What’s The Difference Between Bending & Vibrato?

A way to make your guitar playing more interesting is by adding effects like bends and vibrato to your phrasing. Even though the techniques to play these effects are very similar, they are in fact different.

What’s the difference between bending and vibrato? Bending is a guitar technique that is used to move the pitch of your fretted note (from either a half-note or a whole-note) by physically bending the guitar string. Whilst Vibrato is a similar technique this creates a quiver effect that is achieved by rapidly moving your finger back and forth after fretting the desired note.

In this article, we will explore these in more detail below…

1. What is Bending?

Let’s first have a look at the ‘bending’ technique.

Bends are used across all styles and levels from beginner to professional. But, are frequently recognized in blues and rock. It is a great way to bring energy, depth and ultimately trigger emotions in your performance. This is one of the basic techniques to start learning as a beginner due to its simplicity. However, if done incorrectly will really display negatively to the audience.

Bending is performed with your fretting hand and is the act where you push a string over (up or down) the fingerboard. By pushing a string across the fretboard the string will get tighter, and as a result he pitch of the original note will change. The changing of pitch is where the bending gets tricky. Most importantly, you do not want your guitar to go out of tune during the bending process. Instead, you want to bend the string into the correct pitch.

2. How Does Bending Work?

There are two things to conder when learning the concept of bending. This includes both the pitch and timing of the notes. We discuss these below…

  • Pitch – Bending works by lifting the string, this alters the tension of the string and thus changes the pitch. The aim here is to change the pitch so that you hit the half-note, or whole-note of the scale. When bending you typically have two note choices being the half-note, or whole-note. The half-note (also known as semitone) is the next note of the scale, whilst the whole-note (also known as full-tone) is two notes away from the original fretted note.
  • Speed – speed of the bends is also a very important factor as the speed of the bend has to be in time with the track so it sounds natural and blends well. Further, if you bend to fast it will kill the tone. You need to bend in to the note to make the most of this effect.

Overall, you need to be very mindful when it comes to bending bending ensuring the bending is fitting with the song. Below, we discuss about the half-note and the whole-note bends.

3. Building The Correct Technique

Here we explain the tips that will help you practice the bending technqiue. There are three parts to bending, which include finger position, wrist motion and thumb positioning.

We discuss these below…

  • Fingers position – First up is all about the fingers!!! Obviously, your fingers play an important role in bending. First up is all about the fingers!!! Obviously, your fingers play an important role in bending and a lot of questions can come up like where to place it correctly or how many fingers should be involved in the bending technique. A good advice is that you should have two or more fingers, not just one. You should acknowledge that there will be a lot of tension and pressure against your fingers during trying to perform the perfect bending performance, and it needs as much help as possible. The most common finger to bend is the third finger, which means that the other fingers should be placed on the same string, with the position from behind the third finger, then all three should push at the same time.
  • wrist motion – Additionally, the fingers are not the only source of tension and pressure you use to bend, it’s also the wrist that you should use to make the bend. And as a matter of fact, sometimes the wrist is considered to be a more ‘powerful’ muscle to bend, not the fingers.
  • Thumb positioning – proper thumb positioning is also crucial. It should not be kept behind the neck but brought forward to the position where it is perpendicular to the neck.
  • string gauge and neck tension – Last small tips before we get into the practices, string gauge is an important factor in the bending technique. The top three strings are most favored for guitarists to perform their bending. And they are also the lightest gauge strings, which makes them easier for the guitarists to try. The choice of string gauge depends on the guitarists’ needs and demands, as some would prefer it to be a thicker string, and some would choose the lighter one.
  • How to bend the low strings – The lower three strings (E, A, D) should be bended in the direction heading towards the floor, downwarding.
  • How to bend the High Strings – For the high three strings like G, B, E, these should be bended upwards to the ceiling direction.

Next thing up, you should determine the correct note and pitch you are heading to with bending, whether it is a tone or a semitone or even a half semitone.

4. Bending To The Correct Pitch

When ensure you bend to the correct note you need to aware of half note bends and full note bends.

Half-note bend (semitone)

Starting with the G string, you should now place your third finger on the fifth fret. With the half-note bend, you would want the pitch of the note to be half-step higher than the original one. This is also the same thing with moving one fret higher up closer to the guitar neck.

The third finger will be used to hold the note down but also remember to make use of your first and second fingers at the same time to support too as they will bend the string. The first finger can now be placed on the third fret.

Whole note bend (one tone)

Now with the whole note bend, you can start practicing by placing your pinkie, the little finger, down on the 6th fret of the B string. If the half-note also means that you are moving one fret closer to the guitar neck, then the whole note means that the note will sound like it’s moved two frets up.

While holding the note with the pinkie, the other fingers can also do a little help by bending. The index finger should hit the third fret and the third finger can move to the G string on its fifth fret. The first finger can then be placed on the third fret.

Last but not least, here are some recommendations for choosing the half-note or whole note while bending in different cases. With the high E string, it should be a whole note bend with the playing position on the highest note on the 6th fret. On the B string with the note on the 6th fret, a whole note bending can also be performed. But with the highest note on the G string, at the 5th fret, it should be a half-note bending.

5. What is Vibrato?

Now let’s take a look at the ‘vibrato’ technique…

One very important consideration in music is that its the very subtle characteristics within a composition that have the biggest and most detrimental effect. This is especially true with the vibrato technique. Vibrato is much more subtle and less noticeable in a composition, making it more commonly used by intermediate to advanced players, but is especially important for TWO reasons… Firstly, it it is a great way to add character and warmth to your playing. Secondly, and it can be used to make your notes sustain longer.

Bending and vibrato usually go together as they have a lot of things in common. But we can distinguish vibrato from bending by the fact that vibrato technique is performed by vibrating a specific note, instead of noticeably changing the pitch.

We discuss more about how this works in the section below…

6. How does Vibrato Work?

  • Pitch – In guitar vibrato is a technique where you your finger rapidly back and forth after fretting the desired note. As a result the pitch of the note will shake slightly causing a very pleasing quiver effect. The shake effect is very subtle so that you do not deviate far from the original note. You would twist your wrist rapidly to help bending the note ever so slightly, as it adjust the pitch.
  • Speed – You can think of this as multi micro bends done at a faster tempo, and is achieved by the motion in your wrist. However, it is the speed of the vibrato that determines the effect.By playing a faster vibrato there is more energy to maintain greater sustain. So, the idea is to practice both slow and fast to work out what sounds best for the mood.

There are four types of vibrato…

  • The Classical (Axial) Vibrato – this is when we vibrate the string left to right
  • The Rock (Radial) Vibrato – this is when we vibrate the string in an up/down motion
  • The Scalloped Vibrato – this is when we vibrate the strings by pushing it in and releasing
  •  The Circle– this is when we vibrate the string in a circular motion

Vibrato is amazing as it creates an unlimited ways of sounding a note. For example, you could play G. And it would always sound like a G. By adding a vibrato your adding another way of playing that note to your Arsenal. Even though vibrato is considered one of the basic techniques to learn, it noticeably separates the beginners from the professionals.

7. Building the Correct Technique

In this section we go over tips for building a solid technique

  • Hand Motion – The movement that creates the vibration should be from the pressure applied by your hands more than it should be by your fingers. Specifically it should be the wrist, slightly moving your hand back and forth to work on the pitch.
  • Timing – Same with bending, your original note should be sounded before you apply the vibrato technique, just ringing for a split of second before the beginning. As I’ve mentioned the reason is that vibrato and bending do have a lot of things in common and in fact at the beginning at vibrato, the note will be bended slightly off the note’s natural pitch.
  • Thumb Pivot – for a more controlled less obvious vibrato you can position your thumb at a stable and fixed position over the neck of the guitar during the vibrato performance. But, if your want more movement for a more aggressive vibrato you can begin to release your thumb from the guitar neck and push up on the string in question using your whole arm. There will be a little pivot point between your thumb and wrist.

Overall, this technique can apply to any finger that is fretting the note. One example of the practice that you can apply for the vibrato technique is by trying at the sixth fret of the B string and using your pinkie. Start bending the guitar string up slightly and on repeat over and over.

8. Vibrato Pitch Deviation

Vibrato and pitch deviation is very important as the aim is not to change the note (like you would a bend), but rather just alter the pitch slightly. The voicing of your picked note is alternating subtly and quickly between two pitches that are very close together, but technically the same note (as the note threshold does cover many pitches).

Moreover, the periodic variation in the pitch should not exceed a semitone as this movement would be to much and would change the note entirely. The pitch variance remains centered around a given note, where the listener hears the average of the pitches being played.


We have gone over the main differences between bending and vibrato.

Bending is changing the original note from either a semi-tone or tone away from the original.

During vibrato the note is considered to be a pivot point where the movement is centered around an individual note. A semitone is too far as this would change the note entierly. The speed of the vibrato will also add to its charatceristics, and there are four types of vibrato that help with speed and flair.

Overall, use both techniques mindfully and you will discover a whole new range of expressivity in your playing.

Rich Wilde Music

My name is Richard Wilde and go by @richwildemusic on all major social channels. I am an artist, guitar player, and producer. I have been playing guitar for over 15 years and have come to learn the "tips" and "tricks" to enhance guitar playing, recording guitar, setting up guitar, and overall get that professional sound.

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