Con Vibrato

I have been thinking about vibrato a lot.  About 2 years ago I had a vibrato crisis wherein I decided I hated my vibrato and pretty much cut it out of my playing as much as possible.  Fortunately, because most of my work is within quintet playing, I can actually get away with a lot of straight tone or at least very little vibrato.

As my private studio has grown to the largest ever, I find myself needing to teach vibrato and not having much success.  In fact, I think I have only confused my students as I have endeavored to approach it utilizing different practice techniques in hopes of striking on one that will work for each of them.  

One of my principal teachers developed my vibrato using measured vibrato exercises:

= 60
Pulsing ’s
Pulsing Triplets
Pulsing 16th notes

Increasing the tempo to develop many different speeds and with consideration for the the different effort required for each note.  

In addition to developing my vibrato on bassoon with these exercises, I have also used vocal vibrato techniques to develop variation in the width of the vibrato, intensity, and color.  These were centered around manipulating pitch in both my classical and jazz vocal studies.  I found these exercises to be very powerful for me and have attempted to teach my students on the use of vibrato through vocal/pitch exercises...

...which has been a pretty obvious failure.

After two recent and disheartening conversations with students who both proclaimed their hatred for vibrato and confusion with creating it, I realized I needed to get serious with finding a solution.

Thus, I returned to the basics.

Any time I want to remind myself of fundamental concepts I begin by turning to 3 main sources:


 Secondarily, I use 2 more sources with equally excellent insight:

In my effort to remind, perhaps even reteach myself the fundamental concepts of vibrato, I read what each of these sources had to say.  I found Donington's comments on the aural phenomena of decay with sustained, unvarying tones to be fascinating and highly recommend it as reminder of the importance of using vibrato.  I had an EPIPHANY when I read Weisberg's section on vibrato and realized I had been leading both myself and my students astray with too much emphasis on manipulation of their pitch.  Mr. Weisberg reminded me that the physical action one takes to create vibrato on bassoon is a manipulation of VOLUME.


I immediately adjusted my thinking as I played two concerts after reading this and found myself feeling more in control and better able to produce a beautiful vibrato.

It seems obvious and simple and when I worked with two students using a volume exercise, they had immediate success.

What did I learn from this:
  • In teaching, it is of course important to share what has worked for you.  However, it is of even greater importance to find resolutions that address the specific concerns of the student - which often manifest differently from your personal experiences.
  • never hesitate to re-learn in an effort to re-teach.
  • you can't remember everything you have been taught or every source you have read.  Return to those sources as often as needed to be reminded of the fundamental skills you need to pass on.


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