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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: What kind of vibrato do you use, predominantly?

December 6, 2008 at 6:55 AM

For me, learning vibrato was like learning to ride a bicycle: I didn't get it, didn't get it, then one day it was there, quite suddenly.

But that was just the beginning. Then came the refinement: learning to vibrate at different speeds, different widths. There's narrow vibrato and wide vibrato. My vibrato started as a hand (sometimes called wrist) vibrato, but then in college I needed to learn arm vibrato, for double stops and other occasions that required it.

Finger vibrato -- what the?

Actually, Mendy's vibrato adventures are what inspired this vote.

It seems that everyone learns this skill in a different way, and though there are many exercises to try, it boils down to finding your own way.

Before I sermonize and suggest exercises for students, I try to remember to at least try the following:

"Do this!" and then just have them try, whatever the result. Because that's where we start!

Where did you start? And how did you develop your vibrato, and what is the kind you use most frequently today?

From Christopher Ciampoli
Posted on December 6, 2008 at 1:37 PM

It's funny: the first vibrato lesson I ever had (starting with hand vibrato), I pulled out a polished arm vibrato from no where. The next few weeks were spent convincing me to save that for later. Learning hand vibrato took months, and it was a very gradual process. I used some personal type of arm and hand together for a while before settling more on the fingers for my general playing.

From Deborah McCann
Posted on December 6, 2008 at 1:58 PM

It is ironic that this is the topic as I have had 4 students that this has been the discussion on.  I always tell them to do what their private teacher says.  At any rate, my vibrato was called "wrist" so I voted for hand down as that was the closest to what I have always heard.  However, on examination of what I do, yes, it starts in the wrist, but sometimes the lower arm is involved, and yet the fingers are also relaxed and flex. 

From Paul G.
Posted on December 6, 2008 at 4:12 PM

At about 6 months of playing I started to learn vibrato... It started with me picking up a finger vibrato just from observing the teacher. And I used it for a few months while still a beginner. Then at about 9-10 months I started working on exercises where I moved my hand up and down the neck and then with different fingers on the board. This was how I learned it and so my beginning orchestra teacher, Mrs. Stoker, I will always be thankful for her teaching me vibrato.  The only times I still use the finger vibrato is when playing a piece very agressively on the G string, I never use it anywhere else.

My main vibrato is arm. I never use hand, never have, maybe I never will. It's akward for me and I don't like the sound much. Arm vibrato is pure and just plain easy for me and I always use it except for that rare ocassion on the first finger on the G string...

So it's arm vibrato all the way for me!

From Eckart Schloifer
Posted on December 6, 2008 at 4:22 PM

My professor asked me that time to shake my hand or arm for reaching a vibrato... I tried it for some days, and I got an arm vibrato naturally. Later, when I had to play soloistically I imagined still another sound of my tone, because I could not develope some sound like Heifetz. I discovered myself, that I could not do it by arm vibrato. And I tried for weeks -in vain- for a hand vibrato, until I seriously thought about, how to manage it. My own idea was - maybe, that other peoples had been teaching it for decades... - to start this work in the forth position, to block the arm at the wrist. It worked, and very quickly I could go also into the first position to play  a vibrato out of the wrist, without my arm. From that time on I was able to perform concertos in all possible speeds & amplitudes of vibratos: fast and narrow, slow and wide, BUT ALSO: fast and wide, slow and narrow and all characters in between. Though I tried it, I did never catch finger vibrato, and I did not need it...
I am happy, having been able to teach successfully so many young musician these kinds of different vibrato.

From Laurie Trlak
Posted on December 6, 2008 at 4:49 PM

I use mainly arm vibrato. I'm one of those who has just never "gotten" wrist vibrato. Not sure why, but my present teacher suggested that I use more arm vibrato because I've got that down pretty well.

I had first started using arm vibrato when I was in high school. Unfortunately I was discouraged from using that at all until I was in college, and then my prof showed me how to do it well and pointed out that sometimes it's necessary to do it that way.

I am still hoping to develop a good wrist vibrato, specifically to be able to change the speed and amplitude (width) of it as a piece requires. Arm vibrato is somewhat limiting with regard to expressiveness I think.

From Ray Randall
Posted on December 6, 2008 at 8:26 PM

I could never get the arm vibrato to work well. I'm jealous.

From sharelle taylor
Posted on December 6, 2008 at 8:34 PM

BOth the teachers who attempted to teach me vibrato only started with hand vibrato and both suggested the same strategies.  I held off for 3 years, and then during last year my teacher was really insistent that it WAS TIME.  I committed to vibrato practise every day, and made a pact with another adult learner that we would both have a vibrato by the end of that year, which gave us 4months or so.

I stuck to the practise commitment, but it was 6 months before I use a little bit of a weak vibrato in playing, rather than just practising the exercises.  My sorry story has been outlined in my blogs.

I think that now I have a decent beginner vibrato - I can get it on most fingers in most positions at most tempo's [tempi?].  I can use an arm vibrato, but don't see why I would bother, except that it gets me relaxing my left side again after longish stretches of slow vibrato - which is a bit of an inducement to clenching for me still.

It is the most difficult thing I have had to learn on violin, no doubt about it.  I don't think there was anything at all natural for me.

From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on December 7, 2008 at 12:13 AM

For years I pretty much just used arm vibrato. I could never really figure out the wrist kind. Now that I've experimented on and off without a shoulder rest, I've changed my hand position a bit, and find that I can do some of both. Still trying to figure out exactly how that happened though, haha . . . 

Posted on December 7, 2008 at 12:49 AM


yes the vibrato was an elusive accomplishment. The frustrated Italian violin teacher had three of us in a contest to see who would get it first. I couldn't get past the cloud of smoke from his Kent cigarettes...(cough, cough)....then one day it was there.

From Paul G.
Posted on December 7, 2008 at 1:09 AM

I've never knew what a big deal and how difficult learning vibrato was for some people!

I thought it was nothing compared to other techniques... But I guess I'm comparing it to bowing techniques. Not really right hand.

From Roland Garrison
Posted on December 7, 2008 at 5:53 AM

You left out my favorite kind....


From David Allen
Posted on December 7, 2008 at 10:02 AM

You vibrate only on accidentals?

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 7, 2008 at 3:02 PM

I know it is very weird but my favorite ones are defenitively finger ones (I developed these a lot mainly because I have very small and weak fingers but like the wide and warm vibratos that I wasn't able to create with the other kinds) It requires no pression on the string and luckily, they sound like the lovely sound I like and I am able to vary speed or widness etc so I think it is quite amazing to see all the different "colors" you can have from one type or another. I think it is a great deal to master very well the one that comes naturally to you (finger or wrist or arm) and work on this type to develop the sound you like. Personnally, I do not like arm ones because it shakes the violin especially if restless(but some people are fantastic with it) and I find the finger ones sound natural (unforced) and forces me to relax the hand which is fantastic.  Although, there are no general rules and it depends on the sound you like and the physionomy of each one.

Happy to represent the minority who prefer finger ones! (Joke)


From Vincent Le
Posted on December 7, 2008 at 10:23 PM

I use Hand more then anything else. Arm can't seem to get the hang of it. I'm kinda not sure what finger vibrato looks like.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 7, 2008 at 10:34 PM


I think its actually quite rare to see a clear distinction between hand and arm vibrato.Its just the ratio of movement that chnages.  I used to use predominant hand but have switched to more arm movement recently for which I blame Drew;)



From Mendy Smith
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 2:05 AM

Guess I should respond since I "inspired" this vote.  Didn't know it at the time, but it was the finger vibrato that happened first with no real effort.  I had thought of it as a way to "fake" my way through vibrato and not a real technique.  Go figure!  The wrist vibrato came next.  That took quite a bit of work to develop, but its not working well for me on the lower strings with my 1st finger.  Now it is looking like arm vibrato is the way to go down there.  Viola vibrato needs to be WIDE.  :)

From Karin Lin
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 5:42 AM

I used exclusively hand vibrato for many years and never felt a need for anything else.  I asked a former teacher whether I should learn arm vibrato and she insisted that it didn't matter, as long as I could vary the amplitude and speed with hand vibrato.  However, my current teacher is pretty insistent that I use arm vibrato.  He claims I sound much better with it, and I have to say that I agree (when I can do it successfully).  I think arm vibrato just allows for a more consistent sound, and of course it's necessary for some double stops.  Old habits are hard to break, though!

From Annette Brower
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 4:08 PM

I was taught arm vibrato and taught myself hand vibrato many years later just to see if I was missing anything.  I don't remember learning vibrato as a child.  I guess it wasn't very traumatic.

From David Wilson
Posted on December 9, 2008 at 5:55 PM

Try this. Place all 4 fingers behind the bridge on the e string. With all 4 fingers in contact with the string. Try your vibrato. The arm movement for a rich flowing vibrato will come naturally in this postition. Now move your hand back with all 4 fingers on the shoulder of the violin, but keep the same muscles/movement. It becomes more difficult, with little effort you will retain the warm flowing vibrato. Finally, try 1st postion, the hardest with the arm extended. Again, with a little effort you will feel the same graceful, flowing movement. In a short time, it becomes second nature.

From Joshua Fulmer
Posted on December 9, 2008 at 8:02 PM

I will say that I use the hand vibrato. There has been man controversies about the hand vibrato, however. If you find yourself a little more tense than usual with the hand vibrato, then your trying to hard. What shocked me, to learn the arm vibrato, is to relax more when playing.  I relized that if you relax your left hand just a tad more and work on muscels with your bicep, then the arm vibrato is very beautiful as well.  I do envy those that have arm vibratos, they sould more fluent, but again I use hand and feel like I have a little more control of vibrato speeds.

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