Dubious pedagogy alert: woodwind vibrato

I think there is a lot of garbage in the way woodwind vibrato—specifically flute and double reed vibrato—is taught.

Flutists, oboists, and bassoonists use the same basic physiological mechanism to produce vibrato. I often read or hear debates over what, exactly, this mechanism is, with some arguing fervently that it is the “diaphragm,” and others insisting that it is the “throat.”

It’s worth pointing out here that a major issue in wind-instrument pedagogy is the fact that so many of the important techniques happen somewhere inside the body where they cannot be easily observed. (Violinists don’t seem to have much disagreement about what part of the body to use for vibrato.)

My belief is that neither the “diaphragm” nor the “throat” can be correctly identified as the organ of vibrato. Continue reading “Dubious pedagogy alert: woodwind vibrato”

Saxophone vibrato

What is vibrato?

Carl Seashore, in his In Search of Beauty in Music, defines “good” vibrato as “a pulsation of pitch usually accompanied by synchronous pulsations of loudness and timbre, of such extent and rate as to give a pleasing flexibility, tenderness, and richness to the tone.”

Debate over saxophone vibrato

Saxophone vibrato is a controversial topic for several reasons. In fact, some have questioned whether vibrato should be used at all. Paul Berler, in a 1996 Saxophone Journal article, notes that wind instrumentalists have only made serious study of vibrato in the last century. Robert Luckey points out in a 1983 article in Woodwind, Brass, & Percussion that “prominent saxophone teachers have equated their instrument with the human voice,” and that, since vibrato is accepted as a natural embellishment of the human voice, it should be accepted as a natural part of the saxophone tone. Continue reading “Saxophone vibrato”