Vibrato w/o Shoulder Rest: What are Your Left Hand Points of Contact?

Edited: June 19, 2017, 6:40 AM · I've been playing for long enough to begin practicing vibrato—and, separately, I've found that it feels most comfortable, most natural to play the violin w/o a shoulder rest.

That being said, I'm a bit troubled with what the points of contact w/ the violin should be on my left hand. Of course my thumb, but which part? When vibrating, is the base of my first finger still generally in contact with the neck of the violin?

I'd very much appreciate responses from players who don't use a shoulder rest, but who have a good vibrato. Please, be as detailed as you can in terms of how you hold the violin, what it feels like, how your movement may differ from someone w/ a shoulder rest, etc. I'm looking for more quantitative than qualitative! :)

(I realize all hands and body types are different. I'm not looking for a guide specific to me, but what other players do so that I may draw from them.)

Replies (9)

June 19, 2017, 7:13 AM · First joint of thumb, and a light touch by the side of the index finger.

Because no sr, the finger also does a subtle roll into the string that forms a natural vibrato (and is usually missing in sr players, who only do the back and forth part of the movement because the st props up the violin, so no need for the left hand to really sway as it jas to when holding up the violin).

Edited: June 19, 2017, 10:33 AM · I use a SR, and my hand still does a "subtle roll"!
With or without the SR, I release the contact with the base of the index, with a gap of say, 1/16", to allow the vibrato I want, but closing the gap for passage-work.

There will be situations when the pad of the thumb may come under the neck, depending on thumb shape and neck width and depth (viola).

June 19, 2017, 12:01 PM · I was recently re-reading the 2004 thread on the topic
Edited: June 19, 2017, 6:00 PM · I don't vibrate any differently with or without a shoulder rest on either the violin or viola---now. That said, when I did not have a secure hold, back when I was using a side mounted shoulder rest, I had problems supporting the instrument and vibrating- now, I can support it well enough to turn a page securely using just my chinrest without an sr while holding an open pitch (not that I would do it in performance.) How much you use your thumb to support the instrument will affect your ability to roll without vibrating the whole instrument. I also was unable to vibrate freely without an sr when I played a larger viola for the same reason. I now have minimal roll of either instrument on my shoulder w/o an sr, which also affects how much your lh works to steady the instrument.
June 19, 2017, 6:01 PM · I have the same experience as Edward. I can do the same vibrato both ways but it's difficult to keep my violin steady for a long period of time w/o having the violin shake uncontrollably and having a risk of dropping the violin.
June 20, 2017, 1:19 AM · I'll add that in third and higher positions, I contact the heel of the hand to the upper bout of the violin. For me, the vibrato motion is generated from a rotational impulse from the elbow, which causes the soft pad of the finger to roll away (down) from the desired pitch.
Edited: June 20, 2017, 5:54 AM · I am always surprised to hear that the heel of the hand touches the upper bout in 3rd position: for me it's 4th or 5th. But then I use an SR....

Gene, I fully agree with the source of vibrato being further back in the "chain" of motions. I feel that we may concentrate on local "events" when performing, but in practicing we should continually re-awaken the sources of the movements.

June 21, 2017, 10:33 PM · Adrian, it probably depends also on how far one has to reach back with the first finger to balance out the length of their fourth finger so they can play fourth fingers without moving their hands around for each note in a given position. My fourth finger is not terribly long compared to my others, so my default setup has my first finger reaching back slightly so that my fourth finger can comfortably place itself.
June 21, 2017, 10:57 PM · Jason, even with bigger hands than ours (and I play viola..) many players drop into a "half" position to use a rich vibrato on a good "square" first finger, the immediatelty switch back to an "open fan" hold for succceding passage-work or chords.

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