Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to teach vibrato

When I was in the sixth grade, my band director taught our flute class how to use vibrato. We were all very good at pulsing eighth notes in our music by the end of the school year. After that year, we never learned more about vibrato in band.

I started taking private lessons in the seventh grade. She would always have to ask me if I knew vibrato. Of course I knew vibrato! Why didn't I use it? Because I was embarrassed!

Using vibrato embarrassed me. Why? Because I knew I wasn't quite doing it the right way and it made me feel self conscious. I knew I sounded different than my band director, who was a flutist, and I did not know why. I loved the way she played! I spent MANY years trying to produce the "ideal tone" based on what I remember her tone sounding like. Update: I have YET to produce the ideal tone.

One day, after planning vibrato pulses and now pulsing in tempo with sixteenth notes, my band director told me, "You shouldn't measure your vibrato anymore. Just play it." Well, it worked! However, it would not have worked had I not had her and my private flute teacher teaching me how to produce vibrato by planning the pulses in my music.

Fast forward several years, and it is my turn to teach young flutists how to use vibrato. I have had to help all students with vibrato somehow, whether it is to slow down "chipmunk vibrato" or to help them produce vibrato in the first place.

Because this is not a post about where vibrato comes from, or even how to produce vibrato, I'll leave that explanation up to the teacher or for a later post.

The first activity is compliments of my previous teacher, Aralee Dorough. I saw her use this with fellow flutists in masterclasses and she used it with me as a warm up activity during our 8am lessons. I like to use this as an activity to help students to visualize the kind of vibrato I want them to use, which is a very deliberate sounding vibrato with wide amplitude and moderate speed.

The advantage of this activity is I can use it with my older students whose vibrato may be taking a life of its own. I can also practice octaves with this activity.

Next I move on to teaching students how to practice playing vibrato with a metronome. This is probably a very common method of teaching vibrato that even other instrumentalists use.

Finally, students need to learn how to use vibrato in their music. I like to use the Moyse 24 Little Melodic Studies to help with this. I still have them measure vibrato and use a metronome at this point.

After they have learned how to feel very comfortable producing vibrato with a wide, obnoxious sounding amplitude, it is time to take the metronome away and tone down the amplitude. I find that playing for them and having them listen to other flutists whose vibrato I like helps them to learn how to produce a beautiful tone at all times.

Good luck!

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