How to Sing Vibrato

How to Sing Vibrato

As a voice teacher, I can tell you that vibrato is one singing technique that can make any singer sound world class.

Is there anything better than a beautiful, soaring vibrato in a song?

Just look around and you’ll find tons of fantastic singers using vibrato to add richness and beauty to their singing.

And vibrato doesn’t just work wonders for the listener…

Learning how to sing vibrato can also make you feel like a world-class singer.

And that’s something every singer wants.

Every day I help students learn to sing with vibrato.

It’s incredibly rewarding because after all the scales and exercises, singing with vibrato makes them feel like a real singer.

But what is vibrato?

And how do you get it in your voice?

Today, let’s talk about vibrato and how we can use it to take your singing to the next level.

What is Vibrato?

Vibrato is a rapid, slight variation in the pitch you’re singing.

There’s also a rapid wavering in the intensity and timbre of the note being sung.

What does all that mean?

Chances are when you first heard vibrato, the first thing you noticed was that their singing sounded like it’s wavering.

But this variation in pitch is only one aspect of authentic vibrato.

There are 3 main components of vibrato: pitch, volume and timbre.

Pitch is the note that the vocalist is singing, volume is the strength or intensity of that note, and timbre is the tone or distinct sound of that note.

In addition to the pitch, you will also hear that the volume and fullness of the note also wobbles with vibrato.

This results in a fullness and richness in your singing that sounds very exciting.

Listen to Lady Gaga’s vibrato.

You can also contrast vibrato with a straight tone.

With a straight tone, the pitch is sustained but it doesn’t vary.

Listen to BYU’s Men’s Chorus. When they hold a note, they sing a straight tone.

Vibrato in Music

Singing with vibrato can be heard in most styles of music.

Pop, Rock, RnB and Musical Theater all use it.

That means learning to sing with vibrato is important for singers in almost every genre.

The main exceptions are genres with an emphasis on blending voices together like choir, barbershop and a capella music.

That’s because it’s hard to blend and harmonize 15 wiggling voices at the same time.

But in almost every other genre, singers use vibrato to accent their best notes.

So if you’re planning on hitting a high note but don’t have vibrato yet, let’s fix that right now.

What Vibrato is Not

These days there is a lot of confusion about what vibrato really is.

So before we talk about true vibrato, let’s discuss what vibrato is definitely not.

Vibrato Does Not Come from Shaking or Moving Your Jaw

During the 80s and 90s, singers like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey gave amazing performances using vibrato.

But in order to dramatize their high notes, these singers learned to move their jaws rapidly to make their vibrato more noticeable.

Unfortunately, this so-called “gospel jaw” bred a generation of singers that believed the key to singing vibrato was moving their jaw quickly.

The crazy thing is that these singers could sing with true vibrato.

They just sang with “gospel jaw” to make their performances more exciting for people.

But as we’ll see, vibrato doesn’t come from rapid jaw movement.

Vibrato is Not a Vocal Trill

In classical music, there is a very common vocal effect called a trill.

A trill happens when a vocalist sings between two adjacent notes very quickly.

This makes the vocal trill easy to confuse with vibrato since they both seem to be wavering between two different notes.

However, true vibrato actually revolves around a single note whereas a vocal trill toggles between two notes.

Check out this example.

The first notes she sings are a trill, then she begins singing with vibrato.

These days, great singers like Ed Sheeran, Demo Lovato and Adele sing vocal trills that span multiple notes.

And even though they can transition between notes really quickly, these riffs are different from vibrato. That’s because these riffs span different notes, rather than wavering on a single note.

Vibrato Does Not Come from Pulsing the Diaphragm

Many singers try to create the sound of vibrato by pulling in and pushing out their abs to make rapid pulses of air.

While vibrato wavers in volume (remember vibrato is a slight variation in pitch, intensity and timbre), pulsing the diaphragm does not create true vibrato.

Still there are many singers that create a vibrato sound by pulsing their breath.

Check out this song by Aaron Neville.

Listen to the last word of each line he sings.

That’s diaphragmatic vibrato.

However, true vibrato does not come from pulsing the diaphragm.

Vibrato Does Not Come from Shaking the Larynx

One habit that many beginning singers try is shaking their larynx with their hand while they sing.

This technique is especially bad since it adds more tension to the throat.

Shaking the voice box will certainly create a vibrato-like sound, but it’s not a good way to find true vibrato.

Plus it looks kind of funny when you shake your larynx on stage.

Generally Speaking…

All these vibrato techniques have their place.

But some are worse than others.

Vibrato tends to come out best when the voice is relaxed but some of these techniques add tension to the voice.

This eliminates any vibrato you might have had to begin with.

So now we’ve clear on what vibrato is not, let’s talk real vibrato.

What is real vibrato?

Here’s what all the fuss is about:

Modern research suggests that vibrato is caused by a muscular tremor in the vocal folds.

That’s it!

Scientists have shown that vibrato is the result of the work-rest cycle of the muscles in your voice.

Think about when you lift something heavy.

how to sing vibrato

Your muscles start to shake after a while, right?

That’s because as your muscles become fatigued, certain muscles switch on and off in order to rest.

Vibrato works the same way.

With vibrato, two muscle groups in your voice tense against each other.

As the muscles start to fatigue, they take turns switching on and off, creating the waver we hear as vibrato.

That means that singing with a straight tone is actually harder than vibrato since you’re fighting the body’s efforts to rest.

how to sing vibrato

So not only does vibrato sound great, but once you find it, singing sustained notes gets easier!

Two last things…

The Speed of Vibrato

Studies have shown that vibrato oscillates at about 6 cycles per second.

If the note spins faster than that, the effect is known as tremolo.

If it’s too slow, it’s called a wobble.

So it’s good to familiarize yourself with the right speed of vibrato.

Listen to some of the masters and get an idea for the perfect speed for your vibrato.

Check out this video of Freddie Mercury improvising.

Note that every time he holds a note, he adds vibrato.

The Pitch of Vibrato

We now know that real vibrato centers around one note.

However many voice teachers still debate whether vibrato wavers below or above the pitch.

The answer is that vibrato oscillates both below and above the pitch you’re singing.

Check out this image of vibrato on a spectrogram.

how to sing vibrato

You can see the note sung on a straight tone followed by the vibrato.

You’ll see the vibrato naturally oscillates above and below the desired pitch.

But rather than hearing the note going flat and sharp, we just hear one beautiful pitch.

Now that we’ve talked about the cause, speed and pitch of vibrato, let’s show you how to actually sing it.

How to Get True Vibrato

Let me eliminate a huge myth right now:

No one’s born with vibrato.

Like any other singing technique, vibrato is something that comes the more you work at it.

But vibrato comes out most when the voice is in balance.

And learning to sing in balance takes time.

Singing with vocal balance means that the muscles in your voice are developed and can work evenly against each other.

Let me explain by going back to our weight lifting analogy.

If I haven’t built up my arm muscles enough, I won’t be able to lift the weight, let alone hold it.

But if bicep and my triceps are evenly strong, when I hold the weight, my arm will shake.

You can see this for yourself.

Try this:

  1. Extend your right arm to your right side in a straight line from your shoulders and make a fist.
  2. Tense the muscles in your arm like you’re flexing but keep the arm straight.
  3. Flex your arm in this position for 5 seconds.

You should feel that the muscles in your arm tremor and shake when they’re flexed this way.

That’s because the muscles are pushing and pulling against each other.

What the heck does this have to do with singing?

Well, most beginning singers are dominant in one of two muscle groups in their voice.

This is equivalent to using just your bicep to lift a weight.

That muscle may be great for pulling, but it sucks at pushing.

The same is true in your voice.

For instance, if you sing breathy and light on the bottom of your voice, that’s because you’re more dominant in the muscles that control head voice.

Or if you yell and strain when singing higher notes, that means you’re dominant in the muscles that control chest voice.

Now if either one of these scenarios sound like something you’re working on, check out this article with 10 singing techniques to improve your voice.

Or if you’d like me to personally help you out (in-person or over Skype), you can book a free lesson here.

There are tons of exercises which will help you expand your vocal range, hit high notes and sing stronger.

These exercises will also help you find the vocal balance necessary to sing with vibrato.

Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here while you check them out.

5 Prerequisites for Great Vibrato

Let’s assume that your voice sounds pretty good but vibrato hasn’t shown up yet.

No worries!

Like any other singing technique, developing vibrato takes time.

There are lots of exercises to help you get the feeling of vibrato.

But before we get into the exercises for vibrato, we need to set ourselves up for success.

Here are the 5 prerequisites for finding good vibrato.

1. Posture

Before we start to sing with vibrato, we must have good posture.

I’ve written an article that deals with the correct posture for singing you can check out.

But for now, let’s break it down in the simplest terms.

When you’re singing vibrato, you want to have a tall posture.

That means:

  1. You’re standing with your feet spaced evenly at shoulder width
  2. Your hips should be above your feet
  3. Your chest is comfortably lifted
  4. Your neck is relaxed evenly above your shoulders; not looking down or up.

With this tall posture, you’re perfectly set up for the next vibrato prerequisite: breathing for singing.

2. Breath

Now that we’ve found a tall posture, we’re perfectly set up for the correct breath for singing vibrato.

The correct breath for vibrato is called a diaphragmatic breath.

I’ve written an article on how to get the perfect breath for singing.

But for right now, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror and turn to the side so that your right shoulder is perpendicular to the mirror.
  2. Turn your head to the right so you can see your stomach in the mirror.
  3. Place your hand on your stomach.
  4. Without moving your chest or shoulders, inhale through your mouth and allow the breath to push your stomach out against your hand.
  5. Now exhale and allow your stomach to come back in. Your hand should follow it in.

Now that we have found our perfect breath, let’s talk about a crucial element of vibrato: relaxation.

3. Relax Your Body and Voice

As we learn to sing vibrato, we want to make sure our body and voice are relaxed.

Now there’s kind of a golden medium here:

We want to make sure your voice is relaxed, but not too relaxed.

For instance, if you hear a lot of breath as you sing the following exercises, the vocal cords are too loose and will not produce good vibrato.

Or if you hear tension in your voice the cords may be too pressed and will not produce good vibrato which leads us to number four.

4. Make Sure Your Voice is in Balance

Remember, most singers are dominant in one of the two muscle groups that control the voice.

So if your voice is light and breathy on the bottom or strainy and shouty at the top, vibrato won’t show up.

Vibrato comes much more easily when your voice is balanced.

If this sounds like you, it’s time to go check out this article on techniques to Improve your voice.

I promise you, if you put in a little more work on getting the voice in balance, the vibrato will come more easily.

Which leads us to number five.

5. Be Patient

Finally, it’s incredibly important that you are patient when developing vibrato. If it’s not coming, do not force it.

There’s a good chance you’ll find vibrato on these exercises, however you may not be able to hear it in your own voice yet.

Try recording yourself doing the following exercises and listen for the wavering in your voice.

If you hear vibrato, ask yourself what you were doing to accomplish this?

Take note of the feeling that you get when you sing this way.

Some people feel vibrato as a quivering of the pitch.

Others feel little bursts of air hitting the back of their throat.

There’s no right or wrong answer.

The only right way to learn vibrato is to find an exercise that works every time.

Then you can start to expand that feeling to the rest of your singing.

How to Sing Vibrato: 12 Easy Exercises

Diaphragmatic Vibrato Exercises

The first few exercises we’ll work on are not true vibrato.

But they will help you find the volume variations we hear in vibrato.

So when you’re doing them, just focus on the alterations of breath you feel.

Exercise #1: The Diaphragm Pulse

Earlier I mentioned that pulsing the diaphragm does not give you true vibrato.

But if you’re brand new to vibrato, sometimes it’s great to just get the feeling of the alternating breath required.

So let’s start with a diaphragm pulse.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Make a fist with one hand
  2. Cover the fist with your other hand
  3. Keeping your hands in this position, place them an inch above your belly button.
  4. Take a diaphragmatic breath and sing and hold the vowel “ee” (like “eat”) on a comfortable pitch (try E3 for men and B3 for women)
  5. While you’re singing the pitch, push your hands on your abs in and out rapidly like you’re giving yourself CPR.
  6. Try to get the hands to pulse about 6 cycles a second.

You should hear a pulse in the breath as you sing the vowel “ee”.

The voice may sound like you’re trying to turn a car on but it won’t start.

That’s exactly right.

Don’t know where to start with this exercise?

I just created a video to demonstrate this exercise. Check it out:

Exercise #2: The Beggar’s Pulse

Physically pushing into your diaphragm isn’t the only way to get the wavering breath required for vibrato.

The Beggar’s Pulse is another way of alternating your breath without having to touch your stomach.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Bring your hands together in front of you and interlace your fingers like you’re begging for something
  2. Take a breath and sing the vowel “ee” on a comfortable pitch (E3 for men and B3 for women)
  3. While you’re singing the pitch, shake your interlocked hands in front of your body.
  4. Do this rapidly at about 6 cycles a second.

While singing the “ee” vowel, you should hear a strong pulse wavering on the pitch.

If you’re not sure how to do this exercise, don’t worry.

Here’s a section of my How to Sing Vibrato video that demonstrates the exercise:

Pitch Vibrato Exercises

Now that we’ve found the breath variations in vibrato, let’s waver to pitch.

These exercises will help you find the variation in pitch we hear with vibrato.

Ideally the alternating breath will come with it, but it’s not required.

Remember, don’t force it.

Just be patient and the vibrato will show up.

Exercise #3: The “Jaws” Theme Vibrato

Do you remember the music from the movie “Jaws”?

The theme music has a melody that goes from the first note up a minor second interval (just a half step on a keyboard). Then the melody that gets faster and faster.

Let’s use this melody to stimulate our vibrato.

Here’s how:

  1. Take a diaphragmatic breath and hum an “mm” sound (like you just had something delicious) on a comfortable pitch (E3 for men and B3 for women)
  2. Now, start to hum up a half step to the second note (F3 for men and C4 for women). It should sound like the melody from jaws
  3. Toggle back and forth between your starting note and the second note as fast as you can
  4. Once you’re singing this melody very quickly, try to “let go” of singing the interval and see if you can get the first note to waver.

If you don’t hear vibrato right away, don’t worry.

Just work on getting a steady pulse going.

As you continue to practice, see if you can get the same wavering feeling on the first note.

If you don’t have a piano handy, don’t worry.

Here’s a section of my How to Sing Vibrato video that demonstrates the exercise:

Exercise #4: Prime the Pump

Remember that vibrato is a slight variation below and above the pitch you’re singing.

In the last exercise, we worked on finding the vibrato by singing up to a minor second and coming back.

Do you know the song “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5?

The chorus involves a descending minor second interval that goes from an Eb4 to D4 when he sings “I don’t mind spending ever-y day”

This time, let’s use this melody to prime the vibrato by singing our target note and then dipping slightly below it.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Take a breath and hum an “mm” sound on a comfortable pitch (try G3 for men and D4 for women)
  2. Now, start to hum down a half step to the second note (F#3 for men and C#4 for women). It should sound like the melody from the chorus in “She Will Be Loved”
  3. Toggle back and forth between your starting note and the second note as fast as you can
  4. Once you are singing these two pitches very quickly, try to “let go” of singing the interval and see if you can get the first note to waver.

Again, if you don’t hear the vibrato kick in, don’t worry about it.

Just try to get the interval moving as quick as you can and pretty soon that note will quiver all on its own.

If you don’t have a piano handy, don’t worry.

Here’s a section of my How to Sing Vibrato video that demonstrates the exercise:

Exercise #5: The Happy Birthday Vibrato

Some folks need a larger interval than a minor second to kick-start their vibrato.

In this exercise, we’ll use a major second interval to get the vibrato spinning.

The major second interval is the same one you hear at the beginning of the “Happy Birthday” song.

Listen to the first three notes:

Happy birth-day”

That’s a major second.

Let’s use this interval to get our vibrato spinning.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Take a breath and sing an “ee” vowel on a comfortable pitch (try E3 for men and G3 for women)
  2. Now, start to move up a whole step to the second note (F#3 for men and A3 for women). It should sound like the first notes of “Happy Birthday”.
  3. Toggle back and forth between your starting note and the second note as fast as you can on “ee”.
  4. Once you are singing these two pitches very quickly, try to “let go” of singing the interval and see if you can get the note to waver.
  5. If you have trouble finding the vibrato on the “ee” vowel, try an “ooh” instead.

If you don’t have a piano handy, don’t worry.

Here’s a section of my How to Sing Vibrato video that demonstrates the exercise:

This exercise is great for singers who have a bit of tension in their voice.

Ultimately we don’t want our vibrato to be larger than a half step.

But when you’re first starting to find the feeling of vibrato, let the pitch wobble as widely as you like.

Then as the vibrato comes easier, try to keep the variation to a half step.

Exercise #6: The Ghost Vibrato

Up until now, we’ve been experimenting with pitch variations that are mostly in the low part of your voice.

Now, it’s time to try some vibrato a little higher in your range.

But before I give you any exact pitches to sing in your upper register, let’s loosen things up with the Ghost Vibrato.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Take a breath and make an “ooh” sound like a ghost trying to scare someone in a haunted house.
  2. Really let that “ooh” sound shaky and scary.
  3. Now sing the ghostly “ooh” sound on a comfortable note in your head voice or falsetto (maybe A4 for men and E5 for women).
  4. Now slowly let the “ooh” shake and fall from the high note to the bottom of your voice. It should sound like the combination of a ghost and a police siren.

While the ghost vibrato doesn’t cover any exact pitches, it’s great at helping you find vibrato in your higher register.

So let’s take a look at some exercises that do both.

Vibrato Exercises for Higher Notes

Who are we kidding?

What’s the point of being able to sing vibrato if you can’t sing it on high notes.

Let’s work on some exercises that will help you find the spin we’re looking for on the best notes in your range.

As a reminder, if you’re still breaking or straining on the higher notes in your range, vibrato will be harder to find.

It’s better to go back a step and work on some Singing Techniques to Improve Your Voice.

However, if you can sing smoothly from the bottom to the top of your range without cracking or straining, let’s make them sound richer and fuller with vibrato.

With the following exercises, feel free to incorporate elements from the diaphragmatic and pitch vibrato sections.

For example, if you were able to find a beautiful vibrato with the diaphragmatic pulse exercise, feel free to practice these exercises with your hand pulsing the top note.

Or, if the “Prime the Pump Vibrato” exercise worked wonders for you, try singing the highest notes in these exercises and then toggle back and forth with a minor second interval.

The point is, use what works for you.

Now, are you ready to belt those high notes with a beautiful vibrato?

Let’s get started.

Exercise #7: The Silent “H” Vibrato

We know that vibrato has a variation in breath and pitch, so let’s guide the vibrato where we want it.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Take a diaphragmatic breath and sing an ascending 5-Tone scale on the word “Hee” (like “he’s singing.”) using a comfortable starting pitch (Try D3 for guys and A3 for girls)
  2. When you get to the fifth note in the scale, sustain the note imagining that you’re singing several “He”s on the top note
  3. But rather than repeating the word “He” on the top note, imagine that you are erasing the “H” consonants with every repetition.

This should create a beautiful natural spinning vibrato on an “ee” vowel up there.

If you need help, try actually repeating the word “he” up there.

Then take the repeat away and see if you can make the “ee” spin.

If you don’t have a piano handy, don’t worry.

Here’s a section of my How to Sing Vibrato video that demonstrates the exercise:

Exercise #8: The Fee Vibrato

An “H” consonant isn’t the only way to pulse the breath necessary to creating a spinning vibrato.

An “F” consonant can do the trick too. It also may be better for those singers who are having a hard time singing stronger at the bottom of their voice.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Take a diaphragmatic breath and sing an ascending 5-Tone scale on the word “Fee” (like “fever”) using a comfortable starting pitch (Try D3 for guys and A3 for girls)
  2. Sustain the top note of the scale with a clear emphasis on the “F” consonant
  3. Rather than tightening or clenching on the top note, allow it to go wherever it wants—the wobblier the better.

You should hear a clean, ringing vibrato on the high “Fee” note.

Now let’s get to some really high notes.

But before we do, if you’re having any difficulty singing with vibrato at the bottom of your voice, work on the exercises in the previous section until you find it.

Exercise #9: The Shush Vibrato

Have you ever shushed someone that was being too loud?

Did you notice how much air leaves your mouth as you make the “sh” sound?

Let’s use that sound to our advantage with the “Shush Vibrato” exercise.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Take a diaphragmatic breath and sing an ascending octave scale on the word “She” (like “she’s singing well”) using a comfortable starting pitch (Try F#3 for guys and C#4 for girls)
  2. Repeat the top note four times and then sustain the fourth repetition.
  3. When you sustain the fourth note, allow yourself to “let go” of the sustained note and let it spin.

With any luck you will hear that the vibrato spins beautifully on this high note in your range.

If you don’t have a piano handy, don’t worry.

Here’s a section of my How to Sing Vibrato video that demonstrates the exercise:

Exercise #10: The High Hee Vibrato

Using the “sh” consonant isn’t the only way to get vibrato spinning on those high notes.

An “H” consonant can also help.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Take a breath and sing an ascending octave scale on the word “He” (like “he’s singing well”) using a comfortable starting pitch (Try F#3 for guys and C#4 for girls)
  2. Repeat the top note four times and then sustain the fourth repetition.
  3. When you sustain the last note, try to “let go” of the note and let it spin.

Unlike the “Shush” vibrato in the last exercise, there’s not a lot to hold only for the high note in this exercise.

So this may be perfect for those singers that tend to yell as they sing higher.

Exercise #11: The High Fee Vibrato

This is essentially the same exercise as the “High Hee Vibrato” covered in the last exercise.

However, if you find yourself getting winded trying to sing the “Hee” in the last exercise, this should do the trick.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Take a breath and sing an ascending octave scale on the word “Fee” (like “fever”) on a comfortable starting pitch (Try F#3 for guys and C#4 for girls)
  2. Repeat the top note four times and then sustain the fourth repetition.
  3. When you sustain the fourth note, let go of the note and let it spin.

You should hear a clean spinning vibrato on the top note.

Exercise #12: The Foo Vibrato

The “ee” vowel we used in the previous exercises may not work for those singers that tend to yell or strain on higher notes in their range.

Don’t worry, we’ve got just the fix for you.

The “ooh” vowel can help loosen things up.

So let’s give it a try.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Take a breath and sing an ascending octave scale on the word “Foo” (like “food”) using a comfortable starting pitch (Try F#3 for guys and C#4 for girls)
  2. Repeat the top note four times and then sustain the fourth repetition.
  3. When you sustain the fourth note, “let go” of the sustained note and let it spin.

You should hear a clean, ringing vibrato on that high note.

If you don’t have a piano handy, don’t worry.

Here’s a section of my How to Sing Vibrato video that demonstrates the exercise:

Congratulations

By this time, you’ve tried many of the best exercises to sing vibrato.

I hope some of the exercises worked wonders for you.

But if they didn’t, stay patient and the vibrato will come.

Also, remember you may not “hear” the vibrato in your voice clearly yet.

Sometimes the wavering of vibrato can start out very small and grow larger.

Try recording yourself singing these exercises and listen back.

Ask yourself what worked best and try to repeat the process.

If you have any questions or want more pointers on finding vibrato, feel free to Book a Free In-Person Lesson.

  • michelle says:

    “Nobody is born with Vibrato?” lol NONSENSE, myself, mother and grandmother all sing with a natural vibrato, it was never taught, but a natural given talent. i was singing with a natural vibrato at 5.

    • Hey Michelle,
      Thanks for your comment. I think that it’s possible that BECAUSE your mother and grandmother always sang with vibrato, that you learned it by imitating them. These kinds of cues in childhood are incredibly powerful. Imitation is a huge key in learning to sing better. -Matt

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