Lesson 5 of 9
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Style Study – Eric Clapton

Once you have nailed your fundamental vibrato technique, and you feel comfortable altering it and also applying it to bends, you can turn your attention to making more significant changes to your vibrato.

Here we can turn our attention to some of the most famous blues guitarists of all time, and their vibrato techniques.

If you are looking to recreate the very specific vibrato sound of one of your favourite guitar players, then the next series of lessons will help you to do just that.

More broadly however, studying these techniques will help to illustrate some of the broader ways you can alter your vibrato to create a different feel in your playing.

To begin, we will look at the unusual and distinctive vibrato technique of Eric Clapton.

Specifically, we will look at the vibrato style that Clapton adopted in his solo career, and which you can hear in a range of famous songs, including:

I associate this style of vibrato with Clapton’s more mellow playing, and feel that it is best suited to a slower blues context.

This seems to be supported by the fact that John Mayer has since gone on to adopt the same vibrato in a lot of his playing.

So, if you are an Eric Clapton or John Mayer fan – or if you enjoy slightly ‘poppier’ music that still incorporates elements of the blues and blues guitar – then this vibrato is going to help you create the same character in your playing.

However, even if you are not a big Eric Clapton or John Mayer fan – or if you prefer heavier blues rock – I still think there is a lot of value in learning this style of vibrato.

Firstly, learning an alternative style of vibrato gives you more options.

You have another option for creating a different character in your playing. When it comes to highly nuanced techniques like bending and vibrato, having these extra options is beneficial.

Secondly, and as you will see in this lesson – Clapton’s vibrato technique is very different to that which we have covered so far.

In fact, getting comfortable with this style will help to prepare you for the vibrato techniques of other players, like B.B. King.

So if you have an interest in recreating B.B. King’s style of vibrato, this technique will help to prepare you for that material.

Now with those caveats out of the way, let’s get into it.

Here is everything you need to know about Eric Clapton’s vibrato technique:

Floating vibrato

As noted in the video from the 1.10 minute mark, Clapton’s vibrato technique differs from the fundamental vibrato technique covered up to this point in one significant way.

Rather than hooking his thumb over the top of the guitar neck and focusing on rotational movement, Clapton totally removes his hand from the back of the neck.

In this way, the only point of contact he maintains on the guitar is the finger he is using to apply vibrato.

It is for this reason that I typically refer to this as ‘floating’ vibrato.

This is because your arm and hands are both floating free. You only have a single finger maintaining contact with the guitar.

As a result, you don’t initiate any movement from the wrist. Instead you initiate from the forearm.

The implications of this change are significant, and are as follows:


Unlike the fundamental vibrato technique covered up to this point, this vibrato technique does not involve any rotational movement.

You are no longer initiating movement from the wrist, and instead are moving from the forearm.

The result of this, is that you are limited to moving vertically.

Trying to initiate and control a rotational movement with your forearm is challenging. You don’t have the same level of control as you do with your wrist.

Not only this, but you are not anchored onto the guitar in the same way. You only have a single finger holding you onto the guitar.

This too makes it more challenging to initiate and control a rotational movement.

It is not impossible (as you will see in the lesson on B.B. King’s vibrato) however it is certainly more difficult.

As such, the movement with this style of vibrato is vertical, but not rotational.

You don’t need to think about any rotational movement at all. Instead you can think about just moving your forearm up and down to create movement on the string.


The fact that you are moving from the forearm and not the wrist, also has implications for the speed at which you play this vibrato.

As I illustrate from the 3.30 minute mark in the video above – it is easy to initiate a quick movement in your wrist. It is not physically taxing, and you have a lot of control over the movement.

Conversely, trying to move quickly with your forearm is both physically demanding and more difficult to control.

So whilst you can play this vibrato quickly, I personally feel it is easier to play and better suited to a slower musical context, or to those notes which you hold onto for a longer period of time.

Finger choice

We encounter the issue of control once more when it comes to finger choice – a point that I cover in more detail from the 4.30 minute mark in the video above.

Unlike the vibrato technique covered prior to this point, there is very little connecting you to the guitar here.

You are not anchored onto the neck of the instrument with your thumb, and it is only your finger maintaining contact between you and your guitar.

As such, with this style of vibrato, the finger that you use to play the vibrato performs two functions.

The first of these is the same as with the fundamental vibrato technique covered prior to this point. The finger you choose controls the vibrato. It initiates all of the movements and therefore dictates the character of the vibrato.

The additional consideration here, is that the finger you choose for your vibrato becomes the only point of contact with your guitar.

As such, I would argue that it is important to choose one of your stronger fingers for this type of vibrato. For the majority of players, this will be either your first or middle fingers.

If you adopt this style of vibrato frequently, then over time you can start to apply it with all four fingers. To begin with however, I would recommend using your strongest fingers as you adapt to the technique.

Putting it all together

When you put all of these elements together, you end up with a style of vibrato that is slow and sweeping.

It is best suited for slower blues contexts, or for those moments where you can take your time and apply vibrato to notes that are ringing out and resonating.

Of course, you do not need to limit yourself to this single approach.

This is Eric Clapton’s ‘default’ vibrato technique. As such, it is the technique that he uses in all of his playing – including his faster solos and licks.

So don’t feel that this style of vibrato is only suitable to a slow and more mellow blues context. That is how I typically use it, and I feel it works very well in this context.

The mechanics of the movement make it very easy to play a slow and sweeping style of vibrato and this compliments the musical context in which I am playing.

However, please do experiment beyond this context. You might find this style of vibrato more comfortable than the ‘fundamental’ vibrato technique covered prior to this point.

If that is the case then start to include it in all of your playing.

You will quickly adapt to the new mechanics and will build strength in all of the fingers on your fretting hand. You will also develop better control of your forearm, to alter the character of your vibrato.

In turn, this will put you into a brilliant position to learn and apply B.B. King’s beautiful vibrato technique, which as you will see in the next lesson – bears many similarities to this ‘floating’ vibrato technique.

So, when you are ready to do so, head over to the next lesson where we’ll dive right into it. See you over there!