Understand Vibrato

Leading Vocal Coach Lisa Popeil explains vibrato to singers.

This is an excerpt from Lisa Popeil’s book, Sing at the Top of Your Game. Lisa is one of LA’s top voice coaches with over 40 years of professional teaching experience. She shares essential knowledge for any singer who wants to improve their vocal control and musical abilities. It’s also packed with insights on how to build a singing career. See her book on Singdaptive.com

What is Vibrato?

Vibrato (pronounced vih-BRA-toh) is a cyclical pitch change singers and musicians use as an ornament in which the pitch moves up and down in a regular way around a central pitch. Vibrato is a powerfully expressive tool which may have developed to represent the beating heart or the shaking hand in the presence of the object of one’s affection.

Though you may notice that your vibrato happens naturally at the ends of your phrases, try to make vibrato a choice rather than an accident. Vibrato is such an emotive tool, that to use it without choosing to is relinquishing a powerful expressive device to habit or chance.

Vibrato and Musical Styles

All good singers can sing with either straight tone or vibrato. Straight tone is simply a term to describe the steady holding of any single note. Different genres of music have different conventions about how often and where vibrato should be used. In classical singing, for example, almost all notes are sung with vibrato. In pop styles such as pop, r&b, jazz, country, rock and contemporary musical theater, most notes are sung in straight tone with vibrato used on held notes and end notes.

In pop singing, vibrato is most often used on held notes and end notes.

Lisa Popeil

Many singers can do different types of vibratos. The one I use for classical singing has a noticeably different sound from the one I use when I sing jazz. Many singers can also change the speed of their vibratos; speeding them up or slowing them down on purpose. But don’t worry if you can’t do that. Having one pleasant vibrato, one that is not too fast or too slow, is just fine. However, if you like singing in variety of styles, knowing that you may be able to adapt your vibrato type and speed to one commonly used in that style can help you make the desired vocal performance more “authentic”.

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