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Anna Heifetz

Wrist Vibrato, Part One

March 22, 2012 at 7:19 PM

I recently switched from arm to wrist vibrato, and my father-in-law, Michael Heifetz, had some pointers. I've included the first part of his letter here:

Taken from 3/17/12 letter from Michael Heifetz to me:

Wrist Vibrato: Principles (many of these principles apply to left hand technique in general- not just the vibrato).

1. Bend the hand back at the wrist toward the scroll. Contact the string on the pad of the finger, not on the tip. Some outstanding players recommend contact the string with the fingers "as far back as you can."
2. Think of your left hand and fingers as "hanging" from the neck of the violin, like a coat hanger on a hanging rod. (Rafael Druian, Soloist and Concermaster of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, suggested this analogy).
3. Apply just enough downward pressure to stop the string. Tightening up impedes free movement. It may help to think about your fingers as having a soft touch, like velvet, on the string (the "velvet" analogy comes from Sarasate).
4. Another image that can sometimes help is to imagine the pad of your finger rolling on the tiny surface of a ball bearing. This will generate a gentle touch and easy movement of the finger on the point of contact on the string.
5. You should feel as though the vibrato impulse is emanating from the palm of the hand, not from the fingers.
6. Start from below the pitch of the note. This is true regardless of which finger is used, which string is played on, and which position is on the fingerboard.
7. Menuhin said, "Finger fall, which is the basic motion of the fingers as in scales, in vibrato, or in the oscillation of the finger on the string, is, in fact, composed of fingers, knuckles, wrist and arm oscillation: there is no part which should be rigid or excluded. The oscillations should be practiced in a measured way with the finger fall. Thus the oscillation which leads to the higher sound is timed with the finger fall of an upper finger. Thus the second finger falls while the first is oscillating, and [it] falls onto the string at the moment the oscillation reaches the higher pitch. All this should automatically be practiced the opposite way as well, [with] the upper finger falling when the oscillation reaches it's lower extreme. In this way, again, flexibility is enhanced and the readiness to meet any situation is increased." (my question: when going down in pitch, do you place the lower finger when the oscillation reaches its lower extreme)?
8. The wrist feels loose and free as it moves, never tight or forced.
9. Ideally, the violin will not move much as you apply wrist vibrato. It will remain as a relatively stable platform, regardless of wrist and finger movement.

(prepared by Michael Heifetz/edited by Anna)

Next step: Conceptualizing the Motion (to be continued)! :)

(For more entries on wrist vibrato:
Here is Wrist Vibrato, Part 2
Here is Wrist Vibrato, Part 3
Here is Wrist Vibrato, Part 4
Here is Wrist Vibrato, Part 5)


From elise stanley
Posted on March 23, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Sorry if I missed this: but why did you change from arm to wrist? I'm a natural arm-vibrato and have learned some wrist but why switch? They are both useful and do rather different jobs...

From Ophelia Larson
Posted on March 23, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Anna - do you have any pointers on changes in thumb position/placement when switching from arm to wrist? (perhaps this will be addressed in the 2nd part)

I'm in the thick of the transition, and I don't feel like I have a secure thumb position with my wrist vibrato.

Thanks! Great advice so far!

From John Cadd
Posted on March 23, 2012 at 12:44 PM
There are some very good examples of finger pad playing in a colour video -- Leonid Kogan Documentary .About 48 minutes of talk and playing. At 11.50 you can see his hand from the left shoulder side. Plenty of thumb movement included. Can you tell which kind of vibrato he uses though? It could be a mixture of both. Some notes are played with more of a direct fingertip position , maybe to emphasise a note or two , but far fewer than flat on the pad.
Use the inset picture worked by the cursor on the video to find the best view of his hand. Then enjoy all the music.
From Anna Heifetz
Posted on March 23, 2012 at 1:56 PM
These are excellent questions and I wish I knew the answers to them, as I am just learning as well. For the thumb placement, as far as I can tell from my own playing, my thumb has been generally in the same area as it was with arm vibrato. I now play on the pads of my fingers, with my wrist slightly bent, so my thumb is in a more parallel position to the fingerboard rather than perpendicular (well, not exactly parallel, more like 45 degrees from the fingerboard).

It is essential (and this was not covered) to have the wrist slightly bent and to be playing on the pads when learning wrist vibrato, in order to have the thumb sit this way on the instrument. The thumb should be completely relaxed and not "gripping."

The second question: why switch from arm to wrist vibrato? This is another excellent question, which for me, it comes for three reasons: 1. I want a nice "blending" chamber sound, and my arm vibrato, paired with playing on the tips of my fingers, was too strong for classical chamber recordings 2. More colors/more techniques allows for versatility in my playing 3. Some of the best players I know use wrist vibrato and I "wanna be like them!" :-)



From Peter Charles
Posted on March 26, 2012 at 8:43 AM
A couple of points - I'm a bit intrigued by your name as someone told me he was a well known fiddler!! Are you any relation to Jasha?

The bent left hand wrist. (Pointing towards the scroll). Well, at times but, it must be brief, and generally a flat wrist, or according to Ricci (and me!) it can be bent inwards a small amount (Ricci a lot!). The thing to avoid at least for 95% of the time is the wrist bending out towards the scroll. Playing with the pads is ideal , in my opinion. (Ricci says that too).

I like the hanging idea! (But only for conductors ...) It's a good way to describe the left hand and fingers.

From Anna Heifetz
Posted on March 26, 2012 at 3:39 PM
Peter- nice response, thank you for your insight on the bent wrist. I am just starting to play with a *slight* bend in my wrist, where before my wrist was flat or curved. I am liking the slight bend so far, but yes, it should not be too far bent, or as you suggested, straight or bent if at all.

I am not related. I recently found out my husband is not related (edited Nov 7th, 2012).

From Peter Charles
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 3:19 PM
Sorry to be so nosey!! As a great Heifetz admirer I'm always interested in anything I can find out about him.

Even if you are not directly related, you have connections, and your husband is a lucky man to have such a beautiful wife and one who plays the fiddle too!! I can say that as I'm well past my sell by date and getting pretty senile too. Even so there are never enough hours in the day to fit in everything - practising, rehearsals, work, etc., etc.

I'm a great believer in the left hand being flexible and I'm on to Mr Ricci's crawling about the fingerboard ideas. I also am very taken with complete freedom of the kneck and head, as well as the almost lost art of legato bowing, as demonstated by the great masters of fiddle playing, from Kreisler right through to let's say Grumiaux.

Anyway, your blog items are very interesting and stimulating, so keep them up. Maybe one day I will do a blog too, once I feel I have something worthwhile to say. Good luck.

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