Terry Coleman, Boulder, Colorado: Is the vibrato learned through the technique using slow to faster pulsing a “real” vibrato,” or is it contrived? Could using this technique do harm? Is there a better way to develop the vibrato and is it true that other ways take a very long time?
Breck: Once long ago as a youngster I was in Berlin pre unification. Like all tourists I had one thing on my mind – the Berlin wall. I asked a local person how I could find it and she grumbled, “don’t look for the wall. It will find you.” Years later I asked a great voice teacher Peter Elvins how to get vibrato. He said something reminiscent of the crotchety Berliner, “don’t worry about your vibrato. It will come when it’s ready.” It took me awhile to understand what he meant but it did eventually become clear. When you focus on good tone production, vibrato becomes a natural element that falls into place. The vibrato I teach to singers is something I call “Open Body Vibrato.” This true vibrato is a natural balance of breath and resonance. It is possible only when a singer is capable of an open, unforced and sustained tone. When you sing a well placed, non airy sustained tone practice patience first. Listen to this tone and begin to make adjustments. This is best done when a singer has a good understanding of how resonance and placement work. The first place to focus on placement is at the post nasal position inside your mouth. This is right where your uvula hangs down. This is what I call the “Anchor” in singing and is basically the sound board of the voice. This is the beginning of resonance for the voice after the initial pitch and tone created by the vocal cords. All other resonance from the nasal passage, the mouth and the chest is attached to that initial placement. If you are well-Anchored and your support system (breath control) is even and not pushy, you will begin to hear the vibrato happening naturally. Because this true “Open Body Vibrato” is a type of echoing effect of the resonance in your body it is adjustable by making slight changes in resonance. If you direct your resonance upwards towards your nasal passage, it will become faster because that is the smallest resonance chamber. Conversely, if you direct your resonance more into your body (chest) it will slow down because that is the largest resonance chamber. Does this kind of vibrato take more time and patience then the type you described in your question? Yes it does. But it’s worth it because it’s real and when a singer finds it through this kind of process there are so many other things that come to them along the way.
The technique you described is indeed capable of causing harm if you are creating too much pressure on your vocal cords and larynx. And yes, this type of vibrato sounds very contrived and phony. Singing is largely about conveying emotion, and as in any type of communication honest emotion is desirable. That said I always maintain that anything a singer tries as long as it doesn’t hurt him/her is fair game. A huge part of learning and continuing to enjoy any instrument is in experimentation and discovery. So if you are careful with it, you might find some interesting embellishments that you enjoy.
Have patience, the slow way is the fast way.