Vibrato & Wavering

by Neal

Luke asked,

Hey Neal,
What contributes to the shape of the ‘sound wave’ in the visual? What I mean is yours is always so beautifully even whereas mine looks like a wild ‘roller-coaster’.

The even shape has to do with the volume staying even. You generally want the volume to stay even on all notes you play. Unless there is some type of crescendo or decrescendo. But your default way of playing a note should be with an even tone.

Here is a related lesson about constant tone and dynamics.

¬†Addressing the ‘roller-coaster’ part of the question:

Basically it comes down to control, embouchure, and something called vibrato.


Sometimes beginning saxophone players have a kind of wavering in the tone, which happens because the muscles in the lip aren’t developed to control the tone.

It may also be an attempt to get the vibrato which is heard quite a bit in music.

Vibrato can make music sound better, if it’s done right.

It can also make music sound worse.

Vibrato is used by singers and different instruments. On saxophone we add vibrato with a slight movement of the lip/jaw. And it creates a vibration in the sound that you can hear. There are exercises in the later steps that you’ll get to that work on vibrato. It can be slow or fast, can be throughout a note or only at the end, etc.

Sometimes vibrato or a certain type of vibrato is not appropriate.

For example, people playing classical music on clarinet tend not to use any vibrato.

The vocals on ‘Girl From Ipanema’ does not have vibrato either.

Types of Vibrato

Vibrato in classical music tends to be fast and consistently applied.

In jazz, you wouldn’t necessarily want to use ‘classical vibrato’.

Something called ‘terminal vibrato’ is often more appropriate. Adding on vibrato to the ends of longer notes. And the vibrato being a slower type.

With and without…..

You want to be able to play a straight tone without vibrato and be able to add the vibrato when it fits.


On the note (top in graphic) Luke asked about, I didn’t use vibrato and it sounded like he (second from top) either used vibrato (which was in early stages of development) or had a wavering in the tone.

I found another note where I used vibrato (third from top). And also a note (bottom) that Luke played which was more consistent and had less wavering, more straight.

So my two notes are with and without vibrato.

Luke’s two notes are with a sort of vibrato/wavering and with less of that.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Neal April 5, 2018 at 1:48 pm

Sometimes you want things to sound mechanical at first, you can get away from that later on.


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