Learning how to do vibrato on the oboe sounds scary, but I promise it’s not! This little blog came about as a result of my recent video of Banana Sandwich on YouTube. (If you’ve not seen it yet, please do take a look and enjoy the floating banana!)
It’s been lovely hearing from people who have enjoyed it, especially those students who have been inspired to learn it. It’s a really fun piece and I just know you’ll all really enjoy it once you’ve got your head round some of those tricky rhythms!
But I received one question that really struck me, and rather than just replying directly, I thought it might be helpful to do a post about it. Because the question was “How do you do vibrato on the oboe?”
Good question, I thought! The thing is, from my experience of working with young oboists (and from my memory of the many years ago when I was learning), vibrato tends to come quite naturally as a player’s tone develops.
However, for what it’s worth, here are some tips to get you started…
1. Loosen those lip muscles
One of the main things I’ve seen time and time again is that beginner oboists tend to grip the oboe reed FAR TOO TIGHT in their lips. This means the reed can’t vibrate, which is what gives it that slightly ‘tin-ny’ sound. So loosen up! If the air can’t get through your reed, it’s not going to produce the best sound. It really is that simple.
(I should admit, I learned how to do this when I had to wear braces on my teeth as a teenager. It was absolute agony playing my oboe the way I’d previously done, and the metal bars were leaving marks on lips, so I had to loosen up in order to survive a practice session! But the results were well worth it. Not only can I now do vibrato on the oboe, but I also have straight teeth. A total success!)
2. Support your air flow
Once you’ve got a looser embouchure, you need to make sure you’re using your diaphragm to support the air. This is going to give you a more even and reliable tone quality.
3. Sing your heart out!
Pretend you are an opera singer. Sing your favourite songs in your most operatic voice and have fun with it! Singers and string players are constantly using vibrato to perfect their tone quality – you can learn a lot from listening to them. As you sing, consciously notice how it feels to be using vibrato. Next step is to apply it to your instrument!
4. Just TRY it! Get your oboe out and give it a go. (What’s the worst thing that can happen?)
Play a really long note. Instead of keeping it completely steady, try breaking the sound up by pushing extra air (think ‘ha-ha-ha’ without breaking the sound). Once you have perfected this motion, increase or decrease the speed of your ‘ha’s. If you want, you can try playing with a metronome and adding rhythm to your vibrato (don’t forget, certain pieces will require it faster or slower, depending on the style.)
5. Use vibrato sparingly at first
My teacher used to say to me, “don’t let a long note stay static”. Either add some vibrato, or pop in a crescendo (or diminuendo). Just don’t let it sit there completely flat. Every note needs a bit of style! But don’t go crazy – when you’re just starting with your vibrato technique, don’t use it on every single note, use it to add colour to your music. That will really impress your audience.
I hope this helps. Feel free to ask any questions, and most importantly, good luck!