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Blues Guitar Lessons: Vibrato

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Now we're gonna turn our attention
to one of the most valuable techniques,
in my opinion, that you can develop as
an electric blues player and
that is vibrato.
Now I've been sneaking vibrato into the
phrasing pretty much all the way along,
I just do it out of such habit at this
point that it's hard for me not to, but
vibrato is simply.
[SOUND] It's that, right?
It's shaking the string a little bit,
making the note waver.
It's, when it's done well, it's one of
the most natural sounding techniques,
it's another one of those things
that you hear and just say,
yeah, that's just how it's supposed to be.
Unfortunately for us, it can be one of the
most frustrating techniques to develop,
too, because it requires a very
specific set of muscle movements
that can be tricky to master, but
I'll show you a way to approach it.
Just to give you some context, I think
I read an interview with Eric Clapton
years ago where he talked about vibrato,
and he was just absolutely passionate,
driven guitar player in his young days,
learning to play blues.
He was just all out, and
he said that it took him, I think he said
seven years, to get his vibrato to where
he felt like it was really under control.
I don't know if that's true because I
think he was famous before then, you know.
But nonetheless, even a player of
his caliber it took him a while to
really master the technique or
feel like he really had it under control.
All right, now there's really two
ways to shake a string, if you will,
and they come down to this,
you either push it up towards the ceiling.
you pull it down toward the floor.
[SOUND] Now a vibrato, of either type,
is a string bend, that's all it is.
We already know how to bend a string, but
it's a string bend that is done
under very controlled conditions,
and it has to waver at a very
specific constant rate.
So that's the trick is that you have to
get command of the width of the vibrato,
in other words,
how far does the string bend,
how much does the note move off a pitch,
and the rate of the vibrato,
how quickly does the note cycle
through the pitch change.
All right?
The classic vibrato that you might
be familiar with would be BB King.
[SOUND] And he is given credit, rightly
so, as the guy who popularized that sound.
One of his big influences, Lonny Johnson,
was an acoustic guitar player,
fabulous musician, one of the founding
fathers of American guitar styles,
without a doubt, and playing acoustic
guitar, he had a pretty darn nice vibrato.
So it wasn't that BB invented vibrato,
but BB brought vibrato into
the electric blues guitar vocabulary
in such an authoritative and
such a beautiful way that
everybody had to do it, and
from that day was just part
of the basic vocabulary of blues.
All right,
let's start with finger vibrato.
Now finger vibrato, and
we'll start on the third string here,
I'm gonna show you how this works.
Put three fingers down on the third string
with the third finger at the seventh fret.
Now, finger vibrato is basically,
take those three fingers, and
just bend them, like you're waving.
That's all it is.
[SOUND] Now how far do you bend?
That's gonna be a matter of choice,
but let's say it's a quarter tone.
In other words.
[SOUND] There's that whole step.
[SOUND] There's a half step.
[SOUND] We're gonna bend slightly
less than a half step, but
that's something that you work out
over time because you start to
hear the width as part of the,
kind of the signature of your vibrato.
It's a choice that we make.
[SOUND] Okay?
So I've got all three
fingers on the string, and
I'm pulling that note down toward
the floor, and that's easy to do.
[SOUND] Okay, and
I'm moving it in a fairly steady rate,
but now what I need to do is,
I need to speed that up.
That doesn't sound like vibrato,
that's just me bending a string, right?
So to sound like vibrato it has
to cross cross a threshold.
At which the band no longer sounds
like a conscious effort.
I'm not gonna say there's a specific
tempo or rate, but I'll show you how it
progresses from sounding like a band
to sounding like vibrato, and
we'll find there's a point in there
where you can kind of pin it down and
say now that's when its starts
to feel like its right.
All right, the exercise is this,
were gonna set a metronome for
60 beats a minute, pretty slow tempo,
but it'll give us a chance to kinda
gradually work our way through the rhythms
and build up the speed of the vibrato.
So in each case, I'm just pulling that
string down toward the floor about
a quarter tone, releasing it, pulling it
down again, releasing it and so forth, and
doing that in tempo.
So here we go with the metronome.
Now first, I'm gonna do it like
one bend and release per beat,
then we'll build up from there.
[SOUND] Three and four, and.
[SOUND] So I bend it,
release it.
[SOUND] Now I'm gonna
give it a triplet feel.
[SOUND] It's gonna sound like this.
[SOUND] Can feel like three, one,
two three, one, two, three.
[SOUND] Now I'm gonna go to four.
I'm going to
go to six.
[SOUND] Now, to eight.
[SOUND] That feels like it.
Your hand's gonna be tired,
your fingers are probably crying out,
screaming in pain, you've got the blues.
Now I should have mentioned that as I'm
doing that, I'm muting with my right hand.
And that prevents the other
adjacent strings from ringing out.
I want that note to be nice and
clean and isolated.
Now, you could probably hear, and the way
I'm hearing it is when I went from six.
[SOUND] still sounds like I'm trying,
When I went to eight.
[SOUND] Subtle, but it just.
[SOUND] It's like,
now that sounds like that's a human voice.
That's not somebody going, it's an actual
singer singing and making that note shake.
There have been studies done, believe
it or not, about the effect of vibrato.
Why is vibrato so appealing?
I don't know.
[LAUGH] I didn't say I read the studies,
but they've done studies, and
there's something about the way that
note wavers, they just has some sort of,
its like just a basic physical reaction
that says, I like it, its pleasing and
so that's why we hear vibrato,
singers use it all the time, and
guitar players we want to develop that,
violinists, of course, do it.
So, that's the idea, now what I just
did in progressing through the rhythms,
very methodical, there's gonna be
a point if, if you're starting out
with this technique where at one of
those rhythms you'll feel like you just
can't control it anymore, your hand gets
tired, the note starts to waver unevenly,
you can't keep it, moving back and
forth at the same rate.
That's gonna be the point at which your,
sort of call it your break point.
You have to get past that point,
and you practice day by day by day,
incrementally, ten minutes.
That's a lot actually.
For that kind of an exercise,
you could do five minutes,
but you have to keep at it, and
you develop it incrementally.
It's not gonna happen by you
sitting down one weekend and say,
I'm gonna do it eight hours a day.
It's just not gonna happen.
It will happen over time, bit by bit.
You're training the muscles to do
something that they don't ordinarily do,
and they have to gradually
take that feeling on.
Now finger vibrato, by its nature, you're
pulling it down toward the floor, it
has its limitations, and the limitation is
this, when you do it on the first string.
[SOUND] Right, and I pull that string down
toward the floor I pull it off the neck.
[SOUND] It's done.
I can't hear the note anymore.
Second string.
[SOUND] I'm a little
more successful there.
I've got some room.
But I can't use finger vibrato on the high
E string which is where I really want it,
because that's that high note
that I want to sing out, so
I have to develop another technique
that we're going to look at in a second.
But two of the electric guitar players
that are renowned for their vibrato,
classic electric blues, Albert King and
Otis Rush from Chicago.
Both of those guys, it turns out,
are left handed, and
they play the guitar by flipping it
over without changing the strings.
So for both of those guys, when they
execute the vibrato on their high string,
their skinniest string, they're
actually pulling the string down and
using finger vibrato,
because for them it makes sense.
They're pulling away from
the edge of the neck.
For us to play that same high note,
we have to push it away from
the edge of the neck, and
that requires a different technique which
we're gonna look at in the next lesson.
So mess around with finger vibrato and
mess around with that metronome technique,
and see what happens.
Well, now after practicing finger vibrato
you've worn these big
bloody grooves in your
fingertips so
let's [LAUGH] add to the pain.
In this lesson we're gonna talk about
the other form of vibrato [COUGH].
Where instead of pulling
the note down toward the floor
we push it toward the ceiling.
Now you say, what's the difference really?
Right, it's the same effect.
And you're right.
It is exactly the same effect.
However, when you pull that thing toward
the floor you're wiggling your fingers.
Now that is a relatively
normal muscle movement.
You know we can do that in other contexts
and we're all, it's easy, right?
Not a big deal.
Risk vibrato is what you have to use when
you push the note toward the ceiling.
You can't wiggle your fingers cuz
you have to push them back and
forth like that,
it just ain't gonna work right?
So you have to bring, a bigger muscle into
play, that's the muscle in the wrist.
So the way wrist vibrato
sounds is [SOUND].
Now I'm on the high string [SOUND].
Now if I try to pull that down to use
finger vibrato like this [SOUND].
I pull it right off the end of the neck.
Can't use it.
So I'm pushing it.
Now, here's the difference.
We'll go back to the third string.
Finger vibrato [SOUND] pulling it down.
Wrist vibrato [SOUND] pushing it up.
You shouldn't be able
to hear a difference.
They should sound exactly the same,
however, the technique, and
the muscle movement,
is quite a bit different.
So, three fingers on the third string,
third finger's at the seventh fret.
They're all down there tight and then I
push that note up [SOUND] a quarter tone.
Now what happens when I push the note up?
Well, you can see in my wrist,
that I raise my wrist.
Now I'm not thinking about doing that,
that's just the way it works.
So if I bend the string [SOUND] I,
every time I bend that string,
you can see that the wrist
rocks around a little bit.
And by rotating my wrist,
I'm pushing my fingers.
It's almost like the fingers
are an extension of my wrist and
its the wrist muscle that's
really doing the work.
So I use the vibrato, wrist vibrato,
what I'm doing is actually
rotating my wrist [SOUND], and
the fingers are just along for the ride.
Finger vibrato,
it's the finger muscles that do the work.
Wrist vibrato,
it's the wrist muscles that do the work.
It's a little harder to
control the bigger muscles and
get them to cooperate, but we can do it.
It's just, it's time and dedication.
Let's start the metronome again,
and we'll do the same exercise, but
this time it's gonna be wrist vibrato.
I'm gonna start with one cycle per beat.
Feel like eighth notes.
Here we go.
[SOUND] Doesn't matter
when I pick or how I pick.
I'm just trying to keep
the note alive [SOUND].
Okay, now I'm
gonna go to triplet
feel [SOUND].
And then the 16th
note feel [SOUND].
Now we'll go to triplets [SOUND].
Oops, missed it there.
Try it again and [SOUND].
And now 30 seconds [SOUND].
Feels like
All right.
Now you could keep going.
You could do it faster than that.
You can raise the tempo of the metronome,
do the same exercise so
each rotation is a little bit quicker.
But that's not really what it's about.
What it's really about is
achieving control at that level,
I've achieved control.
I'm consistent and
the vibrato is even and it's expressive.
Now, how fast do I want it to be.
Well that's style, that's choice.
BB King's vibrato is a lot faster
than Albert King's vibrato.
Hendricks had his own distinctive vibrato,
which was sort of a little slower,
like BB's a little bit, right.
So when you listen to different players,
you hear different vibratos.
And they have different emotional effects,
you're just kind of drawn to one or
the others.
It becomes your gold standard for
what a good vibrato is.
When I'm playing, I definitely do not
think about 32nd notes, triplets.
Never, ever.
That's only for the exercise.
Once you get control of the vibrato, it
doesn't matter where you play on the neck.
[SOUND] Or what finger you use.
Now in this case I'm on the third string,
I'm using finger vibrato
with my index finger.
[SOUND] Now I'm using wrist
vibrato with my third finger.
Wrist vibrato with my third finger.
[SOUND] Wrist vibrato
with my first finger.
[SOUND] Wrist vibrato with my
third finger and so forth.
[SOUND] Finger vibrato with
my index finger, right?
On the low strings, finger vibrato is
important because you don't wanna push
the note off the end of the fretboard.
So both techniques are important
to have a well-rounded sound.
Wrist vibrato in my opinion is a little
more challenging to develop than
finger vibrato.
But you gotta have it to
play that high note, right?
So you wanna develop both
of those techniques and
spend the time because
it pays off big time.
The result of having a good vibrato
is that you play less notes and
they have more content.
They just sound better.
It's part of having a polished,
fully developed style.
So even without developing
fancy techniques or
speed you just sound [SOUND] good.
Now that note right there,
it's a slide [SOUND].
I plucked it with my bare finger.
So I'm using that finger dynamics,
[SOUND] and I add the vibrato.
That note by the way was kind of
a signature of Albert Collins,
one of the greatest electric
blues guitar players ever.
And he would just [SOUND] hit
that note and you'd say, yeah,
that's the sound, right there.
[SOUND] And you don't need to
do a whole lot more than that.
So that's what vibrato does,
it just adds so much weight and depth to
the note that you sound like a more
complete player, even by playing less.
That's what we're going for
is economy and depth of expression.
Okay, we'll come back and
we'll look at one more aspect
of vibrato over the next lesson.
Now we're going to talk about another
aspect of vibrato, same technique,
but combining it with string bending.
And this is kind of the ultimate
expression of vibrato where you've got
string bending, which sort of creates an
emotional quality and add vibrato to it.
That's when it feels like you're
really singing, you know.
All right?
So when you get control
of that vibrato and
you combine it with an accurate
string bend, it's like yeah!
You're spot on.
Just as a side note I remember,
I think I can pin it down to the first
note that I ever heard
of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
I'd been playing for a while.
He came a little bit later
in my musical career.
It was on a David Bowie record, and the
David Bowie record was called Let's Dance.
Totally not a blues record.
It was a dance record.
Pop record.
Huge commercial success for
David Bowie, and
he had Stevie Ray Vaughn on there, and
the first note that I heard Stevie play,
I didn't know that it was him, it was
just some guitar player, I thought damn!
And it was on the song Let's Dance, and
that's what he was hired to do is come
in here and play that low down blues and
just hit a couple of notes and
just zing it, make it stick you know,
and everybody will kind of turn their head
all of a sudden and say what the, and
now what he was doing on that record
was he was channeling two of his idols,
Albert Collins and Albert King,
both of whom had a killer vibrato.
[COUGH] And so
he used that homework that he had put in,
extensive homework to his advantage.
It really established him as
a presence with that record.
So talking about bending plus vibrato.
Now I use these almost always
as a combination of bending and
wrist vibrato because you gonna
bend mostly on the high strings.
And when you bend on the high strings you
need to use the wrist vibrato because
you have to save your real estate there.
So even on the third string,
where I've got extra room,
I'm gonna push the note
up toward the ceiling.
Now, this is a normal string band,
I'm bending from the fourth to the fifth,
D to E.
[SOUND] Right.
And now once that note's on pitch,
the vibrato instead of
pushing the note up,
the vibrato is actually [SOUND]
you're releasing the note.
In other words,
you're letting it go below pitch.
[SOUND] Now you might say,
it's an obvious question,
like how can that be that on this note
[SOUND] the note is going above pitch,
and it sounds like vibrato and
the pitch sounds accurate.
I hear that note as being in tune.
[SOUND] And on this note the pitch
is going below the note, but
it sounds accurate, it sounds in tune,
how is it possible that the two
ways of changing pitch are opposite yet
they add up to the same thing?
The answer is I have no idea.
It just works.
So the first thing you gotta do is
you gotta bend that note to pitch and
then you have to release it slightly.
Now this is a little bit more strenuous
because [SOUND] it takes some
strength to get that note up there and
hold it.
[SOUND] And then releasing it and
pushing it back is a very refined motion.
So, let's give that a whack,
we'll do it again with the metronome.
This is a killer, because [LAUGH] you've
got to be ready for a workout here.
But I'll show you how it works,
okay, with the metronome.
Starting with eighth notes.
[SOUND] Triplets.
[SOUND] Triplets.
[SOUND] And 32nd.
Now that's a super technical way to do it.
I mean 32nds and
16th note triplets is crazy right?
The purpose is to demonstrate how
incremental the changes are and
how fine the line is between just in
the elaborate string bend vibrato.
There's that point where it crosses
over and it feels like I get it.
It resonates.
It's natural.
And that's what you're going for.
Now once you've developed that technique
[SOUND] it just enters your arsenal as
another way to express notes and
another way to finish
phrases and another way to have a resting
quality that just captures attention right
at the front of a phrase.
Use it everywhere.
It will become one of your go to fallback
techniques under every circumstance.
So it'll take a while, probably.
I encourage you to send me videos
of yourself using the vibrato,
working on the vibrato and I can give
you critiques and probably some help so
you make more progress.
Incorporate vibrato sliding, bending,
all these techniques that we've learned
into a 12-bar solo and send it to me.
I'll give you an example myself.
I'll play with a rhythm track.
Let's go back to the key of A,
our old pal, a familiar 12-bar shuffle.
I'll give you an example that uses string
bends and slides and vibrato altogether.
To me this is just how you play.
It's just your normal style but each
technique takes quite a bit of effort to
master and feel like you've
got it under your fingers.
So let's give that a shot.