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Basic Vibrato (Guitar Lesson)


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David MacKenzie

Basic Vibrato

Integrating vibrato into your guitar playing is a great way to add emotion and soul. David MacKenzie explains the basics of vibrato in this lesson.

David demonstrates the vibrato styles of artists such as Angus Young, B.B. King, and Zack Wylde.

Taught by David MacKenzie in Basic Electric Guitar seriesLength: 9:12Difficulty: 1.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (04:47) Intro to Vibrato Vibrato is a technique that adds feeling, expression, and a distinct personal identity to your playing. Vibrato is a pulsating effect resulting from rapid variations in pitch. At this point, you are probably very familiar with string bends. A vibrato can be thought of as a rapid sequence of small bends and releases.

Essentially, when vibrato is applied to a note, a guitarist is mimicking the sound of the human voice. Singers frequently apply this technique to long sustained notes or to the last note in a phrase. In this lesson, Dave MacKenzie will demonstrate the basic fret hand mechanics necessary to imitate this singing technique on the guitar.

Your Identity as a Guitarist

Vibrato is one of the most important components of a player's individual style. Many guitarists can be identified by their vibrato alone. These players have a very distinct and controlled vibrato technique. There are several ways to perform a vibrato on guitar. Spend significant time practicing and experimenting with each until you find what sounds best to you. Beware! It may take several years before you find the vibrato that is perfect for you.

Vibrato Factors

The two main factors that influence the sound of vibrato are speed and pitch. Speed refers to how quickly the note is pulsating. Pitch refers to how far the player bends the note away from the pitch that the vibrato is being applied to.

Ways to Perform Vibrato

A. Whammy Bar (Tremolo)


A vibrato can be produced with a whammy bar as a substitute for fret hand vibrato. A whammy bar vibrato sounds very different from a vibrato produced by the fret hand.

The whammy vibrato is most easily produced on guitars that feature a floating or locking tremolo system. The Paul Reed Smith tremolo is an example of a floating tremolo. The Floyd Rose tremolo is a double locking system. This means that the strings are locked in place at the bridge and at the nut. Floating and locking systems allow you to raise the pitch up or down. Tremolo systems that do not float above the body of the guitar will only allow the player to lower the pitch with the tremolo bar. Vibrato is possible with this system. However, your options are more limited.

B. Vibrato from the Wrist

Similar to bending strings, performing a vibrato from the wrist requires that you bring the fret hand thumb up over the top of the neck. The strong thumb muscle combined with the wrist provide the leverage necessary to produce a strong vibrato. Shake the wrist back and forth like you are rapidly opening a doorknob to produce a vibrato.

C. Horizontal Finger Vibrato

This type of vibrato is used by classical guitarists. Rapidly wiggle the finger back and forth from side to side. Do not move the string up or down! This technique is quite similar to the way that other string players such as violinists and cellists perform vibrato. A much more subtle vibrato is produced with this method.

Types of Vibrato

Slow, Relaxed Vibrato


Joe Walsh from The Eagles has a very slow, relaxed vibrato. His solo in "Hotel California" provides some excellent examples of his vibrato style. When Joe Walsh performs a vibrato, it is very subtle. Other players with wider, faster vibratos are far less subtle.
Chapter 2: (01:52) Angus Young and B.B. King Style Vibrato Wide, Intense Vibrato

Players such as Angus Young and B.B. King play with a faster, wider vibrato sound. Listen to any B.B. King recording, and you'll instantly hear what Dave is talking about. This style of vibrato is much less subtle. It instantly jumps right out of the speakers. The vast majority of electric blues players prefer this technique. This technique is favored by roughly 3/4 of the rock and roll population as well. B.B.'s hand oscillates back and forth in a motion similar to turning a doorknob back and forth.

If possible, watch a live performance of B.B. King. Notice how wide and exaggerated his wrist movement is when adding vibrato to a note.
Chapter 3: (02:18) Zack Wylde Style of Vibrato Many modern metal players such as Zack Wylde have taken the B.B King style of vibrato to a new extreme. Zack has a very wide and very fast vibrato. Listen and watch carefully as Dave performs some examples of the Zack Wylde style of vibrato. As you can see, Dave is oscillating the pitch back and worth through a much wider pitch range (almost a half step in both directions).

Practicing Vibrato

Make vibrato a daily part of your practice routine. Practice this technique with all four fingers in a variety of fretboard locations. It is much more difficult to manipulate and shake the strings as you move closer to the nut.

Practice vibrato in very small, focused intervals of time. Otherwise, if you practice this technique in large increments of time, you will most likely loose your focus and will not receive the maximum benefit from your practice time.


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Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.


moelarrycheesemoelarrycheese replied on September 24th, 2012

My favorite vibratos are Robin Trower and Steve Hackett. SH's vibrato is crazy, you can see from this video, when he's really at it, he uses his entire arm. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLTlAnVUx3A

davegodfrey49davegodfrey49 replied on August 24th, 2011

I would love to play vibrato, however I just cant get my left hand to shake like that. I dont seem to have a problem with my right hand but trying to get any speed on my left is very difficult. Is there any exercises you can recommend that will help or am I stuck with slow vibrato?

monkmonk replied on April 5th, 2011

While practicing vibrato, I realized I might play better with wider, thicker neck, since i have very long fingers and an especially long thumb. When I hook my thumb over the top of my current guitar's neck it hangs at least half way down the front of the neck. What are the best sorts of guitar necks for playing vibrato, etc, if you have unusually long fingers? I'm sort of looking for a new guitar anyway. I know S.R. Vaughn preferred a thicker or wider type of neck on his custom strat... Thanks.

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied on April 6th, 2011

i have noticed my Jackson RR5 seems thicker and wider, and pretty cool for vibrato. also my ESP Eclipse 1000 as well. i would say, go out and play some guitars, and see what fits you best. maybe you just need a 7 string guitar? lol!

marshall laneymarshall laney replied on July 25th, 2010

Hey DMac , the players that I've always thought had the best vibrato are BB King & Jimi Hendrix.Jimi's is similar to BB's I think. Watching some of the youtube clips of Jimi at Woodstock is good for those wanting a good understanding of how he played vibrato as there are some good close up shots of his playing.

tangohuntertangohunter replied on March 18th, 2009

Ina gata da vibrato

fofinhafofinha replied on November 3rd, 2008

hello

mingofallsmingofalls replied on May 28th, 2008

Thanks DMac! Great lesson, I was wondering how that was done!

Basic Electric Guitar

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

In his Phase 1 series, David MacKenzie will walk you through the basics of rock guitar.



Lesson 1

About the Guitar

David discusses the parts of the guitar. He also gives you some basic techniques to get you started.

Length: 31:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 2

Power Chords

In this lesson, David introduces basic power chords. Great fun for beginners!

Length: 10:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 3

Basic Chord Progressions

David introduces some basic chords and chord progressions.

Length: 14:15 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 4

Notes, Chords and Arpeggios

David provides a brief explanation of what notes, chords, power chords, and arpeggios are.

Length: 8:12 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 5

Speed and Coordination

This lesson is all about increasing your speed and coordination. David demonstrates basic picking exercises.

Length: 14:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Chord Exercises

David MacKenzie presents a mysterious sounding chord exercise. This exerices is designed to improve right hand technique.

Length: 9:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

Practice and Discipline

In this short lesson David talks about practice, discipline, and how you should apply yourself when learning and mastering the guitar.

Length: 6:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 8

Double Stops

Double stops can bring new life to your rhythm and lead playing. David provides a short tutorial on what double stops are and how they can be used.

Length: 7:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 9

The Major Chords

David covers the basic major chord shapes. Every guitarist must learn these basic chords.

Length: 18:29 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 10

The Minor Chords

David MacKenzie walks you through the basic minor chords. Expand your knowledge of chords with this fun-filled lesson.

Length: 8:15 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 11

Major Scales

Major scales are an essential component of all styles of music. They can also be used as a great way to orient yourself with the fretboard.

Length: 32:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 12

Major Scale Jam

David MacKenzie explains how to practice the major scales along with a fun backing track.

Length: 11:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

The Minor Scales

David MacKenzie proceeds to an in-depth discussion of the minor scales.

Length: 15:36 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 14

Minor Scale Jam

David MacKenzie shows you how to play the natural minor scale over a rockin' JamTrack.

Length: 6:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 15

One String Exercise

David demonstrates an excellent one-string exercise in this lesson. This exercise will improve your dexterity and knowledge of the fretboard.

Length: 16:48 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 16

Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are techniques that enable you to play with a smooth, legato feel.

Length: 8:27 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 17

Basic Bends

David MacKenzie gives a crash course on bending in this lesson. Bends can add a lot of soul to your playing.

Length: 16:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 18

Cool Rock Licks

David MacKenzie teaches two rock licks inspired by Yngwie Malmsteen and Kirk Hammett of Metallica.

Length: 12:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 19

Hammer-On Exercise

David returns to the world of hammer-ons with a fun new exercise. This lesson includes a JamTrack.

Length: 13:56 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 20

Return to Pull-Offs

David returns to the world of pull-offs with a new exercise. This lesson includes a backing track.

Length: 12:50 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 21

Practicing Bends

David MacKenzie returns to bending technique in this lesson. This lesson features a backing track that is designed for bending practice.

Length: 12:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 22

Basic Vibrato

Integrating vibrato into your guitar playing is a great way to add emotion and soul. David MacKenzie explains the basics of vibrato in this lesson.

Length: 9:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 23

Pentatonic Scale

David MacKenzie introduces the pentatonic scale.

Length: 5:48 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 24

Minor Pentatonic Scale

David MacKenzie introduces the minor pentatonic scale in this lesson.

Length: 4:38 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 25

Full Major Scale

David MacKenzie explains a two octave pattern of the major scale.

Length: 11:31 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 26

Full Minor Scale

David MacKenzie introduces a two octave natural minor scale pattern.

Length: 12:20 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 27

Full Major Pentatonic Scale

David teaches a two octave pattern of the major pentatonic scale.

Length: 6:30 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 28

Full Minor Pentatonic Scale

David MacKenzie teaches a two octave version of the minor pentatonic scale.

Length: 9:20 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 29

Cool Lick

David MacKenzie teaches several licks based on common arpeggio patterns. This lesson also includes a backing track to jam with.

Length: 20:40 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 30

Rhythm Basics

David MacKenzie introduces some important rhythm basics in this lesson. This lesson also includes a backing track exercise.

Length: 14:55 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 31

Power Chord Variations

David MacKenzie explains various power chord voicings. By simply moving a finger or two, new power chords can be formed.

Length: 18:43 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 32

Cool Lick Exercise

David MacKenzie introduces some new amazing licks.

Length: 29:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 33

Tapping Exercise

David MacKenzie introduces the tapping technique and teaches a fun exercise. This lesson includes a backing track.

Length: 22:44 Difficulty: 2.5 FREE
Lesson 34

Tapping Exercise #2

David MacKenzie teaches another amazing tapping exercise.

Length: 13:07 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 35

Tapping #3: Adding Open Strings

The third tapping lesson elaborates on the previous lesson by adding open strings.

Length: 12:59 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 36

Tapping #4: Diminished Lick

The fourth lesson in Dave's tapping series deals with a monster diminished lick.

Length: 11:02 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 37

Tapping #5

In lesson five of his tapping mini-series, DMac provides backing tracks that you can tap over.

Length: 8:04 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 38

Tremolo Technique

In lesson 38, DMac demonstrates some tremolo techniques to add to your repertoire.

Length: 13:54 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 39

Tapping #6

DMac returns to his tapping instruction with more advanced techniques.

Length: 19:54 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 40

Chord Structures

In lesson 40, DMac teaches you how to play various D chords all the way up the neck.

Length: 9:20 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 41

Octaves

In lesson 41, David discusses the octave and its uses while playing.

Length: 17:09 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only

About David MacKenzie View Full Biography Dave MacKenzie has been playing guitar for 30 of his 45 years on this earth. Starting back when he was 14 years old, Dave picked up the guitar and started to learn from his oldest brother, who had played some guitar as well. Dave was hooked, and couldn't learn fast enough! Everything from the Beatles, Chicago, Ted Nugent, The Eagles, you name it, Dave was trying to play it.

Then as with a lot of players out there, Eddie Van Halen came along and changed the way guitar was played! Dave has been influenced by anyone he has heard play guitar, literally! Always keeping an open mind and a humbleness about him has helped him to keep learning new things on, and about the guitar.

Dave has mostly played in top 40 rock, country, and pop bands. He is most recently playing guitar and keyboards in a 80's metal band called Open Fire. They have opened for Warrant, Firehouse, Winger, and LA Guns within the 3 and a half years they have been together, and are now jumping into original music.

Dave believes you should have internal motivation, and passion to play guitar, and most definitely, it should be fun!

As with his playing, Dave will find new ways to show you how to get the most out of your time learning guitar!

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