Vibrato is one of the most important techniques in the blues. Effective lead blues guitar is all about creating a vocal and expressive feel in your solos. To do this, you have to break out of the rigid structure of the fretboard and target all of the microtones that exist between your frets. This helps you to mimic the human voice, and gives your playing a beautiful and expressive sound.

In this course then, you will learn everything you need to execute a wide variety of different vibrato techniques and styles. Specifically, you will learn:

  • Fundamental vibrato technique and common pitfalls to avoid when getting started
  • How to alter your vibrato technique to create different feels in your playing
  • How to add vibrato to your bends, to make them sound more expressive
  • The iconic vibrato style of guitarists B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Paul Kossoff

This will help to improve every element of your blues guitar solos, and will allow you to recreate the sound of some of your favourite guitarists.

As noted in the video above, there are a lot of similarities between vibrato and bending. And as such, this course works well as a follow up to the two part ultimate guide to bending. So if you don’t yet feel totally comfortable string bending, or if you would like to develop your string bending technique, I would recommend working through those courses before continuing here:

Now, as covered below in more detail and in the video at around the 3 minute mark, bending and vibrato are different techniques. However the benefits that they offer you as a blues guitarist are very similar. In my opinion, you can use vibrato in two key ways:

Firstly, you can use vibrato to breathe life into even the simplest of phrases. It adds an element of expression and articulation to your playing which makes even simple ideas sound effective. I illustrate this from the 25 second mark in the opening video.

The difference in that particular example might sound subtle. However, when you extend that out over the course of a full improvisation, you will be amazed at the difference it makes to your playing.

The second and significant benefit of vibrato is that you can use it to transform the character and feel of the same phrase. In blues guitar, we encounter the same phrases and licks in a wide range of musical contexts. And a wide range of blues guitarists – from B.B. King to Stevie Ray Vaughan – often use the same patterns and licks. So what makes them sound so different?

Of course, there are a multitude of differences. This includes phrasing, dynamics and tone. Vibrato however, is a significant contributing factor. By altering nothing more than your vibrato, you can create a totally different feel in your playing – a point I illustrate from the 1.20 minute mark in the video above.

In this way, you can get much more mileage out of the same ideas, and target a single technique to totally alter your playing style.

What is vibrato?

Before we dive into those points however, I think it is important to establish what vibrato is, and how it differs from bending.

As noted above, there are a lot of similarities between the two techniques. Both give your playing a vocal and expressive feel. Both are nuanced techniques that you can use to totally alter the feel of a given phrase or solo. And lastly, both techniques involve altering the pitch of the notes on your fretboard.

It is this last point where the techniques differ. As covered in great depth in the bending courses linked above, when you bend a string, you are fundamentally altering its pitch.

I illustrate this from around the 3.15 minute mark in the video above. There I take the note of D found at the 7th fret of the G string, and bend it up a whole tone. This would be considered a standard bend, and it is one that shifts the pitch of the starting note up from D to E. Or from the 7th to the 9th fret. You can see this on the following fretboard diagram:

This shows the first shape of the A minor pentatonic scale. Highlighted in light blue are the tonic notes of A. And in yellow are the notes involved in the bend. I start by playing the note of D at the 7th fret. I then bend that up and alter its pitch by pushing it up to the note of E.

Vibrato also alters the pitch of the notes that you are playing. However this change is much more subtle. The note you are playing does not fundamentally change. In other words, if you play the note of D on the G string and apply vibrato, you are still playing the note of D.

You are making small shifts in pitch around the note. And it is this which helps to give your playing and the note a more expressive feeling. However the note that your listeners hear remains that starting note of D.

As you will see as we progress through this course – you can alter this shift in pitch to a greater or lesser degree. And there are styles of vibrato which come much closer to bending, as they alter the pitch of the starting note more significantly.

Generally speaking though, vibrato is a way of adding feeling to a note, as opposed to fundamentally changing the pitch of the note.

Next steps

Now that we understand what vibrato is and how it compares to bending, we can turn our attention to actually implementing the technique in our playing. And it is this point on which we will focus for the remainder of this course.

So, if you want to add a more vocal and expressive feel to your solos, and recreate the vibrato styles of some of your favourite players – head over to the next video and get started. There we will be looking at the fundamentals of vibrato, along with some of the common mistakes you need to avoid when getting started. See you over there! 😁