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How To Use Vibrato In Your Guitar Playing

Obviously having the right facial expression is important

For all my students who play lead guitar, vibrato is the one skill that most need to work on above most other things. Put simply, vibrato is more than just the shaping of a note by changing it’s pitch repeatedly, it’s the overall shaping of the note to match the intensity and emotional content of the music. It can make the most simplest of melodies sound musically powerful and when played right can add a real touch of class to your playing. 

First, listen to a couple of examples of great sounding vibrato. The first is a live version of Sweet Little Angel by B.B. King.

Sweet Little Angel by B.B.King

The second is a live version of For The Love Of God by Steve Vai.

For The Love Of God by Steve Vai

Live video versions are important because I want you to take note of how vibrato is played. A big ‘lightbulb’ moment for me was watching Dire Straits play Sultans of Swing. Whilst this isn’t a live version but the band miming over a studio version for a music video, simply seeing Mark Knopfler do a vibrato gave me so much more understanding of what needed doing.

Now, don’t skip watching any of those videos. Regardless of what your musical tastes are, make sure you take the time to listen and watch what is going on. An important part of learning is keeping an open mind and listening to what different people have to offer will only serve to make you a better musician.

B.B. King was one of the early pioneers of electric guitar. It is still amazing how someone who are up in a town without electricity went on to become an electric guitar hero to generations. However the most important thing to remember is that he listened and emulated what he liked the sound of. In his case he wanted his vibrato to sound like Hawaiian singers and acoustic players. His sound is very specific but also very recognisable along with the rest of his playing. In terms of modern day guitarists his style is still quite primitive but then electric guitar had only been in popular existence for about a decade at that point! Listen carefully to his playing; his vibrato is fast and narrow and cuts through his melodic lines. In particular, any time he lets a single note ring out it tends to have vibrato on it to h