Monday, April 6, 2020

From the pedagogy files: VIBRATO!

We're still teaching remotely here at UW, as we will be for the remainder of the semester.  (click here for apps to help make your online teaching more productive) Among the various teaching duties I have is the privilege of sharing ideas with my advanced students in a pedagogy class. In lieu of our weekly seminars, we have been developing notes on assigned readings (well, my students have been doing all of the heavy lifting) and sharing them around for inclusion in a final reference notebook. Last week's subject was vibrato, and I thought I'd share some of the ideas I found most inspiring in my review of these materials.

Assigned readings

  • Potter, Chris. Vibrato Workbook. Falls House Press, 2010. Pp. 1-2, 8, 13, 16-18.
  • Moratz, Karen. Flute for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2010. Ch. 13.
  • Toff, Nancy. The Flute Book. London: Oxford University Press, 1996. Pp. 106-114.


Favorite ideas (thanks to my students for providing the material for this):

From Nancy Toff:

History of Vibrato

  • Began as an ornament produced by the fingers
  • Form we use today didn’t come around until the late 19th century
  • Beginning of the note should start right on pitch for vibrato to be most effective
  • Charles Nicholson called it “an embellishment that should resemble the pulsations of a bell or glass; slow at first then increasing as the sound diminished”
  • Vibrato we use today originated in Paris
  • Taffanel was one of the creators in the 19th c.
  • Natural, comes from the "heart and soul"
  • By 1940, vibrato was accepted in American woodwind sections in orchestras

From Chris Potter:
Tips for getting started

  • Choose what sounds good to you as a player
  • Listen to others, record yourself and play it back
  • Moyse said “the best vibrato is one you don’t notice, the tone is just beautiful”
  • Start by playing with no vibrato and establish a nice tone, then experiment with different speeds and depths

From Karen Moratz:

Keeping Vibrato Natural

  • The purpose of vibrato is to enhance your sound and expressiveness
  • The occasional piece may require extreme vibrato which is desired by the composer, most pieces like this will be from the 20th century
  • Listen to vibrato from other musicians including string players and vocalists to give examples of different styles of vibrato
  • Harsh shallow vibrato with jagged edges to the pitch, out of control, happens when there is too much tension in the throat
  • Natural vibrato happens at 120-275 waves per minute, after 120 there’s generally a natural flow of vibrato that is hard to measure out to practice


I am also reminded of John Wion's excellent blog post about vibrato, including a fascinating scientific (ish) study of depths and speeds, which you should definitely read on his website here.

Patricia George has also shared some amazing videos of what happens inside the mouth when we play with vibrato here.

Favorite vibrato exercises

  • Chris Potter's entire Vibrato Workbook!
  • all of the vibrato exercises from Nina Assimakopoulos' The Virtuosic Flutist
  • the vibrato exercises in Fiona Wilkinson: The Physical Flute