Login or Register New Account

Suggested Reading

1. Rehearsal Rooms

Struggling to improve the acoustics in your band room? Check out how the Medan Band did it.

2. Concerned about playing swing music properly?

Check out my guidelines

3. Ear training exercises for bands

Unlike piano players, ear training is essential for wind band performers. But how many band directors bother to give their bands suitable exercises?

4. Intonation problems

While tuning is simple act of adjusting a length of tubing on a wind instrument (often by reference to a single note), intonation is an ongoing process in which a player strives to match the pitch of others in the ensemble during performance. 

5. “Blowing” a wind instrument

A common misconception among wind players is to believe that the air moves through the instrument in order to produce the sound. This is simply not true. 

6. Conducting – suggestions for home practice

The best way for a conductor to improve is in front of a live ensemble. The unfortunate reality, however, is that this is not always possible. Aspiring conductors therefore have little choice but to find other ways of honing their skills.

 

Vibrato


Introduction
The Brass Section
Lip or Jaw Vibrato
Hand (Slide) Vibrato
'Diaphragm' Vibrato
The Woodwind Section
Guidelines for Use


Introduction

Vibrato can be defined as a regular pulsating change in pitch or tonal intensity.  The most appropriate method of producing vibrato on wind instruments – as well as the issue of whether it should be used at all – is the subject of considerable debate.  This is not particularly surprising considering that fact that, although string players have employed vibrato for several centuries, vibrato only became widespread among wind players in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Vibrato is commonly used in brass bands and jazz ensembles.
Those who support the use of vibrato argue that it has a warming effect on the tone and lends expressiveness to a musical phrase.  Purists, on the other hand, insist that a good tone does not require such a decoration and that those who use it often end up producing a cheap saccharine effect.  Vibrato is commonly used in brass bands and jazz ensembles.  Even here, however, many of its advocates recognize that vibrato can be – and often is - overdone.  Orchestral players, both woodwind and brass, use vibrato much less frequently.  This seems particularly true of French horn and clarinet players.

 


The Brass Section

Vibrato can be produced on brass instruments in three ways.  They are: (1) using the lip or jaw; (2) using the hand; and (3) using the abdominal muscles (“diaphragm” vibrato).  All three have both their adherents and their critics.   Rather than take sides, I have decided instead to list the main arguments usually advanced for and against each method.  Most of the comments made here about the various methods of producing vibrato on brass instruments also apply to the woodwinds.

Euphonium teachers prefer jaw vibrato.
A survey of top brass players carried out in the mid-1970s showed that jazz oriented trumpet players tended to prefer lip vibrato, while mainstream classical players favored hand vibrato.

[Joseph Bellamah, A Survey of Modern Brass Teaching Philosophies, Southern Music Company, Texas, 1976]

The same survey revealed that euphonium teachers were almost unanimous in recommending the use of jaw vibrato, while trombone players favored both jaw and hand vibrato.  Interestingly, most French horn teachers surveyed did not advocate the use of vibrato at all.  Diaphragm vibrato, often favored by woodwind players, was the least popula
r. In fact, diaphragm vibrato remained unpopular among brass players throughout the twentieth century. An article published in the Instrumentalist in the late 1980s did not even mention diaphragm vibrato as a possibility for the trombone [See Donald Wittekind "On Trombone Vibrato", Instrumentalist, March 1987].


Lip or Jaw Vibrato

The arguments have hardly changed in 50 years.
Interestingly enough, the arguments for and against lip and jaw vibrato have hardly changed in the past 50 years.  Critics insist that lip vibrato interferes unnecessarily with the embouchure and often results in a “nanny goat” sound.  They also point out that, in the case of some players, lip vibrato can become so habitual that a straight tone becomes almost impossible.

Even so, there are many professional players and teachers who disagree.  Echoing views commonly expressed by an earlier generation of musicians, they argue that lip vibrato actually helps in the development of a good embouchure by acting as a safeguard against excessive mouthpiece pressure, and is a very good exercise for the lips in gaining strength and endurance.  Others see lip vibrato as being easy to control and less visual than hand vibrato.


Hand (slide) vibrato

Many trumpet players use hand vibrato, which relies for the production of a vibrato by altering the pressure of the mouthpiece on the lips.  Trumpet players often achieve this by placing the thumb of right hand between the first and second valve casings and moving the hand back and forth.  Trombone players use slide movement, employing both the wrist and the fingers.  Critics of the latter means of achieving a vibrato usually focus on the problems facing the trombone player in controlling the pitch variation.  Because the trombone slide is actually a double tube, an adjustment of just a quarter of an inch produces a half-inch actual change in the total length of the tubing.  This makes it difficult to achieve a truly refined vibrato without considerable practice.




"Diaphragm" Vibrato

"Diaphragm vibrato is misnamed.
Despite the fact that it is more difficult to control in comparison with both lip and hand vibrato, the misnamed

'diaphragm vibrato' has gained some limited popularity among brass players in recent decades. ['Diaphragm' vibrato is misnamed because players actually use their abdominal muscles. Contrary to popular opinion amongst many musicians, the diaphragm is not involved in exhalation at all]. Advocates of the method consider it superior to other forms of vibrato production because neither the jaw nor the embouchure is compromised by motion.   Instead, the method depends on changes in the the airflow produced by regular pulsations of the abdominal muscles.  The change is one of intensity rather than pitch.

The main argument against the use of diaphragm vibrato is similar to that put forward by the critics of lip and jaw vibrato, i.e. that the technique interferes unnecessarily with other -- more important -- tasks.  In this case, diaphragm vibrato is said to distract the player from using the lungs to keep a steady stream of air going.  Students attempting to gain facility in the method (often by practicing the vowel ooo, ooo, ooo) are also in danger of using the throat instead, producing undesirable glottis pulsations.

That said, it is probably no longer true to assert, as Lawrence Meyer, Professor of Brass and Theory at the University of Arkansas did in 1969, that “most conscientious teachers are vehemently opposed to diaphragm vibrato for cornet and trumpet" [Lawrence Meyer “Trumpet and Cornet Tone Quality” The Instrumentalist January 1969.   Professor Meyer advocated hand vibrato].


The Woodwind Section

Few orchestral clarinet players approve of the use of vibrato.
The question of which method of producing a vibrato is most appropriate seems far less controversial among woodwind players than it is among brass players.  For many, the debate is not so much about which method of vibrato production to use as it is whether vibrato should be employed at all. That said, “diaphragm” vibrato is by far the most common.  It is certainly the preferred method of most professional flute, oboe and bassoon players.  Among clarinet players, however, there is some disagreement.  Few orchestral clarinet players approve of the use of vibrato.  Those who argue that it can be appropriate on occasion prefer diaphragm vibrato, while jazz players favour jaw vibrato.

Jaw vibrato is more popular among saxophone players.  Indeed, the saxophone does seem particularly well suited to the method.  In the saxophone embouchure, the lower lip only provides a cushion for the reed rather than support. Thus, it is argued that a small movement of the jaw will not interfere with the formation of the embouchure.  Partly because jaw vibrato alters the pitch, some saxophone players tune their instruments slightly sharp to ensure that the bottom of the vibrato will be in tune.


Guidelines for Use

Music directors of secondary school and college bands may find the following guidelines on the use of vibrato helpful:

 
  • Avoid using vibrato during sectional playing.
 
  • Vibrato should never be used to cover up intonation problems.
 
  • Only advanced students who have demonstrated an ability to play with a good, steady tone should be encouraged to use vibrato.
 
  • A good vibrato is one that is even and carefully controlled.
 
  • The style of vibrato employed must be sensitive to that of the music.  The vibrato used in jazz, for example, is wider and faster than that used in orchestral music.
 
  • In general, a vibrato that is too obvious to the listener is already exceeding the limits of musical good taste.
 
  • Lyrical solos can sometimes benefit from the use of vibrato, even in orchestral work.  For example, the trombone solo in Ravel’s “Bolero”.
 
  • One particularly effective technique during solos is to add a little vibrato only after reaching a long note and playing it straight for a short moment.  The opposite also works well if a diminuendo is indicated.
 
  • Germanic composers such as Brahms and Brucker are best played without vibrato.


Latest Videos

View Video
3758 Views
Rated 3
Bruce Gale
View Video
11778 Views
Rated 3
Bruce Gale
View Video
3679 Views
Rated 3
Bruce Gale
View Video
3440 Views
Rated 3
Bruce Gale
View Video
6115 Views
Rated 3
Bruce Gale
View Video
4631 Views
Rated 3
Bruce Gale
View Video
6829 Views
Rated 3
Bruce Gale
View Video
7295 Views
Rated 3
Bruce Gale
View Video
7189 Views
Rated 3
Bruce Gale
View Video
11825 Views
Rated 3
Bruce Gale
BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS