Problems with vibrato include, but are not confined to, a complete lack of vibrato, too much vibrato, inconsistent vibrato. Do you have a Smooth and Consistent Vibrato – or a Tremolo or Wobble?
Problems With Vibrato.
From time to time, as teachers, we come across students who have problems with their vibrato. I am going to try to keep this fairly simple, but firstly a definition. “A good vibrato is a pulsation of pitch, usually accompanied by synchronous pulsations of loudness and timbre; of such extent and rate as to give a pleasing flexibility, tenderness and richness to the tone.” (Seashore). The average vibrato rate should lie approximately between 5 and 7 times per second. It should never exceed one half-step at the maximum. This makes it all sound more complicated than it is, and is only provided as an example. Many singers have a naturally correct and pleasing vibrato, many have it naturally, but others struggle to get any vibrato at all, while problems with vibrato in general are quite common. They can be continual or frustratingly spasmodic.
The Benefits of Well Executed Vibrato.
Without going into great depth, one obvious reason why even vibrato is essential is that, especially with Classical music or Opera, flat singing is completely unacceptable. There are also often passages where a note is sustained over many bars of music. From a personal viewpoint, I consider flat singing unpleasing, but it seems to be more accepted in the wider community especially in Contemporary Popular music. Straight singing can also be found, at times, in Musical Theatre. The reason that straight singing is less desirable for many is that, without vibrato, the pitch will naturally drop and the intonation will not be correct. Over a longer phrase or if a note is to be sustained, the pitch will be more inconsistent, and drop further. Even with vibrato, unless the vibrato is constantly renewed in the mind and voice of the singer, over a long passage, it will become unfocussed, and intonation will not be consistent.
Another problem that arises from straight singing is that it is vocally fatiguing in comparison to singing with vibrato. According to Large, “The vibrato is a modulation of frequency and amplitude resulting from the pendulum-like movements of the intrinsic laryngeal musculature. These movements are said to prevent fatigue at the laryngeal level…. in the production of straight tone, the musculature is constantly working.”
Common Problems with Vibrato.
The main problems that I have seen with vibrato are as follows:
Rate of vibrato, more generally too fast, resulting in a bleating sound.
Extent of Vibrato – No Vibrato at all.
Complete non existence of vibrato – resulting in a straight tone either spasmodically or at all times. There are varying schools of thought amongst teachers whereby some teachers advocate the absence of vibrato and consider it completely unnecessary. I do not concur with this line of thought, other than in the pure form of singing that was found in the earliest of times, for example Gregorian chant.
A lack of breath control, support, and respiratory energy, which usually results in the wide wobble that is so familiar in older singers, or those who do not support. I have heard this in young singers as often as older ones, although due to the richness or size of the older voice, and the combination of less physical fitness with age, it is usually more distinctly pronounced …. at times, the distance is a very wide and unpleasant wobble that will stand out, not only solo, but be noticeable in any chorus.
Irregular Vibrato Which Changes Rate.
In the solo singer, vibrato problems will be easy to define. However, when there are issues with vibrato, there will be serious disturbances in harmonic production in duos, trios or choruses as well. This is because of the mismatched tones (pitch variances) which create, amongst other problems, dissonance. The dissonance can be disturbingly significant because of the closeness of the tone, for example unison against an interval of a second.
How can I “fix” my vibrato problems?
Most problems with vibrato will resolve with education, practise, and dedication to purpose.
First of all, do not try to simulate vibrato. Force will never assist with accomplishing a beautiful vibrato, and will sound, at best, artificial, while appearing uncomfortable, and distracting the audience from what might otherwise be a lovely performance. Allow the voice to flow rather than push. A good vibrato is achieved partly through natural, steady breath flow. I often say to my singers, “Think of the ocean… breathe with the rhythm of nature… in and out, in and out, as steady as a calm sea.” The main keys to a consistent and pleasing vibrato is steady and focussed breath control and support, and a letting go of tension in the face and tongue. Sometimes, it can help to practise the “Trill” exercise, and exercise which will be available for download on this site, but first I would suggest working on breathing and support using the vocalises, especially the slower ones, the Vocalises for low voice as found in the complete zip pack. http://helencolemansinging.com.au/?p=382 When sound technique is achieved, vibrato should follow naturally.
Practising these slower pieces in their comfortable keys and settings allows the singer to concentrate on working on their breathing, support and eventually vibrato, should that be a problem. They are invaluable for the establishment of good technique. In the case of vibrato, sadly, the cart cannot go before the horse. Learning to sing with good vocal technique, evenly regulate airflow, and maintaining good posture are all part of establishing a beautiful vibrato that is both consistent and pleasing to the ear. Eventually, with time and practise, vibrato will come as naturally as breathing correctly.
A Word on Vocal Damage.
It must be taken into consideration, also, that there is a possibility of vocal fold damage or paralysis which is restricting the production of vibrato. If this is suspected to be the case, and if there are other pointers such as hoarseness, a tendency to clear the throat, or a “sore throat” after singing, it may be necessary to undergo a vocal scope. This is a minor procedure, and at worst, a little uncomfortable.
Fortunately, most vibrato problems will resolve given education, persistence and dedication, and there are exercises on this site which can be purchased and downloaded. Singing these daily will assist with development of a beautiful and controlled vibrato. The Vocalises are “songs without words”. By singing these to a vowel of your choice – perhaps “ah” as in “cart” or “aw” as in “caught”, singers can practise their breathing, intonation and vibrato without the distraction of consonant sounds found in words. Vocalise number 1 Helen Coleman (page 2 of products, or use search engine) is a full package which contains the sheet music and associated mp3 files specifically designed for this purpose. You will find both the melody and the accompaniment played on these mp3 files in order to facilitate learning. Practising good breathing and support, and letting go of tension in the tongue and facial area will greatly assist in the production of good vibrato. © Helen Coleman