Killer Vibrato: How to Master Five Essential Performance Techniques - Guitar World

Killer Vibrato: How to Master Five Essential Performance Techniques

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How many times have you read an interview in which a guitarist talks of “speaking through” the instrument or making it “sing”?

This is because emulating the sound of the human voice is a great way to add personality to your playing. In this lesson, we’ll cover a form of vocal mimicry called “vibrato”—the repeated fluctuation of a note’s pitch.

B.B. King’s singing lines and less-is-more approach to soloing were legendary. His much-emulated “butterfly vibrato”—named for the visual effect created by shaking a note with the first finger while fanning out the other three fingers—used perpendicular-to-the-string finger movement to achieve tight, rapid pitch fluctuations.

FIGURE 1 is a King-like line in B minor pentatonic (B D E F# A). To achieve his trademark vibrato (notated in wavy horizontal lines), anchor your thumb at the top edge of the neck and rotate your wrist back and forth, producing a series of slight bends and releases.

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Eric Clapton also opts for perpendicular movement, but he gets a free-floating effect by rotating his elbow rather than his wrist. This results in slower, more even pitch fluctuations. FIGURE 2 is a Clapton-inspired line over a blues turnaround in Bb. Use your 3rd finger to fret both vibratoed notes.

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Parallel vibrato—favored by classical guitarist as well as rockers like George Lynch and Warren DeMartini—is achieved by rocking a finger along the length of (or parallel to) a string, between two frets. As you move your finger toward the bridge, there is a slight decrease in the string’s tension, resulting in a lowering of pitch. Conversely, as you move toward the nut, the pitch is raised due to an increase in tension. The fingerstyle example in FIGURE 3 contains parallel vibrato.

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Some players prefer to use whammy-bar vibrato. Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour is a master of this technique. To achieve his vibrato (FIGURE 4 à la “Comfortably Numb”), repeatedly depress your whammy bar and return the note to pitch in a tight, controlled motion.

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You can also top off bends with vibrato. In FIGURE 5—rooted in E minor pentatonic (E G A B D)—first reach the target pitch, then shake the string without releasing the bend.

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