If you play your guitar without any vibrato at all, this is just like a plate of Mexican without any salsa. Vibrato is one of the most definitive techniques in defining your musical style, your own personal unique sound. No two players have the same vibrato sound. There are those who like to play it slow and wide, while others like to narrow things down and play fast, but it’s all up to the player when it comes to his/her vibrato technique of your choice. It’s like eating different salsa’s every time you go to your favorite taco stand. But this ain’t about basketball, for crying out loud – this is about vibrato, so read on.
Vibrato is sometimes confused with tremolo. It is not to be confused with tremolo, which means fluctuation in volume – it is the vibration of a string in such a way that it varies ever so slightly in tone. The technique used by most beginners would be to use the third finger of their fretting hand to play the third string on the seventh fret, moving the note up slightly, then moving it down slightly as well. Do this in quick succession so the over riding effect is a “wobbly” tone around the root note you are playing. Coordinate your hand, arm and wrists as you perform this technique. Never just wiggle a finger. In some cases you will notice guitarists pull the string all the way down and release it back to its original position – this is one of the popular forms of bending.
You can improve your vibrato easily by playing it at various speeds and using different styles of bending. You would want to be as smooth and fluid as possible. Your technique would depend largely on the genre you are practicing – for example, a twelve-bar blues riff would benefit from a slower, wider motion performed on the string, while a punk or metal riff would sound much better if you play fast and narrow as your vibrato caps off what should be an amazing run.
More often than not, the first and third fingers on the fret hand are used to add vibrato, but the third finger, by far, is the most commonly used. Sometimes using the first finger can be a challenge. You can use your first finger for fast vibratos similar to BB Kings style. You will literally lift your other finger far off the fret board, press down and just “vibrate” the string as fast and as open as possible. It is just apropos that the word vibrato sounds just like “vibrate”, because aren’t you vibrating the string when you use this technique?
Becoming a master at guitar can be accomplished in many ways, but one such way is to mix your vibrato with other methods of playing like legato and string bending. Great guitar players don’t copy – they develop their own style, and playing guitar is a great way to unleash your creative side. Vibrato is one of the more personal and effective techniques. This would be just like other techniques, though, where you have to experiment and have fun while doing so!