Learning how to sing vibrato is an amazing step when taking your singing to a new level, and it gives you a technique in common with many of your favorite singers. When you sing with this style, it adds a rich quality to the vocal music experience for listeners and for you as a singer.
You may wonder why it seems so easy for your favorite singers to create that resonance in their vibrato while you’ve been struggling unsuccessfully to use it in your own singing. Fortunately for you, with the right approach, it’s actually not a difficult skill to master.
So, before you give up on achieving this sound in your own singing voice, let’s look at what it really takes to sing it. Learn how to execute this sound by following this simple series of exercises and practice routines for developing your ability to do so.
What is Vibrato?
Vibrato is that rapid, slight varying pitch you’ve heard many great singers use, that slight wavering of the pitch on a note. But, singing it well involves more than this basic aspect. To achieve a great vibrato sound requires learning to manage the speed with which you’re wavering between the different pitches. Switching around six times per second is said to be the ideal for a natural quality to the sound.
Why am I Having Difficulty Singing Vibrato?
Singing vibrato is not a vocal trick. It’s the result of using the right vocal technique. If you’re experiencing vocal strain while singing, then it’s likely impeding your natural ability to sing with this voice. Managing the techniques and quality of your singing voice involves learning to balance, not force your muscles.
If you’re finding it too difficult to learn the technique, this most likely indicates that some muscles are tightening up too much, which is causing your vocal cords to be impeded from vibrating freely.
Start with the six methods below, to relax your body and create the physical conditions for your vocal cords that will allow you to sing vibrato easily. If you do still have difficulty afterward, there are numerous effective singing exercises you may want to use later, to help train your voice.
Similar Sound, But Not Vibrato
To understand what it is to sing vibrato, it helps to understand some various other tonal movements and ways of singing that are not really vibrato but are often mistaken for it. Most of these techniques arguably do have a role to play in creating a good singing performance, but some add tension to the vocal cords and even thwart the sound you could and would develop with the proper approach. Remember, vibrato is easier to accomplish when the vocal cords are more relaxed.
Moving or Shaking the Jaw
Some of the world’s greatest singers move their jaw rapidly while singing vibrato on notes. The music industry nickname for this is using “gospel jaw.” It adds an affectation to the performance, but the sound is not actually related to the rapid jaw movement.
Pulsing the Diaphragm
Other famous singers create a vibrato-like sound by pulling and pushing air in and out their abdomen, to cause their air exchange to pulsate rapidly. While singing from your diaphragm is a good skill, it’s not ideal for achieving this sound. It creates a the sound, but actual vibrato is a function of the vocal cords, not the diaphragm.
Shaking the Larynx
Beginner singers sometimes resort to using their hand to shake their larynx to create a vibrato sound. This is a bad approach, because it causes unnecessary tension in the throat. Plus, it looks odd and is distracting to audiences.
A common vocal effect is the trill. From classical opera singers to famous rock and pop singers, the vocal trill is an important tool. The trill is often confused with vibrato, but vibrato involves wavering between pitches on a single note, while the vocal trill wavers across multiple neighboring notes.
What Causes Real Vibrato in Singing
Research indicates that the cause of vibrato sound is vibrations in the muscles of the vocal folds as the cords oscillate between moving and resting. This happens as two muscle groups engaged in producing voice are tensing in opposition to one another. As the two muscle groups begin to fatigue, they switch back and forth between the two, that action creates the wavering sound of vibrato.
Ironically, this means that it’s actually physically harder to sing with a straight tone than vibrato, because it resists the muscles’ natural effort to rest. That’s great news for anyone wanting to learn how to sing vibrato. It means that once you understand what you need to do to sing with vibrato voice, holding sustained notes becomes easier!
How Long Will it Take to Learn?
Naturally, as with learning anything, mastering singing techniques takes time. First you’ll need to focus on learning to balance your singing voice, which also takes time.
That means developing the muscles your body uses in producing your voice, so that they work together in a more vocally coordinated way. We’ll talk about this more in tip 4 below.
To help you in the process of learning vibrato, there are many good exercises:
- Some are designed to help you improve your vocal balance.
- Others focus on helping you expand your voices’ range and strengthen your singing voice.
- But, the over-arching prerequisite for singing vibrato is working to bring your voice in balance.
6 Basics for Learning to Sing with Vibrato Voice
Remember, singing vibrato is using a good vocal technique. It’s not feat of natural ability, or a clever voice trick. To learn to sing it well, start with these six basics below. If you practice these essentials every time you sing, your vocal folds will begin overlapping and closing much more efficiently.
As you make progress, it will increase your confidence, and that leads to the sense of freedom and motivation you need in order to keep working on it until you’re able to control your voice perfectly.
1. Relax Your Body.
Relax your entire body, including your vocal cords. That doesn’t mean prepare to fall asleep though. The idea is to let yourself and your voice be relaxed. But being too relaxed is also not ideal.
- Too relaxed — If your singing sounds very breathy, that means your vocal cords are too opened up.
- Too tense — If your singing sounds like there’s a lot of tension in your vocal cords, that typically means the cords are too compressed.
So, for best results, allow yourself to be relaxed, but excited about singing and ready to perform.
2. Use Good Posture.
Good posture naturally aligns your body for optimal positioning for your best potential singing voice, including for your vibrato. For the most advantageous posture when singing, do these things:
- Space your feet about shoulder width apart.
- Align your hips above your feet. (Don’t lean.)
- Hold your head up.
- Pull your shoulders back.
- Lift your chest, but stay relaxed.
- Hold your chin parallel to the floor.
- Look forward.
- Relax your neck.
Yeah, that can seem like a lot to remember about standing. But this is the ideal posture for producing vibrato.
3. Breathe Properly.
While you’re using your good posture, practice engaging your diaphragm. That’s the broad, thin skeletal muscle between your chest and stomach. Engaging the diaphragm by lowering it toward your stomach forms a space of air pressure that helps increase the robustness of vocals.
- Stand with a mirror at your right side. Turn your head to look at your abdomen in the mirror.
- Put your hand on your abdomen.
- Keep your shoulders and chest still, and inhale through your mouth. Feel the air you’ve inhaled pushing against the hand that’s on your stomach.
- Exhale. As your abdomen recedes, you should be able to feel your hand moving back toward your spine along with it.
Congratulations! You’ve achieved perfect breathing. For more help on this, practice these breathing exercises for singers daily.
4. Balance Your Voice.
Singing with vibrato voice happens much more easily when you’ve balanced your voice. If your voice sounds light and you can hear a lot of breath when you sing, or sounds strained on some notes and like you’re shouting on others, vibrato doesn’t develop. So, make it your first priority to balance your head voice and chest voice.
The majority of beginners find that their singing is stronger in one or the other of their two vocal registers, either their head voice or their chest voice:
- Head Voice — Singing with a light, thin, airy, breathy quality happens when a singer’s more dominant muscles are those that produce the head voice.
- Chest Voice — Singers who strain and shout on higher notes have their more dominant singing muscles in those that control the chest voice. If this is you you’ll want to focus on singing louder without straining harder.
Work on smoothing out your vocal break, by just singing lightly through transitions. This will help train the muscles involved in head voice and chest voice to cooperate and work together more fluidly.
5. Develop Resonance.
Work less on trilling and more on efficient resonance. Learning to use resonance without overworking and straining the vocal cords makes singing vibrato easier to do.
Trilling your voice causes tremolo, instead of vibrato. That happens when you either change the pitch rapidly at the vocal folds, or change the amplitude of your sound. This is not the right approach. This can damage the voice.
Singing involves vibration and resonance. The air pressure from your extended diaphragm causes vibration of the vocal folds as it’s released. That creates resonance in the vocal tract.
Practice making the following sounds, to hear resonance in your voice. Draw each one out for a few seconds, and feel the hint of vibrato in the vibration of your vocal cords:
- Vvv —It’s the sound at the end of love.
- Mmm – It’s the sound at the end of humm.
- Nnn – It’s the sound at the end of fun.
- Ing – It’s the sound at the end of sing.
- Zzz – It’s the sound at the end of fuzz.
6. Create Resonant Space.
Each of the vowel sounds you sing must be allowed resonant space as your vocal range increases, to enable your higher frequencies to resonate unrestrained. Here’s something you can do to relieve a lot of the vocal tension when you’re singing in the high end of your range. When the vowel seems to move back to the pharynx, that’s what it is to create resonant space.
Try practicing with an OO vowel sound, forming an oval shape with your mouth as you climb vocally higher up to the level of your vocal break.
Ultimately, you will learn the way to produce purer vowel sounds and alter the resonant space for each of the vowel sounds. That will allow you to sing lyrics with clarity, consistently expressing your vowel sounds.
Refining Your Sound
After you have used the methods above to find your vibrato, you will want to work on perfecting your technique in order to produce the best sound. Enhancing your vocal sound quality in singing vibrato typically involves these two areas of focus:
Oscillation happens both above and below the pitch at which you’re singing. Research shows that, typically, vibrato ranges about one full tone both above and below the pitch of which your singing.
This varies with different vocal styles or types for individuals. When you manage your pitch well, the note you sing with vibrato voice doesn’t sound sharp or fall flat, and your listeners hear only a single pitch.
Research has shown that vibrato is usually due to oscillation at around 4 – 6 cycles of vibration per second. If a note is spinning more rapidly, then the sound effect is called “tremolo,” or if it’s much slower, it’s called “wobble.” So, listen to singers whose vibrato sounds best to you, and work on achieving the ideal speed for your own sound.
James is an ex-writer for Music Grotto who focused the majority of his writing on the musical skill development content on the publication. His 20+ year career as a singing and vocal coach provided insightful content for the website, and his continued thirst for development in guitar and piano playing helped create some excellent skill development content for the publication.