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Vibrato, part 3

A Minute with Miles

I’ve been talking this week about vibrato, the vibrato that string players use to warm up their sounds, and the vocal vibrato that’s the natural product of healthy singing. All vibrato consists of small oscillations in pitch, but not all vibrato is a blessing.

When a singer’s vibrato is too fast or too narrow to sound pleasing, it’s called a tremolo, Italian for trembling. And when the singer’s vibrato is too slow, or too wide, it’s usually called a “wobble.” Ideally—in both singing and string playing—effective vibrato deceives the ear: we don’t notice the oscillations in pitch, we just hear a beautiful, warm tone. Unpleasant vibratos are the noticeable ones, the ones that not only don’t add resonance, but that distract us from the sounds of the actual notes we should be hearing. For singers, the culprit in tremolos or wobbles is usually vocal tension of some kind, caused by nervousness, fatigue, or improper breathing technique.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.