Controlling Vibrato

Correcting Straight Tone, Tremolos, and Wobbles

different singing waves

A beautiful vibrato indicates healthy singing. If you employ proper singing technique, then you just have it. However, a skilled singer has considerable control over their vibrato. They can sing without it or increase vibrato speed and intensity at will. Some unattractive vibratos can also be remedied with training and effort.

Controlling the Pitch in Vibrato

One of the big no-nos when working on vibrato is consciously controlling the pitch.

One should never attempt to sing with a smaller, wider, faster, slower pitch in their vibrato. Pitch is produced differently when singing a scale as opposed to creating vibrato. Nerve impulses create vibrato, while pitch is created by speeding and slowing the vocal cords, as well as adjusting how much of the vocal cord is used. Hence, attempting to turn a trill, where the singer uses their vocal cords to move repeatedly from one note back to another at a fast pace, into vibrato will not work. Any attempt to literally manipulate the tones of a vibrato will create an unnatural and unappealing sound.

Imitating Notes With Vibrato

Instead of controlling the actual pitches of vibrato, a singer can affect their vibrato through imitation. Learn to sing with good technique and vibrato appears. Listen for it. Very rarely will a singer with even a rudimentary knowledge of breath support and phonation sing with no vibrato whatsoever.

The problem is being able to sustain good technique throughout the vocal range and in every situation, which results in a consistent vibrato. Singers should imitate their own notes with vibrato, which also improves general singing technique.

Correcting Tremolo or Fast Vibratos

Not everyone’s problem is a lack of vibrato.

Some people sing with a fast, narrow, bleating, or shaking vibrato caused by subglottic pressure or air pressure underneath the vocal cords. A singer with fast vibrato creates too much air pressure for the larynx or vocal cords to respond effectively, caused by an aggressive approach to breath management. Singers with a tremolo are generally tense, controlling, or possibly overanxious emotionally. Simply learning to relax is not enough to correct it. Those with a tremolo should first learn to inhale deeply, then to sing with the diaphragm low but flexible. Allow the air to spin and move throughout the singing process.

Tremolo may also be caused by controlling the pitch of vibrato as in a fast trill. A habit of that nature takes time to stop, but will often go away on its own by paying attention to breathing techniques. For some, simply learning to slow down and relax their emotions may be needed. Singers often sing with faster vibratos during heightened moments of music, but the variation is heard as beautiful. If you suspect emotions are involved, focus on portraying the words of the text to a trusted family member or a friend rather than trying to impress someone. Physically, the diaphragm will stay lower and more flexible when calm.

Correcting Wobble or Slow Vibratos

Slower and wider vibratos are common in older singers, as well as those who may be trying to manipulate tone using the diaphragm. Trying to affect pitch with the largest muscle in the body is never a good idea, but especially when it comes to vibrato. The diaphragm is one of the most important muscles in singing, but it can also create a heavy, labored tone if stiff and controlled. A wobble is physically created by a lack of muscular effort in phonation or at the vocal cord level, often due to over-emphasizing the muscular activities of breath flow rather than vocal cord resistance.

Finding breath threshold, or the moment when the vocal cords resist air pressure with the most effort possible without tension ​is imperative for those with a wobble. Singing with a brighter, lighter tone may help.

In addition, the general techniques of breath support should be reviewed. Because a wobble is produced by a more labored production which usually gets worse as a phrase progresses, practicing vocal onsets will help. A vocal onset is simply the start of tone. Practice it by singing ‘ah’ for a moment on any pitch of your choice, stop, take a deep breath, and sing it again. Repeat this over and over attempting to create an ease in the tone that will eventually roll over to harder phrases.

Achieving a Healthy Straight Tone

Some styles of choral, baroque, and popular music require a straight tone or one with very little vibrato. Singing less ‘full,’ or literally with less of the vocal cord, allows singers to achieve a healthy, unstrained straight tone. If a singer attempts to stop pitch oscillation physically, the result is tension in the throat. Instead, add a very slight breathiness to a well-produced tone. The vocal quality should not be heard as breathy, but the thought may cause a little less muscular effort at the laryngeal level. Another alternative is to simply consider straight tone, as another way of saying the vibrato should be simple or barely noticeable. In that case, singing with a lighter and still fully-engaged tone works.