minstrel: Vibrato (semi tech geek warnng)

Lisa and Ken Theriot Lnktheriot at satx.rr.com
Wed Jun 11 16:46:03 PDT 2008

Jen wrote:

[I am a mezzo and I had a voice teacher in college who was also a mezzo
and her take on a 'good' verbrato was one that was not forced, but
rather occurred naturally as part of the natural over and under tones of
a note.]

By definition a "pure tone" has no over or undertones (though it may
have harmonics).  Most humans aren't capable of making such a sound; in
fact, most synthesized vocals have overtones added to make them sound
more human.  But extra tones are like salt: they can either make the
dish perfect or ruin it completely, and whether natural or affected
isn't the most important issue.  (It mostly depends on how much you like

Okay, putting on my audio engineer hat here (which has training wheels
and a little propeller on it-- my hubby is the real engineer and to me
most of the equipment are just boxes with pretty flashing lights).
Unless you slept through science class, you probably remember that sound
is a wave.  How high the wave rises above the center line and how low it
drops below is called the amplitude.  How many waves pass a given point
in a given period of time is the frequency.  In basic sound physics, the
amplitude is how loud you are, and the frequency is your pitch.

In a graphical representation against frequency, your vocal performance
also appears as a wave form.  Here your amplitude is how far above and
below the correct pitch/frequency your vibration takes you, and the
frequency is how rapid that modulation between notes is.  Some people
have such a wide vibrato that they are almost a half step above and
below the note they are actually aiming for, making their pitch sound
bad even if it technically isn't.  And if the frequency of your vibrato
is radically different from someone else you're singing with, everything
will sound like mush, which is why choir directors usually try to beat
it out of you.

That said, as long as you are singing solo, vibrato is a matter of
taste.  Pop music is lousy with people who have become gazillionaires
using "improper" "forced" vibrato (Kenny Rogers, Lee Greenwood, Aaron
Neville) and others who have had similar success with natural though
incredibly pronounced vibrato (Emmylou Harris).  But for SCA purposes,
the extant pre-1600 singing treatises caution against vibrato, though
usually they are talking about choral performance.  I haven't seen
anything written in praise of vibrato before the Baroque era.


More information about the minstrel mailing list