How to play vibrato on flute

how to play vibrato on the fluteThis is an excerpt from my book, Essential Advice From A Pro: For The Beginner And Intermediate Flute Player, which basically contains years of lessons with me condensed into one book with great easy-to-implement tips on playing:

Vibrato can be fast, it can be slow, it can be wide, and it can be narrow. We need to be able to produce a combination of all these variables to make our music wonderfully expressive.

What is vibrato?

Ask five different flute teachers this and you will get five different answers. Some say it is produce by the diaphragm, some say it is produced by the abdominal muscles, some say it is produced in the throat, some say it is simply the pitch wavering up and down, and some say it is the volume going from loud to soft very quickly. 

The truth is, it is a combination of all of these things. That is why it is so difficult to teach, and difficult to learn.

The one thing we know, is that we don’t want to produce the nanny goat vibrato that many flute players do. This is a very fast quiver using the throat and sounds terrible! You cannot vary the speed or depth of the vibrato this way so it always sounds like a nervous tremor.

How to learn vibrato without over-analysing it

Let’s not bother too much about how the vibrato is produced. It is too complex to name all the muscles, describe their actions, and expect you to produce it perfectly.

So here is an exercise that will teach you, and help you teach your students, how to play with vibrato.
First of all, you want to be able to tie several notes together and accent them as you do so:

how to play vibrato on flute

If you wanted to over-analyse the process, you can see that by doing this you are pulsing on each note which creates variation in pitch and dynamic. Your abdominal muscles are causing you to do this, your diaphragm is going along for the ride, and your throat may be making subtle changes along the way.

Once you have mastered that and can produce a nice even pulse, it’s time to add some speed. The best way to do this is to set the metronome to 60, and play it like this:

how to play vibrato on flute

You can keep going to sextuplets and septuplets if you like, but I find if the metronome is set at 60 then faster than quintuplets sounds horrible.

The next step is to increase the metronome speed by two or three beats per minute, and repeat the exercise again. Keep increasing the metronome speed until you get to the point where semiquavers sound too fast.

Practise this on a variety of different notes – low, medium and high. Practise a variety of dynamics from ppp to fff. Also practise the vibrato with varying width from very narrow to very wide. You may find that the wide vibrato doesn’t lend itself to too much speed.

Once you have mastered that, the next step is to learn to play a note with vibrato starting on it straight away. Decide in advance if your vibrato will be slow and narrow, slow and wide, fast and narrow or fast and wide. Then practise this on different notes.

Once you can do that without any problems, you should find that you are able to manipulate vibrato speed and depth on any note. You also need to still be able to produce a note without vibrato. While you are learning to do this, it is a good idea to try to implement it in your music that you are learning.

This whole process may take several weeks or months. The important thing is to keep practising your vibrato on a regular basis. Three to five minutes a day should be enough to learn how to produce great vibrato with great control 😀

If you need more help with playing vibrato on your flute, get in contact and we can arrange a lesson. It’s ok if you are not local to me – we can do this online too.

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