I hate vibrato


David Byrne's book report on Capturing Sound includes this observation:

1.2.07: Crappy Sound Forever! : ... He discusses vibrato in string players, which is a good example. Katz contends that in the pre-recording era vibrato added to a note was considered kitschy, tacky, and was universally frowned upon — unless one absolutely had to use it in the uppermost registers. As recording became more ubiquitous and common in the early part of the last century it was found that by using a bit more vibrato not only could the volume of the instrument be increased (very important when there is only one mic or a huge horn to capture an orchestra or ensemble) but the pitch, now painfully and permanently apparent on the recording, could be smudged by adding the wobble. The perceptible imprecise pitch of a string instrument with no frets could be compensated for with a little wobble. Soon enough, the conventional wisdom reversed itself, and now people find playing without vibrato to be painful, weird and unprofessional.

I suspect that the exact same thing happened with opera singers. I have some recordings made at the very beginning of the recording era and their use of vibrato is much much less that what is common nowadays. Their singing is somewhat closer to what we might call pop today — well, not exactly, but I find it more accessible and less weird that the fuzzy pitching of contemporary opera singers who sometimes exaggerate the wobble so much you hardly know what note they’re supposed to be singing unless you know the tune already.

I always blamed Whitney Houston for popularizing vibrato in vocalization, a trend I despise, but apparently I was wrong. Not that I can stop myself from bending strings when playing my Fender guitar - string bending is a form of vibrato I suppose. Maybe I should do what the Velvet Underground did, per Lou Reed: institute fines for playing blues riffs.

Anyway, Mr. Byrne continues:

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The "permanent orgasm." I think that is what Newsweek called Whitney's initiator of the trend, "I Will Always Love You."
That was a precise definition. And hilarious, for the song is soooo serious.

For me, I can't imagine playing a stringed instrument without using vibrato and I would imagine the innovative player who attempted to free themselves of their vibrato shackles would likely be considered a beginner in most orchestra settings. They'd be treated like they walked onto the stage naked. See, for strings once you've figured out how to slur notes, attempt double stops, do a little pizzicato, then you get to graduate to vibrato. In fact, it's one of the elements you can get critiqued on in competition. I need muh vibrato, Seth! Don't take it away!

Beth - I like vibrato and slurs very much on stringed instruments (which was my pre-cafeinated and thus unclear point), but cannot stand what Tina calls The Permanent Orgasm of singers ululating. So you are free to keep your vibrato, until further notice.

Thanks, Seth! You're the best. (And Whitney Houston's warbling makes my eyes water - which is the nicest thing I can think to say.)

I just tried to play my Taylor steel string without vibrato. Felt very robotic.

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on January 5, 2007 5:19 AM.

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