How to practice oboe vibrato
All advanced players of the oboe need to be familiar with vibrato, but it can be intimidating for younger players to approach. Luckily there are plenty of ways to practice vibrato to make it second nature and perfectly in control of the player. The more in control the player is the more expressive they can be in their music making and the more fun the oboe will be.
What is vibrato
Vibrato is the slight oscillation in pitch at different frequencies to imitate the natural singing voice of a human. The intent is to make an instrument’s sound seem more natural and pleasing to the listener.
Vibrato on the oboe is produced by increasing the air pressure above the pitch. Unlike other instruments vibrato on the oboe is more about shifting the pitch up and back to the “in tune” pitch level than equally shifting above and below the pitch. This is because of the very present and complex overtone series of the oboe in contrast to more simple overtone series tambries like the trombone.
Why is it important to practice vibrato?
Vibrato needs to sound natural but it is not so easy to create. The muscles needed to produce natural sounding vibrato are not used in many other tasks and they require special attention to gain control.
The main muscles that require mastery are; the lower abdominal muscles, the intercostal muscles and the muscles of the throat. Each muscle group must be in balance to no one group shifts the pulse uncontrollably. For example the throat muscles need to be able to resist the force produced by the abdomen. If you practice vibrato each day you will have the necessary control in a matter of weeks though true beauty in your vibrato may take years.
There are so many effective vibrato work outs in the world that anyone can learn to have good vibrato if they try. Here are some of my favorites in the video below, if you have a great one, please leave it in a comment below.
Vibrato is all about the breath. Try different styles of breathing. First try long breaths in and out over and over again. Then try medium length breaths of about a half second each. Finally try panting like a dog. Notice the different muscle groups used to control the frequency of the breaths. Control of the breath is the foundation of good vibrato.
Vibrato with the reed
Practicing with the reed alone is often neglected but is a great way to check in on or gain control of the embouchure, tongue and even vibrato.
With the reed firmly in your dominant hand form the embouchure and blow using the different kinds of breath described above. When that feels comfortable try different rhythms using air pulses. Check out the above video to see examples of what this should sound like. To practice on some great reeds don’t forget to check out the Singing Dog store.
The most common way to produce the pressure shifts needed is with the belly or abdominal muscles. Think of your belly as a big air bladder or bellow. By pushing with your abdomen muscles send pulses of stronger air through the oboe at different rates. Try 1 pulse per beat with your metronome set to 60 BPM then 2 pulses per beat then 3. Keep increasing the frequency until you can no longer control it. When that is comfortable try incorporating vibrato into an etude or piece.
The goal of any musician is to move the listener and create well crafted music. Vibrato is a great tool to produce emotional weight in your playing. Remember to always think of vibrato as adding a signing quality not as an effect. It will eventually become part of your natural tone.
This article was written by guest author Danny Cruz who loves to play and teach about the oboe. You can find more of his content at https://www.oboefiles.com/