#04 - Vibrato or Quiver-Quaver

Good Vibrato Technique on Wooden Flute

Many people ask me about playing vibrato. There are basically three kinds of vibrato used in the various forms of traditional flute and fife music. I would like to talk about my two favorites. One is the traditional finger-style vibrato and the other is the more "classical" abdominally-driven vibrato.

First, the finger vibrato. One of the most common notes to use a finger vibrato on is the low G. This one works the best because if you look at your flute you'll see you're opening and closing the largest tone hole displacing the largest volume of air possible. Play your low G note, and raise and lower your finger over the fifth tone hole, touching the flute very lightly as you do so. You'll notice that the note "quivers" at whatever speed you move your finger up and down.

Also notice that there is one open tone hole between the three fingers that are down and the one finger that is moving up and down to create the vibrato. This is actually the tone hole that the G note is speaking through. By moving your finger up and down over the fifth tone hole, you're causing a slight modification of the air pressure below the "speaking" hole.

You can use this method to utilize a finger vibrato for notes F sharp through C sharp. For the C sharp, move the middle finger on your left hand up and down over the second tone hole. You can also play a finger vibrato on your E's, but actually you're playing E to D sharp.

The second style is the abdominally-driven vibrato. Many people also refer to this method, including me, as using your diaphragm to create the vibrato. Without using your flute, take a deep breath of air, form your normal playing embouchure. Now, exhale as if you are playing a tune and push out a series of four controlled pulses. Repeat this a couple of times and then increase the number of pulses to eight.

Now try this while playing a low G on your flute. If you're doing this correctly, you should hear a G that stays in tune with a strong pulse. Be sure you don't go flat on the tail end of the G notes. The tone should remain constant throughout. If the notes are going flat, then review my embouchure control lesson (Skips Tips #2).

Suggested Exercise:

To learn to control the speed of the abdominally-driven vibrato, start playing pulses of four, then pulses of eight, then pulses of sixteen. Think of it as playing quarter notes, then eighth notes, then sixteenth notes.

I think the finger vibrato, after you decide which fingers you like to use, is fairly self explanatory. I personally like to use both styles in my playing depending upon the note and whatever effect I'm trying to achieve with the vibrato.