Adding Arm Vibrato While Learning Wrist

June 1, 2018, 11:30 AM · Hello,

I am an adult returner, and I'm learning vibrato for the first time. My vibrato naturally tends to be mostly a hand motion (aka wrist vibrato). It could be deeper, faster, more even, etc., but I'm about 3 months into being able to do on quarter notes or longer when I play.

My question is, how many of you learned both "flavors" of vibrato at the same time (excluding finger vibrato)? I have been working with arm vibrato every day in my daily practice. A little arm at slower speed with the metronome, using Simon Fischer's "Warming Up" exercises. When I do this, I have to watch in the mirror to make sure I'm not just reverting to hand vibrato, which is easier for me.

My thought process is that if I learn both, my brain won't differentiate and I'll use a combo, or the best motion, depending on my arm/hand position while I play. Thoughts?

BTW, I use a shoulder rest, but I can play without (please don't hijack in a SR vs restless thread :))

Replies (7)

Edited: June 1, 2018, 4:49 PM · Hi Dimitri.

I use both vibratos according to the music I play, I don't even think about. I must say, I use mostly arm vibrato, it is easier for me, but since it gives a "larger" vibrato, I use more the wrist when I need to vibrate on higher notes (on the E string) or if a faster vibrato is needed, for expression...

Bottom line: Don't think in terms of "Do I need to use the arm or the wrist?".. Just focus on the sound/tone you want to obtain, then the vibrato will come by itself ;)

June 1, 2018, 5:14 PM · I was trained to do arm vibrato. I added wrist vibrato later for 3rd to ~5th position and (what I consider) "finger vibrato" for 5th and above. 28 years ago (when I was 55) I suffered cervical spine injury that has made arm vibrato impossible - so now it is wrist and finger or nothing.

I would not recommend learning arm vibrato at the same time you are learning wrist vibrato. Wrist vibrato has worked very well for many virtuosi. Adding some arm motion and an almost "compound pendulum" approach can come later as you gain confidence and want to add other effects that you may need to bring out the best from other fiddles..

When you get old you will want to have a strong wrist vibrato - that may be all you have the energy for!

That's my opinion

June 1, 2018, 6:40 PM · Fabrizio, thank you. I don’t think about the movement, just the sound, and my wrist is what ends up being the pivot point. I’m not to stressed about, and my teachers have all been of the “use what works” school of thought.

Andrew, I’ve read your vibrato adventures in other posts and that is why I haven’t ventured too far from my hand vibrato. I see younger players (I’m 41) shaking their whole arms and it looks unsustainable. I have 50-60 more years of playing ahead of me and I want to keep things working as long as possible.

Thank you both!

June 1, 2018, 7:50 PM · I believe in learning one at a time. It's too easy to get into an ineffective vibrato where the arm and wrist cancel each other out. When you can do both effectively on their own, then it's easier to combine them.
June 1, 2018, 8:55 PM ·
Edited: June 2, 2018, 2:33 AM · Isolating the different components of vibrato is useful, but I practice and teach a combined motion. May I quote from myself (it's a bit long, sorry!)

Learning vibrato.

To start with, I teach a forearm movement, but with a flexible wrist and fingers: the elbow leads the wrist which leads the knuckles which lead the fingertips. Visually, the effect is rather like an underwater plant, waving to and fro in a gentle current. As the motion speeds up, the hand vibrates a little more than the forearm, but something is still happening in the elbow. The fingers stay slightly passive, but tonic enough not to slip.

My "underwater plant" motion is mainly to find that subtle synthesis of tonus and flexibilty. For a faster, maybe narrower vibrato, my "plant" get a little stiffer, but only just enough.

I have never practiced a "finger" vibrato as such, so I am still learning! But in the highest postions, when the whole hand is leaning over the violin's shoulder, my vibrato is more vertcal than along-the-string; up there it has to be narrower anyway.

Depending on the student, the weather etc, I find I can choose between an "analytical approach", mastering individual elemets separately before combining them; and progressvely refining global movements in a "combo" (Gestalt?) approach.

I hasten to add that my wave-motions are done without the bow to begin with!

I have had a few students who have found a beautiful vibrato on their own: my approach tries to give the others this possibility.

I'll try to describe briefly what I do:
- Pressure Zero. One finger on each string; minimal or no contact between the base of the index and the neck; no pressure; a gentle back & forth shifting/sliding motion.
- Pressure No1. Slight finger pressue with equally slight thumb counter-pressure; the strings descend halfway to the fingerboard. .
- Pressure No2, a little more pressure; the strings arrive on the fingerboard, the fingertips drag more on the strings; as the forearm approaches, the hand leans back and the finger curl; as the forearm recedes, the hand leans forewards and the fingers stretch.
- Pressure No 3, only just enough to stop the fingertips sliding; the complex motions of Pressure No2 have become a combined arm & hand vibrato, with equal pressure from all 4 flexible fingers.
The only risk is increasing the finger pressure (and thumb counter-pressure) to Nos 4,5,6 etc without realising.

Excess tension, e.g. from the middle finger, or from the thumb, will block the wrist and stiffen the whole process.

It usually works!
Hope this is comprehensible...

Concerning the "patting head & rubbing tummy" syndrome I have found that on long bowed note, the student's right arm wants to join in the vibrato when both elbows have a similar opening (usually mid-bow). This is normal: when we hold something in both hands, (e.g. a tray of drinks) they work in perfect sychronisation.
I try a de-sync exercise: a quick flapping motion in one hand, plus a long, slow arc in the other arm, so slow, that one can keep an eye on both sides at once.

June 2, 2018, 8:14 AM · Thank you, Adrian, for the illustrative example. I try not to focus on keeping my arm locked, but the major motion right now seems to be at the wrist, which is ok. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't make any long-term mistakes.

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