How To Sing Vibrato [in 5 steps]
Your favourite singers all achieve the pleasant, resonant tone of vibrato with ease – so why does vibrato elude your voice so much? Lets start by discussing how your voice functions so that you understand where and how vibrato occurs. Ultimately, your singing voice is a result of balance, not muscular force – so any vocal strain you’re experiencing is actually working against your natural vibrato. Vibrato is actually the result of healthy vocal technique rather than a trick or technique itself.
Here’s how to sing vibrato in 5 steps.
#1 – Posture & Breathing
I know, it’s boring, boring, boring stuff, but it’s IMPORTANT boring stuff. By setting up a strong foundation for your voice you will ensure that the end result of your great singing voice is a pleasant vibrato. Posture in singing starts with your head held high, shoulders back, chin parallel with the floor while looking forward.
Now, with this healthy posture, you need to engage the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a large dome-like muscle that sits between your abdomen and chest cavity, and when engaged, lowers towards the abdomen to create a negative space that fills with pressurised air instantly, allowing you to support your voice. This is where terms and sayings like “sing from the diaphragm” and “breathe into the diaphragm” come from, and while they’re incorrect in a technical sense, they really do highlight the importance of diaphragmatic breathing in a good singing voice.
#2 – Resonance
Your voice doesn’t work like bellows that push out air, instead, your singing voice is actually the result of vibration and resonance instead of airflow. The pressurised air held by your extended diaphragm vibrates the vocal folds on release and ultimately creates resonance in your vocal tract. You can achieve your first resonant sound by practicing the following sounds, we want resonance, not airflow:
- ZZZ – buzz like a Bee
- NG – like Sing
- N – like Sun
- M – like Hum
The more you practice these resonant sounds, the more familiar you will be with a resonant buzz when you finally work up towards your vowel sounds. Semi Occluded (slightly closed) sounds like EE and OO are a great place to start building resonance into your vowels.
#3 – Vowels
In singing, your vowels are actually shaped by the back of your tongue and matching resonant space instead of pronunciation like we rely on in speech. The easist way to illustrate properly shaped vowels for singing is to have you alternate between an EE vowel and an AH vowel, like EE-YAH-EE-YAH in a continual fashion. If you pay attention to the back of your tongue when you sing these sounds, you’ll soon notice that the EE vowel features a raised tongue at the back, and the AH features a lowered and concave tongue. Each vowel sound has it’s own unique tongue shape, even OO which features the bulk of your tongue back towards your throat and your lips elongated forward. Shaping your vowels will lead to a powerfully resonant sound that is consistent and controlled every time you sing no matter what song of what style you are working towards!
#4 – Resonant space
Following on from vowels, each vowel sound needs appropriate resonant space as you ascend in range so that your higher frequencies can resonate and vibrate freely. A great way to illustrate this concept is to start with an OO vowel, and as you ascend up towards your vocal break, lower the front of your jaw open like a swivel while avoiding any opening of the sides of your mouth, making a top-to-bottom oval shape. You’ll notice this alleviates much of the tension from your higher range and the vowel appears to travel backwards up into the soft palate and pharynx – congratulations, you just created resonant space. Now, over time you will learn how to keep your vowels pure while also altering your resonant space for each vowel sound so that you can sing your words clearly and your vowels consistently.
#5 – Connect Chest and Head Voice
Connecting chest and head voice should be your first priority as a singer. The best way to achieve connection between your low and high registers is to practice the same semi-occluded sounds from earlier, like lip trills, NG’s and N sounds. The more you iron out your vocal break by singing light and gently through the mechanism change, the more the muscles responsible for head and chest respectively will learn to work in tandem, meaning you will achieve a fluid connection between chest and head voice.
Over time you can then start to impart this same connection into your vowel sounds and wider sounds like AH. Learning how to connect chest and head is paramount to a great singing voice, and when you couple this important technique with properly shaped vowels and appropriate resonant space, you will improve your voice beyond your wildest dreams.
Now, you might be wondering how all of this relates to Vibrato. If you want to learn how to sing vibrato, you actually need to take these 5 steps EVERY time you sing, and over time your vocal folds will start to overlap and close more efficiently and confidently, leading to the natural oscillation that we know as vibrato. Remember, vibrato is the result of healthy vocal technique, not a trick or technique in and of itself.
How to sing vibrato
One of the best ways to achieve vibrato is actually to change your focus from trilling to efficient resonance. The more efficient and strain-free your resonance is, the easier you will learn how to sing vibrato. If you are constantly trying to trill your voice, you are actually thwarting the natural occurance of vibrato and instead singing with Tremolo instead – which occurs when you either change the pitch rapidly at the vocal folds, or change the amplitude of your sound. Neither of these approaches will help you sing with vibrato, and in fact are both taxing and damaging to your voice.
Remember, the only way to achieve a natural vibrato is to develop healthy vocal technique first, and then vibrato will occur naturally with time as you learn to release into efficient resonance. Are you singing with balance and release, or are you manhandling your voice and trying to “make” vibrato happen? The best place to start is the free foundations short coursesavailable here at Bohemian Vocal Studio which will show you how to set up the strongest base for your voice so that you can achieve vibrato with ease. When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level, or if you need help learning how to sing vibrato, you can book a Skype Lesson with me and we’ll start working towards extending your range, developping vibrato and building control and consistency into your voice EVERY time you sing!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.