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Heather Broadbent

Free Your Inner Vibrato

October 1, 2013 at 9:27 AM

It has been one year since my first blog post and Funny thing is I just realized that I am a blogger. Interestingly enough, over the span of this last year, I have avoided the topic of vibrato. If you follow my youtube videos – not one of them is about vibrato. If you follow my posts, you realize not one post about vibrato. Well, I have come to the point that I cannot avoid vibrato any longer because tomorrow October 2, I am giving an online class about Left Hand Techniques – including the v word – VIBRATO.

My story starts with my own personal development of vibrato. I remember very clearly how my teacher told me to practice vibrato. I was to put a sponge on the wall between the scroll of my violin and the wall to ensure that my left hand was only focused on vibrating and not holding the instrument. I remember doing this every day. I also remember that I was not happy with how I sounded when I was practicing vibrato and I would close the door to my bedroom thinking that way no one could hear how horrible I sounded. But after a week of diligent practice I had vibrato.

Later in my violin journey I developed the varying widths, speeds, and type of vibrato.

After teaching vibrato to countless students I have learned that there really is not a universal recipe of teaching vibrato. Every student was different and every vibrato that was developed had its own personality and flavor. Which is absolutely wonderful.

So....Last week I was asked during my Online Violin Scale class, “What is the SECRET to Vibrato?” I easily avoided the question and said that is for next week's class:) But if I had to say one secret and only one secret to vibrato it would be.............

A Relaxed Left Hand

It is absolutely imperative to have a relaxed hand in order to have a healthy vibrato. Yes it is true, you can vibrate with tension but who wants to listen to that and you are doing yourself more damage than good. If you find this to be happening, STOP !! Don't encourage vibrato with tension. It is better to not vibrate and wait until you can develope a relaxed vibrato.

Whenever I start to teach vibrato to a student I first ask them to demonstrate to me what they think is vibrato with their third finger on the A or D string. This lets me know what our starting point is and which vibrato that they are naturally able to do. For example if a student shows me an arm vibrato at first then that is what we focus on developing first and if they are naturally able to do a hand vibrato then that is what we develop first.

SO tips and Exercises to developing a healthy beautiful vibrato.

No matter if you are developing an arm or hand vibrato it is imperative that you start with a relaxed left hand and arm. Have a great violin hold with your jaw and shoulder and shake out your left hand. Bring your left hand to the violin completely relaxed


1. Move your left arm in the direction of scroll to bridge without touching the violin following a parallel motion with the fingerboard. This just helps enforce which way the vibrato should be going and gets the muscles moving so they are not locked.
2. Practice first on the shoulder of the instrument with your thumb under the violin and finger on top of the shoulder of the voilin. Move Parallel to the fingerboard
Bow on open strings while doing steps 2 and 3. Sometimes it is difficult to have the left and right hand do completely different motions. Patting your stomach and rubbing your head and vice versa is a great exercise to practice hand independence.
3. Place the third finger down on the A string in first position and shift up the fingerboard and down. Be sure to have the arm work as a team and not just the finger shifting. This also helps encourage the proper motion for vibrato. Stay relaxed and eventually make the shifts smaller and smaller until you are barely shifting but still feel that you are moving your arm back and forth. Think of increasing and decreasing the angle at your elbow created by your bicep and forearm.


1. Colleagues of mine are firm believers in using the egg shakers to help develop vibrato. To be honest, I tried this one student and didn't see results that I liked with the egg shaker. It could be the student, it could be the method but hey if it helps you out great!! Follow step two below but with egg shaker in your hand.

2. While holding the instrument with jaw and shoulder shake out the relaxed left hand in motion of the fingerboard. Feel your hand going back and forth from the wrist. Feel it actually flop back and flop forth. Bring the great relaxed left hand to the instrument, put third finger on A and feel the same motion while the fingertip of the third finger is glued to the fingerboard. Back Forth Back Forth
Focus on the hand moving back and forth not the wrist moving in and out

Exercises for both vibratos

No matter the type of vibrato that is being developed, it is very important to feel your fingertip glued to the fingerboard and is being moved by the arm or hand.

1. Practice with violin scroll against the wall cushioned by a sponge
2. Practice with metronome at quarter note equals 60 and move back and forth as quarters, eights, triplets, sixteenths and increasing speed rhythmically.
3. Very important once you have developed the motion to start using it right away in pieces on half notes, whole notes, what I call half notes for the left hand but quarter notes for the right.
4. Use a timer and spend three minutes practicing vibrato on each finger.
5. Apply the newfound vibrato to your scales.

Advanced Exercises (after the vibrato is well established)

Apply these exercises to your scale practice (ideally to a scale you feel very confident about the intonation. The purpose here is really to practice vibrato not the scale)

1. Varying widths of vibrato – fast, slow
2. Practice nonstop vibrato – feel as if you are vibrating through the fingers from one finger to the next. Watch in front of a mirror that your vibrato does not stop ever. If it does practice those two fingers specifically
3. Start to develop Arm vibrato if you have hand vibrato and vice versa with scales

I know there is so much more that can be added to this list and if you have had your own personal breakthrough vibrato please share below. Vibrato, like many aspects of the violin, is a personal journey. You can have guides on your journey to help but your vibrato is truly your vibrato :)

October 2, 2013 12:00 PM CST I will be discussing the above in more detail in an online class allowing you to see the exercises. Words are great but visuals are better. Reserve your spot for the class here

Be TRUE...Be YOU... BE
Heather Broadbent

From Eric Won
Posted on October 2, 2013 at 11:49 AM
I had always thought that my personal journey with vibrato was strange, in that it never involved mechanics; it was entirely based on loosening up the tension that was building up when playing lengthy sustained notes. Freeing my fingers, palms, wrists, and arms to "pulse", relieved a lot of the tension that was building up in a static note. When I connected this release of tension to a measured pulse, vibrato remained.

I find that vibrato is like working out at the gym, where the instructor would say "Okay. Shake it out!" when tension was clearly building up in your muscles and lactic acid needed to be released to permit oxygenation ~ which relieves the tension ~ so that you can "do one more set". Similarly, when you're squeezing stress balls and the squeeze causes your muscles to "burn", you start pulsing your squeeze and the burn goes away. Moreover, you can even squeeze that stress ball deeper.

I think the same thing happens in our hands and arms when playing an instrument. When the pulse of vibrato begins, muscle fatigue is overcome and oxygen is delivered to our muscles and joints. Your body is happier. With wind players and singers, throat and diaphragm tension appears to be released with the addition of vibrato.

Recently, I was reading the introduction to William Primrose's "The Art and Practice of Scale Playing on the Viola" (1954), where he writes, "...Once again I must appear to 'tilt at the windmills' of accepted tradition in adjuring the student, unless he be a beginner, to vibrate freely on each note [when doing scales]... The freely vibrating finger, too, can never become muscle bound, as great a bugbear to the executive musician as it is to the athlete. A considerable amount of tension must be exerted to overcome the average player's natural vibrato, and tension is the one thing we seek to eliminate in all endeavors involving muscular dexterity. If it is argued that a player's intonation may become inaccurate because of the use of vibrato I would answer that, if it does so, there is small chance that he will obtain accuracy through tightening the muscles of the fingers and arm."

This passage from Mr. Primrose makes me feel better about how I seem to learn vibrato. Vibrato is my body's way of breathing while playing, of overcoming fatigue, and, when under control, contributes to the aesthetic of the music. I'm no longer holding my breath.

From Heather Broadbent
Posted on October 2, 2013 at 4:31 PM
Awesome Response!! Thank you so much from sharing. I am sure many people will benefit from your Personal Vibrato Journey:)
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on October 3, 2013 at 6:23 PM
It took me three years to make any real progress on vibrato, which only happened when I identified a stumbling block that my teachers had missed. For stability, I was gripping the neck of the violin between my left thumb and the side of my index finger. This locked my hand in place, and made vibrato almost impossible; what little I managed was very narrow and fast, because I was trying to flex a tense, immovable hand. If someone had spotted this earlier, I'd be much farther along now, so I thought I should mention it in case someone else is having this problem.

Now that I've given my left hand the freedom to move, it's time to work on my next problem: how to adequately support the neck while vibrating.

From Heather Broadbent
Posted on October 5, 2013 at 8:25 AM
Hi Charlie
Thank you so much for sharing!!! The awesomeness of your comment lies in the fact that you understand that concept. So many times I have told countless students that they need to free their hand from gripping the instrument in order to have a healthy vibrato. The best foundation is to actually be set up with a proper left hand first so when the student is ready for vibrato there needs to be no left hand "changes." Your question about supporting the neck while you vibrate - Just to clarify - You are referring to the neck of the violin correct? You may find my violin hold videos to be helpful that are on youtube. Based on your comments, I would hazard a guess (all I can do because I have not "seen" you) that you are and have been holding the violin more with your left hand than your jaw and shoulder. Are you able to hold the violin up without using your left hand at all and not have the violin slip?
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on October 5, 2013 at 5:37 PM
Thank you, Heather, for your reply. Yes, I can hold the violin up without using my left hand. My concern is with being able to support the neck while applying enough finger pressure on the strings to enable a good strong tone. I've thought of putting my thumb on the underside of the neck, but that would probably restrict my movement again.

I'll take a look at your videos, though, and see whether I can pick up anything. One thing I've learned about the violin is that there are no cookbook solutions - you can be brought close, but that last little bit can only be mastered by practising until you get that inexplicable feel. Thanks for all your help in getting us to that point.

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