Of all the stylistic options available to us as flute players, few are as popular–and as mysterious and hard to describe–as vibrato. Vibrato is a wonderful technique for flutists to use, especially since flute is known, as I have mentioned before, as the instrument that is the closest to the human voice. But how do we develop it, and what is the best way to use it?
Sir James Galway once said, “Vibrato is another subject on which experts violently disagree, and all of them are right. If one thing rather than another expresses the individual, it is vibrato. […] There is no last word on what vibrato should be used, or how it should be varied to suit the musicality and individuality.” So then, if there are no right or wrong answers, where do we begin? First of all, before tackling the concept of vibrato–or any other stylistic modality–it is absolutely essential that a student have a good mastery of basic tone, intonation, and breath support. The sound and the air must be controlled, and the lung capacity must be quite good.
Vibrato also needs to be well-controlled, whether it is coming from the stomach/diaphragm, the throat, or a combination of the two. Flutists remain divided on the “best” place for vibrato to begin, and like Galway said, neither is wrong, as long as it is employed in an appropriate and musical manner. Unlike a string player, who creates vibrato by wavering the string, and therefore the pitch, of the note, a flutist’s vibrato also introduces large fluctuations in the volume (intensity) of the note.
Dr. Cate Hummel, a renowned flutist and teacher in the Chicagoland area, wrote a fantastic article on flute vibrato, which can be viewed here. Also, there is a fantastic little talk by Sir Galway on vibrato that can be seen below.
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