How to do Vibrato on Flute | The Exercise I did to Learn Vibrato
Updated: Mar 16
Hello fluters! Today I'll be walking you through how to do vibrato on the flute. This exercise is more suited to those who have already been playing flute for a while and have their basic skills (such as being able to make a sound consistently and change between different fingerings fluently) sorted. I would not recommend complete beginners who have just started recently to try doing vibrato at this stage - come back in a few months time!
Let's get started!
So first things first, what is vibrato? In a nutshell, vibrato is the controlled oscillation from the note that you are vibrating on. It's the 'pulsing' type of sound effect you hear musicians do usually when they are holding a long note. To make it easier to visualise, think of a string player. When they are using vibrato, they are literally wobbling their finger up and down as they hold their finger on a note (see example in the video).
It's slightly harder to visualise for us wind players as you can't really see the air that we're using or what's going on inside our mouths when we do vibrato, but the general idea is that we are changing the speed/volume/direction of our air as we push it out to create a pulsing kind of effect.
There are a few different methods to using vibrato so if you are already working with a flute teacher, make sure to ask them what method they use. This method I'm about to go through is just personally my preferred way of doing vibrato and what works best for me, but you might find that another method works better for you.
The way I use vibrato is by using a technique called 'detaché', which means breath pulse. To do detaché, you need to use your stomach muscles to push out the air you are blowing out as fast and short as you can. Try saying a very short and fast 'HA' and feel your belly button push into the back of your spine. You should see your stomach jolt in quickly as you say 'HA'. Put your hand on your stomach and do this in front of a mirror to see/feel this movement. Once you get the hang of saying 'HA' with the detaché movement, try also blowing air out very quickly using this detaché movement (see the demonstration in the video). Then transfer this onto the flute by trying to play short single notes using detaché, using one breath per pulse/note.
Once you're able to get out short, single notes using detaché, set the metronome at crotchet = 60 and play those notes exactly in time with the metronome. We are now practising your control in doing detaché in time and evenly with the metronome. Then we'll move onto the next subdivision - quavers. This time, try to do four notes/pulses in one breath as opposed to one note/pulse per breath. In general, make sure you can play each iteration evenly with control at least four times in a row before you move onto the next subdivision. Then move onto triplets, then semiquavers, then quintuplets, then finally sextuplets. Once you're able to do this exercise in sextuplets subdivisions, you're pretty much ready to start using vibrato in a piece of music. Notice how the speed of the sextuplet subdivisions sound increasingly like the pulsing effect of vibrato. The final exercise is to increase the subdivisions one beat after another so you develop the control to increase/decrease the speed of the pulses at will, as this is basically what it is like to use vibrato in context (see the demonstration in the video).
Here is a list of my recommended metronome apps:
🍎TonalEnergy Tuner & Metronome (the app used in the video)
🍎Tempo with Setlist
🍎Metronome by Soundbrenner
When using vibrato in a piece of music and not as an exercise, you don’t necessarily have to oscillate in perfect subdivisions all the time, but having the ability to do so will give yourself the flexibility in accessing different speeds you may want to use in different contexts. Vibrato is a skill that can be improved constantly throughout your flute studies so it doesn’t have to stop once you’ve completed this exercise. The more proficient you become with using vibrato, the more subtle nuances you can begin to create in your musical phrasing. Personally that is what I think vibrato should be, a technique that is a medium of your expression in music, so don't feel obligated to use vibrato all the time. There’s a saying in classical music that putting vibrato on every note is like putting ketchup all over the music, so use with moderation and when appropriate.
So there you have it! This is the exercise I used to learn vibrato and the exercise I use to teach vibrato to my students. For more flute-related resources, please feel free to check out my other blog posts. Until next time, happy fluting!