recently, a number of my students have been harangued by their band directors to always use vibrato when they play, almost as if it is a status symbol among young flutists.
I believe in my heart that a beautiful vibrato needs to develop naturally over time, a forced vibrato sounds mechanical.
That said, I respect you teachers who attempt to mechanically teach vibrato, even if I disagree, so this thread is not to be the great vibrato debate. Rather, it is a chance to give the young people here a series of questions to ask if they are requested to have their vibrato switch in the on position at all times.
- Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss/King/Sir Band Director, should I use vibrato when playing with non vibrato instruments like clarinet?
should I always use the same vibrato or should I vary it?
why do some instruments use vibrato and others don't?
should we use vibrato when the entire section is playing as loud as possible?
should I use vibrato on fast passages of 1/16th notes?
should I use vibrato to hide behind poor intonation?
when was vibrato invented? did they use it in the time of Bach and Handel?
Do I produce vibrato with the vocal chords or do I move my diaphragm muscle back and forth like a water balloon?
Please Mr/Mrs/Miss/King/Sir Band Director, answer these questions....
I think as long as these questions are posed in the correct time and place a band director should be happy to have a discussion with the student about vibrato. Unfortunately, as we all know not every band director is/was a flutist, and taking an applied music class for woodwind or brass in college certainly does not make anyone proficient on an instrument. These questions would be great to ask in a sectional if the band director is ok with taking the time in a sectional to answer them. If not I would recommend that the student ask on his/her lunch hour and in as respectful manner as possible.
I don't necessarily see what the Back/Handel question has to do with vibrato in a band sitting. I would say 99% of the time these are not the types of pieces played in a Junior High or High School band. Most of the pieces in that age bracket would require some type of vibrato.
Are you hearing this more from Junior High or High School students? I would also offer to take a look at the music for a student and see if this is something you could help them with as an instructor. Then the student could go back to the director and say I talked with Patrick about this, he feels as a professional flutist we shuold try this and this. If a non-flutist band director ignores that advice he/she needs a kick in the shin. At the end of the day when a student is in a "Band" they need to do what the director says whether it is right or wrong. Their grade depends on it.
I agree with Jose Luis that asked respectfully, this is a very good way to get the band director to realize that vibrato should not be a constant. Personally, I am surprised that a middle school flute section would be asked to do vibrato at all, as most of them will likely be beginners yet, and introducing something as complex as vibrato without a good understanding of its uses and proper production is bound to cause more problems than it solves. Vibrato is a useful tool, but you're right...Band directors need to realize that it does not need to become THE tool for expression.
>>Band directors need to realize that it does not need to become THE tool for expression.<<
Well, and the fact is, it's an ensemble. If a group is playing the same part (flute 1 or flute 2), and everyone is not in sync, it just sounds like a jumble. I would never purposefully use vibrato when playing in a group unless it was discussed in sectional. It seems like it would be an "all or nothing" thing. And, if there are more than a couple flutes in the section, I would think vibrato would be a nightmare. Of course, a soloist might use it, if appropriate--but the entire section? Eek. A middle school band section of a dozen flutes, doing vibrato together would sound like someone singing and "closing the flap" on their mouth (to make that wahn-wahn-wahn fan vibration sound).
Pickled, I don't think there is anything at all wrong with using vibrato in a group so long as it's used with some thought behind it. It won't mean a whole lot, but you might as well. There are absolutely situations where it should not be used in a group setting (as Patrick mentioned, when playing with a non-vibrating instrument like clarinet), but for the most part, it doesn't matter a great deal. Trying to get a section of flutists to play with their vibratos (vibrati?) synced up would be near impossible, especially with young players, and in my opinion would not sound terribly good if you did manage it. It would just bring to the fore the regular pulsations that would have to be used to make syncing up a possibility, adding to the "wah-wah" effect. When you're playing in a flute choir, they don't attempt to sync the vibrato, and I can see no reason why that should be necessary in an ensemble with full instrumentation.
>> I can see no reason why that should be necessary in an ensemble with full instrumentation.
I can't imagine it being synched, really, either. I also can't imagine a dozen people doing (or not doing) it their own way--unless it's VERY subtle and just a natural output because of the mood of the music. A dozen people TRYING to do vibrato in the unnatural pulsing style (which is what you'd probably get in a middle school band), because their band director told them to, just sounds like a train wreck, synched or unsynched.
In a flute choir, how many people play each part? Like I said (I think I said--I meant to say) , I can see doing it when there are a small number on each part, and when the players are accomplished at making it sound like a natural outcropping of the music. "Real" vibrato is more of a mood/intonation, rather than something you "just do." Doing it on demand with a group of younger players is just going to sound like wahn-wahn-wahn.
I think it's better to start vibrato in Middle School rather than high school Because it's as you said when people first start vibrato it can sound kind of bad, and people expect a middle school band to not be perfect. But they expect a high school band to sound fairly good.
If they start in Middle School, most of them should have the hang of it by the time they get into more serious band levels. (depending on their former band director).
Though I agree that there is vertialy no point for it in a large band or orchatra.
Le koukou- You are absolutely right. That particular technique was called finger vibrato and can still be used to some extent on modern flutes, though most people won't bother when they can use a breath vibrato.
Pickled- I think I can agree with you. In a setting where the participants are less than proficient, vibrato absolutely poses a danger, but in a larger ensemble, composed exclusively of more skilled players, it's not really an issue. I've played in flute choirs as large as 150 people, and I can guarantee most people were using vibrato at certain points, but it added to the music, rather than detracting.
Penny- I see no reason why the basics of vibrato should not be taught in middle school, but by no means should they be taught to everyone. As Jose Luis mentioned previously, you need to reach a certain point where your tone, intonation, and musical sense have developed enough to make good use of vibrato. I did not learn vibrato until my sophomore year in high school, and I think I'm better off for it. There are plenty of people who come out sounding like billy goats because they are not ready to be using vibrato, or it was taught to them poorly.
>>If they start in Middle School, most of them should have the hang of it by the time they get into more serious band levels. (depending on their former band director).<<
I guess I see vibrato as something that you learn once you ARE more serious. You need to develop your musicality in other ways before you start adding additional techniques. If I bake a lopsided cake, it doesn't matter how much cream cheese frosting I pile on top--it's STILL going to be a lopsided cake.
I would say that, if the band director is confident that all of his/her flutists can play in tune, with proper dynamics, and decent intonation, then, sure, add vibrato. But, I have yet to see the middle school band that can make that claim. Are they out there?