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Thus far, I've learned three ways of performing vibrato on trumpet:

  • Diaphramatically (ha ha ha)
  • By moving the jaw
  • By moving the fingers over the valves

What are the pros and cons of each? A trumpet teacher I talked to was a big fan of the jaw method. Is there a preferred method?

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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

All of the brass teachers I know (including myself) teach the jaw method.

I find it preferable to the other two methods because:

  • Diaphragmatic vibrato is going to disturb your support and airstream.
  • Moving the fingers back and forth is just smushing the mouthpiece against your face, which runs the risk of fatiguing your embouchure earlier or letting air escape.

In contrast, jaw vibrato makes use of a simple brain->muscle->result link, which is easy to control and shouldn't mess with your air or embouchure too much.

Edit:

The only instruments that make use of a diaphragmatic vibrato are the flute and double reeds. Proper vocal technique does NOT use a diaphragmatic vibrato. (The profession is not unanimous on this so it's an annoying point of contention, but I will briefly cite two professional voice teachers and my own.) Clarinet traditionally does not use vibrato, and saxophone typically uses jaw vibrato. The reason for each of these has to do with how tone is generated and how much resistance exists in the instrument.

Flute has essentially no resistance, making diaphragmatic vibrato the only option that will not mess with your embouchure. In contrast, the double reeds have a TON of resistance, requiring a firm and static embouchure to maintain a good tone. Saxophone, similar to the brass instruments, is pretty free blowing and utilizes an embouchure that applies tension to a vibrating element. In the saxophone's case, that's the reed; in the brass family's case, it's the lips.

Jaw vibrato in both cases is not a "pinching off" of your embouchure (in brass instruments we never vibrate sharp in pitch). When you lower the jaw, you are loosening the tension and thus allowing the pitch to sag. When teaching this, (and only after a student has developed a good and consistent tone with a relaxed throat) we start very slowly, with "square wave" oscillations at about q=60. Gradually, that is smoothed out to a sine wave and sped up at different rhythmic intervals. The result is a very precise control directly to the vibrating element that does not mess with your tone.

Diaphragmatic vibrato disturbs your support because your diaphragm is your support. From elementary school through college brass teachers repeatedly insist "More air!" because that's the foundation of good tone and volume. Vibrating with your diaphragm is literally varying the air pressure behind your lips. Additionally, the diaphragm is a huge muscle compared to the jaw, making jaw vibrato a much more efficient technique to develop.

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How would diaphramatic vibrato disturb your support and airstream? Voice and woodwinds use this technique; does the greater physical requirements for brass make that much of a difference? –  Michael Jun 17 '11 at 16:45
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Though I defer to NReilingh as a practicing brass instructor, as a current singer and former low brass player, I disagree that diaphragmatic vibrato is a no-no.

Every human with a set of lungs and a diaphragm will produce a small amount of natural tremelo in their airstream when sustaining a controlled exhale, such as to sing or to play. This usually manifests itself as a variation in volume, not pitch or tone. It becomes more pronounced as the lungs empty, coinciding with the muscles in your diaphragm starting to wonder how much longer they'll be tensed.

If you are exercising proper breath control instead of letting your throat do the restricting, it will reflect as a subtle vibration in the tone as you sustain a note. This is normal, and not to be discouraged. It can also be manipulated, with practice, to enhance the effect subtly without losing control or sounding like a "ha ha ha". I've been singing all my life, and played low brass for six years through school, and I can tell you the techniques for properly inducing tremelo in voice carries over to brass quite well.

I was actually taught that manipulating the jaw to "pinch off" the sound, forcing it sharp and/or flat, was the no-no. It normally coincides with other undesirable tensing of the throat muscles that will fatigue the jaw, throat and soft palate. It also is pinching off the airflow and embouchure, which will cause an undesirable change in tone. Again, these phemonena are misrrored in singing. Although in brass playing the jaw is necessarily more rigid than in singing, it is encouraged in both fields to keep the throat relaxed and open, as if you were swallowing an egg. This becomes extremely difficult when you "clamp down" to perform the minute adjustments needed to induce vibrato in the jaw.

My $.02, thanks for reading.

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"properly inducing tremelo in voice carries over" - I've found this to be true with flute(my main instrument) as well. –  Michael Jun 17 '11 at 16:43
    
I dunno if it'd count as vibrato, but couldn't you also pummel your chest with your hands? That would modulate airflow, without changing muscle tension (much). Another, similar technique is Chris Cornell's throat-hitting, which he uses to excellent effect (although no remotely like vibrato), on Show Me How to Live. –  naught101 Oct 3 '12 at 4:56
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