Vibrato on the Classical Guitar

How to perform Vibrato on The Classical Guitar

What is Vibrato?

Vibrato is the periodic variation in the pitch (frequency) of a musical note.

Fiddle family and wind players are very particular about Vibrato and can derive intensity and frequency.

Intensity is the variations in pitch. For example, vibrato oscillating between around 80 cents may be classified as a high intensity vibrato and 10 cents as low intensity vibrato. (Note: 1 Octave are 1200 cents apart. Each 100 cents is a semitone. So 1 Octave 12 notes each 100 cents apart).

Frequency refers to the rate of oscalation (how many times) of a particular note is being altered in pitch while sustaining it. Skilled players are able to perform vibrato controlling the intensity dynamically at accelerating and decelerating rate.

Limitations on The Classical Guitar

Guitar players on the other hand are not so particular about Vibrato. Quick decay and inability to accentuate notes naturally becomes a deterance in development of vibrato for any Classical Guitarist. Nevertheless, we can still find pleasure in performing the technique for a variety of reasons dispite unable to fully exploit vibrato. Here are some suggestions why Guitarist employ vibrato in our performances.

  1. Add musical interest to your pieces.
  2. Gives the impression that you are a good player to some of your audiences.
  3. Relaxes your muscles and can help reflex.
  4. Activates overtones from other strings for sonal effects.
  5. Add sightly more sustain in some situations.
  6. Also act as a timer for the rate of rubato. Help some players to “feel” the sustain by holding on to an already fully decayed note for phrasing purposes.

How to perform Vibrato on the Classical Guitar

We will be discussing 2 ways to perform Vibrato on the Classical Guitar. Mainly the Vertical and Horizontal Vibrato. (We will leave methods like pushing and pulling of the guitar head, cover/open soundhole out of this discussion as these are more widely used on acoustic than on the Classical Guitars.)

Vertical Vibrato

Vertical Vibrato is executed by moving the distal and proximal interphalangeal joint of the finger while having the string pressed against the fret. The motion of the fingertips dragging the string parallel to the fret altering the pitch higher and back to the pitch. The thumb is usually attached to the neck of the guitar acting as counter force.

Horizontal Vibrato

Rest the weight of the arm on the fingertips depressed on the string maintaining the shape of your hands. The motion for Horizontal Vibrato is powered from the forearm fixing the elbow like a pivot. The motion is similar to glissandos but at a miniature scale. This vibrato varies the high and low of a pitch.

How to reduce Left-Hand squeak or string noise on the Classical Guitar

Classical Guitar Left Hand Technique to reduce bass string squeaks

Cause of the Left Hand squeaks or string noise.

LH string noise refers to the squeaky sound produced by the left hand as it leaves the bass strings. The squeak string noise is caused by friction. It happens mostly when shifting positions across the fingerboard. To effectively reduce or eliminate the bass string squeaks, we have to find ways to reduce that friction. There are 2 approach to this issue and both to be used concurrently to obtain the best results.

The Maintenance Approach

  1. Regularity file the calluses of left hand finger tips.
  2. Wash your hands before playing the guitar.
  3. Moisturise your hands occasionally if you are always in cold and/or dry area.
  4. Use of recording strings like Polished basses can help to reduce the squeak but can also affect the overall brilliance of your guitar. The bass strings are the acoustic enhancer for the high frequencies produced by the treble strings. To simply put, the performance (in terms of sustain, brilliance, sonority and etc.) of the treble strings are influenced by the bass strings.

The Technique Approach

  1. Helicopter Fingering is one common way to effectively reducing left hand squeaks. Move your fingers across the fingerboard when changing positions like how helicopter take off and land. Lift up the finger in a manner perpendicular to the string like a helicopter take off. Most bass string squeaks are caused by a motion similar to that of an aeroplane take off (diagonal motion).
  2. Fingertips Rotation is another effective technique to reduce the noise. The helicopter finger is useful when you are changing basses. Imagine you need to do a glissando with the bass string, you will not be able to apply the helicopter fingering in this case as you need to “hold” and slide/glide to another note. Fortunately the spot that creates the squeak is often a small area of your fingertips. To perform a Fingertips Rotation, simply rotate your fingertips ( still depressing the string against the fret) slightly to move the contact point to a softer part of your finger before you do a glissando/slide/glide. Rotate fingertips towards the sound hole for sliding to a higher note and rotate towards the nut for sliding to a lower note. Less friction means less bass string squeak or noise.

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