What is vibrato? Is vibrato “natural” (happens by itself), or is it consciously “caused” somehow by the singer?

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Vibrato or straight tone?

These are good questions. There are many voice teachers who teach otherwise, but straight tone, not vibrato, is actually the most natural way to make a sound.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!  You never hear a baby cry with vibrato, nor do people talk with vibrato (unless you count Katherine Hepburn).  Vibrato must be consciously or unconsciously caused physically by the singer. Even instrumentalists cause vibrato either by mouth motions (embouchure vibrato), hand motions or conscious diaphragmatic pulsations.

For some singers, their musical ears tell them to sing with vibrato and their bodies react and respond, “kicking off” the muscle work to begin the vibrato. They might not even know how they’re making it happen! Singers without a vibrato, on the other hand, will have to make a more conscious effort to train their bodies to produce vibrato. Once the vibrato does begin, though, it soon becomes relatively easy to maintain,to the point we don’t really even think about it. It’s like when we learn to bike ride with our hands on the handle bars at first, but eventually we’re so comfortable with the balance that we can take our hands off of the handle bars with great control.

Vibrato isn’t natural until you can do it naturally. What do I mean by that? Well, I’ll make an analogy with hula-hooping. My oldest daughter and my son took to hula-hooping like ducks to water. After just one day, they knew how to hula-hoop for hours without stopping, and they looked like they were barely moving or even giving it any thought. They both routinely won the hula-hooping contests at school. Now me? I have to work really hard just to get the stupid thing to go around 4 or 5 times! But then, I also didn’t care to work that hard to learn, either. If I wanted to learn (and I lost a few pounds around the waist!) I know I could learn, but I’m not that motivated. Maybe in my retirement…

Ultimately vibrato feels natural, just like hula-hooping feels natural, easy and effortless, but only AFTER someone can do it. Some people find vibrato easily (like my kids with hula-hooping), others have to really experiment allot (like me with hula-hooping!). But anyone can learn, though the process may not look or sound pretty!

Let me give you this as a crude (and somewhat boring) example of what vibrato is:

It’s a bit like an air hose underwater, slowly letting air bubbles out at a consistent rate; say at 5-7 bubbles per second.  Once one bubble is released, there is a little time for the air pressure to build back up, and then it releases the next bubble, and so on. In this example, of course, there is a complete break between each air bubble.

In singing, however, there is a constant, but uneven release of air.  There is slightly more air pressure build-up than is being consistently released.  As a result, there are periodic releases of that extra build up of air – the pulses that become vibrato. The extra back pressure before the release of each pulse, as small as it is, is felt all the way back in the lungs, and then it’s released. The vibrato sound we hear is the pressure-release-pressure-release pulsing that occurs. There is synergistic pressure build-up and release between the vocal folds (chords) and the muscles controlling the upward air flow (abs, diaphragm, and dozens of others). How’s that for boring?

But, at the end of the day, the vibrato process has to be “kicked off”, and then maintained by the singer. For many singers, their ear told them their tone needed a pulse to it, so they put it in, consciously or unconsciously. It’s frustrating to those who have to work at “causing” it to start, but it can be taught and it can definitely be learned.  Once it’s learned well, it will feel “natural”.

I’ve worked with hundreds of students who had no vibrato. Every student with no vibrato that I’ve worked with has achieved a natural vibrato, as long as they practiced the assigned vibrato exercises consistently. Some had to work longer, but they got it. So will you.

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15 thoughts on “What is vibrato? Is vibrato “natural” (happens by itself), or is it consciously “caused” somehow by the singer?

  1. Janet Hill

    Dear Eric,

    I just had to write and say thank you!!!!! On a whim, I ordered your set of CDs on developing vibrato this spring, and to my great surprise and joy, they worked!!

    It took about 3 weeks of daily exercises for me to sense a small vibrato, and now, 7 weeks into it, I can “get it” almost immediately when I start to sing. I’m floored. I thought for sure I was one of the 1% of human beings whose vocal chords would never vibrate. 🙂 The breakthrough for me was to figure out where exactly the vibrato is coming from — I never knew — and your vocal exercises helped pinpoint that. Especially the half-tone wobble and the “Oh No!” exercise. Those are the two that worked best for me.

    I’ve been singing flat for decades (I’m 55), and didn’t like my voice for that reason although I do love to sing. I always told myself that if I could just have vibrato, I’d sing and sing and sing. 🙂 And that’s exactly what I do now. My vibrato isn’t “perfect’ — it’s much faster than the 5 or 6 beats per second you prefer — but I love it. Maybe as it develops it will slow down? I’m fine either way, because I just love the feeling of vibrato.

    I obviously came to the right place when I first started my internet search about developing vibrato, and I couldn’t be happier. This is *huge* for me. Thank you!!!!

    Janet Hill
    Singing like a bird up in northern Minnesota

    Reply
    1. Sing With Power Post author

      Janet, I’m so glad your vibrato is developing well. To answer your question about the speed of your vibrato, the general answer is yes, if your vibrato is so fast it is a bit of a machine gun speed, it will slow down. Remember, each person’s vibrato will vary in speed a bit. If yours is closer to 7, as long as it’s relaxed, comfortable and consistent, you’re probably doing quite a bit right. Congratulations!

      Reply
  2. Cassondra Reyes

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

    Reply
    1. Sing With Power Post author

      Thanks, Cassondra. Due to some life distractions most of last year, I’ve been behind on a few things, including writing more articles. I’m currently scripting the final lessons of the Sing With Power Vocal Complete Vocal Program and will begin recording next month. I’m shooting for the fall on its completion. At that point I plan to write allot more articles. Keep on singin’!

      Reply
  3. John Broek

    I live in the Netherlands (Holland) and I saw your video about vibrato. Is it possible to get your lessons and cd’s for develop my vibrato in the Netherlands?
    John Broek.

    Reply
    1. Sing With Power Post author

      Yes it can, Robin. I worked with many students with fast or excessive vibrato. The process is the same as speeding one up. If excess vibrato is your problem, try going from a straight tone into a vibrato without any extra pressure build-up or airflow interruption as you go from straight tone into your vibrato.

      Reply
  4. samantha

    Hi I just read on the post of eric and janet with regards to the vibrato . I sing I love to sing but I don’t like the way my voice sounds perhaps if I had vibrato it would sound better please can you tell me how to do the exercises or where can I buy the cd ?

    Thanx – samantha
    South africa

    Reply
  5. anonymous

    1 question, so…
    The vibrato is come from the healthy breathtaking ?
    Owh at lastttt….
    In youtube, so much people said that it can be ‘create’ from training… And the training is sing 2 pitches bact to back. So it doesn’t work ?
    Nice post, It’s very helpfull anyway… Please answr my quest. Thanks

    Reply
    1. Sing With Power Blog Post author

      You can use several approaches to “kick start” vibrato when it doesn’t come to you naturally. There are breath control concepts you can use, or pitch changes. Try them all to see which works best for you. I give you seven in my vibrato program, but they are all only temporary tools to help your body find the balance of a truly natural feeling and sounding vibrato.

      Reply
  6. Victoria

    2 years ago, I barely even knew what a vibrato was. Now I’ve got a beautiful vibrato. It just takes a lot of practice. Broadway and classical songs are great if you’re trying to work on your vibrato.

    Reply
  7. Cesar

    Hello there!
    I have a very fast thin vibrato, very reminiscent of old school disney movies where Cinderella sounds like she is doing 11 vibratos a second, while mine not as drastic, is much faster than I’d like it to be. Its also not very consistent, i cant use it in my upper register and sometimes cuts in and what, can you help me at all? Haha

    Reply
    1. Sing With Power Blog Post author

      While one definition of tremolo is basically a pitch wobble, what you are describing is the second definition often used for vibrato which is essentially a very fast vibrato, usually somewhere between 8-10 pulses per second. Can this be cured? Absolutely.

      I’ve worked with some terrific singers who have had that problem. LaShaun is one: http://youtu.be/gQbLuSgnyhY

      The secret to allowing the vibrato to slow down naturally is to developing your straight tone. The straight tone must “soar” across the note, not press down against it. From there, only let the vibrato only touch the straight tone, not dominate it. I address this very thing in my Perfect Vibrato program. http://www.masteringvibrato.com, or http://www.singwithpower.com/mastering_vibrato_voice_training.html

      Happy Singing!!

      Reply

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