Skip to main content

Tour the Site

Click here to watch a video tour of what the inside of the site looks like. Take the tour now. >>

Levels of Achievement

Click here for our system of mastery for all skill level blues harmonica students.

Improvising - Tremolo/Vibrato, Part 2 (Wolf, Butter, Smith and Kash)

David Barrett Admin's picture

Tremolo (change in amplitude) is what most of our classic blues harmonica players used (pre-1960). Vibrato (change in pitch) became popular in the lat 1960's. If a classic player used a vibrato they tended to have a strong vocal vibrato as well (Howlin' Wolf is a great example). Players that are heavily influenced by Paul Butterfield (many are) they'll tend to use a strong vibrato.

The majority of harmonica players today use vibrato, but with very little pitch change (unlike the strong swinging pitch of Howlin' Wolf and Paul Butterfield) or a slow vibrato (Gary Smith and Mitch Kashmar are great examples).

As a student of the instrument it's good to develop the skill to play any of these tremolo/vibrato types to match the mood of a song, or just have options from song to song to keep things interesting for you and the listener.

I can perform all of these, though I can't do a very fast tremolo, so that's my limitation. When performing Big Walter Horton's material I would LIKE to use a faster tremolo, but I can't, so I just use MY tremolo at the fastest speed I'm able to execute it at, and I'm cool with that.

You too will have tremolo/vibrato types that you'll not be able to perform. Work on them, because you may be able to do them someday, but don't lament that you can't perform them, because in the end, the listener just wants your cool sound and they generally don't care which tremolo/vibrato type you present.