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Nine year old girl with vibrato

Greetings from Up North;
     I recently agreed to teach voice lessons to a granddaughter of a friend, who is a nine year old girl. I haven't given private lessons to one so young before, though I did teach elementary vocal (general) music for fifteen years. Putting aside the advisability of teaching her at all (please), and admonitions to not push her to be a belter, I would like some advice. She often sings with vibrato, which I've never heard in one so young, except what I felt was artificially produced vibrato by young singers on TV shows. Her vibrato will happen at the end of a phrase, or the bottom of a five-note descending vocalise. Should I 1) discourage it, 2) ignore it, or 3) try to cultivate it?
on November 22, 2014 7:05am
When I was growing up watching my mom sing, she had vibrato. Now, I don't know if I was imitating her when I was very young or if it was natural to begin with, but eventually that little vibrato I had kept growing and turned into the natural vibrato I have now. My vibrato started to show up when I was about 7 or 8 and was like you mentioned above - at the end of a phrase - and was very slight. No one ever said anything to me about it and it just continued to grow and develop on its own. I didn't take formal voice lessons until college, so I'm not sure when my teacher would have begun to work on it with me.
I think as long as it's clear that she's not making it happen and she's using good, focused breath support with appropriate tone, I would just let her be. I wouldn't try and draw it out at this age - she might begin to push it and try to make it something a little more unnatural. However, I certainly wouldn't discourage it either (unless, again, you feel that it's being forced).
I'm curious to see what others say on the topic too.
Good luck!
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on November 22, 2014 7:18am
I'd be very careful about doing anything about it unless it sounds massively fake.
Yes - children pick up such quirks from TV rubbish talent shows, and yes, popular culture is currently in a phase of actually lauding insincere rather fake-sounding voices cloned one off the other. BUT vibrato is natural. It is a combination of all the bits that should be used in singing working in the correct way. My daughter has used vibrato from the age of 2 onwards and now has a sweet and natural sound with added vibrato. Leave it alone is my advice. If it is beautiful and natural sounding it is a joy...and a sign that she may be that rare thing, a natural singer.
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on November 22, 2014 7:28am
If it's a light vibrato, and her jaw doesn't wobble, I'd just let it be--it is probably natural. If her jaw wobbles, then it might be the product of tension in the chewing and digastric muscles, and then you will need to teach her to sing with a more relaxed jaw and tongue.
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on November 22, 2014 9:48am
I wouldn't emphasize the fact of the girl's vibrato-- just instill good habits for breathing, using the breath, and singing easily, expressively,  and not darkening or falsely "aging" the voice.  Vibrato is a natural phenomenon-- neither good or bad-- unless it's unbalanced-- too much or too little.  But drawing her attention to or making her try to "control" the vibrato will only make her paranoid and she'll probably tighten for the "idea" of controlling it.  Rather, work on all the good habits that result in a good, clean, bright, healthy sound-- the vibrato will take care of itself.  A lot of voices have been ruined by trying to conform to a director who is fixated on "no vib"--  Singers should, of course, sing stylistically -- but the voice has a natural vibrato.  Trying to inhibit it is adding a pressure or tension that will ultimately inhibit and limit the voice.  It's a matter of balance-- if someone's vibrato is too fast, tension somewhere is the culprit.  If someone's vibrato is too slow, they are usually singing to darkly or "thick" and not connected to breath.  If the nine-year-old is just encouraged to sing brightly, clearly, and easily and to be on the breath the vibrato issue will take care of itself.  And please keep reminding her that it's o.k. to be young and not to imitate an older sound.
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on November 22, 2014 12:47pm
Great question!
I, too, was reluctant to work with any "little kids," but agreed to try it--and have been very wonderfully surprised by the experience.... and my conclusion is that keeping young singers from developing BAD habits--in an attempt to sing louder and older-- is a very good thing.  AND a NATURAL vibrato is a good thing--and may begin at any age.  Your expertise will help protect your young charge from the temptations of eviil examples....  
Enjoy your teaching!
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on January 30, 2015 2:19am
You have to remember that vibrato is a naturally happening occurance in a voice that is free of tension.  when the constrictor muscles are released, and the muscles supporting the glottis or working optimally (thryro-arytenoid and crico-thyroid muscles) the vibrato will appear.  In a singer that has reached puberty, it must also be thought about consiously.  Pre-puberty, don't actively push for a vibrato, but do allow it.  The vibrato never should be discouraged.  It is an indicator of a release of tension.  It should be addressed, however, if it is purely forced, causing tension in the jaw.  Don't encourage the disappearance of the vibrato, but rather, engage in the correct formation of vowel structure and support to provide a proper, released vibrato.  It is a major milestone for students to get to the point that they have a natural vibrato.
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