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.