Classical technique you move the string left to right, with 'Free" vibrato you use your arm and hand to pull the string up and down!

I find it hard to control with no hand contact, especially standing up, but that does not mean it won't work for you - get in there and try it!!

I don't do this very well because I don't use it, so even though I try and give you an example, you should try checking out some videos of Eric Clapton playing check out how he sounds, and what he looks like when he is doing it.

The Three E's

There are three very important things to remember when you are working on your vibrato:

Try and copy your favourite player's vibrato. Try and make your guitar sound exactly like theirs. This will take time. Work at it. Then copy someone else's vibrato. You will find that they types that come naturally to you will stick and the others will pass. Copying others will help you find you own voice!

Once you have the basic techniques under your fingers you should experiment as much as possible and try and find new ways of doing things. Try blending styles of vibrato, or techniques... there is a lot of things to try... through exploring you will learn a LOT.

When you do your vibrato it should feel easy and natural. If it doesn't, then something is wrong and you need to fix it. Try to find the problem yourself and if you can't, seek advice from someone... or try the forum!

More on the Three E's coming in a lesson soon ;)

Video Lesson





If you need to ask a question about this lesson - there is a topic set up specifically to help you with this lesson. To help you find it easily you can click the following link and it will take you right the topic. You'll be able to see questions that other people had and ask your own questions! Hopefully one of the very helpful members of our community will be there to help you soon, I do go there and answer stuff too - but there are just too many questions for me to answer alone!

So click this link to get help with this lesson!