Use Vibrato to Make Your Classical Guitar Music Come Alive

Author: Emre Sabuncuoglu

Would you like to make your music vibrate with the pulse of life? In order to move the soul, music must reflect life itself, celebrating life’s joys and mourning life’s sorrows.

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Vibrato, a method of slightly varying the pitch of your guitar, brings your music to life by employing specialized left-hand techniques to cause a string or strings to vibrate at a varied pitch.

There are two main kinds of vibrato on the guitar. The standard (also called longitudinal) type, also used by violinists and other string players, utilizes the friction created by the musician’s fingertip as it moves. This causes the string move back and forth along its length.

This motion makes the string alternatively shorter and longer, causing the pitch to waver above and below the note being vibrated.

The pull-release vibrato, on the other hand, produces its distinctive sound by first pulling the string toward the palm of the hand with one of the fingers, keeping that finger lightly on the string, then returning it to its normal position. In pull-release, the pitch also fluctuates, but only above the note that vibrates.

The vibrato can yield a delightful effect on the guitar’s sound, depending on the particular piece of music. The finest players use vibratos selectively. Never would you use it on every note. Otherwise, vibrato would lose its ornamental effect. It heightens the intensity of certain notes, giving them a vigorous singing quality.

Guitarists utilize vibrato to intensify the climactic note of a phrase or, as an alternative, to emphasize the melody notes while playing a melody and accompaniment piece. Guitarists also use vibrato to help sustain notes.

Vibrato opens up an extensive and expressive range of sound available for a guitarist to utilize. It truly makes a guitar express the full range of human emotion.

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In the vibrato, the variety that constitutes that full range comes from two essential components: the fluctuation of the pitch and the speed of the vibration. The guitarist should be aware of the magnitude to which the pitch fluctuates, because the effects change according to the amount of fluctuation.

Employ only minor divergences from the main pitch; otherwise, the effect will be overdone. One could say, with respect to vibrato, that a little goes a long way! Normally, the tone should not deviate much more than a quarter-tone on either side of the main pitch.

The speed of the vibrato should vary with respect to the speed and the emotional character of the music you are playing. The speed should also match the register. Generally, the quicker or more intense the music, the faster the vibrato.

Furthermore, the upper register of the guitar’s range also calls for a faster vibrato, due to the greater intensity of the higher pitches. The speed of the vibrato usually falls within a narrow range of four to ten cycles per second. Pay attention in order to avoid extremes.

The vibrato must sound natural, flowing from the music’s own character. A vibrato that is too slow for the musical passage being played is unwieldy, awkward-sounding, as is one that is too fast. An extremely slow vibrato may be fine for special effects, but not for most of the standard repertoire.

If your vibrato sounds too fast for the passage, then your playing sounds nerve-wracking, rather than intense, as you intended. A truly artistic vibrato should have a measured rhythm, never descending into random chaos. It should, rather, reflect the humanity of both the player and of the music itself.

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About the Author: Among their many other course offerings, Los Angeles Guitar Academy Online has a new series of free online guitar lessons, designed to introduce a wide variety of people to the classical guitar. LAGA Online has more free lessons and articles on their teaching blog.

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