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Helping a Singer with Vibrato

Anyone out there have success with methods to help singers "get" vibrato? I'm working with a very musical man right now who has sung in choirs for years, but has never had voice lessons. His voice is seemingly "held" in a straight tone mode.
My understanding of vibrato is that it will happen naturally, if the singer's vocal mechanism is relaxed and the air flow is steady. Therefore, I've been working with him on breathing, support, and relaxation. He's still singing "straight," and his pitch is quite often flat as well.
Any magic fixes out there?
Replies (34): Threaded | Chronological
on May 20, 2010 1:47pm
Hi, Tom.  In a word, no.  No magic fixes.
What you quote is an article of faith among voice teachers (well, among bel canto voice teachers I should say, since jazz singers and jazz coaches use a  very different approach), and one that my son, who can sing a perfectly beautiful straight tone when needed, agrees with after having spent many years working on it.
I, on the other hand, had no natural vibrato even though I studied with very good voice teachers, and since a single exception negates any generalization ... !
There are also some singers whose natural vibrato is a fast flutter, and who can NOT change it by working on breath support because that isn't the problem, it's just their natural vibrato.  So there are exceptions to every "rule."
The only suggestion I have is to help him find a way to produce a vibrato when it's needed, if standard voice teaching doesn't have that result.  That's what I had to do.
on May 20, 2010 6:12pm
Hi, John. Good to hear from you.
  • What is the different approach which jazz folks use?
  • Is that "fast flutter" you describe also called tremolo? That's the name I know which describes a forced or artificially controlled 'hyper' vibrato.
  • How did you learn to produce a vibrato?
All my best,
on May 20, 2010 8:42pm
Hi, Tom.  The jazz approach I'm thinking of is to start an extended note with a straight tone and then bring the vibrato in as an ornament to beautify it, in much the same way that baroque singers and players apparently did.  There's no question but that vibrato was used, but much more by soloists than by ensemble players, whose intonation it would mess up.  And I believe that vibrato was sometimes listed in ornament tables along with trills, as an occasional ornament but not a continuous one.  In fact some writers wrote AGAINST a continuous vibrato, which tells us (a) that some folks used it, and (b) other folks thought it ugly!  I believe that many sensitive jazz vocalists use vibrato in exactly the same way, just as they learn to use a microphone as an important extension of their vocal production.  Sarah Vaughn had a mic position for every vowel at every volume level, and made the whole thing look like planned and graceful choreography. 
There's a vibrato that does not disturb the pitch, which is what I believe my son uses, and which is NOT the vibrato made infamous by opera singers whose jaws wobble as they sing!  If it isn't a pitch vibrato it can only be an intensity vibrato, which I THINK is what Kentaro is describing.
Yes, the fast vibrato I'm thinking of could well be called a tremolo, but I've known singers for whom it WAS their natural vibrato, and not forced or artificially controled in any way.  All one needs to do is listen to some World Music to realize that the bel canto type of vibrato is NOT the only kind, and that it would be considered rather gross in some cultures.  (I.e., listen to some of the Bulgarian women's choirs!)
And I really can't remember HOW I learned vibrato.  I just started imitating one, and was able to bring it in or out pretty much at will.  I think the clearest argument against "all good singing produces a bel canto vibrato" is the simple fact that many children, with perfectly healthy vocal production and nothing forced at all, do not have a natural vibrato.  My wife heard our older daughter trying to make one, when she thought no one was listening.  In fact that's so true that a child with vibrato almost sounds odd and too "grown up"!  But I'm not a voice teacher (because I know enough to understand how much I do NOT know!), so you can safely ignore my opinions.
All the best,
on May 20, 2010 9:55pm
Love the last comment, John!  I wish more choral leaders were humble about what they don't know as voice teachers - or about what they have successfully applied to themselves and then expect to have it work for everyone.  The art of "teaching singing" is a delicate and individually focused one....
on May 20, 2010 5:45pm
Hi, Tom!
I kind of figured out by myself how to do and controle vibrato when I am 17.
This is not a magic fix, but I usually have pretty good results from students whom I teach  vibrato excersise of flute.
I believe that it helps students to experience how air flow of vibrato feels. I then teach  how to maintain the flow of air when vocalizing. Relaxing is the key here, since it is impossible to maintain the air flow of vibrato and vocalizing at the same time, if a singer has very tight muscles around the throat.
A lot of people have misunderstood that air flow of vibrato is steady (like the same amount of air always).  What is required is steady frequency of change of air flow and steady "support." 
For your male student case, I kind get the feeling that he also doesn't know how to do falsetto (not to be mistaken with the sounds made by false vocal folds).  Am I correct?
on May 20, 2010 6:16pm
Hello Kentaro!
Thanks for your reply.
Could you share a little more about your methods of teaching vibrato? I never learned that it's a "steady frequency of change of air flow," nor do I experience myself controlling it as such. I'd love to know more about your approach.
RE falsetto, I'm not sure if he knows how to produce it. But then, I'm not sure I understand what you mean by the term. Do you mean the high part of a traditional yodel, or something else?
All my best,
on May 21, 2010 2:39am

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