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Do you know about the oboe vibrato controversy?


I’ve been having such a cool semester - so many of my students were beginners last year and are finally ready to start using vibrato in their playing! So I’m working a LOT on how to master vibrato, when and how to implement it in context, and how to make sure that it’s evident enough to be heard but not sound weird.

Each time I introduce vibrato, like I will tomorrow to another intermediate student, I give my students the caveat “Different oboists produce and teach vibrato differently. There are different views and preferences, so I’m going to give you the tools to eventually make your own choice about your preference.”

Controversy 1: Throat vs Diaphragm

Those of you who play oboe or flute (and maybe bassoon?) will know that there are two main ways that musicians can think about producing vibrato: utilizing throat movements, or utilizing diaphragmatic movement (I think this is actually air speed changes, but let’s call it diaphragm for clarity).

My personal preference is to use diaphragm vibrato and to keep my throat as relaxed when playing as possible. I have taken this preference from teachers, who cite that as musicians age, we’re more likely to have some uncontrollable throat noises come out alongside the vibrato, which can be really distracting to hear. In recent years, I’ve had this experience, and it’s truly distracting to hear random subtle clicking sounds coming from your neighbors.

I don’t actually understand how throat vibrato works, so I googled it through a flute pedagogy perspective, and found that throat vibrato uses throat muscles to alter the air column, while contrastingly, diaphragm vibrato uses abdominal pulses to influence the air column instead.

Controversy 2: End the note with vibrato, or end the vibrato before the note ends

I’m going to present my opinion first, but as above, this is just opinion, and all musicians are entitled to their own interpretations and opinions.

I have been taught, and now prefer to use vibrato until the end of a note in most situations. It can help obscure the end of the note just a bit, so I find it helpful when I’m trying to blend with other instruments, or hand off a melody in a chamber music scenario.

On the other hand, the other camp holds that we should end the vibrato before the note ends to maintain really clear pitch center that’s easy to match and hear. In practice, I think there is a place for this kind of ending, especially in solo playing, or in tricky-to-tune situations.

The takeaway

Whichever side you follow or teach your students, I think the important thing is to give the student the information and skills they will need to make an informed decision about their preference for vibrato.

I believe that there are very few hard and fast rules in music, and if the choice is executed well, there are many different ways to play a convincing and beautiful phrase. I try to give my students knowledge about how to convincingly play phrases, and leave it there.


Study with me this summer!

If your oboe students have benefitted from any of my tips or teaching techniques this year, they can come study with me this summer at La Honda Music Camp! I would love to work with them in the week-long camp from July 15-22nd.

It’s a week-long overnight camp in the Santa Cruz mountains for students in grades 6-12 on all band and orchestra instruments! Just-graduated seniors are welcome at camp. In addition to private lessons and large ensembles, students will be able to participate in chamber music ensembles, as well as musical and non-musical electives.

Until next week,



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