How to Produce an Oboe Vibrato

I always tell my pupils that oboe vibrato is a musical issue rather than a technical one. Ideally, it should develop naturally. Assuming your basic playing technique is correct it should arrive almost subconsciously simply by hearing good oboists play. When used properly it enhances the oboe’s tone. Vibrato is not, of course, unique on the oboe. It is used by many other instruments and also by singers.

Oboe vibrato is achieved by pulsing the air flow with the diaphragm. Some players, wrongly, try to create a vibrato by using the muscles of either the throat or jaw. This is very difficult to control and will detract from rather than enhance the tone. When we play we always try to keep the throat as open as possible and the jaw as relaxed as possible. These two wrong ways of attempting vibrato will undermine that basic technique and impinge on most aspects of control. In particular it will have an adverse effect upon the oboe sound.

As I said above, vibrato should develop naturally. Sometimes, however, it is necessary for students to learn how to do it if it does not develop naturally. In this article I will explain how I always tackle the problem of actually teaching vibrato when it does not develop instinctively. It is also useful for players who have acquired it naturally to understand exactly what is happening and how to use it effectively.

One of the sayings about oboe vibrato is that you should not have to think about creating it, but about stopping it. It is a technique which should be instinctive and should vary in speed and intensity as dictated by the music. One specific situation which players will often face is that of a long note with a crescendo. To be able to gradually add vibrato to the note, making the vibrato grow in intensity as the note grows dynamically can be tremendously effective.

So, how do I teach oboe vibrato when necessary? Take a nice secure note on the instrument (4th line ‘D’ is usually a good choice on most oboes). Begin quietly and crescendo to a good ‘forte’ and then diminuendo back to the level at which you began. Check all the time that all the work is being done by the diaphragm with the lips merely adjusting as necessary to keep the note in tune. When you feel that you can achieve this well, begin to do a continuous crescendo-diminuendo pattern as long as your breath lasts – a long note that is going up and down in volume. At this stage, what you are producing is actually a very slow vibrato. The next step is simply to gradually increase the speed until you have a vibrato which is controlled and correctly produced. Do check all the time that you are working with the diaphragm and not the throat or jaw. The embouchure will move slightly in response to the pulsing of the air but should never be actually doing the pulsing itself. The final step in the learning process is to work on varying the speed and intensity as different musical contexts will require a different vibrato.

Remember what I wrote at the beginning of this article, that vibrato is a musical issue and not a technical one. The whole purpose of vibrato is to enhance the oboe tone and add colour to the piece being played. It should be possible to play a vibrato at any speed or intensity which is most appropriate to the music.

Copyright (c) 2010 Robert Hinchliffe

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