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I've been teaching myself to play some classical pieces on my nylon string guitar and want to improve my vibrato technique; specifically when holding several notes.

I'm referring to the technique of applying vibrato by stretching the string along its length rather than side to side.

I've been using the piece "Romance" (AKA 'Romanza' or 'Romance d'amour', etc), from Book 2 of Ben Bolt's '39 progressive solos for classical guitar', as a study for this purpose. Here it is played beautifully by Peo Kindgren ->

In the sections where there are arpeggios on open strings with melody played on the first string I can apply the vibrato quite nicely, but in the trickier sections I struggle to achieve any vibrato at all.

I've had some success by thinking in terms of shaking my thumb on the back of the neck as opposed to shaking my fingers, but it doesn't come naturally.

So I'm looking for general advice on technique and/or specific exercises to help develop this aspect of my playing.

Conclusion: I have accepted the answer from @amalgamate for the insight that the movement should originate from the arm muscles. This is exactly the information i was looking for.

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    Can you mention which book or edition the piece is from? "Romanza" could be anything! ... oh wait "sections where there are arpeggios on open strings with melody played on the first string" -- ok. I know what it is. Carry on. – luser droog May 14 '15 at 7:05
  • @luser - good idea, I have added a reference to the book and a video by one of my favorite guitarists. – Noel Walters May 15 '15 at 8:45
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Start by giving yourself the most advantage:

  • Location on a string: Start with all your fingers fretting notes on the same string in the middle of the neck. The closer to the 12th fret you are, the more it is possible to move the note.
  • String selection: Start with a string where you can get a good grip on the string (a wound string). I recommend the 4th string, so that you don't have to reach more than necessary.
  • Use all your fingers at first: for example put your first finger on the 7th fret, your second on the eighth fret, your third on the ninth fret, your fourth on the tenth fret of the same string. Push and pull with all fingers gripping the string.

Now move your hand towards the bridge and the nut, back and fourth with the goal of grabbing the string and pushing and pulling it with all your fingers working as a team. In other words: move your arm which moves your hand which moves your fingers which stretches and relaxes the string tension. You should be able to produce a quite pronounced vibrato effect where the pitch moves both higher and lower than the true fretted pitch. You will be able to discern a pitch change without a tuner. As you get more and more comfortable with this technique, try it with less and less fingers, and in less ideal conditions (Such as on an unwound string, or closer to the nut). I commonly contrive to use two fingers, even though mastering the use of the single index finger is quite possible. In actual performance, I continue to take advantage of using more than one finger, when the fingering suggests using a finger that is not my first as the optimal choice.

Note that this vibrato technique often looks just like the improper technique of simply rolling your finger. If you play a stringed instrument such as the violin, that is exactly how to do vibrato, but this does not work on fretted instruments.

Also, you can get a quite pronounced effect with this technique. Sometimes the desired effect is more subtle, so once you master the technique in practice, understand that you often can and sometimes should do less in performance.

Also, the clarity of effect seems to be less pronounced on older strings for what ever reason.

  • I will definitely try this approach, although i can already get quite a good vibrato with a single finger I suspect that maybe I am doing something of rocking motion rather than a pure push/pull motion. practicing with multiple fingers on the same string, as you suggest, would probable also help with my main problem which is persuading my hand to make this motion while holding several notes.. – Noel Walters May 12 '15 at 7:58
  • While it can look the same to an observer, it is different than what Tim suggests. It is a movement that should be coming from your arm, and it may be awkward to do quickly at first, start off slow. It is awkward because this technique uses bigger muscles that are not used to doing fine movements, but it is more than possible to work this up into a powerful technique that has a measurable pitch changing effect that Tim's suggestion lacks. Note it is not necessary to have a firm grip with your thumb, in fact it can get in the way if you grip too hard. – amalgamate May 12 '15 at 13:32
  • Think of it as a tug of war. – amalgamate May 12 '15 at 13:32
  • Too much tension and reluctance to work on what feels awkward are probably at the root of my problem. one tends to forget that everything you do on the guitar felt awkward / impossible at one time – Noel Walters May 12 '15 at 14:00
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Since asking the question I have discovered an excellent series of tutorials on classical guitar vibrato technique by Douglas Niedt. Here is a link to the first video.

One technique he describes (which I did not know was possible) is adding vibrato on open strings and harmonics by fretting the same note, maybe in a lower octave, on another string and applying the vibrato to that but without sounding it.

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This vibrato is rolling the finger along the length of the string on a particular fret. Don't try to slide it. To do it effectively, the fingertip will move from back to front of the fret space. With the thumb tight on the back of the neck, it restricts movement, so it's best to free the thumb off. I tend to bring the thumb out level with the fingers quite often. To me, the sound changes in tone rather than pitch - try it with a tuner - there's very little if any pitch change. Pull the guitar body in with the right elbow, and bend the fretting fingers so that the left arm can pull against the guitar neck a little.

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    The pitch should change, you are not doing proper classical guitar vibrato. On a fretted instrument you need to grip the string, and push and pull to get proper classical style vibrato that both moves the pitch higher and lower. – amalgamate May 11 '15 at 14:33
  • If the pitch changes, it's extremely subtle in comparison to the sideways bend. Try with a tuner, please, to check. It's not so much a grip and pull than a rolling motion along the string within the fret. I'm sticking with what I said ! – Tim May 11 '15 at 18:08
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You can always start to do vibrato exercises. Do your scales with vibrato. You can do them with the three main vibrato techniques.

  1. The cocking of the wrist movement.
  2. The vibrato in the left hand fingers bending the notes up and down
  3. and the vibrato in the left hand finger bending the notes right to left (Along the neck)

Mastery is achieved when you can achieve all three without any problems. They do very similar things but at certain times you may want to use on over the other.

The one that uses the wrist as pivot is in my experience best for a wide vibrato but it takes a lot of left hand motion to achieve so it is not always appropriate.

The finger vibrato along the neck is best for a softer gentle vibrato

And the vibrato that uses the fingers in an up and down motion is the better all purpose vibrato.

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    Didn't think classical guitarists use the same up and down vibrato that electric players use, if that's what you meant in the last para. – Tim May 11 '15 at 10:43
  • On classical guitar you get very little result by bending the strings (because of the low string tension?) except for the G string (for some reason) which can be bent to reasonably good effect, but stretchinbg along the length of the string creates a nice musical effect which adds a lot of expressive power to slow passages. It's nothing like as deep as the vibrato you get by bending a steel string side to side. – Noel Walters May 12 '15 at 7:48
  • I like the idea of practicing scales with vibrato though. - I'd vote you up but the system won't allow it. – Noel Walters May 12 '15 at 7:49
  • Your no.3. How can a string be bent while moving a finger longitudinally along the string? Can you expand, please? – Tim Oct 6 '16 at 8:17
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The technique I have used and the technique that is taught by guitar teacher Tom Hess is to break the technique down into 3 parts and practice each in isolation. These parts are: pitch, tempo and contour.

Practicing pitch refers to consistently bending (vibrato is a slight bend) to a higher pitch and then back to the original pitch. Bending up a half step and back again makes for a wide vibrato but allows you an easy way to check that your pitch changes are in tune and consistent.

Practicing tempo trains you to have a consistent rather than erratic vibrato. Try practicing your vibrato to a metronome as 1/8, 1/16 and 1/16th note triplets.

Practicing the contour refers to how you are raising the pitch and returning. This is not the same as tempo, because you may gradually move to a pitch and back or wait until the last instant before bending and still be in time. Practice doing vibrato gradually and smoothly (imagine a wave form) and also faster and sharper (^^^^^). They both have applications.

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