Vibrato is a subject that comes up a lot with trumpeters beginners. Perhaps, this is because vibrato is one of the most important qualities we have when it comes to changing the tone color of our instrument.
You’ll see it written in music for the trumpet with vib which actually just stands for vibrato, and sometimes you’ll see a wavy line, usually when the music is calling for a little extra vibrato than what a trumpeter might normally use.
This is a technique you only want to use at very specific times.
When done well this expressive technique has the ability to liven your sound and direct your climax of each phrase.
This of vibrato like spice on a spice rack. A great chef knows when to use a particular spice and how much of it to use, whether they are following a recipe or making one up on their own.
You only want to use vibrato on at certain times to enhance specific effects. There is such a thing as too much vibrato.
Let’s get started.
How to vibrato on trumpet
Before we begin talking about how to vibrato on the trumpet, we need to remember that our tone quality is much more important than vibrato—using vibrato is not going to cover up poor tone.
To develop that tone quality, you need to have a proper sound concept in your ear.
We develop that sound concept by educating our ears and listening to lots of professional recordings. We can also develop our tone quality by practicing our fundamentals daily i.e. long tones, scales, etc.
Vibratos work particularly well with solos.
If you’re playing in band or an orchestra, and you’re playing with the whole section or in unison, you don’t want to play vibrato because you’ll stick out and be difficult to blend with.
But if you have a solo, and instead of playing louder to be heard you just use a little bit of vibrato, you’ll stick out of the texture without having to strain your tone at all.
A solo with a large ensemble setting, a solo with piano or an unaccompanied solo are all perfect settings for using the vibrato.
I encourage you to use it periodically throughout the solo, in order to highlight certain parts of the solo.
There are many types of vibrato and each plays a valid role in the life of a trumpeter.
For brass players, there are two basic methods that we tend to use most often.
The first of these is jaw vibrato and the second is hand vibrato.
Both of these methods of vibrato on trumpet can sound fairly similar. So it’s a good idea to experiment with applying both of them individually and together.
By combining these vibratos there’s a huge spectrum of color you can add to your playing.
Method #1 — Jaw vibrato
The first method we are going to look at is lip or jaw vibrato.
This is the most common method of vibrato on trumpet where we move our lips or jaw up and down slightly.
These are very, very, subtle movements. If you do a lot of movement, there’s going to be a very big wave in the sound which sticks out too much.
This is why jaw vibrato tends to be useful for producing a wider vibrato than the other methods.
Trumpet jaw vibrato exercise
I encourage you to practice this mainly on long tones first, and then you can gradually work it into some of your musical phrases.
Be careful as you’re practicing that you don’t use too much vibrato.
Sometimes we want faster vibrato, sometimes we want slower vibrato. Practice all of those different speeds. For instance, don’t practice too fast because it will make you tone sound nervous, unless that’s what you’re going for.
Method #2 — Hand vibrato
In this section, I’m going to talk about one specific type of vibrato — hand vibrato.
A lot is taught about vibrato in general but not a lot is taught about hand vibrato specifically.
Perhaps this is because some feel it is an outdated technique and thus not necessary in developing the trumpeters arsenal of tools.
Some also feel that hand vibrato can’t be finesses or manipulated and is impossible to turn off.
But I’m here to tell you that with practice, hand vibrato can become one of the most easily manipulated tools we have to change the color of our sound…
…and it has the added advantage of not interfering with our air or embouchure.
The key is practicing so that it becomes an easily implemented tool.
The basic idea with hand vibrato is the same idea that string players use. Which is to say that the hand is used to gently vibrate the trumpet so that the pitch oscillates higher and lower.
The degree of vibration is directly dependent on the downward pressure exerted by the right hand and the sideway motion of your fingers on the valves.
There are two components to hand vibrato:
With practice, you can learn to control both of these components and adjust them individually to suit the musical flavor you’re after on a given piece.
Trumpet hand vibrato exercise
A good way to practice this is by taking your right hand and placing your fingers over the back of your left hand.
In essence, your left hand is not becoming your trumpet. And this is so that you can feel exactly how much downward pressure you are exerting with your right hand.
Practice moving your hand gently back and forth and vibrating it slightly. If you see your left hand moving around a lot in space, you’re using too much pressure. Lighten up on the pressure and practice the sideway motion of your fingers.
Once you get the feel of that, and you’re not using too much pressure, now try it in the trumpet with the fingers over the valves.
Again, you’re not playing yet. You’re just practicing the sideways motion of your fingers over the valves.
It’s easy to use too much pressure and then see the trumpet vibrate and move visibly in space. You don’t want that because that creates a warped sound when you’re playing the instrument.
It needs to be subtle.
After you get the feeling or the hang of that, then you’re ready to actually play the instrument.
A good idea when you’re practicing this technique is to record yourself.
It’s always hard to listen while we’re learning a new technique. So recording yourself is very valuable throughout this process.
And remember, this is not something that you learn in one night.
You can learn this is one night, it might take two. Which is to say it might take a lot more than two nights.
Try experimenting with hand vibrato, but remember it is a skill that must be practiced and learned before you be able to apply it to your playing.
Once mastered however, it will make you a more flexible and versatile musician.
When to use hand vibrato
Hand vibrato is very useful if you need a faster vibrato.
To get a fairly fast vibrato, use a fairly fast oscillation and a narrow width. To get a lyrical quality hand vibrato use slower oscillation and a wider width.
Hand vibrato is very useful if you need to add an edge to the sound. This is a very easy way to add some kick or color to your sound.
I like using a faster oscillation and a narrow width for this.
As I mentioned earlier, hand vibrato is an easy technique to use in that you can finesse it on every note and you can easily turn off the vibrato.
Other types of vibrato
Method #3 — Air or diaphragm vibrato
This vibrato is commonly used with flute players. This isn’t my preferred method, so it’s a little bit difficult for me (and more difficult for brass players in general).
The idea here is to vary the airspeed to produce that vibrato effect.