Playing the guitar without vibrato is like eating Mexican food without salsa. Vibrato is one of the most definitive techniques in defining your musical style, your unique sound. No two players have the same vibrato sound. Some play slow and wide while others play narrow and fast, and that’s the beauty behind spending a lot of time learning different vibrato techniques. It’s like eating different salsa’s every time you go to your favorite taco stand. Enough talk about food let’s talk technique.
Vibrato is sometimes confused with tremolo. It is just a method of vibrating the string sharply and flat around a root note. For example, if you are playing the 7th fret on the 3rd string with your 3rd finger on your fret hand you can just push the note up slightly and then pull it down slightly. Do this in quick succession, so the primary effect is a “wobbly” tone around the root note you are playing. Use your hand, wrist, and arm to make the movements. Never just wiggle a finger. Some people use a technique of pulling the string down towards the floor and then releasing back up.
Try this in a variety of speeds and levels of bending during your vibrato. The trick is to be consistent and smooth with your motion. If you are playing a slow blues riff, then you may want to slow down and make a wide circular motion with the string, or if you are playing a fast rock lick, you may just add a fast narrow vibrato to accent the final note in a run.
It is possible to add vibrato using any finger you play with, but it is most commonly done with the first and third finger on the fret hand. Using your first finger is a bit trickier. I usually use my first finger for fast vibratos similar to BB Kings style. I will lift my other finger far off the fret board, press down and just “vibrate” the string as fast and as open as possible. That’s funny the work vibrato is a lot like vibrate because that’s actually what you are doing vibrating the string.
When you combine vibrato with string bending, harmonics and legato techniques you begin to discover the musician inside of you. Playing guitar is about finding your inner flow of creativity and having the techniques to be able to express them. Vibrato is one of the more personal and efficient methods. As with all aspect of playing guitar, you need to experiment with these techniques, and most of all have fun!