Lesson 4: Vibrato And Why You Need It

Welcome to lesson 4! This is the lesson that nobody will ever take the time to teach you. It’s one of the most important lessons that you can learn. Today we’ll learn vibrato. Vibrato is when you pick a note and then apply a regular, pulsating type of effect by moving your finger back and forth on the string.

Good vibrato is key in developing your own unique style and voice on the guitar. Don’t underestimate the importance of good tone and vibrato. Let’s get started.

Remember for all exercises and licks to play in time with a metronome and start slowly. Focus on producing the best tone for each note. Speed will come.

Warm-up Exercises

Again, warm-up exercises are not meant to be played for hours but rather to get your hands “warmed-up” and both hands working together. Before you know it you will be flying around on the guitar at warp speed. At that point, warm-up exercises will become even more important. Think of your hands like a singer thinks of his vocal cords. Practice 5 minutes of slow to moderately paced warm-ups before you put start screaming at the top of your lungs.


Play each exercise at 120 BPM (beats per minute). The (quarter-note) quarter note gets the beat. There are 4 beats in a measure. Count 1-2-3-4. Unless otherwise noted use alternate picking for each warm-up exercise.

Warm-up Exercise 1


Warm-up Exercise 2


Warm-up Exercise 3


Warm-up Exercise 4


Be sure to play slow and steady in time with the metronome. Keep your fret hand finger at the bottom of the fret to get the best tone.

Guitar Theory

If you had music class in school you’ve heard the terms “legato” and “staccato”. They are opposites.

Legato  – smooth, in a flowing manner, connected.

Staccato – short, separated, each note is sharply detached.

If you want to play legato then you will connect the notes using hammer-ons and pull-offs. The notes will flow from one to the other without any real attack. When you hammer-on it will be more subtle than when you pick a note.

Playing staccato can be achieved by using your pick or fingers. Any time you pick a short note (usually 8th or 16th note) and separate it from the next note you will get this effect. This technique is heard a lot on violin compositions.

Vibrato Technique

Vibrato is a technique that most guitar players overlook but should be worked on. Adding the proper vibrato to a lick can add color that really brings out the emotion you are trying to communicate to your audience. Vibrato gives you a way to express emotion through your fingers.

To get started with Vibrato let’s listen what it sounds like when you have no vibrato.

Play with no vibrato

Strike a note (any note) and just let it ring out. Hold it. Don’t shake it. It should should sound very flat – not musically flat versus sharp but just plain.

Shake the note fast

Now pick the note and shake it up and down rapidly. It should sound hurried and aggressive. Think of when you might want to use this type of vibrato.  I rarely use this type of vibrato. You can hear it sometimes in fast metal or even blues when a blues artists is trying to really feel the note.

Note: Your vibrato should be in time with the song you’re playing. Any “spaz” type of extreme shaking is usually not musical and doesn’t generally sound very good. Think of vibrato as pulsing in 8th notes. 1 &  2 & 3 & 4 & Keep it steady and uniform in timing.

Pick and shake slowly

After you pick the note bend the note up and down slowly. Not too much. The pitch should be very close to the main pitch of the note. When bending the note, the pitch shouldn’t be extreme enough to bend to the next note on the fretboard. In other words, if you pick a C note it should never be bent so far that it’s a C#.

Pick and sway

Another vibrato that Steve Vai uses quite a bit is when you pick the note and then, instead of bending the note up and down, you sway your finger from right to left. Your finger stays in place and your hand moves gently from right to left. This technique is very hard to master. It’s commonly seen in classical guitar vibrato.

Vibrato is one of the key factors to developing your own voice on guitar. As you play each note practice putting vibrato on it before moving on to the next note.


Time To Shred

The lick today is a rockin’ solo in the key of A minor and use the A minor pentatonic scale. It includes tapping, hammer-ons, pull-offs and ends with putting vibrato on the final landing note.

As always, play slowly and work your speed up. Concentrate on each note to get the best tone. Remember, Eric Clapton is a great guitarist but he isn’t a fast one. Many people would rather hear his “slow hand” playing than a million sloppy notes. I prefer a happy medium. Good clean shredding with attention to tone.

Played slowly:

Full speed:


Vibrato is an often overlooked technique. It really sets the seasoned guitarists apart from the guitarists that just play a lot of notes. Always choose quality over quantity.

In the final lesson of this free course we’re going to dig into the often asked question – Where do I go/What should I play next?

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