Voice guidance, vibrato

The Vibrato – The “right” voice guidance

Vibrato is a controversial topic in vocal pedagogy. Some musicians do not agree on how the perfect voice guidance should be done and how much vibrato is too much or too little. I will illuminate the topic for you from different perspectives.

“How do you make your voice vibrate so beautifully” my new students often ask me. Well, if my throat is loose; and this is only possible if I can handle all my muscles (especially my jaw, lips, tongue, posture) and have an optimal breathing technique – then I can produce a nice vibrato.

How is the vibrato created when singing?

Here is a description by Günther Habermann from his book Stimme und Sprache: “The vibrato of the singer generally develops by itself in the course of vocal training, at a time when the coordination of the various muscles involved in vocalization is achieved to such an extent that a minimum of muscle strength is required for phonation.

It can be derived from the movement of the diaphragm as well as from a tilting movement of the larynx or can be found in oscillation superimpositions of the fundamental oscillation of the vocal folds.”

Many famous singers report that the vibrato is created all by itself without any forcing. Others claim that they start their vibrato with laryngeal swings, tongue and jaw insertion.

Luciano Pavarotti said that vibrato was caused by diaphragm tremors and that he taught trills and coloraturas to stimulate the diaphragm.

sing vibrato

Tremolo – The “bad sister” of Vibrato

My very first singing teacher painted two sisters in my notebook when I was a child. The good sister “Vibrato” and the bad sister “Tremolo” – If you force your vibrato too much an unpleasant tremor can occur, the tremolo (tremare-quake). The intensity of the vibrato can be regulated via the breathing guide. Someday it’s just too much.

Now tastes are arguing. Especially in classical singing, where you don’t have a microphone available, you need a certain vibrato so that your sound volume can spread and your voice fills the room. Depending on the style of music, there are different aesthetic requirements and currents.

Straight tones instead of vibrato

Some baroque specialists prefer tones right now. Of course, they should not be created by squeezing and pressing, but as loosely as possible. It’s almost impossible to be a singer and sing bel canto at the same time as singing baroque concerts with straight tones.

For this reason, there are usually baroque specialists for such concerts who are on their way in this “straight tones” niche. Opera singers who are engaged for baroque concerts usually sing with their usual vibrato or just take it back a little.

The conductor must decide what he prefers. The withdrawal is easier for light voices than for Wagner singers.

Some music colleges offer special courses of study for early music. Many singing professors whose job it is to teach their students the Italian bel canto technique get into a rage when you think of baroque specialists who just demand tones.

My professor Sylvie started stomping and screaming when I heard a vibratoless sound escape. She couldn’t stand it. My professor Ted joined an anti-straight line group on Facebook.

My colleagues who react particularly aggressively to vibrato poverty are, by the way, very sensual personalities.

Testimony of musicologists:

Some musicologists claim that you didn’t use vibrato the way you do today. There was no need for it: the halls had supporting acoustics and the orchestras were relatively small. Vibrato was only partially used as a stylistic device.

My theory: ladies were tied up at the waist back then. There were also much stricter moral rules. With your diaphragm squeezed, you can never breathe properly and therefore cannot perform free voice guidance. I think Bach would jump in circles with happiness if he could experience the vocal abilities of today’s singers!!!

Today, we are much further ahead in terms of voice training and the level has risen enormously, not least due to globalization.
Unfortunately, many voices that specialize in old music and almost only sing with straight tones break down.

Such voices are usually not very resilient. Many singers have not managed a career as a classical singer and have asserted themselves in this niche. Very often it is people who have failed the entrance examination for vocal studies and want to assert themselves through a contrasting technique.

I deliberately use words like “most” or “many”, of course I don’t mean all of them. I describe my versatile observations that I made in the baroque scene.

My conclusion on the subject of vibrato:

Rely on your taste! If you are not dependent on agents and conductors, you have plenty of room for manoeuvre.

There are limits: you can’t sing romantic arias without vibrato and expect to be heard in the last row. Pop ballads would also sound very funny with a full, operatic vibrato.

If you want to sing a bit straighter and simpler, please do not do it by narrowing and squeezing. It is best to test with your singing teacher how far you can control or develop your vibrato without harming your voice.

The first step should always be to loosen the throat. Once you have done this, you will take care of the finer control of your voice guidance.

Statements of famous singers about the vibrato

“I try to get the right voice fit by setting the tone from above. My focus is on natural, loose singing. If the voice sits correctly, I don’t need to deal with breathing pressure or other techniques that produce a vibrato. When I fill my mouth with voice, set the tone from above, sing loosely and naturally, the voice begins to swing, flow and float all by itself”. Fritz Wunderlich

“How do I use the vibrato? I don’t sing with my breath. My sound floats on my breath. When the sound floats on the breath, my voice begins to vibrate freely. If the breath flows out slowly and evenly when singing, the vibrato comes automatically when singing and does not need to be produced. A vibrato generated with pressure becomes a tremolo and cannot vibrate freely. Such a generated vibrato is usually either too slow or too fast and sounds unnatural.” Joan Sutherland

“The breath support is now taught as the driving force in singing. In sound production, the appoggio is an indispensable factor, but it is by no means the driving force behind singing. Correct singing with an accurate voice fit produces a loose breathing support that produces a uniformly vibrating vibrato. My maxim is therefore that the correct voice fit when singing produces the right breath support and a free swinging voice with natural vibrato. “You can’t produce real vibrato with the breath support alone.” Enrico Caruso

“The vibrato is a sign of looseness. When carotid arteries emerge at high tones and heads turn red, loud tones are supported with pressure, which is dangerous for the voice. I changed my appoggio after using too much pressure for 25 years. Now I breathe by letting the breath flow freely, not tightening the diaphragm or belly as I have done for two decades. If you sing and breathe correctly, you will always feel comfortable. When this relaxed feeling occurs, my voice begins to vibrate by itself. You can’t consciously create a floating vibrato. “I avoid any unnecessary pressure in my stomach.” Lilli Lehmann

“Do not push or press the sound with the breathing support, but let the sound float on the breath, then it will begin to become free. The freer the voice becomes, the looser it will swing and float. The vibrato is then neither too fast (tremolo) nor too slow. Please do not push the sound with your breath but let it float on your breath. Bring the tuning seat into the head and support the sound from the head but sing without breathing pressure, only then a free vibrato becomes possible in the Messa di Voce.” Maria Callas

„sing expressively and from your heart“

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Susanna Proskura

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Dipl. classical singer
Dipl. vocal pedagogue
Dipl. Concert Singing
Dipl. Art Song
(Munich Conservatory of Music)