Tremolo vs Vibrato– What’s the Difference on These Two Techniques?

By Danny Trent | Learning

In the music industry, vibrato vs tremolo are two guitar effects often confused by not only musicians and guitarists but manufacturers as well. For example, many manufacturers have guitars that have been labeled with a tremolo arm, when in fact, it’s actually a vibrato arm.

Both vibrato and tremolo modulation effects produce a similar movement and rhythm sound, which explains why is it so easily confused by guitarists, but the way that these two techniques are produced is completely different.

Vibrato and tremolo are both musical notations or modulation effects that can be used with a wide variety of instruments, both wind, and strings. You’ll be more likely to hear wind musicians talk about vibrato, as producing vibrato on a wind instrument is an action that helps to maintain consistent tuning in longer notes.

It’s not very common to find tremolo systems markings on wind instruments, as producing a tremolo effect on wind instruments is a bit more difficult.

Main Differences Between Tremolo vs Vibrato

The main differences between Tremolo vs Vibrato are:

  • Tremolo deals with change in volume, whereas Vibrato deals with change in pitch.
  • Tremolo is produced by moving the bow back and forth, whereas Vibrato is produced with cyclic movements.
  • Tremolo was first used on guitars in 1954, whereas Vibrato was first used on a guitar in 1956.

Vibrato

Vibrato is a palpitating sound effect that is created from small rapid changes in the frequency (also known as pitch) of a note.

Vibrato has been used for centuries in musical compositions, as a way to add color and expression to music sound, for example in a guitar. Vibrato is expressed through two different parameters; through speed (how quickly the pitch is changed) and through depth (the amount of change in the pitch).

In other words, vibrato is a change in signal of the pitch, which makes the note bend up and down. Vibrato effect gives players a ‘warbly’ effect as if the sound is almost underwater.  The thing about having a whammy bar on your guitar, but in the form of a pedal.

A whammy bar forces the bridge of the guitar to put more or less pressure on the strings in order to change the pitch of the strings. Some manufacturers produce vibrato pedals, which operate very similarly to whammy bars; the vibrato pedals change the pitch of your strings. Vibrato is all about pitch.

If you’re a guitarist who isn’t feeling too confident in your musical notation abilities, a vibrato pedal is a way to go to start experimenting with modulation. There are two main types of vibrato pedals on the market- digital vibrato pedals and analog vibrato pedals.

A vibrato pedal is especially helpful to use if you’re worried about not being able to maintain a consistent tempo or tune while producing the effect. By using the pedal, all you have to do is press down and you’ll have the vibrato effect created.

As for the analog vibrato pedal and the digital vibrato pedal, analog pedals are the more popular choice among the two. This is because analog pedals produce a bit of warmth when the phase shift occurs, as well as being more precise in a change of pitch compared to digital vibrato pedals.

Tremolo

On the other hand, tremolo (trem) is where a musician creates rapid changes in the volume of a note; when doing more research, you may also find articles that say that tremolo changes the amplitude of a note- amplitude is another word for volume. All tremolo does it change the volume or a pitch.

Tremolo modulation can either be created mechanically or manually; manual vibrato is also called finger vibrato or hand vibrato. Finger Vibrato is a technique in which a guitarist uses their fingers or hands to bend the string up and down; by moving the strings and up down, the guitarist produces a small alteration in the pitch, which vibrato is correctly defined.

Ever since the late 1900s, guitars have been equipped developed and produced with vibrato systems that are operated mechanically, most commonly found in a hand lever. This is where the confusion really begins!

The Stratocaster guitar by Leo Fender was produced in 1954 and was produced with a mechanical bridge mechanism that allowed players to bend strings from subtle movements to large bends, all while keeping accurate intonation.

Trem is great to use if you are looking to create a pulsating effect or any other type of percussive effect. If you’re not very comfortable with manually performing tremolo, tremolo effects can be found on stomp boxes, amps, and effect devices.

Again, if you are worried about applying the trem technique to your music and not being able to maintain a consistent tempo or tone, there are tremolo pedals on the market that allow you to produce a tremolo effect by pressing down on the pedal.

These pedals work very similarly to vibrato pedals, but instead of producing a vibrato effect, tremolo pedals produce a wavy or choppy effect, depending on which option you select.

When testing out and comparing the tremolo pedal and the vibrato pedal, a lot of people commented that the tremolo pedal sounded a lot more artificial than the vibrato pedal. The effect that the tremolo pedal produces is a lot more obvious compared to the vibrato pedal that maintain a straight tone.

FAQs About Tremolo vs Vibrato

Can vibrato be taught?

Vibrato is a challenging technique, but yet, it’s not impossible to learn. You will need to find a professional guitar player who will teach you the basics, and you can practise with a singer or someone who plays another musical instrument like violin.

Is there only one vibrato style?

No. There are three styles of vibrato: classical, blues and traditional, and these three are played in a different way. The classical vibrato is played with putting the pressure on one note, traditional vibrato requires horizontal moving, and blues vibrato requires playing the

What does a tremolo pedal do?

The tremolo pedal creates an effect that changes the volume of your signal. Once you have connected the tremolo pedal, you will notice the oscilation waves, which will become lower at some point, and then brought back up again.

Conclusion

Vibrato and tremolo are both techniques that have the ability to really add emotion to your music or allow you to change a bridge in a song. Both of these techniques really allow musicians to add expression to their music, which makes the difference between a decent song and a memorable masterpiece.

If you’re struggling with applying the manual techniques, try looking into purchasing a vibrato or tremolo pedal to help you on your way to more emotional pieces. Vibrato is always about the pitch, while tremolo is always about volume.

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