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Michael Johnson >> Blues Legends II >>
Lesson Subject: Blues Legends II
What you learn: Vibrato & Bending
Teacher: Michael Johnson

Michael: A good vibrato and bending technique is essential to playing blues guitar. In many ways, a great vibrato and bending style is as important as knowing the scales and licks themselves. Take a player like B B King, his signature sound is in his lightning fast vibrato and expressive bends. B B can literally take one note and touch the soul of any listener. This interactive lesson will cover various exercises that will help enhance your blues skills.

Michael: Developing a unique vibrato is as personal as the player themselves. We each experience music differently and so our vibrato styles will vary as well. One exercise is to study and emulate the vibrato style of great guitarists. Our first exercise will be in the style of B B King. B B has an incredibly fast vibrato technique, he actually pinches the fretboard with his first finger, supported with the thumb on the back of the neck and shakes his entire hand with his fingers spread out and vibratos very quickly. Here's a picture of the technique:

Michael: Notice how the finger is positioned on the fretboard, you use the inside of that finger as the fulcrum point, the other fingers/hand act as a balance that pull quickly to create the vibrato. Here's a video sample:

B. B. King Vibrato 1

Michael: Notice how the thumb helps in holding the position, the fulcrum point of the inside of the palm, the first finger holding the fret position on the 2nd string/5th fret and how the hands and other fingers pull and retract very quickly. This my take you time to develop, but it's well worth the benefits to the sound of your solos, trust me! I use to spend HOURS & HOURS on just my vibrato.

Michael: B B also used a standard blues vibrato technique as well by bending upwards and griping the neck. Here's the position:

Michael: See how the thumb grasp the top of the fretboard, this adds more control and the fingers bend and retract quickly to produce the vibrato. Here's a video of the technique:

B. B. King Vibrato 2

Teacher: Here's our first exercise where you play a whole-step bend and then fast vibrato on the 5th fret:

B. B. Vibrato Exercise 1

Michael: Now you can bend the note a half-step and play the same exercise, notice the slight difference in sound, it's very subtle, but the sound is different, this is how B. B can use a couple of notes and come up with melodies. It's all in the bending and vibrato!

B. B. Vibrato Exercise 2

Michael: Here's a looping jam track you can practice the vibrato & bending exercise licks over:

Looping Jam Track

This next exercise will use the whole-step bend/vibrato, then play in a neutral position on the 7th fret/2nd string and fast vibrato on the 5th:

B. B. Vibrato Exercise 3

Michael: Now you can use the half-step bend and vibrato on the 7th fret/2nd string and then a whole-step bend on the 8th fret and back to the 5th fret fast bend:

B.B. Vibrato Exercise 4

Teacher: Exercise 5 uses the 6th fret/3rd string to 5th fret vibrato and back, then a half-step bend on the 7th fret, then whole-step bend, back to half-step bend/vibrato and back to the 5th fret fast vibrato. This should give you an idea of how many combinations you can come up with and how B B KIng creates his expressive sound with using a few notes, some bends and vibrato variations, the combinations can virtually unlimited!


B.B. Vibrato Exercise 5

This lick uses the higher string bend/vibrato, half-step bend on the 7th fret/2nd string and back to the fast vibrato on the 5th fret:

B. B. Vibrato Exercise 6

Michael: This vibrato/bending exercise uses the 7th fret/1st string, jumps the the 5th/2nd string fast vibrato, half-step bend 7th fret, 8th fret whole-step bend, half step bend and vibrato and back to the 5th fret fast vibrato:

B.B. Vibrato Exercise 7

Michael: Albert King was the master at bending, he could create this tortured blues bending sound just by playing just outside of a whole, half, quarter-step. He basically used all the notes in between to create this tension in his licks.

Albert Bending Exercise 1

Michael: Notice on the last exercise the random use of various bending intervals, you can make up your own exercises as well and it's fun to do, just make sure you don't have anybody listening, it might be irritating to some, but hey, this is ART man! Go for it!

Michael: This next exercise uses the first finger to bend a whole-step and play a regular note on the 7th fret:

Albert King Bending - Exercise 2

Michael: Now you can combine the 2 bending exercises using the first and 3rd fingers to play various bends and intervals:

Albert Bending Exercise 3

Michael: Well I hope your fingers had a great workout, this training will significantly make a difference in your playing over time, don't give up, your hands will get tired, simply rest for awhile and keep at it and play the blues!

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