How Do You Do A Vibrato?

But how exactly doyou do a vibrato?

It becomes interesting to see what dictionaries have to say about theword itself, vibrato. Most say that itis a small back and forth variation in pitch that produces a tremulouseffect, or something like that, which is incorrect and really tell usnothing.

It is incorrect because we attempt to avoid the variation of pitch in the making of vibrato; rather it ought to be a variation in intensity of the sound. The answer is in the way we make vibrato and in the instrumentalgroup. For instance, strings can make vibrato by moving the pitch definingfinger back and forth, quickly and/or slowly. If the finger moves toomuch, the variation becomes one of pitch as well as intensity. Dependingupon the piece of music, the style, the historical period, and finally,the individual taste, (the preference of the player, as determined byhis gift, his training and his physical acumen); all these things determinethe vibrato. Vibrato in string playing is the most personal of considerationsand is almost never discussed with others.

In winds, specifically in single reed woodwinds, thevibrato and it’s making is much less difficult to discuss because,within the world ofthe “classical” clarinet-playing, vibrato is currently notin vogue. Most orchestral players do not use vibrato, and it’s distinction keeps the clarinet as the purest of qualities one hears in the orchestra.This was not always the case, and is not even completely true at present,but certainly enough to make the statement. Vibrato is used by clarinetistsin the performance of solo and chamber music, and this use again variesfrom player to player and from piece to piece.

How do you do a vibrato?

1.Some players use the lips. My first teacher, whenI started to play the saxophone, said, “just say vum, vum, vum, vum” at aboutthe speed of 16th notes in a medium tempo”. As simple as thatsounds, it does work, especially if you have sensitivity and are ableto discern degree of lip movement under the reed, and of course ifyou are willing to start slowly, listening all the while for results,and judging those results.

2.Some players use the actual support mechanism of the body, usuallycalled the diaphragm. This is more difficult, is the method in useby bassoonists (usually), and in many clarinetists, with varying results.It is rather difficult to control the speed, but it seems the truestfor not varying the pitch.

3.Some players use the throat, which usually producesthe strangest of sounds. There was a great flutist who was principalin the New YorkPhilharmonic for many years, a wonderful musician named John Wummer,who used vibrato from the throat. As students we criticized him viciouslyfor this “nanny-goat” vibrato, but he was an incredibly sensitive and wonderful musician. Roger Voisin, principal trumpet of the BostonSymphony also used a “nanny-goat” vibrato. He too was a trulywonderful player (and a great teacher), who was actually brought downby his vibrato … but that is a very long story for another article.

Finally, as you can understand, it is highly individual and can be donein different ways. Try to read about the history of vibrato. It is fascinating,because it changes from period to period and style to style, and countryto country and voice to instrument, and I could go on. Vibrato is a fascinatingstudy. If you are out there, it is a wonderful idea for a term paper,a thesis, a demonstration and/or a talk. I have read thousands of historypapers written by students for a period of 30 years and I never saw oneon vibrato. I know why. Do you?

Thanks for your question. Come back again.


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