Classical Guitar Vibrato

Vibrato is a very useful technique which allows musicians to play with greater expression. The tasteful use of vibrato can transform a dull and lifeless classical guitar performance into one full of passion and emotion. Vibrato is therefore of great importance to any classical guitarist who’s aim is to communicate more expression through their playing. In this article I will discuss the classical guitar vibrato technique in detail.

What is Vibrato?

Vibrato is the regular, pulsating change in the pitch of a note. The amount the note changes is usually very small. An important characteristic of vibrato is that the note does not completely change pitch (e.g. from A to A#). A continuous repeating pitch change from A to A# would better be described as a ‘trill’, when played quickly. Vibrato is much more subtle and is used to add expression to a static note.

Vibrato Notation Example

Vibrato is indicated in written notation as above.

Vibrato is a technique musicians use on their own initiative. When a musician feels it is the right time to add expression with the use of vibrato, they will do so at will. In some cases, the composer will specify when the technique should be used.

Vibrato has two main variables; the speed at which the note changes and the amount the note changes in pitch. Both need to be considered by the performer when using this technique, as they each have their own distinct musical effects.

Vibrato for the Classical Guitar

Classical guitarists typically use something called ‘Axial Vibrato’. This technique involves stretching the string along it’s length in a straight line, rather than bending it. Bending (‘radial vibrato’) is a technique more commonly used by electric guitarists. When classical guitarists use vibrato, the traditional method is to use axial vibrato.

Classical guitar vibrato is different to that of other non-fretted instruments such as the violin, cello etc. Instead of simply rolling the finger up and down, effectively shortening and lengthening the stopped note, classical guitarists need to actually stretch the string in order to alter the pitch. This is because the classical guitar uses frets to determine the pitch of the note. Rolling the finger behind the fret will do nothing to change the pitch of the note being fretted. Rolling the finger is a common mistake made by those new to this technique. When watching a classical guitarist perform the vibrato technique it can look as though they are simply rolling the finger, however they are actually applying enough pressure to push and pull the string so that it goes higher and lower in pitch. The rolling movement made by the classical guitarist is just a by product of this push/pull technique.

Improve Your Vibrato Technique

Would you like to improve your vibrato technique? Why not book a lesson at the Classical Guitar Academy?! The first lesson is free and there is no obligation to continue should you wish to look for another guitar teacher in Derby.