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Comparing Types of Vibrato, Part Two

Anna Stafford

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Published: April 18, 2012 at 8:13 PM [UTC]

This is a portion of the prepared for me by my father-in-law, Michael Heifetz, 3/30/12. Here is Part 1.

A. Developing Various Types of Vibrato Vs. Playing Music (Part Two of Three)

When developing various types of vibrato, it's best to develop each one separately. This isn't difficult, since the three types can be fairly well isolated and worked on independently.

1. Some teachers try to identify a person's natural tendency toward either wrist or arm vibrato. Once identified, this tendency can be built upon and refined. But such a "natural tendency" may be difficult to assess - even in yourself (I would agree with this, because now that I play with more wrist vibrato, I am seeing it can be done almost as well as my "natural" arm vibrato). That's because most people begin their attempts at vibrato by tightening up - squeezing the neck of the instrument and freezing the movement of the hand. If you can't identify your natural inclination, simply pick either wrist or arm vibrato to begin with.

2. Development of finger vibrato should generally follow the development of wrist and/or arm vibrato. Wait until your basic wrist and/or arm vibrato is very well developed before working on a finger vibrato. Why? Because the wrist and arm vibratos are normally the primary/most frequently employed types and because finger vibrato is more difficult - it involves subtle movements that may be hard to isolate and control. The movement feels as though it emanates from the finger. "The finger swings from its base knuckle with the hand slightly yielding and moving passively in flexible response to the finger action." (Galamian's description) Sounds easy, doesn't it.

3. When playing music, verses concentrating on development of vibrato, the various types of vibrato rarely appear in their "pure" form. There is usually some overlap - despite the fact that any one type of vibrato may dominate at a given moment. If you achieve a flexible vs. stiff feeling as you play, there will be a natural tendency for some interaction between the dominant muscle group used for a given type of vibrato, and related muscle groups (connected muscles; neighboring groups of muscles). If you stiffen up, you’ll tend to freeze up the natural interplay between associated muscle groups. So, if you try too hard to use a pure form of arm, wrist or finger vibrato, it may actually hamper the natural flow of the vibrato movement.

B. Developing an Arm Vibrato

1.The impulse for arm vibrato emanates from the forearm.
2. The finger needs to push down on the string just enough to hold the string down and maintain a pitch center. The finger should be flexible, so that as the arm oscillates, so does the finger. The finger feels passive – it’s movement simply responds to the arm’s movement.
3. The finger should flex with the backward and forward movement of the arm. The finger flattens or stretches during the backward motion, and recurves during the forward motion.
4. While the basic oscillation of the finger is a “backward and forward” movement, the finger addresses the string at an angle – somewhat across the string rather than strictly in line with the string. Addressing the string at an angle also applies to wrist vibrato, and to playing without vibrato. (For some people, the analogy of your left hand “hanging from the neck of the violin, like a coat hanger on a hanging rod” also captures the idea of addressing the string at an angle).
5. The thumb’s position on the neck does not change when you begin to apply arm vibrato. It remains at an angle to the neck – not perpendicular, but roughly 30 – 60 degrees toward the scroll. This is just a rough estimate. (Also this angle will change as you “shape your hand” in different ways to deal with technical problems. See the section on the thumb, below.)
6. You can begin developing the arm vibrato in the first position, or you may choose another position. (This is a different approach than is suggested for wrist vibrato development, where early development starts in the third or fourth position with the hand touching the body of the instrument.)
7. Begin by establishing the outwardly bent wrist position – suggested throughout this discussion. Once this position is firmly established, start the backward, forward oscillation of the arm.
8. If you choose to begin developing the arm vibrato in upper positions (higher than the third position), Galamian suggests this exercise: “Place the second finger on the string and permit the hand to strike the rib of the instrument with each forward swing, as if playing a trill with the palm of the hand on the edge of the violin. This helps in acquiring evenness and rhythm in the movement.”

Prepared by Michael Heifetz/edited by Anna
Next week: Vibrato and Tension in your Body, and finally, a Few Thoughts on the Thumb

From John Cadd
Posted on April 19, 2012 at 2:24 PM
Hello Anna. let me stisfy my curiosity with an easy first question. Are you related to Jascha Heifetz ? Then my question about arm vibrato is to question the statement that Arm Vibrato Emanates from the forearm. A doctor or biologist would say the forearm is driven to and fro by the upper arm muscles. The hand and forearm are more or less in a straight line for that vibrato. Emanates is a bit of a vague word for a physical action.
In wrist vibrato the "outward bent wrist "sounds the opposite of what you really want. It sounds as if the wrist joint is being moved away from the player. The knuckles are moved away , and the wrist stays put.
The finger vibrato had another Emanates ( from the finger ?) in it too , from Galamian (?) . Not much happens coming from the finger end. It all comes the other way via the hand .
From Anna Heifetz
Posted on April 19, 2012 at 3:26 PM
Hi John!

Thanks for your response. "Emanates" is a vague word, as nothing can ever "totally" come from the wrist, arm, fingers, etc. Everything works together. As I am "air playing" my arm vibrato, I always thought of it as coming from my biceps. But I think for a person coming from a wrist vibrato, maybe another way to think of it is coming from the forearm. From what I'm doing, I can see it comes a little from both. I always thought of it as coming from my upper arm too.

The wrist may be *slightly* bent inward, never outward or away from the player. A straight wrist is also fine. I play with a *slightly* bent wrist.

The finger vibrato is really just a slight movement from the last finger knuckle. It may involve slightly the hand/wrist/arm, but the main movement is a slight flex and relaxation of the last knuckle. I have not learned this yet-- it seems highly advanced.

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

From John Cadd
Posted on April 20, 2012 at 9:04 PM
I seem to have accidentally deleted the post I had here. Thanks for the comparisons . We seem to be in agreement on all of it. The post that was deleted asked about Heifetz trills. I found the best example to show his peculiar way of trilling. In a black and white film of Mendelsohn Concerto.3rd movement .Freeze it at 4.10 and tell me if he pushes the wrist away . My idea is that he pretensions the tendons so the fingers tend to spring back very quickly with less effort. The trills are quite substantial there so it shows up better . Ask around the family. What a head start you have on all of us .
From John Cadd
Posted on April 21, 2012 at 1:36 PM
That`s the one Eric. Also called Melody of Youth 1939. The theme is not so far fetched when you see how La Systema took off and taught street kids how to play. Even if it seems a bit schmaltzy with audience shots. They never get those bits right. In real life , at the White House with Perlman playing you could see the President nodding his head , completely out of time . Anyway . I definitely think Heifetz was onto something. If you hold your hand up normally the fingers are loose in both directions.( Test with the right hand pressing on relaxed left fingers ). When you push the wrist away the fingers resist a closing movement but still lift easily. Or compare other players doing those longish trills to see the difference. Also as the hand moves higher the small finger seems to slide under the third finger. Heifetz liked technical things like car engines. He played around with an electric car too. Maybe he compared trills with the tappets in a car engine. Springs pushing the valves back again after the cam has finished pressing down (?).
So you live in Belize ? That must get hot .

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