How does a singer actually sing vibrato?
September 13, 2004 1:10 PM   Subscribe

How does a singer actually sing vibrato? I have absolutely no vibrato in my voice-which comes in handy for choir but not so handy when I do!
posted by konolia to Media & Arts (14 answers total)
I just tried it, and I find that it all comes from around the breastbone, so it must be the breathing (for me). If I try to make the breastbone go in and out while singing, I get vibrato.

Watch out though.. bad singers often use vibrato to cover up their inability to hit notes directly, so don't over use it once you pick it up ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 1:14 PM on September 13, 2004

What you need to do is get some recordings of the Cambridge Singers. That'll cure the vibrato urge. :)

In general, I think good vibrato comes naturally from good breath support. If you're singing from your diaphragm, filling your lungs and breathing right, you probably will have some vibrato start in naturally.
posted by weston at 1:49 PM on September 13, 2004

Oh. Check out Beautiful Singing -- one of the voice faculty at my University has spent some time on a guide that I've heard many good things about. Robison has something of a Bel Canto style, which is too heavy/operatic for me. However, my acquaintances who have done some studying with him have told me that he's not necessarily pushing people that direction -- he's essentially interested in helping people find a natural, expressive voice that's connected to their spirit.
posted by weston at 2:12 PM on September 13, 2004

Vibrato is a natural effect - different singers have different amounts (both in terms of frequency and depth). It's very rare than a singer has no vibrato whatsoever.

The mechanics of vibrato are, effectively, the slight tightening and loosening of the muscles which tension the vocal chords (iin order to create the change in pitch).

You can force this in the same way as you can pitch any note - create the vibrato by altering the muscles - but this sounds very false. Some singers will actively wobble their jaw to force vibrato - it works, but you look like a twat. Don't do it.

Because the vocal chords are strings, tension can affect vibrato. Try singing quietly; relax; hold your head facing down - this will give you the best chance of hearing your natural vibrato. If you can't hear any, check if you're still tense - are you abs tense; your neck; your back? Relax further if you have to.

Sing quietly initially - too much air pressure will squash the vibrato as much as muscle tension. (This is why vibrato often happens naturally with seasoned singers towards the end of notes - as the airflow and muscle tension relax.) Listen carefully for what your voice is doing.

If you get to a point where you're so relaxed you're asleep and so quite you're not singing, and there's still no vibrato - you're very rare indeed.

Once you've discovered your vibrato, learn to listen for it. Listen to the songs you sing and try to sing them in a more relaxed and layed back manner where you want the vibrato to happen. With practise, you'll be able to sustain the vibrato with more power.
posted by benzo8 at 3:31 PM on September 13, 2004

If you can sing with no vibrato whatever, that's a good thing, though, isn't it? Not to dissuade you, but I wish a few people in our choir would toggle their vibrato bits to 0, especially when we chant psalmodies.
posted by alumshubby at 3:54 PM on September 13, 2004

The mechanics of vibrato are, effectively, the slight tightening and loosening of the muscles which tension the vocal chords (iin order to create the change in pitch).

Well, that is interesting. I have been told that unlike most people whose pitch is a bit "fuzzy" (sorry, I don't remember quite how it was put to me) that my voice is so on pitch that it tends cut thru TOO precisely (I would use the term sharp, but obviously here that would be confusing, as I'm not sharp OR flat) If I remember correctly the implication was that I was so concentrated on hitting the note precisely that it affected the tone, and I suppose from what you are saying the vibrato too.
posted by konolia at 3:55 PM on September 13, 2004

That's possibly the case. Rereading this thread, I think there's perhaps some confusion in people's minds between "tremolo" (change in volume), and "vibrato" (change in pitch). When a singer uses vibrato, it tends to be towards the end of a phrase (and often, the end of a note) and is used to soften the end of the note as it fades.

Tremolo (vocally speaking) is a much more exotic effect, used far less frequently, and tends to occur during a phrase in order to highlight or colour a word or two.

So yes, quite possibly if you're concentrating excessively on hitting a note, you may well be nullifying your ability to produce an recognisable vibrato. Again, it goes back to my previous post - relax!
posted by benzo8 at 4:33 PM on September 13, 2004

Well, a total lack of vibrato doesn't seem to have hurt Bjork's career one bit. :-)
posted by Asparagirl at 7:43 PM on September 13, 2004

If you are looking for a great vocal mentor for vibrato skills, the best (by far) i've ever heard is from Renee Fleming's aria performances, especially when she sings Verdi's Sempre Libera from La Traviata, which is on her recent album By Request.
posted by naxosaxur at 8:17 PM on September 13, 2004

Have you had vocal training, konolia? If you're already well-accomplished with breath control and proper pitch, and it sounds like it is, tremolo and vibrato techniques would probably be fairly easy to "get to" with a skilled instructor. If developing those skills is important to you, hie thineself to a trained private instructor.
posted by Dreama at 9:35 PM on September 13, 2004

Argh, "it sounds like you are" not "it is."
posted by Dreama at 9:36 PM on September 13, 2004

How about The Vibrato Page?
posted by plinth at 3:27 AM on September 14, 2004

Thanks I guess it's off to practice...but the truth is I better start investigating singing lessons.

What chaps my hide is all those choir folks who when asked to can the vibrato, don't seem to be able to. They can't seem to sing WITHOUT it!
posted by konolia at 9:47 AM on September 14, 2004

Well, a total lack of vibrato doesn't seem to have hurt Bjork's career one bit. :-)

Or Eric Woolfson (Alan Parsons Project) -- that guy has basically no inflection.
posted by kindall at 10:14 AM on September 14, 2004

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