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How To Sing Vibrato

Vibrato can be a little tricky at first, but with a little bit of practice you can figure it out, and I’m going to do my best to walk you through it.

I want to give you the one key ingredient to and effective vibrato, while giving you some examples of what it’s not, what to avoid. I’d also like to talk to you a little bit about where vibrato fits into the scheme of a particular song or style of music. Because overly, or improperly, used vibrato can really take away from a song rather than add to it. That is, of course, unless you’re planning to sing opera. Then it’s pretty much on just about every note! I’m going to assume that’s not your primary goal for now, though. Oh, and then I want to give you a step-by-step exercise that will help you get on your way toward a beautiful vibrato. So…that’s just what I’m going to do ;).

In this article you’ll discover…

  • The key ingredient to an effective vibrato
  • What vibrato isn’t and what to avoid
  • A step-by-step exercise and guide to help you unleash your own vibrato

First of all, what exactly is vibrato? It’s a shifting of the voice between two pitches. It can go as far as from the key below to the key above, but the more subtle the better. It usually sounds the best when it hovers right around the same note, just below and just above—more of a lateral fluctuation, within the same note, rather than vertical, wavering to drastically between the notes above and below.

You’ve heard the phrase “less is more”. Well, that’s kind of how I feel about vibrato. Let me just say, right off the bat, that I’m coming from a perspective of singing more mainstream genres of music (Rock, Pop, Alternative, Jazz, Blues, etc.) and not so much classical and opera. That’s the frame of reference where the “less or more” is coming from.

For example, if you’re an action film junkie, like me, you know that the thing that makes the action so…active is the lulls in the story. It’s the contrast with the calm that makes the action so intense. The same is true for horror and thriller and other film genres as well.

In the same way, vibrato can make a certain part, a note, or phrase of a song more emotional or add just the right amount of soul as long as it is used sparingly and in the right places. Vibrato is a color, a shade, a cherry on the top. It’s not the meal, as is the case with opera. And opera is great; I love it; but that’s not the focus of this particular article.

So, what is the key ingredient to an effective vibrato? When you hear it, you’re going to think, “C’mon, that’s it?” But bear with me as I explain. Vibrato is one of those things that is difficult to actually teach, because it flows naturally out of proper singing technique. There isn’t that much you can do. It’s more about setting up the proper surroundings and allow it turn itself on.

The key ingredient is to relax. That’s it. Once you’ve got that down, you’re 75 percent there, seriously. You want to have your neck, shoulders and throat relaxed. The primary problem with most beginning singers is that they are trying to make it happen, to force out a warble, a shaking sound that comes across unnatural. You want avoid any jerky motions with your stomach and/or larynx.

As I said before, it’s not something, really, that you do, it’s something that you allow to happen. I know that sounds weird, but once you get it, and you will get it, you’ll understand what I mean.

It reminds me of the scene in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall where the burnout 41 year old surfing instructor, played by Paul Rudd, is attempting to teach Jason Segel’s character to surf. He explained that the idea was to pop up on the board, and after trying it a few times, he kept saying, “Do less. Do less. Do less.” And eventually he was saying, “Do nothing. Do nothing at all.” But when Segel didn’t move a muscle he said, “Well, you have to do something.”

That’s how it is with vibrato. Trying to do it, to force it, will often lead to frustration and a silly warble sound. While it was a humorous scene, and Paul Rudd’s character was a terrible instructor, he was actually on the right track. I’ve been an avid surfer for most of my life, and it’s true. You don’t get up on a board; you pop to your feet by launching your body up, all in one swift motion.

Okay, that’s enough of how not to do it. Let’s talk about how to do it…here’s how to sing vibrato.

1. The first step is to make sure your posture is good. This will help ensure that you are singing from your diaphragm, which is key. Creating the sound from your deeper down will help give your singing voice vibrato.
2. The second step is to relax everything involved in your singing: your throat, neck, head, shoulders, etc. When you’re nice and loose, this creates the proper atmosphere for the best singing and most natural vibrato.
3. Third, sing a note. Any key will do. Wherever you feel comfortable. But make sure it’s a vowel sound, as that is where your vibrato will emerge, not from a consonant sound.  Start with an “Ahh” note. Hold the note out, allowing it to resonate. As you do, notice the amount of tension present in your abdomen. There will be some tightening of your stomach muscles but too much will squash the vibrato. If this is the case, try a slightly lower note, relax and try again. The muscle support of your abdominals helps guide the airflow through your vocal cords, creating the vibrato sound.
4. The forth step is to slightly lower the back portion of your tongue in an “uhh” type formation. This will also help the vibrato to come about.
5. Fifth, continue to make sure your throat is relaxed, allow your breath to slightly pulsate as you sing the vowel. The sound should waver somewhere around 3 to 5 times per second. But don’t focus too much on that. You’ll know when it sounds right.

With some practice, that should get you there. Be patient with yourself. If you get it the first or second time, you will be in the minority. For most people, it takes a while of practice to get it down. You’ll get it though. Give yourself grace. You’re worth it.

I wish you all the best. I hope this was helpful.

Aaron Anastasi

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