Day 14: To vibrato or not to vibrato

Today I was asked by my neighbour and friend, Simone, what the blog would be about. I was hell-bent on discussing phlegm (in what will probably be the grossest blog post yet)! But the accompanying tip involved touching your face and since the message around protection against COVID-19 is very much “don’t touch your face, Grace”, I had to think again.

Simone asked if I could address vibrato – explain how to do it. I can’t.

I’ve never been taught it and the only time that I’ve queried it directly was by asking a friend, with whom I was studying in London, whether she thought I had enough of it in my voice. She replied that I could do with more but I left it at that. I did a bit of reading around the subject but didn’t pursue specific tuition.

Vibrato occurs when there is natural oscillation in the voice that causes slight pitch variations around the core tone. These variations shouldn’t exceed a semi-tone away from the original pitch otherwise audiences are subjected to two distinct notes, which is confusing and unpleasant to listen to. That would be ‘wobble’ territory and nobody wants to be in wobble territory!

Can vibrato be taught? That’s the million dollar question. It seems that it’s possible but I’ve read that many teachers who claim that they can, simply don’t. They feel that a natural vibrato will manifest itself in a voice that’s properly supported and relaxed.

In my experience, that’s certainly true. At the time I asked for the opinion of my course mate in London, I was still learning basic technique. I was driving the voice, pushing on the vocal cords and holding a lot of tension in the body. I wasn’t giving my voice a chance to oscillate naturally. I have more vibrato now that I have more training under my belt and I sing more freely.

Those that do promote methods for achieving vibrato generally instruct on active efforts to manufacture oscillation at various points in the vocal mechanism – from the tummy muscles to the jaw and tongue. I can’t advocate these. I find I need a dichotomous balance of control and flexibility over the muscles and organs involved in singing. Adding another task for any of them to perform seems like unnecessary interference.

So, my advice is simply to relax. Be aware and observant of the presence or not of vibrato in your own voice. But don’t worry about it. It will come when it’s good and ready and if it’s not yet apparent, it’s probably a sign that there’s work to be done in another area – that you’re still developing your technique.

Stay cheered, stay healthy and when it comes to vibrato, stay relaxed. Lots of love xx


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