In pursuit of the Brahms concerto, after hearing Hilary Hahn play it so magnificently on Youtube, I tried a few more. Vadim Repin, one of my favorite players, is out there with a performance which somehow looks like he is trying too hard for my taste.
A little too much effort in pursuit of drama?. Then there is one of my all time favorite players, Zimmerman. Just astonishing demonstration of bow control and musicianship, or should it be the other way round.
I think I would cite this as an example of why 'the best sound is produced by a flat bow hair' is an over simplification. Here Zimmerman`s bow is tilted most of the time but as he applies a lot of weight the hair is squeezed into a triangle I suppose and a great deal is touching the string.
Britain is a country that used ot have wonderful fish and chips, still (as far I know) has good beer and has never been able to provide more than a handful of the rich or lucky with decent instrumental training. Personally, I ran the gamut of crappy to less crappy provincial teachers until I got into Music College where I had some relatively less crappy teachers but still didn't get any information worth much from them about violin playing. It's a situation that has changed over the last ten years, I think. In all that time, I can only recall being given one vibrato lessons (or rather three minutes of a lesson on it) which is why I didn't know doodle squat about vibrato until long after I left and constantly looked for resources to clarify what I was doing and how to teach it.
So, here are the results of all that struggle, in the form of my personal beliefs about vibrato myths. If they offend anyone I am sorry. Opinions are just like belly buttons.....
1) A good technique uses continuous vibrato. Nope. Hilary Hahn uses fairly continuous vibrato and plays beautifully. But there are plenty of others who don`t. White sound is an important part of our expressive arsenal.
2) Vibrato is necessary to correct intonation or indeed, to play in tune. Not so. One can have precise fingertips and react rapidly so that the audience hears good intonation.
3) There is such a term as wrist vibrato. Nope. Modern day pedagogy calls it, quite correctly, hand vibrato.
4) Connected to the above. There is such a thing as independent fingertip, hand and wrist vibrato and we should learn all three as discrete technical devices to exploit artistically. Not so. One cannot vibrate the hand without some slight arm movement and vice versa and a pure finger action is extremely rare. Ida Haendal gets there sometimes... There are vibratos which contain substantially more of one of these movements than the other but this absolute division is not helpful when thinking about vibrato.
5) Arm vibrato is good for concertos while wrist vibrato is less meaty and intense and well suited to chamber music. Nonsense. The sound of vibrato we hear can only be created by the finger tip which which will roll more or less wide and faster or slower in various proportions. How that happens depends on the player and is not unique to either emphasis of hand or arm.
6) Vibrato can be picked up naturally. Many beginners have claimed this but their vibrato remains awful.
7) Vibrato is the sound of a note being flattened in pitch then returning to the note. This is one possible approach but best left for effect. The degree the backward note can be heard depend on whether the rocking is even or in a dotted rhythm. The even rocking is very noticeable and can be extremely annoying. The dotted version less so but still obtrusive if over used. The actual sound of good vibrato is a pinging repetition of the note itself and not much else. Simon Fischer has likened this to the sound of sautille bowing which is a brilliant guide to aim for. It is best to eliminate the lower pitch by releasing the tension of the finger on the string on the roll back.
8) Vibrato is easy to develop and learn how to control with minimal work. For most people this is not true. As Simon Streuff observed in a recent thread, one has to practice as many different exercises as possible and then see what kind of unique vibrato we end up with. It`s a lot of work daily making those pinging noises in a wide variety of rhythms, but if you can't do that, you haven't got a real vibrato. Vibrato is a tool and if you can`t control it you cannot claim to 'have a good , -natural- vibrato.'
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