Teaching Vibrato

April 18, 2005 at 08:00 PM · Hi,

I was wondering, for those who teach, what was each person's approach to teaching vibrato. Seems to be one of the hardest things to teach or correct. Looking for all ideas, traditional or innovative and maybe clues as to the process and timelime. Thanks a lot and Cheers to all!


Replies (10)

April 18, 2005 at 08:25 PM · HI. I learned a neat trick at a music teacher's convention one year. This works really well for children, although adults might find it "cute". You get one of those super-bouncey-balls that you can buy from vending machines or dollar stores (the smaller sized ones) and you have the person roll the ball on their strings with their thumb in the curve of the neck right by the violin body, keeping finger tips on the ball. The object is to roll the ball along the strings like a train on a track...they cannot go side to side as some people try to do. They try to control the speed from fast to slow. Then, I remove the ball and have them keep their thumb in the curve and keeping their hand loose, see if they can still pivot their hand in the air. Then, have them continue the same motion, but lower the fingers so they are hovering above the strings...still loose in the hand. Then, brushing the strings with fingers. Then, add a dab of pretend glue to finger tip (start with 3rd finger) and keeping hand loose, see if they can keep the motion while localizing pressure on 3rd finger tip and thumb only. If they can't do one step, go back to the previous step a while. (this process takes obviously more than several lessons) Progress from 3rd finger to 2nd, 1st and then 4th. Go to first position after this is working.

(Decide also at the start if you are doing hand or arm or combo vibrato as it will help you know what to say and how to help them.)

Another thing I learned from Dr. Gillespie at OSU. To speed up and control vibrato, once you have the basic movement down, set your metronome to 60. THen go up to pitch on one click, and back flat on the next click, warbling to quarter notes. THen try eighths, triplets, 16ths, and then free-style vibrating.

I hope this helps a little.

April 18, 2005 at 11:14 PM · Hi,

I start teaching vibrato as soon as the student has the proper position of thumb and fingers with minimal sqeezing and is relaxed and playing in tune.

I carefully discuss all the points of proper vibrato as outlined in Basics so the student understands what his/her hand is supposed to do.

I have them start by sliding, then gradually "sticking" to the finger board so that the fingertip flexes correctly. I teach first an arm vibrato and when that is working correctly but not too fast I discuss wrist and finger vibrato. As the vibrato speeds up and the student starts applying it musically they find their own balance between arm, wrist, finger. As long as they have control and relaxation they seem to do just fine.

I think by far the most important thing is to actually teach it. Not to give students some vague notion of how it works and say "go to it".

It is not really that hard for even beginners to have a very nice vibrato if they understand how it works.

April 19, 2005 at 02:20 AM · Christian, since you responded to my post on vibrato exercises a few weeks ago I imagine you'll know all my tricks:) Personally I wait on teaching vibrato until around Grade 4-5 level, where they'll be playing pieces like La Cinquantaine, Telemann Affetuoso, Vivaldi G major etc. Here in the UK vibrato is not expected until the Grade 5 exam, which I think makes a statement in itself. Most important is that the student can play in tune: however, in reality this is not always possible, especially with an inherited student.

April 19, 2005 at 02:58 AM · Christian, that's really the hardest thing to teach. I will not interpret you 'Viva Vibrato', 'Basics' and other methodics about learning vibrato. You definitely know everything what is written there.

What works for me is 'transfering' my own skill to student. I cover student's hand which is in the playing position with mine and train each finger in different tempos, starting very slow, counting each beat. This way I could feel what is wrong with student's hand, are there extra thumb tension, hand and wrist stiffness, lack of joints' flexibility and so on. Be careful with this method. Remember that you really touch student's hand... I usually say 'excuse me' before touching. Anyway, you know your students, so you know who can accept this.

About wrist/arm/finger or combination kind of vibrato... I don't talk about it with students, just show when and why I use certain kind. So I can see during student's progress what is more natural for student's arm/hand. It takes time, don't rush. Usually it takes monthes and sometimes years until students get perfect vibrato.

Of course, I also widely use all methodics I know as well, depending on student's level, age and ability to accept it.

Good luck.

April 19, 2005 at 03:55 AM · I forgot to mention something: I find it's a good idea to remain open-minded about the hand/arm issue. I teach exercises for both types of vibrato, and let the student fall naturally into whichever type works for them; I figure learning vibrato is difficult enough without imposing limitations from the word go.

April 19, 2005 at 02:38 PM · Hey Christian,

I always start with a discussion about what vibrato is. I usually get all kinds of responses, which narrow down to: 1. the note moves back and forth (higher and lower than pitch), 2. the note moves above pitch, and 3. the note moves under the pitch. I demonstrate all three and see which they like and why. We spend a lot of time discussing and listening to this so their ear begins to distinguish between all those sounds. Once they start having an intellectual understanding of what is happening to the pitch (not the hand), then we compare all three options in a row and pretty much all the time they'll pick the variation under the pitch option. (A few really wired individuals have picked the above the note option, but then I move them to a bigger room and it helps them hear the difference.)

After they have the aural understanding, then we start talking about how to do it. I use Shirley Givens' Adventures in Violinland Book 2C (the Vibrato book) which is a series of tear out pages that set up the Galamian exercises very thoroughly and carefully on each string and each finger. It is just the basic wrist set-up but is so incremental that it is easy to use. After they work through the whole book (takes months) then we move to the rhythmic variation (quarters, eighths, triplets, 16ths, etc.) with the metronome. (The book starts with setting up the motion in fourth position and teaches each finger on each string, then moves down to third then first position.)

I usually teach vibrato after a scale is well established and intonation work is really understood (otherwise there is a pitch problem). I also teach it after some serious ground laying work in the hand position is established, although I have used vibrato with some to help establish that position because it does work together.


April 23, 2005 at 11:42 PM · Dear All:

Thank you all for your great and varied responses. I will need to think of your valuable advice and try it out. I will inform you of the results. Thank you again for your interest, support and advice. It is much appreciated.

Cheers to All!

April 26, 2005 at 02:27 AM · Hi,

Nevermind. Sorry folks. There was an odd post that magically disappeared.


May 25, 2005 at 06:03 PM · I’m a student - not a teacher - but I can share with you how my teacher has been teaching me vibrato. It’s a really excellent method, I love the sound I make now! I’d tried for years as a kid to teach myself vibrato but ended up only with a very spastic shaking movement.

My teacher uses what we call a “vibrato pad” to isolate the wrist motion, and create a muscle memory.

Take a small dishtowel and roll it up tightly such that one end is thicker than the other end. Secure the rolled towel with rubber bands. Place the rolled towel under the neck and against the nose of the violin. Be sure to place the thinner end towards the E string. (This makes it easier to reach the 4th finger.) Secure the towel to the violin using a large rubber band that is wrapped under the fingerboard and around the upper beaks.

The student can now “lean” their wrist against the towel to isolate the wrist motion. It also provides leverage for the fingers making the vibrato movement easy to control and consistent. The only drawback to this method is that it becomes difficult if not impossible to shift to third position with the vibrato pad in place. (If you have ever checked out the MasterViolinClass.com section on vibrato - the vibrato pad serves the same purpose as the orange - only you can keep it on and play everything with the aid of the pad.)

I’ve been using the vibrato pad for a couple of months now and I’ve started spending some time every day working on vibrato without the pad. With it on, I’ve developed an incredible and controlled vibrato - and I know exactly how vibrato feels and sounds so I know if I am doing it correctly or not without the pad. I assume it will take another month or so before I can retire the vibrato pad completely - but I’m really looking forward to that! In the meantime - it’s really motivating to be able to make such a brilliant vibrato sound so consistently.

Hope that helps!

May 25, 2005 at 06:04 PM · Hi,

Thank you Fatima! I will give that a try!


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