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Vibrato Changes Following Imagery

*Lynda Moorcroft, Dianna T. Kenny, and Jennifer Oates, *ySydney, New South Wales, and zMelbourne, Victoria, Australia
Summary: Objectives. This study investigated acoustic change in singers vibrato following imagery and nonimagery tasks.
Study Design. The study used a fully randomized cross-over (six conditions 3 two times) block design, in which
each singer received each intervention in random order. Data were analyzed using the general linear model (GLM).
Main effects for time and condition and interaction effects (time 3 condition) were calculated for each dependent
measure.
Methods. Six classically trained female singers recorded an 8-bar solo before and after three nonvocal, 25 minute
tasks. Each singer performed the tasks in a different randomized order in a single sitting. Task 1 involved imagery of
the breath directed up and down as far from the larynx as possible; Task 2 used Braille music code, enabling the singer
to engage in tactile, kinesthetic and visual imagery related to music but unrelated to breath function; Task 3 was a nonimagery activity requiring the completion of a cloze passage about breath function. From the 11 longest notes in each
solo, spectrograms of the partials were produced and assessed for pre- to post-test changes in vibrato rate, vibrato extent,
and sound pressure level (SPL).
Results. Only the breathing imagery task produced significantly more moderate and regular vibrato rates. Vibrato
extent was not responsive to any intervention.
Conclusions. Findings indicate that breathing imagery regulates singers vibrato in a manner consistent with that of a
more proficient, warmed-up voice.
Key Words: BreathingImageryVibratoWarm-upTone qualityClassical female singers.
INTRODUCTION
Singers trained in the Western classical tradition often use indirect techniques as an aid to soliciting the complex and often
subconscious physiological coordinations that produce optimal
vocal results. Mental imagery is one such technique, and indeed
the discipline of singing and vocal pedagogy . has consistently and historically used mental imaging techniques to
achieve its objectives. (p. 41)1 Although Cleveland1 noted
the need to extend voice research into the science of mental imagery, his call has largely been ignored to date.
Imagery used by singers often draws on the aural, visual, and
proprioceptive senses.24 It may or may not be text-based or
represent some aspect of physiology. However, because sensation in the larynx means lack of freedom in the larynx, (p.
154)5 and the voice tends to be more artistically acceptable if
it feels to the user as although it were produced in almost any
other region of the body than the throat,3,69 much of the
imagery traditionally practiced as an aid to technical control
focuses the vocalists attention away from the throat in a
manner that does not represent reality. Such images have
played an important role in voice teaching for at least five
centuries10 and include those in which sensations of the breath
or the tone are directed far from the larynx and even to some
point outside the body.10,11

Accepted for publication May 7, 2014.


From the *Australian Centre for Applied Research in Music Performance, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; yFaculty of Arts and Social Sciences,
The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; and the zFaculty of Health
Sciences, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dianna T. Kenny, The University of Sydney, Room 404, Building J12, Cleveland St, Chippendale, NSW 2006, Australia. E-mail:
dianna.kenny@sydney.edu.au
Journal of Voice, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 182-190
0892-1997/$36.00
2015 The Voice Foundation
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2014.06.002

Imagery of the breath upholds the teachings of the Italian


school of singing, that the focus of the tone (the placement)
and the control of the breath are considered to be one action.
(p. 80)12 That is, the bodily sensations the singer focuses on
remain the same regardless of whether the singer is breathing
in or singing out.12 Giovanni Battista Lamperti taught: The
desire to feel the touch of the point of tone, becomes the
objective guide to the breath (p. 70)13 a maxim sometimes
paraphrased as Breathe where you sing. Sing where you
breathe. (p. 10)14
However, vocal training is generally required to apply such a
concept to advantage. The singer with an inefficient, poor quality voice senses the voice solely at vocal fold level,15 whereas
the accomplished singers perception of a resonant voice involves sensations throughout the body.6,16 Baritone Thomas
Quasthoff reports: It is very important to feel the breathing
inside your entire body, and not only in a separated part of
your body. The whole human being is the instrument, not
only the larynx. (p. 264)17
To aid the perception of sensations associated with an accomplished resonant voice, singers are sometimes presented with
imagery such as that in Figure 1 drawn by the singer and teacher
Richard Brunner.6 Figure 1 shows a typical beginner singer on
the left, who is aware of breathing only in the throat and the
chest, and a more accomplished singer on the right, who imagines the breath being taken much deeper into the torso and up to
the top of the head.
Extending this concept, the sensations of the breath or the
tone are sometimes imagined projecting beyond the head and
torso. The singer Lilli Lehmann18 wrote of the need to always
have an inner picture of the stream of breath that directs the
highest notes to a place above the head as though shooting
into the air. To counterbalance upward sensations, singers
may also use downward-directed images of the breath going
to the pelvic floor, the knees, the soles of the feet, or into roots

Lynda Moorcroft, et al

Vibrato Following Imagery

FIGURE 1. Imagery to aid perception of sensations. (Brunner R.


Gesangstechnik. Regensburg: Feuchtinger and Gleichauf; 1993:p. 90.
Reprinted with permission).
below the stage floor. Br
unner6 writes that a good singer strikes
broad, deep roots into the earth (p. 24) . like a powerful
tree (p. 91).
In reality, the breath or the voice cannot be directed to some
focal point or points of sensation as the images suggest. Consequently, not all singing authorities support the use of such imagery.19 Yet, the vocal coach, Sergius Kagen, although
decrying images which put to shame the most fantasticallyminded surrealist poet, (p. 82)20 nevertheless concedes that
particularly gifted singers appear to respond to them. What
the singing literature significantly fails to note is that the practice of such imagery is not restricted to the discipline of singing.
Similar imagery has a long history of use in Eastern meditation and in Chinese traditional healing21 where the ability to
focus the mind, for example on the breath, serves to calm anxiety and assist with the bodys stress related responses. More
recently, it has been documented in the practice of Western
physiotherapy21,22 and performance disciplines other than
singing.2328 As reported by a professional dancer:
Sometimes when youre learning a new skill, you become
bogged down by the physics of the movement. And sometimes it takes someone to say to you try and just let the
air come out of the top of your head. And suddenly youre
not so much worried about your foot but youre focusing
on some other part of your body, and that will just allow
the leg to do what it needs to do. (p. 407)28

It has been suggested that breathing imagery serves not only


as a distraction from negative self-talk, but also improves spinal
alignment6,27,29 and diaphragmatic breathing,6,21 which in turn
assists with the management of stress and relaxation levels,21
panic attacks and performance anxiety.23,30,31 Although the
vocal literature is generally devoid of references to
performance anxiety management, it does suggests that such
imagery may assist with balancing the upward and downward
forces in the stylopharyngeal muscle complex,32 that it raises
the soft palate, lowers the larynx,8,9,33 and maintains larynx
stability.34 These actions are linked to the freeing of laryngeal
constriction, obtaining an open throat9,33,34 and improved
tone quality.8,12 However, for singers the freeing of laryngeal
constriction is linked to the elimination of one of the most

183
detrimental symptoms of performance anxiety the word
anxiety stemming from Greek and Latin words meaning
constriction, pressing tight and strangling.35 The literature for the spoken voice adds that if breathing imagery is used
pre-performance, it serves as a silent warm-up by creating a
mental blueprint for the sound.24,25
Adding credence to the theory of a mental blueprint, the discovery of the mirror neuron system supports claims that imagery activates neural responses, triggering physical adjustments
that are often beyond conscious control.36,37 Furthermore,
mirror neurons show greater activation the more the
individual has a strong sense of the goal to be achieved38,39;
and pedagogical wisdom suggests imagery of sensations
directed both upward and downward, far from the larynx,
presents the singer with a proprioceptive goal linked to
skilled performance and optimal vocal tone quality. Thus,
Hurley40 proposes that the presence of mirror neurons may account for why musicians often report that imagining a skilled
performance in music improves performance.
In the tradition of Western classical singing, skilled performance requires optimal vocal tone which possesses as much
brilliance and mellowness as possible.8 Vennard writes that
the singers sensations which appear to be directed up and forward are related to a bright brilliance of tone and those directed
down and back are related to a darker mellowness of tone, and
for a chiaroscuro ideal balance of brilliance and mellowness,
both of these directionally opposing sensations must occur
simultaneously.8 Thus, according to Vennard, if imagery is
used optimally then vocal tone quality improves.
This suggests that breathing imagery may affect singers
vibrato, because it has long been observed that vocal color is
determined above all by vibrato,41 and that the faster or slower
the vibrato, the brighter or darker the tone.12 Furthermore, in
music where a chiaroscuro beauty of tone is of primary
importance, the more highly trained and skilled the singer,
the more moderate and regular the vibrato rate.4246
Excessively fast and unstable vibrato rates are often found in
students at the commencement of vocal training,46,47 but are
also typical acoustic indicators of muscular hyperactivity that
occur in situations of high stress, excessive force, and
performance anxiety, irrespective of singer level.5,8,48,49 In
addition to producing a very bright, sometimes shrill quality,
fast vibrato rates in the 68 cycles/second range may sound
like a bleat,48 with those in the 7 or 8 cycles/second range associated with tremolo.32 Slow vibrato is typical where lethargy or
poor muscle tone is present.5,46 Generally, vibrato rates below
5 cycles/second are considered unacceptably slow,45 produce
a particularly dark tone quality, and tend toward a wobble.50
Vibrato near 4 cycles/second clearly undulates rather than
creating the impression of a constant pitch.45,48
An acceptable tone color may vary depending on the repertoire, and so too may the vibrato rate. Exceptionally fast and
exceptionally slow vibrato rates appear to be important when
particularly intense emotions or extreme psychological states
are portrayed.48,49 For example, Maria Callas has recorded
vibrato rates as fast as 7.1 cycles/second in the mad scene
from Donizettis opera Lucia di Lammermoor,51 where the

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Journal of Voice, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2015

character has just murdered her bridegroom, and vibrato rates as


slow as 4.1 cycles/second in the sleep-walking scene from Verdis opera Macbeth,52 where the singer is portraying overwhelming emotional disintegration.53 Under more usual
circumstances, a rate of 7.1 cycles/second is considered excessively fast,48 and 4.1 cycles/second is unacceptably slow.52
Titze suggests that Pavarottis average vibrato rate of 5.5
cycles/second represents a vibrato speed that audiences today
find particularly appealing, as it is neither too fast nor too
slow. This is in accord with M
urbe et al47 who classified vibrato
below 5.2 cycles/second as slow, and vibrato above 5.8 cycles/
second as fast, and who also found that after 3 years tertiary
level vocal training, singers were more likely to produce moderate vibrato rates within the range of 5.25.8 cycles/second.
It is also in accord with the finding that after vocal warm-up
there is a tendency for vibrato to draw closer to the region of
5.5 cycles/second.54,55
Thus, with vibrato linked to warming up, to tone color, and to
stress and relaxation, and with breathing imagery claiming
similar links, the following research questions were posed for
the present study.
1. What is the acoustic effect of breathing imagery on
singers vibrato?
2. Do any changes observed resemble those generally associated with a vocal warm-up?

METHOD
Singer background
Six classically trained female singers, each from a different studio, participated. Three were studying tertiary level singing,
and three had completed tertiary studies and sang professionally (mean age 29 years, SD 7 years; mean years of vocal
study 13, SD 5 years). Singer profiles are presented in
Table 1. The use of only female singers prevented genderrelated variables entering into the vibrato analysis.
The vocal solo
All singers were asked to learn 8 bars from Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 Aria. The vocal range spanned a major

10th from D4 (294 Hz) to F#5 (740 Hz). The excerpt called for a
calm, lyrical delivery and considerable vocal beauty for effective performance. The composer required this section to be
sung solely on an ah. The singers were given the print music,
a recording of the accompaniment to be used, and requested not
to warm-up on the recording day. It was considered that if the
singer had already vocally warmed up such that they were
singing their best before the recording session, then perhaps
only if an intervention had a detrimental effect on the voice
could a change in vocal performance be noted.
Recording procedure
All singers had individual appointments to record their voices.
They were fitted with an AKG C-477 miniature condenser
omnidirectional microphone (AKG Acoustics, Vienna, Austria)
which was head-mounted so as to maintain a constant distance
of 7 cm from the corner of the mouth to the microphone. The
microphone was connected to a DAT Marantz compact disc
recorder model CDR-640 (Marantz Japan Inc., Kanagawa,
Japan) via a Behringer Ultragain Pro MIC-2200 preamplifier
(Behringer International, Willich, Germany). Singers were
also fitted with Beyerdynamic DT331 free-field earphones (Beyerdynamic GmbH & Co. KG, Heilbronn, Germany) through
which to hear the pre-recorded accompaniment. This enabled
the voice to be recorded without the accompaniment. It also
ensured that all singers maintained an identical tempo, which
was necessary as vibrato rate may be influenced by note
duration.50
The recording level of the voice was first checked while the
singer sang once through the excerpt. As fluctuations in the
level of performance stress may influence vibrato characteristics, this process also served to allay singer unfamiliarity with
performance conditions. The singers then recorded the excerpt
before and after three non-vocal 25 minute tasks. Each singer
performed the tasks in a different, randomized order. One
task involved imagery of the breath directed up and down as
far from the larynx as possible. Another task used Braille music
code, which enabled the singer to engage in tactile, kinesthetic
and visual imagery related to music but unrelated to breath
function. A third task was a non-imagery activity in which
the singer completed a cloze passage about breath function.
So that all tasks might be perceived as equally valid, the singers

TABLE 1.
Singer Profiles
SingerSubject

Age (y)

Years of
Vocal Study

Vocal Education

Performance Background

1
2
3

19
24
25

7
9
9

Bachelor of Music 1st year


Bachelor of Music 2nd year
Bachelor of Music 3rd year

27

12

Bachelor of Music (Honors)

5
6

49
29

26
16

Diploma of Operatic Art


Bachelor of Music;
Diploma of Opera

Student examinations
Student recitals
Student recitals, semi-professional engagements at
municipal level
Winner of state-wide vocal competitions, state opera
Young Artists training program
State opera company chorus member, solo recitalist
Winner of nation-wide vocal competition, state opera
company soloist

Lynda Moorcroft, et al

185

Vibrato Following Imagery

were told that the project was investigating the effect of varying
levels of relaxation on the voice. At the completion of
recording, singer Sound Pressure Level (SPL) was calibrated
using two different dB readings of a 1000 Hz pure sine wave
tone and a Rion Integrating Sound Level Meter model NL-06
(Rion Co. Ltd, Tokyo, Japan). For a full account of each intervention see Moorcroft.54
Acoustic analysis
All vocal samples were converted into graphic form using the
computer software programs Phog Interactive Phonetography
System Version 2.0 (Hitech, Sweden) and Soundswell Core
Analysis Version 4.0 (Hitech, Sweden). Spectrograms of the
11 sustained notes from each vocal solo (ie, 132 notes per intervention activity, 396 notes in total) were produced and each
vibrato cycle assessed for rate and extent. The 11 notes assessed
per solo are indicated in Figure 2.
The screen resolution for each spectrogram was the result of
settings providing the fast Fourier transform (FFT) size 1066/
2048, frequency range to 5476 Hz, window length 33 ms and
a Hanning Window with a bandwidth of 30 Hz. Each spectrogram displayed the undulations of the partials over the length
of a selected note. These undulations which represented vibrato
cycles were measured by selecting one of the clearly displayed
high partials, manually placing a computer cursor over the peak
and trough of each vibrato cycle in that partial and registering
the corresponding time and frequency from the spectrogram
onto a spreadsheet (Excel, Microsoft Office 2000, Redmond,
WA). High partials were used, as resolution increases with
the partial number.56 From the spreadsheet the registered frequencies were divided by the number of the partial to establish
their related fundamental frequencies.
To ascertain vibrato extent, the maximum departure from the
average fundamental frequency was measured by taking each
vibrato cycle, calculating the distance from peak to trough in
semitones and dividing the result by two. Hertz were converted
into semitones using the formula:

12 log10 F0  log10 16:35
F0 in ST
log10 2
Vibrato rate was measured from the time difference between
adjacent vibrato peaks and expressed in cycles per second. For
both vibrato rate and vibrato extent, the mean values and corresponding standard deviations were calculated for the following:

 For the group of singers as a whole under each condition,


 For each solo under each condition, and
 For each of the 11 sustained notes in each solo.
In addition, from the 11 mean vibrato rates per solo, the fastest, slowest and median values were selected to observe the
range of vibrato rates for each solo and the average range of
vibrato rates per condition.
Changes in both vibrato rate and vibrato extent were also
compared with SPL changes. SPL was measured in decibels
and established from the graphic representation of an upper
and a lower calibration tone recorded directly after each
singers solos. Mean SPL was extracted from each solo using
the Hitech Soundswell Core Analysis histogram function with
a resolution setting of 512 bins.
Acoustic data were subject to statistical analysis using SPSS
(Statistical Package for the Social Sciences v 16; SPSS Inc,
Chicago, IL). The design of the study was a fully randomized
cross-over block design, in which each singer received each
intervention in random order. Repeated measures multivariate
analyses of variance were used to analyze the results. The study
comprised a 6 3 2 design: (six dependent measures: mean
vibrato rate, standard deviation, fastest vibrato rate, slowest
vibrato rate, median vibrato rate, and the range of vibrato rates
[ie, fastest minus slowest vibrato rate]) by time (before intervention and after intervention). Data were subjected to analysis
using the general linear model (GLM). Main effects for time
and condition and interaction effects (time 3 condition) were
calculated for each dependent measure.
A further set of analyzes were conducted to assess the effect
of order of intervention on the outcome of the six dependent
measures. The analysis was a single factor within subject
repeated measures design, with the difference score for each
dependent variable calculated by subtracting pretest from the
posttest scores. All first, second, and third presentation difference scores were compared to assess possible order effects.
The distributions for each dependent measure were assessed
for normality and outliers. Examination of skewness and kurtosis statistics indicated that the distributions were relatively
normally distributed. Mauchlys test of sphericity was assessed before interpreting the F statistics from the GLM.
Those variables with significance >0.05 were interpreted using
the sphericity assumed statistics; those with significance
0.05 were interpreted using the Huynh-Feldt epsilon
adjustment.

FIGURE 2. The 11 notes acoustically assessed for vibrato rate and vibrato extent.

186

Journal of Voice, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2015

FIGURE 3. The mean and median vibrato rates for the solo, and the mean fastest and mean slowest vibrato rates from each singers 11 long held
notes per solo.
RESULTS
Pre- to posttest vibrato rate changes for the group as a whole are
presented in Figure 3.
As indicated in Figure 3, after the breathing imagery, although
no significant change occurred in the group mean (mean
change 0.13, P 0.15) or median (mean change 0.06,
P 0.47) vibrato rates, there was a significant reduction in the
range of mean vibrato rates for the group (mean change 0.52,
P 0.02). In contrast, after the Braille music imagery, there
was a significant reduction in the group mean (mean
change 0.17, P 0.01) and median (mean change 0.18,
P 0.01) vibrato rates, and no significant reduction in the range
of mean vibrato rates for the group (mean change 0.19,
P 0.10). After the cloze passage on breathing, no significant
changes were found in either the group mean (mean
change 0.0, P 0.87) or median (mean change 0.03,
P 0.38) vibrato rates, nor in the range of mean vibrato rates
for the group (mean change 0.05, P 0.64).
Each singers pre- and post-intervention mean vibrato rate is
presented in Figure 4.

Breathing imagery
6.4
1

6.3

6.4
1

6.3

6.2

6.2

6.2

6.1

6.1

6.1

6.0

6.0

5.9

5.9

5.8
5.7
5.6

5
6

5.5
5.4
5.3

5.8
5.7

5.9

5.6
5.5
5.4
5.3

4
6

5.8

5.6

5.4

5.1

5.1

5.1

5.0

5.0

4.9

4.8

After

5.0

4.9

Before

5.3
5.2

4.8

5.5

5.2

5.7

5.2

4.9

6.0
2
Cycles per second

Cycles per second

Cycles per second

Cloze passage

Braille imagery

6.4
6.3

As indicated, the pre-intervention vibrato for the professional


singers 4, 5, and 6 was consistently more moderate (ranging
from 5.355.73 cycles/second) than that of the student singers
who produced both faster (singers 1 and 2) and slower (singer 3)
vibrato. However, after the breathing imagery, mean vibrato
rates faster than 5.6 cycles/second became slower, and mean
vibrato rates below 5.4 became faster. Even the professional
singers mean vibrato rates compacted to between 5.42 and
5.58 cycles/second. By contrast, after the Braille music imagery, all singers produced slower mean vibrato rates for the
solo. Singers with the fastest mean vibrato rates slowed the
most. The non-imagery cloze passage produced the least
change in mean vibrato rates for the solo.
The results of the repeated measures Analysis of Variation (ANOVA), as reported in Table 2, show a significant
pre- to post-test difference in vibrato rates for the breathing
imagery and the Braille imagery, but not for the cloze passage. A significant pre- to post-test difference between the
11 notes assessed occurred only for the breathing imagery.
Figure 5 illustrates the variation in vibrato rates when

4.8

Before

After

Before

FIGURE 4. Mean vibrato rates for each of the six singers, pre- and post-intervention.

After

Lynda Moorcroft, et al

TABLE 2.
Results of the Repeated Measures ANOVA for Mean
Vibrato Rates in Each Solo

Condition

187

Vibrato Following Imagery

P Value for
Change Over Time
(Pre vs Post)

P Value for
Differences
Between 11
Notes

0.001
<0.0001
0.95

0.013
0.08
0.11

Breathing imagery
Braille imagery
Cloze passage

each singers 11 longest held notes per solo are plotted


sequentially.
As indicated in Figure 5, although the breathing imagery had
the greatest impact on the less experienced singers, the note-tonote vibrato rates of each singer reduced to within a range

(calculated from fastest minus slowest vibrato) of 1 cycle/


second. The average standard deviation of note-to-note vibrato
rates reduced from 0.41 to 0.24 cycles/second (mean change in
vibrato rate SD 0.17, P 0.02). After the Braille music imagery mean vibrato rate SDs increased for all but singer 6, the
most experienced singer in the group, (mean change 0.07,
P 0.07). After the non-imagery cloze passage intervention
vibrato rate SDs for individual solos showed the least change
(mean change 0.01, P 0.71).
Paired t test results showed that after the breathing imagery,
notes with vibrato rates slower than 5.00 cycles/second became
significantly faster (t 5.31, P 0.001), whereas notes with
pretest vibrato rates 6.00 cycles/second or faster became significantly slower (t 3.63, P 0.002). After the Braille music imagery, notes with vibrato rates slower than 5.00 cycles/second
became slower still (t 2.34, P 0.044), but not notes with
vibrato rates 6.00 cycles/second or faster (t 1.41,

Breathing imagery

Cycles per second

7.50
7.00
6.50
6.00

Before

5.50

After

5.00
4.50

Singer
1

Singer
2

Singer
3

Singer
4

Singer
5

Singer
6

Braille imagery

Cycles per second

7.50
7.00
6.50

Before

6.00
After

5.50
5.00
4.50

Singer
1

Singer
2

Singer
3

Singer
4

Singer
5

Singer
6

Cloze passage

Cycles per second

7.50
7.00
6.50
Before

6.00

After

5.50
5.00
4.50

Singer
1

Singer
2

Singer
3

Singer
4

Singer
5

Singer
6

FIGURE 5. Variation in mean vibrato rates for each of the 11 notes assessed per solo.

188
P 0.180). For the non-imagery cloze passage on breathing, no
significant pre- to post-test findings resulted from either
subgroup.
In addition, within individual notes the cyclic undulations
comprising the vibrato became more regular after the breathing
imagery. A significant reduction in notes with vibrato rate SDs
greater than 0.50 cycles/second was found after the breathing
imagery (t 3.90, P 0.002) but not after the Braille imagery
(t 0.13, P 0.902) or cloze passage (t 1.10, P 0.288).
As opposed to vibrato rate, no trends or significant changes
resulted for vibrato extent from any intervention. Mean vibrato
extents for each group as a whole for all six conditions were between 0.91 and 0.95 semitones from the target pitch or
average fundamental frequency. Mean vibrato extents for
each of the solos were between 0.49 semitones (singer 1)
and 1.60 semitones (singer 5). Singer 1 registered the smallest
mean vibrato extent for the solo for all six conditions. Her
smallest value for an individual note, at 0.14 semitones, was
verging on a straight tone. Singer 5 registered the largest
mean vibrato extent for the solo for all six conditions. For individual notes, she exceeded 1.50 semitones in all six conditions, with her largest value being 1.95 semitones. However,
apart from singer 2, all pre-intervention to post-intervention
change in vibrato extent was less than 0.1 semitones.
Results for SPL showed no consistent association with either
vibrato rate or vibrato extent, indicating that pre- to post-test
changes in dynamics were not responsible for the changes
observed in vibrato measurements. Results for both vibrato
rate and vibrato extent were also found to be uninfluenced by
the order of the interventions.

DISCUSSION
The calm lyrical nature of the Villa-Lobos excerpt called for a
moderate vibrato rate for optimal performance. Group mean
vibrato rates for each of the six conditions were between 5.46
and 5.63 cycles/second, and were well within acceptable limits
for vibrato as proposed by Titze.48 Nevertheless, assessment of
the individual solos revealed a broad range of vibrato rates
which, for the least experienced singers in the group, was often
problematic. Singers 1 and 2 often had very fast, unstable
vibrato, and singer 3 had a particularly slow vibrato. In accordance with reports that vibrato rates tend to be more moderate
and regular the more skilled the singer,4247,57 the other, more
experienced singers exhibited no problems of excessively
fast, slow, or unstable vibrato. Yet for all six singers, vibrato
rates adopted patterns of change according to the intervention
undertaken and according to each singers pre-existing
strengths and weaknesses.
Following the breathing imagery, a number of changes closely
associated with skilled singing were noted. The cycles-to-cycle
regularity of vibrato undulations and note-to-note vibrato rate
stability improved significantly. The average standard deviation
of note-to-note vibrato rates, at 0.24 cycles/second, matched
that reported by Prame50 for professional recordings of Schuberts Ave Maria. Pre-intervention values of 6.00 cycles/second or faster become significantly slower, and those slower

Journal of Voice, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2015

than 5.00 cycles/second become significantly faster. Overall,


the acoustic disparity within the group of singers reduced as
vibrato rates became more similar to vibrato rate values generally
found after extensive vocal training47 and in voices perceived to
be particularly aesthetically pleasing.48 This was not the case after the other interventions.
After the Braille music code imagery all singers registered
slower mean vibrato rates, and all except the most experienced
singer in the group (singer 6) registered an increase in mean
vibrato rate SD. For singers 1 and 2, who had very fast preintervention mean vibrato rates for the solo, the slower vibrato
may have been advantageous, were it not for an accompanying
increased irregularity in note-to-note and cycle-to-cycle vibrato
rates following the intervention. For singer 3, the significant
slowing that occurred for vibrato rates below 5.00 cycles/
second, saw her already slow vibrato deteriorate further into
an area where vibrato becomes a wobble.50
The slower vibrato rates that occurred after both imagery interventions suggest an association between the imagery used
and relaxation. The concept of a relationship between imagery
and relaxation is supported by both Jung58 and Linklater,24 who
stress that our imagination is linked to our subconscious functioning. Such a relationship is also used in clinical and sports
psychology.5965
However, whereas the breathing imagery only slowed the
fastest vibrato rates, the overall slowing plus instability in
vibrato rates after Braille music code imagery for all but singer
6 suggests that most of the singers did not cope particularly well
with the amount of relaxation afforded by the Braille music code
imagery. It would seem that although the most accomplished
singer in the group was able to cope, ie, without relaxation influencing vibrato stability, for the others a limit had been exceeded.
The deterioration of vibrato for singers 1 to 5 brings to mind
pedagogical warnings that although misplaced tension is to be
avoided, complete relaxation is not the answer. Lamperti taught:
Relaxation of mind and muscle a quicksand that brings
disaster . Do not become rigid, but never relax (p. 116).13
Only the breathing imagery moderated both excessively
fast and excessively slow vibrato qualities which are linked
in the first instance to stress and muscular hyperactivity,5,8,48,49
and in the second to relaxation and muscular hypo-activity.5,46
Thus, it would seem that a valuable balance had been achieved
with the breathing imagery; a balance which perhaps could be
described as a state of restful alertness (p. 410).66 This, however, is how Stroebel and Glueck66 define meditation. Indeed, it
is tempting to speculate that the ability of Western singers
traditional breathing imagery to generate a similar state as
that traditionally attributed to Eastern meditation, could be a
key reason why singers trained in the Western classical style
have persisted with the practice of breathing imagery for so
long. That is, although breathing imagery does not represent
physiological reality, it perhaps meets the essential need of
singers to balance stress levels and find a mental and physical
state conducive to optimal performance.
As opposed to both imagery interventions, the non-imagery
cloze passage on breath function produced no significant
changes in vibrato. After the cloze passage, mean vibrato rates

Lynda Moorcroft, et al

189

Vibrato Following Imagery

for the solo showed the least change of any intervention, and the
note-to-note progression of vibrato rates and cycle-to-cycle regularity although fluctuating somewhat, showed no specific
trends.
Unlike vibrato rate, the values for vibrato extent showed no
significant changes following any intervention, nor were any
pronounced trends observed. For all six conditions, the group
mean vibrato extents (between 0.91 and 0.95 semitones
from the target pitch or average fundamental frequency) were
well within acceptable limits considering mean vibrato extents
of between 0.71 semitones from professional Lieder recordings56 and 1.4 semitones from professional opera singers67
have been documented.
Supporting the observation of Titze et al46 that beginner
singers often display minimal vibrato extent, the youngest
singer in the group, at aged 19 years, consistently had the smallest vibrato extent. By contrast, the oldest singer, at aged
49 years, consistently had the largest vibrato extent, exceeding
1.50 semitones for individual notes in all six conditions. This
brought her large vibrato extent into that area (1.5 semitones
and above) where Howes51 noted that listener-judges tended
to rate singers negatively. Such large values, however, appeared
to be beyond the control of the singer who expressed discontent
with her own vibrato, which according to her self-observation
had increased because of the onset of menopause. Whether
her perceived vocal change was associated with menopause
or other factors was beyond the scope of the present article.
Nevertheless, the perception of the singer was consistent with
the findings of Sundberg et al68 that professional singers often
experience increased vibrato extent as a result of aging.
To date, studies investigating whether a link exists between
dynamic intensity (as indicated by SPL) and either vibrato
rate or vibrato extent have produced varying conclusions. It remains unclear whether links between SPL and vibrato may
depend on a singers individual vocal technique, amount or
type of study and proficiency. However, in general, this study
supports the findings of Michel and Myers,69 Michel and Grashel,70 and Shipp et al67 that changes in vibrato extent are not
consistently related to changes in dynamic intensity, and findings as reported by McLane,71 Michel and Grashel,70 Murbe
et al47 and Shipp et al67 that vibrato rate is not intrinsically a
function of dynamic intensity.

CONCLUSION
Although the breathing imagery consistently had the greatest
impact on the less experienced singers, the vibrato rate of all
singers improved after the breathing imagery in a manner normally observed in voices following vocal warm-up54,55 and
after extensive training.47 That is, singers displayed (i) more
evenness in the cycle-to-cycle undulations comprising the
vibrato rate of a note, (ii) more note-to-note stability when
the vibrato rates of sustained notes in a solo are compared,
and (iii) a moderating of excessively fast and excessively
slow vibrato rates. By contrast, the Braille music imagery produced significantly slower and generally more erratic vibrato
rates, whereas the non-imagery task produced no significant

changes. This study, however, needs to be reproduced with


greater singer numbers, and with male singers, before results
can be considered conclusive or generalizable.
This study, for the first time, also calls attention to the similarity between breathing imagery as used both by singers
trained in the Western classical style and in Eastern meditation.
It is hypothesized that regardless of cultural origin, imagery in
which the breath is directed both as far above and as far below
the larynx as possible may assist where there is a need to prepare mind and body for anxiety-free performance, by balancing
levels of mental and physical activation according to the demands of the task ahead. Future research will need to test this
hypothesis.
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