We have some cool terminology in music. If you’re not well versed you may not know what these words all mean. What is vibrato? Let’s get scientific today and explore a super important term called ‘vibrato’.
Vibrato is basically a slight fluctuation of pitch that occurs when the air speed is fast enough that it oscillates. Whew! There are a lot of big words in there!
Fluctuation is when something doesn’t stay steady. Oscillation describes something that moves back and forth at a consistent speed, kind of like a pendulum.
Music is the most interesting when it changes from what you expect to happen.
There are as many variations of vibrato possible as there are depths and widths of fluctuation possible in one pitch…basically, that’s a lot. In order to make vibrato sound good, it has to oscillate at a depth and speed that matches the note you’re playing. You see, each pitch vibrates at a specific rate per second. For example pretend C in the staff looks like this:
C is already oscillating at a specific rate, so our vibrato has to oscillate at a speed that complements or fits inside the speed of C. A little like this:
High notes above the staff starting at about E need a deeper wider and deeper vibrato to be heard their oscillations. Low notes need quite shallow vibrato and usually on the faster side.
Here are some examples of good and not so good vibrato:
- Is a basic, consistent vibrato.
- This vibrato doesn’t fit inside of the sound anymore, so it ruins the intonation, and is too big for the pitch.
- This vibrato is the one to use if you want something that sounds really light and the vibrato is almost not noticeable.
- This is what some people call a “shimmery” vibrato.
- A more intense shimmer.
And the list could go on.
Music is the most interesting when it changes from what you expect to happen. Like when a flat or sharp comes and you have to think about whether or not it fits. It catches your attention. Vibrato is used for the same thing. When you change the speed and the depth of your vibrato, it is like you’ve changed the mood of the note. This catches people’s attention and highlights the character differences in a piece of music. Sometimes it’s good to leave the vibrato out completely, because that catches attention too.
If we don’t use vibrato, music would be pretty bland, kinda like not putting salt on your potatoes.
4 thoughts on “What is Vibrato?”
Vibrato is tricky. The essence is, as Rebecca says, to provide an interesting variation in the sound, but exactly what this variation is is tricky to analyse. I can play a nice vibrato on the Irish whistle, but I really don’t know what’s happening. If I’m in the groove playing with other people it just happens. It does feel like a sort of natural vibrato.
With the flute, vibrato is achieved by varying the speed of the airflow – hence the focus on diaphragm control. You leave the fingers in place, the embouchure is unchanged and the flute is stationary, so the pitch is not changing. What is changing is the volume. In my case, with the whistle, I really have no control over the frequency of the vibrato, but to play the flute well you do need to have this control. You need to make subtle changes to the vibrato while you are playing.
So, Lisa, yes, you can have a nice, natural-feeling vibrato, but the work you put in during Rebecca’s exercises will give you added control and add a whole new dimension to your music.
Very nice comment, David. You’re right on. Many people try to ‘shake’ within the vocal cords, which causes a very nervous sound. Learning how to play with controllable vibrato is the #1 way to boost your level in a very musical way. I’d love to help you get the sound you want. Let’s keep it up! Rebecca
Hi Rebecca! Is there such thing as natural vibrato? Or are you constantly moving your diaphragm to make it happen?
I have the vibrato modules, and I’ve tried the exercises, but I can’t put the practice into my playing, but I find that some vibrato comes out when I am playing anyway, so I’m not sure what my body is doing or if it coming from my throat, but I don’t think so because it doesn’t sound like nanny-goat. To me it sounds nice, and to my fellow musicians it sounds nice. I’m not trying to make it happen, so what is happening??
Hi Lisa, I guess I’d have to hear you to be sure if you have a nice (natural) sounding vibrato or not. The exercises only work if you do them long enough (it takes about 4-6 weeks of consistent studies). If you want me to take a listen I’d love to: https://learnfluteonline.com/feedback/ you can leave me an audio recording there. Just play to your computer and it’ll send it to me. 🙂 Rebecca