There’s an argument out there that vibrato isn’t a natural occurrence, and therefore shouldn’t be used in vocal performances. Yet vibrato is one of the first things that we notice about great singers, from Harry Nilsson to Mariah Carey; singers have rightfully become concerned at the thought that vibrato could be damaging their voices, since it’s one of the most common stylistic flourishes that enhance vocal music. Here’s a look at singing vibrato, what it is, and whether it poses any danger to your singing voice.
The definition of vibrato is a fast movement between two close notes on a chromatic scale, moving up and down quickly enough as to enhance the main tone being sung. It differs from tremolo, which is a change in volume. Opera singers are famous for their vibrato, and small children often mock the “opera” sound by doing an exaggerated bass or falsetto vibrato. It’s used heavily in R&B, rock, country, and blues styles.
The concern that most anti-vibrato folks have is that since the vibrato consists of moving the vocal chords back and forth between two notes quickly, it can strain ourt the voice, fatiguing and damaging it in the long term. They point to other instruments, such as violins, whose strings go out of tune after a lot of vibrato playing. However, this is a faulty assumption, for several reasons.
Firstly, the human voice is not a string instrument. It consists of muscles and wind, and muscles heal, unlike strings; they also adapt to stress quite differently than steel, aluminum, and nylon strings. The human vocal chords, like the rest of the body, builds from repeated use, rather than falling apart. It’s not a fair comparison to say that the voice is like any other instrument; it’s completely unique.
Secondly, vibrato is within the normal realm of human voice. It consists of two notes sung rapidly in succession, naturally, and should not feel uncomfortable or painful. Vocal “runs,” consisting of quite a few notes packed into a small amount of time (Mariah Carey is famous for these) are far more taxing to the voice, although they, too, are not really bad for your voice.
Most of the confusion comes from singers who feel soreness in the first few weeks of trying to develop a vibrato, and conclude from their own experience that vibrato hurts a singer’s voice. But they were practicing wrong–if a vibrato is slowly developed through correct training, it isn’t painful and will not damage your voice. So, to answer the question we’ve posed: in a way, a vibrato is not natural, as everyone is not born with the ability to sing with vibrato, but it can be developed, and will not damage your voice.
What are your thoughts on vibrato? Post in our comments section below.