To raise the bar of ordinary singing performances, singers resort to various stylistic techniques. These help to add layers to the singing and raise the overall level of the voice production. Some of these techniques or vocal effects that singers use to add flavor and variety to their performance are vibrato, falsetto, belting, vocal fry.
These natural vocal effects are created by changing the way vocal cords vibrate. There are many ways to do so. To be able to add these to your performance you need to know exactly which action will produce the desired result. Singers often stand a chance of going wrong with these techniques because they learn to produce these effects by simply imitating their favorite artists. It’s recommended that you refrain from doing so because you can end up acquiring techniques that can strain your voice and do you more harm than good.
Vibrato is one of the voice effects that is used heavily by opera artists. If you are keen to sing vibrato, this article will help you to understand the right way of doing it.
Origin of Vibrato
The word vibrato comes from the Latin word ‘vibrare’ which means to vibrate. The effect is used by musicians, for vocals as well as instrumentals. Singers have to employ their vocal cords in a certain way to produce this effect. It comes across as a pulsating tone that moves slightly above or below the actual pitch that the singer is singing in. The voice keeps shifting subtly and quickly between the two closely placed pitches.
Singers usually use vibrato when they wish to draw the attention of the audience to the different notes in their voice especially if they are holding each note for a while. The effect adds warmth to the voice. While singing vibrato, apart from the pitch, the vocal timbre or tone is also taken into consideration. The tone is not supposed to sound wobbly or like a quiver. The quality of a vibrato is determined by the 3 parameters:
- Pitch excursion (oscillation)
- Temporal rate (cycles per second)
- Amplitude variance
Types of Vibrato
There are two kinds of vibrato that are generally used. These are the hammer and the laryngeal vibrato. You too can use vibrato in both of these ways by mastering them through repeated practice.
- Hammer Vibrato: This is also known as 'vocal cord’ vibrato. It is characterized by a long series of pulsations on the same note.
- Laryngeal Vibrato: Also known as the ‘throat, vibrato, it is produced by moving the larynx, commonly called the voice box, up and down. This results in pitch variation, with the difference between the notes, more or less distinct. The pitch of this form of vibrato is broader than that of hammer vibrato. The difference in notes is also larger.
- Diaphragmatic Vibrato: This characterized by diaphragmatic pulsating while sustaining a note. Airflow to the vocal cords is regulated through the periodic and rhythmic movement of the diaphragm.
- Vocal Trill Vibrato: This is taught to the accompaniment of a piano where the singer tries to match the pitch of the piano, moving up and down the pitch by a semitone to create the pulsating effect.
- Jaw Vibrato: Also known as the gospel jaw is a type of vibrato created by the rapid quivering of the jaw and tongue.
Natural Way of Producing Vibrato
A natural vibrato indicates the production of correct vocal sound. So, you can develop vibrato naturally when your vocal technique is in place and your voice has developed sufficiently or is ready as a result of training and practice. An even vibrato is generated only when there is optimal airflow as a result of good breath management, an open throat, and necessary closure of the vocal folds.
As far as voice science goes, vibrato is regarded as a vocal action necessary to periodically relax the muscles of the larynx when singers sing sustained notes at a high pitch. For a singer with a well-developed voice, the action is triggered naturally in order to protect the vocal folds.
Vibrato need not be artificially induced. This voice effect will result directly from good singing techniques. So, don’t be disappointed thinking that you will have to wait till you have perfected your vocal skills. It’s worth the wait because if you acquire it through incorrect technique and use it persistently, you might put undue stress on voice. Once your voice is ready and you have a solid singing technique to back you, vibrato will become easy for you to use when you sing.
Things to Avoid
While many instructors insist on introducing vibrato in singing very early into a student’s training, it doesn’t necessarily fetch the best results. A poor imitation of the effect or forcefully trying to replicate it might end up taking you totally off-tune. The primary focus should be on producing a good quality timbre or vocal tone and control over breath management. Once you master these, the vibrato can be used effectively and it will also sound healthy and even.
While the quality of vibrato is a point of concern, equal importance should be given on when and how to use it. If you try to produce vibrato for every sustained note, the ultimate effect will be like that of a singer who sings in a straight tone: monotonous and boring. So, knowing when to use it during your song, is important. Also, it makes sense to use it for solo performances. While singing in a group or choir, it’s best to avoid this voice effect because synchronizing the rate of pulsation is difficult and it might go off-pitch.
The best thing is to use it in moderation and subtly so that it adds to the overall sound quality of the song without distracting the listener. When your vibrato results from the development of a good vocal technique, you will be able to produce it across your vocal range.
Developing a Healthy Vibrato
Vibrato as a voice effect can be used by any voice type. Whether it’s the male tenor, countertenor, bass, baritone, or the female alto, mezzo-soprano, and soprano, a well-developed voice is the only requirement to produce a healthy and free-flowing vibrato.
The secret to developing a good singing voice is to sing in your natural tessitura. If you try to force your voice to adopt a vocal range that is beyond your level of comfort, you will not be able to sing freely nor sustain the voice for long. This will in turn affect your tonal quality and using vocal effects like vibrato to amp up your singing will sound forced.
To improve your vocal techniques, you can train under a vibrato singing teacher instructor. Their primary role is to help you with the basics of good singing. Things like breathing techniques, posture control, endurance building, and tone creation are some of the things that are taught by such instructors.
With their help, you will be able to produce vibrato and improve its quality and pitch consistency. Under the guidance of a good instructor, you will learn how to seamlessly integrate this vocal effect with your singing, without sounding artificial or strained. You can also look for vibrato singing courses online.
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Practice Makes a Man Perfect
Once your voice is ready, practice using vibrato while singing so that while performing you can instinctively use the effect to mesmerize your audience. Producing a uniform vibrato in the correct pitch is as important for a singer as it is to blend the sound while moving from a chest voice to a head voice to avoid register breaks.
Warm-up exercises for your voice are a must before practice to protect it from unwanted harm. Also, watch your diet and avoid chilled items which can affect your throat. Opera singers have to use vibrato extensively and since this art form is extremely taxing on not only the voice but the entire body, developing overall physical fitness also becomes very important.
Whether you are using vibrato for opera singing or for the non-classical genre, remember that the best results are obtained when you can produce it naturally. Your vocal timbre and singing voice have to be excellent for any voice effect including a vibrato to really have the desired effect. So, focus on developing a good vocal technique and perfecting your tone