Simple Steps to Teaching Flute Vibrato

Teaching flute vibrato is a crucial aspect of beginning band.  This post gives a step-by-step to introducing the youngest players to the basics of vibrato.

Step 1 – Teach students to pulse their sound.

This is a critical step!  Teach them breath impulse as soon as possible. Be sure they pulse with their air from their core muscles. You should demonstrate this to them – either on flute or on your primary instrument. (We plan to have a full post on how to teach breath impulse in the future.)

Step 2 – Teach students to do a compound foot tap. (Down-Press-Up)

This prepares them for divide the foot tap 3 ways for compound time signatures like 6/8 and 12/8.
They should tap:
Down – foot is completely flat on the ground
Press – toe is still down, heel is up
Up – toe is up, heel is down.
Have them do this first while they just say “down, press, up” then they can clap and tap their foot.  Then they are ready for the next step.
(Read a full post on teaching compound foot tap here!)

**Students must master the compound time foot tap – Down,Press,Up – before proceeding to step 3. Begin teaching this foot-tap at least 2 weeks prior to beginning Vibrato Exercise #1.

Step 3 – Introduce Flute Vibrato Exercise #1

Teaching Flute Vibrato

Click picture to enlarge.

Things to emphasize:
– do this DAILY as part of your daily exercises
– big, strong pulses – It should sound “like the room is quaking” like an earthquake.  That’s how strong we want the pulses to be.
 – It’s not a flutter but a pulse.  A throbbing vibrato
– fast air
– breathe at the bar lines
– be sure they are using down-press-up foot tap

Step 4 – Introduce Flute Vibrato Exercise #2

Click picture to enlarge.

Click picture to enlarge.

Start this after they are very confident on Vibrato Exercise #1. Exercise #2 will replace #1. Continue to emphasize all the points from Exercise #1 and be sure to do it daily.

Step 5 – Introduce “The Train”


Click picture to enlarge

This is in ADDITION to Vibrato Exercise #2.  Do it daily (3 notes per day).

Each day have students pick 3 different note from the chromatic scale.  They should play one from the lower range, one from middle, one from high (of the F 2 octave chromatic scale).  Start with very VERY slow pulsing, speed up to as fast as possible, then slow back down gradually. 

Students should take a breath and come back in as needed. because it’s going to last a long time.  They will need to breathe if you do it as gradually as you should.  You should ‘conduct’ the pulses to show them the speed increase/decrease.  Take your time speeding up and slowing back down.

This exercise is entitled the Train because a train leaves the station slowly and gradually accelerates to optimal speed, then slowly and gradually comes to a slow and complete stops………that’s the kind of control needed for vibrato.

Step 6 – Transfer it to music

Find places in their music where they can play vibrato on one or two notes.  For example, in their beginning band method book, most songs end on a half note, dotted half note, or whole note. Have them use vibrato when they get to the final note.  They can even draw a little train squiggle above the long notes to remind them to play with vibrato.  As they progress, teach them to look for other notes at ends of phrases where they can “do the train” and add vibrato.

Help students learn that the speed of the vibrato depends on the range of the note and where you are in the phrase.  At the end of the phrase, you want to taper the vibrato before you end the note.

Other points to consider
– Demonstrating a great vibrato or playing recordings with great vibrato is a must.
– Ideally you would introduce all of these exercises in beginning band.
           How to pulse – as early as possible
           Compound foot tap – well before introducing
           Flute Vibrato Exercise 1 in October
           Flute Vibrato Exercise 2 in January
           The train in February
– If you are ‘behind’ on starting it’s ok – just start TODAY!
– If you have heterogeneous beginning band classes, just have the non-vibrato instruments play a whole note.  It’s a great way to teach compound foot tap.
– You are getting double bang for your buck on the vibrato exercises because you are introducing the compound time foot tap.
– If you didn’t teach it in beginning band either add to to your band warm-up or teach it during sectionals. (start TODAY!)
– If they are not playing with vibrato (and you have taught them how) use this analogy –When you play with vibrato you sound naked!  Put on some clothes!” (Know your audience with this one!)

These steps should help simplify your method of teaching flute vibrato.

Cindy Bulloch retired in 2007 after a 29-years public school career including positions in Enid, Oklahoma, and Abilene, Lewisville, and Odessa,Texas.  A student of Dr. Gary Garner, Mrs. Bulloch earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Music Education from West Texas State University in Canyon, Texas.  Under her 19 years of direction, the Nimitz Junior High School Band achieved a high level of excellence.  Their many honors include 19 consecutive sweepstakes awards at the UIL Concert and Sightreading Contest, “Outstanding Band” festival awards, the John Philip Sousa International Sudler Cup, the Texas Bandmasters Association Exemplary Band Program Award, and twice named the Texas Music Educators Association BBB Junior High Honor Band.   Mrs. Bulloch is now an active clinician and adjudicator around Texas.

Related Reading:
Learning to Play the Flute in Tune (2 part series)
Rhythm Envelope Game for Beginning Band
A Note Before a Rest… (Quick Tip)

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