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Usually at the end of playing a set of notes, I have noticed guitarists move a string up and down on the last note of that part (although not so much such that it classifies as a bend).

What is this for? Some kind of smoothening out of the note?

I have seen Eric Clapton do it a lot so don't know if it's a personal thing or a guitarist technique for better sounding music.

If the description above is not sufficient, watch 2:33-2:35 of this Clapton video to see what I mean

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  • I cannot see the video that has been linked, as they are blocked where I am. Is this a an up-and-down motion (stretching the strings) or side-to-side one? I am assuming Clapton isn't playing an upright bass... – CGCampbell Apr 1 at 12:49
  • You can hear the effect if you listen, your video is actually a very strong example. – theonlygusti Apr 1 at 20:35
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The particular vibrato that Eric is using is fairly specific to electric guitar playing. Its side to side motion changes the pitch of the fretted note and can be miminal, so very subtle, to more than a tone up and down. Whilst adding character to the note played (the speed of the vibrato will not always be the same), it also rubs the string across the fretwire, increasing the sustain of the note.

A similar, but different vibrato is used in classical guitar playing, when the finger rolls along the length of the string (all within the fret played on), which not only changes the pitch slightly, but also the tone of the note played.

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    Just adding to that, it's not that this vibrato doesn't work on other instruments - it certainly does. But it produces a different type of sound which is not the same as that traditionally heard on those instruments. – Graham Apr 1 at 8:59
  • @Graham - somehow, can't imagine violinists using it! – Tim Apr 1 at 9:27
  • When I played the violin a bit more than I do now, I had to do something like that. My arm can't do the normal violin vibrato, so I have to fake it with my fingers. My pseudo-vibrato consists of pulling harder with my finger, essentially doing that slight string-bend as on a guitar, but laterally along the string. It doesn't sound quite right for a violin, I have to admit, but it's the best I can do. :) – Graham Apr 1 at 9:46
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That is vibrato, which is a common technique with most stringed instruments.

a slightly tremulous effect imparted to vocal or instrumental tone for added warmth and expressiveness by slight and rapid variations in pitch (SOURCE: Merriam-Webster)

Various finger techniques to produce vibrato are used for stringed instruments, but many other instruments (can) produce vibrato: brass and wind instruments, for example. Singers – especially soloists – particularly focus on developing their vibrato.

A search for "vibrato" on this site will bring up numerous and widely varied questions related to the technique.

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    Not at all sure the finger technique is common to most stringed instruments. In fact, it's more likely only common to guitars. On the premise that violins, celli, et al, use a rather different finger technique. – Tim Apr 1 at 8:54
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    Some singers. Vibrato is not a desired property in every choral style. – OrangeDog Apr 1 at 10:03
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Why do guitarists move fingers up and down on the same note?

It subtly moves the pitch of the note up and down to give a "sweeter" sound.

Here is a video that explicitly talks about producing vibrato on a guitar. It even distinguishes between different types of vibrato and shows in detail how to execute them.

Learn Electric Guitar Lesson - Vibrato

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