Exactly what is vibrato? On the flute, vibrato is a change in the pitch and dynamics of a note that is created by a controlled fluctuation of air speed. Vibrato adds expression to a note, and that fluctuation needs to be controlled by the player. Many people discover they have an unpredictable air supply; this is caused by tension in the throat randomly compressing the air as it passes by. This tension results in jerks and spikes in the sound. Sometimes the tension manifests itself as a very fast and narrow vibrato. Learning to develop control of the speed and quantity of the stream of air is a straightforward process if you use simple and progressive exercises and commit yourself to consistent practice.
Finding a way to produce a steady supply of air is crucial for a controllable and expressive vibrato. You want to use vibrato when and how you chose, not have it be a loose cannon in your sound. Strive to play a single long note (15 seconds or more) with an absolutely straight, smooth sound: no bumps, wobbles or spikes. Watch a tuner for immediate and humbling feedback. The same areas in the throat that are used to develop a reliable and controllable vibrato are the exact places causing the problem.
You will discover that the sporadic air movements originate where the top of the throat meets the back of the tongue. Say “ha ha ha “and you will have identified the spot. To calm this area and create an even flow of air, keep the back of the tongue relaxed and low, and imagine you are saying “oh” or “ah.” Keep a nice rounded space in the mouth and a relaxed, open throat when playing. I have found that closing my eyes allows me to focus on the internal sensations. Singing is another way to find a smooth supply of air. You can sing in the shower! For another approach, try deliberately creating the erratic vibrato to learn more about it. The smoother your air supply, the more satisfying your potential vibrato.
For more information about vibrato, we invite you to attend a Vibrato Workshop being taught by Chris Potter via Zoom in January. Contact her at [email protected] for more information.
Chris Potter is an internationally recognized teacher, conductor, arranger, composer, low flutes performer and organizer of international events. Her numerous publications include many pieces for flute duets, flute ensembles, low flutes and teaching materials including the award winning Vibrato Workbook, Seven Steps to Better Intonation, Flute Aerobics Scales, Flute Aerobics Duets and the Alto and Bass Flute Resource Guide. Look for her online teaching workshops and Retreats and in Switzerland conducting at the Galway Festival in 2021.
Make your flute playing more expressive and learn to create mystery, passion and elegance!
In this workshop you will learn how to create and control vibrato through a series of simple exercises designed to build a strong foundation for vibrato.
Workshops are scheduled for January 20, 23, 25, 26. Cost $15.
All classes cover the same material.