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How To Play Guitar Solos Better Than Ever, Part One: Using Vibrato More Creatively

Tom Hess teaching guitarI hear stories all the time from guitar players about how their solos don’t sound as good/expressive as they want. Fact is, there are A LOT of reasons why this can happen, but fortunately there are very specific ways to fix and overcome each of those causes. The following are some of the most common problems I see/hear all the time in the solos of many guitarists:

  1. Using little to no vibrato or playing with vibrato that is NOT in tune
  2. Playing the first note of your guitar solo in a very weak manner by using narrow vibrato (or no vibrato)
  3. Using vibrato in the exact same way every time you add it to a note

Before you learn how to use vibrato to enhance your guitar solos and licks, it is important that you SEE and HEAR how this technique can improve your solos. Do this now by checking out the video below:

Use vibrato in the following ways to make your guitar solos sound AMAZING:

1. Play Vibrato That Is Perfectly In Tune

Nothing will kill the sound of a great guitar solo faster than vibrato that is out of tune. For this reason, it is crucial that you always play your vibrato in tune! To do this, always bend the string up to the exact pitch you are targeting and back down to the original pitch you began on before releasing it. So if you wish to apply vibrato that is a whole step wide, you need to bend the string to match the pitch 2 frets above the starting note before returning it back down to the pitch you started with (and repeating this many times quickly to achieve a vibrato effect).

Listen to these examples and hear what perfectly in tune vibrato sounds like when compared to out of tune vibrato:

Example 1 – Perfectly In Tune Vibrato: Hear It

Example 2 – Out Of Tune Vibrato: Hear It

How To Use This Concept To Improve Your Guitar Solos Right Now:

Determine how wide you want your vibrato to be (such as a half step or whole step). Then invest time into applying this vibrato to different notes in different locations all over the fretboard while keeping it in tune. To speed up the mastery process, record yourself playing so you can pinpoint times when you were playing out of tune and understand the changes you need to make to correct this.

2. Match The Depth Of Your Vibrato To The Right Musical Situation

The most common way that guitarists apply vibrato in their solos is by making it sound very narrow and very subtle. Instead of ‘always’ using this approach, sometimes it is best to begin your guitar solos with a ‘kick to the face’ by using wide/heavy vibrato on the first note! Do this by using vibrato that is a half step or wider (while also remembering to keep it in tune). With this in mind, you don’t always have to use this approach (sometimes the soft/weak vibrato is exactly right for the context) – just make sure not to ‘always’ begin your solos with narrow/no vibrato.

Check out the audio samples below to hear the difference between narrow, wide and ‘extra wide’ vibrato:

Example 1 – Narrow Vibrato (less than a half step): Hear It

Notice: Using narrow vibrato can certainly sound good when you are doing so in the right context – The mistake you must avoid is ‘only’ using narrow vibrato because you are unable to play wide vibrato that sounds good/stays in tune.

Example 2 – Wide Vibrato (half step): Hear It

Example 3 – Extra Wide Vibrato (whole step): Hear It

Notice: It is not necessarily better to use wide vibrato over more narrow vibrato. The most important thing to do is pay close attention to the music you’re playing over in order to decide which vibrato is the most appropriate. To decide which type to use, consider that wide vibrato will add ‘intensity’ while narrow vibrato is much more subtle. Work on becoming proficient with both types so that there are no limitations on your musical expression.

How To Use This Concept To Improve Your Guitar Solos Right Now:

Step 1: Think of several licks where the first note of the lick has a ‘longer’ duration (such as a half note or whole note).

Step 2: Use half or whole step vibrato to enhance the first note in each of these licks.

Step 3: Repeat the second step for 5 minutes. Do this once a day, for two weeks until your vibrato sounds killer. This will make it very easy for you to creatively apply vibrato into your solos anytime the opportunity presents itself.

3. Use Vibrato In Many Different Ways

You must gain control of two main variables in order to play great vibrato:

  1. The way the vibrato sounds (affected by how wide the vibrato is and how fast the pitch fluctuates)
  2. The timing of when the vibrato is used after a note is played.

The majority of guitar players use vibrato with the exact same approach every time they play: they always use either a wide or narrow vibrato that is applied immediately after they pick a note. Don’t make this same mistake! If you do, your soloing will quickly become dull and repetitive.

To make your guitar solos sound creative and inspiring, use vibrato in a different way by ‘delaying’ its application for a few moments. This will add additional interest to your playing in the form of musical tension, while also extending the life of the note.

Here is the difference between the conventional approach of instantly applying vibrato vs. delaying it:

Example 1 – Instant Vibrato: Hear It

Example 2 – Delayed Vibrato: Hear It

Another creative way to enhance your soloing is to both delay the vibrato and strike the note again to add additional intensity to the note. Listen to this example to hear how this sounds:

Example 3 – Delayed Vibrato + Striking The Note Again: Hear It

Example 4 – Here is a short example of how to combine the three different vibrato types discussed above by using various levels of intensity/speed: Hear It

How To Use This Concept To Improve Your Guitar Solos Right Now:

Pick out one of your favorite guitar licks and look for the notes in that lick that are sustained longer than the others. Next, record yourself playing the lick for 5 minutes straight while applying vibrato to these longer notes as follows: ‘instantly’ applying it as soon as you play a note, ‘delaying’ it for a moment or two after playing the note and ‘delaying’ it + striking the string again. Focus on using as much variety as you can throughout your recording to develop mastery for all 3 vibrato types.

Now that you’ve learned these methods for using vibrato in your solos, you can easily transform any ordinary solo or lick into a totally killer one. The even better news is that this is just the beginning. There are many more ways to enhance your lead guitar playing. In the next part of this article series, you will learn how to use string bends to mold your guitar licks and make them sound totally badass!


About The Author:

Tom Hess is a professional touring musician, composer and successful rock/metal guitar teacher. He helps guitarists around the world learn to play guitar online. On his website, you can find guitar playing tips, free guitar resources and more guitar articles.

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