A wise man once told me when I was younger, that playing guitar is all about the small things. Boy was that guy ever right. Too many guitarists in this day and age stress over accomplishing elaborate techniques, and yet even if you do master them, at the end of the day what is guitar playing all about? if you said soul, or something close to that then you’re right.
In order to have that flavor in your playing, you also need to spend a good amount of time working on how you accent certain notes or chords.
One of the best friends that a guitar player has is their use of vibrato. Vibrato is one of those smaller techniques that is easily overlooked, yet mastering this type of accent can bring a lot of quality to your playing.
When most guitar players do vibrato, they tend to do this side-to-side twist action thing with their fretting hand. This is ok, but then there are two types of vibrato – wide and narrow.
Wide vibrato could be thought of as a larger vibrato with slower wave lengths, where as narrow vibrato contains shorter wave lengths.
When most guitar players go to do narrow vibrato, it just never sounds quite right, and I think that its because of the way most people do vibrato in the first place. I’m not saying that the standard method is wrong, but I do know that this particular practice does not give a guitar player enough control.
Most guitar players approach vibrato as a sort of vibrating thing, hence the term vibrato. However, what if we were to change our mindset a little? Could we improve our vibrato? I think we can.
Here is some advice.
1. Approach vibrato with the mindset that vibrato is a small series of successive bends, and not a matter of vibrating the note.
2. Use your middle finger only to do vibrato, because it is the strongest finger, and gets the other fingers out of your way.
3. On all of the guitar strings, minus the High E string, bend the note towards the ground, instead of pushing it up to you. This makes good use of gravity in conjunction with the strength of the middle finger.
4. Don’t put any twist in the note – just bend it.
I’m saying all of this because you actually get a stronger vibrato by bending the note, fast or slow. Most guitar players have trouble bending the notes so quickly at first, because it requires a bit of coordination. I promise that if you keep this in mind, and practice this method of vibrato for a few weeks, that it will come pretty quickly to you.
The concept here is a simple one. What’s really going on is a simple matter of bending and releasing the note, over and over again, and within a short amount of time.
For wide vibrato, do half bends, and for narrow vibrato do quarter bends.
If you are fond of playing with distortion on an electric guitar, then chances are that you are also fond of using pinch harmonics in your playing. This bending approach to vibrato is ideal for harmonics, as it brings an amazing amount of quality and sustain to pinch harmonics.
Setting vibrato aside, always keep in mind how you can bring little improvements into your playing with other types of accents.