Why Guitar BENDS And VIBRATO Are So Vital - And How To Practice Them

What Is The Best Way To Practice Bends And Vibrato On Guitar?

Tommaso Zillio

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bends vibrato guitar

Reason # 73 why I play guitar and not another instrument:

It’s because the guitar is one of a VERY restricted family of instruments that can do both these things:

  1. Play more than one note at the same time
  2. Manipulate the sound of the note beyond the attack of the note

Instruments like piano get point 1 right… but they control only one variable of the note (i.e. the ‘velocity’ or dynamic). They can’t bend the note, slide, add a vibrato, etc.

Wind instruments get point 2 right (and that’s why instruments like saxophones are super popular…) but can’t play chords. (*)

The guitar instead allows us to dabble in the interesting world of chords and harmony… but we can still pull off a vocal-like performance from our guitar if we choose so.

Or at least that’s the theory.

If you have ever tried playing a solo, you know that in practice, being able to use these things effortlessly is not something that comes immediately and naturally ;-)

That is to say, phrases like: “your vibrato comes naturally, just do what feels right” is a bunch of baloney (… or “malarkey”, if you’ve read the email I sent out last week…)

And yes, in my not-so-humble opinion, the most important of the elements is vibrato (and bends, but particularly vibrato.) That’s the thing that gives our guitar solos that vocal-like quality that we like to hear.

So how can we practice it? How can we train our vibrato (and bends) to sound exactly how we want them to?

How can we get a vibrato that makes angels cry, devils repent their own wicked ways, and internet music theorists (like yours truly) wax poetic about it? (**)

As with most things on the guitar, there are many different ways of practicing, and this is no exception…

… however, there are a few things that I find have made a massive impact on my vibrato and bending, and I want to share those with you today.

Linked below is a video where I share these tips with a student. Grab your guitar, and follow along… and in few minutes you’ll find your playing is already changing for the better:

(*) I am well aware that there’s more to musical instruments than piano, guitars, and wind instruments. And I know other instruments can do both things. Still (in my even-less-humble-than-before opinion) not as well as a modern electric guitar can do them ;-) YMMV

(**) Effects presented are for illustration purposes only. No guarantee is made about lacrimation or behavioral changes in supernatural entities. If this footnote is weirding you out, then forget about it. Just click on the link above and start practicing.

A lot of this information about phrasing bends, and vibrato fits right in with my FREE eBook, 18 Tips To Make Your Pentatonic Solos Sound Professional. Check it out to continue with this topic!

Video Transcription

Hello internet; so nice to see you! When you want to make your soloing more expressive, there are some specific techniques; we call those phrasing, okay. It does include bends, vibrato, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, etc. At first sight, all of those techniques are important. And at first sight, all those techniques look the same, okay. But when you start digging a little bit deeper, some of those techniques are more important than others because they are more part of what we call the signature of a player.

And in my humble opinion, and everybody can disagree, no problem. And in my humble opinion, the most important technique is vibrato because it’s the one that really speaks from you, and really every player has a different vibrato. And the more you develop your own vibrato, the more you sound like you and the thing is, you can even start having a personal vibrato.

Because even if you do exercises to make it better, it’s still yours and personal. It’s another thing that the more you do it, the better it is. And the more it’s your sound. But here’s the question: how do you practice your vibrato? And people will tell you that vibrato is completely natural. That’s a lot of bull, sorry for my French, okay, it’s not, you need to train it, you need to create it. And again, you cannot help but having a personal vibrato because as you’re gonna see, doing the practices I’m going to show you, your personality comes through the vibrato, you simply can’t help it. Okay, it just likes to make it as good as possible and your sound will come through.

How do you train something that’s personal? How do you practice something without getting pigeonholing and sounding like somebody else? And by the way, how do you sound like somebody else when you want to sound like somebody else? Because I mean, why not? Well, a student asked me how to make their vibrato better. And I’m showing you some practices, some things you can do in your practice today, that will make your vibrato better immediately, and will help you make out your own personal voice from the vibrato. Here it is.

‘My question is how do I work on my vibrato and bends to keep in better with the chords and timing? It seems like I never bend into a chord. And it’s sort of all these this almost the same vibrato.’

‘Okay, what do you mean by bending into a chord?’

‘Like if you play a chord, I never seem to, like I would never, like try to come into a chord with a bend. That way. My vibrato regardless of the timing, I rarely practice or try to speed it up where it sounds good.’

Okay, so let’s address both of those things. If you want to bend into a chord, what I think you mean, and I’m going to state it and tell me if I’m right, is that you want to hit a chord note, with a bend, the moment the chord plays, right, the chord is playing in the first beat, you bend some note and you hit a chord note. So, this means that you have to bend from another note, I’ll play a C major chord. And let’s say you want to hit this E note, 12th fret, first string.

Yeah, that’s the volume, use the volume. Maybe you use your neck pickup, fantastic. This will sound better you see, but you want to bend into it. So what you do, you’re gonna bend from either fret 10, So I’m gonna play the chord. 1, 2, 3, 4: There we are, you just did it. Now if the bend is too long, we bend from fret 11, But even less. 1, 2, 3, 4: Let’s do it again, 3, 4: Okay so you have to hear when I’m getting the note okay?

Use a one-chord backing track, it is easy you do it, okay, then on the phone, and click Use the is the is the voice memo application, okay, which is just double click or whatever it turns on and then just start strumming into the phone. I played back down, backing track done. And just try to hit every one. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. Okay, or slowly 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1 So you hit them on four and bend until you get there on one.

Okay, we’re gonna do this right now in a moment, okay. And it’s just an exercise to get used to this and to do it in tune. Okay, it looks like a simple exercise. Other things we’re doing today look like simple exercises until you do them. And when you do them, they’re not so simple anymore. Okay, so now I’m gonna play very slow I’m gonna go like: 1, 2, 3, 4.

And you want to—and by the way come back to the 10th fret and, yes, you’re going to hit the D on number four then you’re gonna slowly bend and arrive at the E on beat number one, not earlier.

1, 2, 3, 4…

Make sense., then you do this with all the other notes. Because C has the C note, E note, and G note. And then you do this in different positions on the fretboard, don’t want to use only the first thing. Okay? And then yeah, just let your hand get comfortable in doing it. Because when you’re actually playing when you improvise when you’re on stage, when you’re with your friends, you really don’t want to spend any mental power in concentrating on the movement of the hand. So, you programmed this beforehand.

Okay, which means I did a lot of repetition on this make sense? So far? Yep. Fantastic. Now, that’s for the bend. That was easy. Okay. The vibrato I’m afraid is not going to be that easy. But we’re gonna get through. Okay. Now, the vibrato.

The idea of the vibrato is that you grab a note. And we’re gonna grab an un-bent note, and I’m very fond of the third string to learn because, we’re gonna get the E again, the ninth fret. Okay, and the idea is you oscillate up and down with this, okay. Now, there are different elements in the vibrato, there is how wide you make it, and there is how fast you make it, and there is how smooth it is. There are a few others but, concerned now only about those three. Here’s the trick.

Whenever you train one of those elements, you have to be willing to sacrifice the other two. There is no way to keep all three right and improve one. There is no way. So, when you work on the timing, your vibrato is going to be uneven, most likely and full of angles, gonna be like it’s kind of nervous vibrato which sounds horrible I did it only as an example for people I know that when I put this on YouTube I will have a number of comments: ‘See at minute six something, horrible vibrato!’ It’s an example! Okay, makes sense.

So, what do you want to do right now, you’re going to do an unrealistic thing now because it’s easier to play them, we’ll do a more realistic thing later. The unrealistic thing is this: You’re gonna bend, we’re gonna be on the peak of the vibrato so bend up on number one. Then bottom on 2. So, 1, 2, 3, 4: 1, 2, 3, 4… which sounds horrible, it’s an unrealistic example. Okay, it’s just to get the timing, okay? I’m gonna play the chord so, 3, 4:

1, 2, 3, 4…

okay, this is just to get the movement because it sounds horrible. It’s not you, it’s the exercise. okay? It’s because it’s too slow. But we need to get this under our fingers. So now a slightly more realistic but still not there yet example is now, you’re doing a full oscillation up and down.

Every count when I count, you’re up. So, 1, 2, 3, 4… I don’t care if it’s inconsistent. Okay, or all over the place, I don’t care if it’s full of angles. I’m just getting the timing right. One thing at a time.

1, 2, 3, 4…

I know it’s slow.

Make sense so far? Good. You always start at those slow speeds, okay, maybe you’re gonna stay there for a long time but you always start there just to remind your head, then you go on to the higher speeds and now it’s two oscillations every beat at this speed and still when I count, you’re up. Okay, so the speed is 1, 2, 3, 4…

You do this, you record yourself while you’re doing this. Okay, okay. You can listen to a metronome, but the metronome could be a bit too much. Meaning that it could be too much sound that’s still not refined all together. It could be too much. So, it is possible again, record yourself and then listen back. Okay. In the meantime, this way helps you to get the right timing because the vibrato should be more or less synchronized with the song right? Okay. Okay, once you get these, let me know if you find a way to communicate and is there a way to smooth it up and make it a bit more human? Okay?’

‘Okay. Thank you.’

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