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Mindful vibrato from Yo-Yo Ma / Premier Guitar

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Liberation from muscle-memory habits is a major goal of this column. And is any aspect of guitar playing more susceptible to mindless auto-pilot than vibrato? This lesson will help you truly listen to your vibrato. You'll get better at applying the effect mindfully to heighten your musical ideas, as opposed to automatically wiggling your fretting hand whenever you reach a sustained note. We'll look at vibrato technique in general, and then try some exercises designed to help you deploy various approaches with greater awareness.

But first, the easy part: a listening party! Classically Speaking, here's Yo-Yo Ma with Kathryn Stott playing "The Swan" from Camille Saint-Saens's Carnival of the Animals. Ma applies vibrato almost constantly (watch his left hand!) but the effect never gets tiresome. Man, the way he occupies every single note! Classical composers generally don't give note-for-note vibrato instruction in their scores, though there might be a general indication like molto vibrato and non vibrare, which translate roughly from Italian as "shake it, baby" and "give it a rest, Mr. Jiggles." Check out other renditions of this piece on YouTube to hear how differently each cellist employs vibrato, even though they're all playing note-for-note from the same score.