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Teaching Brass Students Vibrato

Quality vibrato performance on a brass instrument is an asset to tone quality. Knowing when and to what degree to use vibrato is something students must learn. By teaching brass students vibrato, you can help them properly perform and distinguish what type to use. Most importantly, teaching vibrato styles provides student access to hand vibrato, lip vibrato, diaphragm vibrato and slide vibrato techniques. As the educator, you have the power to provide students the tools to practice these techniques and wisdom to advise students to avoid certain errors.

Teaching Vibrato

Band directors need not expect that not every brass player will be able to produce a refined vibrato. Unlike string performers, who sometimes take it for granted, brass musicians do not use vibrato as the instrument’s inherent part of their tone.

Typically, brass students start to learn about vibrato in junior high after their director is confident the player can consistently control their tone. Whether the student is learning hand vibrato, hand vibrato, diaphragm vibrato, or slide vibrator, the technique is similar. The student should begin with a straight tone, progressively add vibrato, and gradually come back to the straight tone.

Hand Vibrato

Hand vibrato is probably the most controlled type of vibrato for instruments such as the trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn as a result of the physical, visual, and audible relationship; this technique has. If the hand is moving, then hand vibrato is being produced.

Firstly, in hand vibrato, the performer must keep the forearm, wrist, and right hand relaxed. The thumb needs to rest between the position below the lead pipe, where the first and second valves come in contact with the instrument. Place fingertips on the valve caps in a relaxed (“C” shape) position. While all body parts between the right elbow and fingertips are relaxed, the student should move the hand horizontally.

One of the benefits of using hand vibrato is the variety of types of emphasis that musicians can create. Barely audible to heavy hand vibrato can influence the tone. As a result, the musician has a broader array of dynamic vibrato settings available to their performance.

Lip Vibrato

Secondly, lip vibrato occurs as a result of synchronized motions in the lip and jaw. Generally, the jaw stays in a more forward position at the same time the embouchure moves up and down. Consequently, this is not a significant movement but rather barely noticeable. As a result of these movements, the performer will hear a change in tone color and pitch. Lip vibrato has more of a natural state of being as opposed to hand vibrato that might seem a bit superficial.

Diaphragm Vibrato

To create diaphragm vibrato start by having brass musicians create a pulsating effect with their air column. You can physically feel the impact of this technique by putting your hand in front of your mouth and blowing out using syllables Haa, Aaa, Aaa. Between hand vibrato, lip vibrato, and diaphragm vibrato, this one tends to be used the least except for trombone and tuba players as a result of having the least available resistance.

Practicing Vibrato

Understanding the emphasis vibrato produces in various ranges will contribute to different effects on musical passages for brass instruments. For example, if a trumpet player is practicing vibrato on a third space “C” in the staff, he or she may have a well-controlled vibrato. In contrast, using the same amount of vibrato on the “C” below the staff, the effect would be much more intense. Also, the same amount of vibrato above the staff on “C” would be hard to hear. Consequently, when practicing vibrato, the performer needs to consider the overall impression he or she is trying to make when using this technique in various ranges.

Slide Vibrato

Meanwhile, the trombone can use a unique style of vibrato called slide vibrato. Consequently, this technique relies on the mechanical movement of the slide. Practicing this type of vibrato requires the performer to quickly move the slide forward and backward around a central pitch. Slide vibrato is ideal for jazz and big band repertoire.

Tips for practicing this type of vibrato include:

  • Slide vibrato must center around the pitch of the note; otherwise, the slide vibrato will sound out of tune.
  • The slide motion comes primarily from the wrist and hand, rather than the arm.

Vibrato Errors

Once students learn how to use vibrato, the most significant error is that they start using it all of the time. As a result, this becomes a habit and then has trouble performing a straight tone. It is wise to educate your students that vibrato should be used more as an ornamentation technique for their tone. Most importantly, if a student is aware of this issue, have them record themselves and point out adjustments that they need to correct. Practicing long tones may help with resolving this issue. 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, successful performance is a result of the tasteful use of musical techniques. The proper use of vibrato provides musicians a valuable tool that should never be overused. To sum up, by practicing hand, lip, diaphragm, and slide vibrato, student musicians will have gained a valuable asset as a result of your continued teachings.


(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.8notes.com/school/lessons/trombone/how_to_play_vibrato_on_trombone.asp.

Stevedunster. (2016, February 2). Vibrato for Brass Players. Retrieved from https://playbrass.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/vibrato/.

The trumpeter’s handbook : a comprehensive guide to playing and teaching the trumpet. (2018, November 10). Retrieved from https://www.worldcat.org/title/trumpeters-handbook-a-comprehensive-guide-to-playing-and-teaching-the-trumpet/oclc/5872630.   

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