Vibrato is the rapid pulsing of pitch and intensity of a note, a technique used by most trained singers in many musical genres. The average vibrato pulses about 6 times per second and varies by a quarter to a half step in pitch. Vibrato is a singing effect used to add expression and variation to vocal music, and is also used in instrumental music.
Vibrato is used differently depending on the vocal style. In opera, vibrato is present in almost all notes. In musical theatre, it is common to hear long notes at the end of phrases sung with a straight tone first and then finished with vibrato. In pop and rock music, vibrato is less common but is still occasionally used.
Characteristics of a well coordinated vibrato
Consistent pitch variance: The pitch should move up and down in a small range, ideally a quarter or half step at most, and stay within that range. A vibrato that is wide sometimes and narrow other times will sound like yodeling or an intonation problem.
Consistent speed: Even if you’re varying your pitch within the perfect range, your vibrato will still sound awkward if it is sometimes faster and sometimes slower. Ideally you’ll want your speed to be fast enough that the naked ear won’t recognize the small differences in pitch and volume.
Consistent use: when you are first starting to get comfortable using vibrato, you’ll need to make an effort to use it off and on throughout your whole song. If you use it heavily in the beginning of your song but then forget or get too fatigued to use it at the end, your song will sound inconsistent and will lack flow.
How to create vibrato
Normally beginning singers don’t sing with vibrato simply because they are unaware of it as a potential technique. Imitation is a tremendous skill in vocal education, and for some people, if you ask them to listen to recordings of a singer who uses proper vibrato and imitate it, they will be able to do so with little difficulty. Their first attempts will likely sound uncoordinated and forced, but once they have captured how it is supposed to feel, they’ll be able to replicate that feeling with more finesse over time.
For those that are unable to imitate vibrato intuitively, this is fairly common but easily correctable. As with most things vocal, in order to create a balanced tone you must experiment with the extremes first. If a singer has been exclusively using straight tone, on one extreme of the spectrum, they’ll need to experiment with going to the other extreme and singing with a wide, slow, over-exaggerated pitch variance. From there, they’ll be able to tighten the variance and come back toward the balanced middle of the spectrum, creating a “normal” sounding vibrato.
For singers who would like to learn acting practices to give their singing performances more impact, see our Sensational Scenes and Songs eBook.
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