Weekly Teaching Tip – July 10, 2018
by Tricia Grey

Vibrato originates in the brain and is initiated via the limbic system- the part of the brain that creates emotion. That’s why advanced singers automatically use vibrato on sustained pitches and emotional sections of a song. In pop singing the pitch variation can range from minimal to fairly wide in some R & B singers like Aaron Neville. Vibrato rate is usually from 5-6.5 pulses per second; faster “flutter” vibratos (tremolo) are not contemporary sounding and vibratos that are too slow exhibit too much pitch variation (wobble).

Vibrato is more difficult to achieve if there is excessive muscular tension. Vibrato is the evidence of efficient balance between the vibrating vocal folds and subglottal air pressure.

Some teachers believe vibrato does not need to be taught; however I believe that teaching vibrato correctly is essential to help singers avoid bad vocal habits. Singers often try to learn by imitation, developing incorrect habits as they do so. The teacher’s job is to create a condition of balance in the voice to encourage vibrato, and also to use exercises to develop various types of vibrato for style purposes.

There are three types of vibrato used in contemporary singing; the first type is a pulse vibrato, and the other two are pitch change vibratos.

Pulse Vibrato: Generated by changes in amplitude; the oscillating effect is created with changes in volume rather than pitch. This kind of vibrato is also known as “diaphragmatic vibrato”. It is used in musical theatre, R & B, pop, jazz, and rock. It is sometimes preceded by a straight tone, which blossoms into a vibrato, creating an exciting sound. Pulse vibrato can be on the slow side, or speed up to fairly rapid vibrato rates of 5 pulses per second.

Pitch Change Up: This vibrato is similar to the classical singers’ trill- it fluctuates up from the pitch by a quarter to a half step, usually with a smaller pitch excursion. Pitch change vibrato is made at the laryngeal level and sometimes the larynx can be seen moving slightly. This is a lighter and faster kind of vibrato than the pulse vibrato. In jazz and gospel singing, the slower and wider repeated pitch fluctuations upward are known as a shake.

Pitch Change Down: This vibrato deviates from the pitch downward by a quarter step or so. Jazz, Gospel, blues and soul singers often use this type of vibrato.

Delayed Vibrato: In many styles such as R&B, Rock, and Jazz the vibrato is delayed, occurring after a sustained straight pitch. This provides an exciting finish to the note and is an interesting way of using vibrato. Delayed vibrato gives the singer a sense of release after sustaining a straight tone.

With delayed vibrato the singer sustains a pitch with a straight tone then allows the release of the vibrato to occur. Remember to delay the second vowel sound of any dipthong until the last possible second (use it as an after thought rather than sustaining on the second vowel sound).

Related Articles


Weekly Teaching Tip – Dec. 1, 2014 by Tricia Grey Vibrato (definition): A regular, pulsing change in pitch or amplitude used to add expression to…