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The vibrato (also Bebung ), abbreviated vibr. , in music is the periodically recurring, slight change in the frequency of a sustained note . In contrast to a non-vibrating tone, a tone with adequate vibrato (from Italian vibrare , "to swing, to vibrate") is perceived as lively and expressive . This is why vibrato is widely used in classical music, among other things; Especially with all string instruments (violin, viola, cello, double bass), also with woodwinds, but less or not at all with brass instruments - with the exception of the trumpet - even if the tuba, trombone etc. can theoretically produce a vibrato. For these instruments, vibrato is usually only used as a 'special effect'. You can distinguish a strong from a weak vibrato and a fast from a slow vibrato.

Strong vibrato of the human voice is also typified for opera singing, while it is often avoided in "smooth" pop music and musicals.

Vibrato can arise involuntarily in the voice without being learned or taught. However, it is often used deliberately as a stylistic device. It is similar with human whistling . On string and some wind instruments , it is produced by certain playing techniques. The instrumental vibrato is believed to be an imitation of the singer's vibrato.

Differentiated demarcation and physical principles

In musical practice, various forms of periodic tone change often be combined (vibrato, tremolo , vibrato , beat , and changing the timbre ). The differentiation of vibrato from these related phenomena is therefore difficult and is not done consistently. The term vibrato is therefore often used for a combination of these phenomena, deviating from the strict definition.

The audio samples show that vibrato, tremolo and beat are perceived very similarly.

  • Example of a real vibrato (modulation of the frequency), period frequency 6 Hz
  • Example of a tremolo ("vibrato") by modulating the amplitude, period frequency 6 Hz
  • Example of a tremolo ("vibrato") by beating with two simultaneous tones (500 Hz and 506 Hz)

Singing vibrato

The vibrato of the singing voice consists of the periodic change of frequency, amplitude and formant spectrum . In the case of untrained voices, it is often absent. But if the voice is trained in the sense of the "classical" singing tradition, it usually occurs during the singing training without being taught or practiced separately.

In classical song singing, vibrato was an ornament , a musical design element that was used consciously and sparingly. Nowadays, the permanent vibrato predominates, as it suggests greater volume and volume and the voice has to assert itself in increasingly larger rooms and against increasingly larger orchestras.

Too strong frequency fluctuations or too fast or too slow a period frequency are often perceived as unaesthetic. When singing, the term wobble is often used pejoratively for too strong and too slow, the term caprino or tremolo for too fast, moaning vibrato.

The origin of vibrato in singing is still not clear. On the one hand, it is seen as a physiological tremor of the larynx muscles with antagonistic effects ( larynx vibrato ). On the other hand, it is assumed that the air column is periodically compressed by a tremor of the diaphragm ( diaphragmatic vibrato ).

Fischer (1993) assumes that larynx vibrato and diaphragmatic vibrato are parallel functions. The diaphragmatic vibrato has a low frequency (below 4 Hz), the larynx vibrato a high frequency (8 Hz). The coupling of the two systems creates a so-called “complex vibrato”, which settles in at a frequency between 4.5 and 8 Hz, which would be perceived as pleasant in our (today's western) music culture. The singer's affect then slows down or accelerates the vibrato through the dominance of the larynx or diaphragm function.

A constant vibrato, as heard with many opera singers, especially at the end of their careers, is a sign of a defect in the voice that arises from constant overstrain when “shouting over” the large orchestra. Just as in the case of the organ, the vibrato serves to separate the voice from the accompaniment, although this is counteracted by the continuous vibrato of the orchestral instruments.

Vibrato on musical instruments

With string instruments such as lute instruments , vibrato is created by moving the finger back and forth (also up and down) on a string. The swaying position of the finger on the string can be achieved mechanically in different ways - the swaying movement often starts with the forearm or at least the whole hand. That is why a distinction is made between arm vibrato, hand vibrato and finger vibrato with string instruments . Most of these types of vibrato occur as a combination, a sharp demarcation is not possible. A relatively isolated finger vibrato is about the violin in very high positions before when the hand barely has room for movement. Vibrato creates periodic fluctuations in pitch: the tone is not entirely "straight" or clear. The continuous vibrato in the symphony and string orchestra emerged in the 1920s, to the annoyance of composers like Stravinsky or Schönberg; they expressed themselves emphatically negative. Since the 1990s, there has been an increasing number of conductors who urge a return to historical playing practices. Nevertheless, string instruments are always played with continuous vibrato by default in order to give the played note more expression and life. If the composer wants particularly expressive melody lines (and thus particularly strong vibrato), these are often provided with expressions such as espressivo or appassionato (the latter for further increased vibrato). If the composer does not want any vibrato, this must be indicated by the instruction non-vibrato (abbreviated non-vib. ).

Other string instruments, such as acoustic and electronic guitars, also use vibrato very often. A stronger effect can be created with the electric guitar (compared to the acoustic guitar) by using the specially designed tremolo system or by pulling the string.

In addition to stringed instruments, woodwind instruments such as flute, oboe, clarinet or bassoon also like to use vibrato, similar to strings, especially for expressive melodies or solos, in order to make them appear more expressive.

Of the brass group, the trumpets in particular make the most use of the vibrato technique by far. They also often use it for melody lines - especially for solos, but sometimes also in unison or even in multi-instrumental chords (often in golden-age film scores, such as the musical films by MGM Studios from the post-war period, but mostly rarely in later film scores). On the other hand, extensive vibrato is rare, especially with horns and tuba, but often resonates subtly in a very light form. In the case of trombones, however, vibrato is often found in an exaggerated form in cartoon music, where it tends to create a comical impression. Often additional dampers, such as plunger or harmon mute, reinforce the intentionally eccentric sound impression. With the trombone, the vibrato is not produced with the lips, but with the help of the pull.

The organ has the so-called beat register . In this case, two voices sound with each note, which differ slightly in pitch; the vibrato is thus brought about by beating . One example is the principal beat, also known as Voce umana (“human voice ”) on Italian organs from the 16th to 18th centuries . The tremulant can be found on organs of various architectural styles, which causes the wind to fluctuate slightly and thus ensures that the sound of the pipe is tremulated . Sometimes the frequency of fluctuation of this tremulant is adjustable.

The beat system was transferred to harmonica instruments in the 19th century, in which two reeds with a slight frequency difference are made to sound for each note played (see tremolo harmonica ).

There are different methods of playing historical flutes (recorder and transverse flute):

  1. Diaphragmatic vibrato
  2. Throat vibrato ("grumbling")
  3. Hit the edge of a certain hole with your finger that must not be covered (cf. flattement ).

Instruments whose tone is essentially based on the decay of a short sound, such as percussion instruments, harp, etc., do not have vibrato or require additional aids such as the vibraphone's "motor" . A special case in this regard is the piano , in which the tones are designed as "multi-choir" (i.e. with two or three strings; only the lowest bass tones are single-string), which not only amplifies the sound, but also animates it with beats through minimal differences in mood.

Vibrato on electronic musical instruments

In effect devices or electronic musical instruments, the terms vibrato and tremolo are used for different effects:

The effect of the effect depends on the strength and frequency of the fluctuations as well as the nature of the fluctuation (curve shape of the modulation signal):

  • Slow, sinusoidal fluctuations with a low frequency sound rather soft.
  • Fast, square-wave fluctuations with high frequency sound rather harsh.

See also


  • Greta Moens-Haenen : The Vibrato in Baroque Music. A guide to performance practice for vocalists and instrumentalists. Academic Printing and Publishing Establishment, Graz 1988, ISBN 3-201-01398-6 .
  • Peter-Michael Fischer : The voice of the singer. Analysis of their function and performance - history and methodology of voice training. Metzler, Stuttgart et al. 1993, ISBN 3-476-00882-7 .
  • Mario Sicca : The vibrato as a natural enrichment of the sound. In: Nova giulianiad. 1, 2, 1984, ISSN  0254-9565 , p. 86 ff.

Web links

Wiktionary: Vibrato  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Konrad Ragossnig : Handbook of the guitar and lute. Schott, Mainz 1978, ISBN 3-7957-2329-9 , p. 27.
  2. Duden .
  3. ^ Mark C. Ely: Wind Talk for Brass: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching Brass Instruments . S. 151 .
  4. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Sons, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , p. 163 f.
  5. ^ Jo Thompson: Find Your Voice - The No. 1 singing tutor .
  6. "To be young is a disaster in my job" - A conversation with Sir Roger Norrington about the advantages of old age, his fight against vibrato and the egomania of the desk heroes. Claus Spahn. In: The time. March 19, 2009
  7. Mark Phillips, Jon Chappell (Eds.): Guitar for Dummies .
  8. ^ Paul Gilreath: The Guide to MIDI Orchestration 4e .