Vibrato oscillation center - where is it?

Edited: August 15, 2017, 9:02 AM · What is your opinion on the location of the oscillation center while doing vibrato?

I have read different opinions about this, often from people very much reputable violinists.

Let's consider two different opinions

(1) Nathan Cole's video How to develop a flexible, effortless violin vibrato says the oscillation center is below the pitch: if we were doing vibrato on C#, we change the pitch below C# and back to C# but never above.
The reason given here is that people hear if highest pitch we vibrate, thus if we were to move above C# "the audience picks up on the highest note you're playing." So I guess it will sound out of tune.

(2) Julia Bushkova has different commentary on how we should do vibrato. Her video Violin Techniques - Wrist Vibrato states that "research shows that nobody vibrates from the note up nor the note down, any good vibrato involves vibrating around the note".

A member of this forum, Simon Streuff, talked about both techniques here Vibrato on the violin - How to practice Vibrato.

How do you use and/or teach vibrato? Pitch down and to the note or above and up the note?

Replies (40)

August 15, 2017, 9:11 AM · Going flat and spring back to neutral, with a hint of going slightly sharp to counter the flatten pitch.

In general, as long as it doesn't sound out of tune. Also, more importantly, vibrato should sound like pulses than wobbly sine wave.

Note that these are just my opinions without much credentials. Take them with a pinch of salt if you will.

August 15, 2017, 11:01 AM · As the fingertip rolls back onto a fleshier portion, the tone is momentarily less bright, and a shade softer; so our ears probably "catch" the "crest" of the wave.

This crest may well be a little over the desired pitch, but not symmetrically.

But there are many car-alarm, siren-like vibratos around, alas.

August 15, 2017, 12:19 PM · Nathan wrote in a quite recent thread:

Nathan Cole
June 30, 2017, 3:01 PM · I always taught vibrato going up to the pitch and never above. Then what happened? I saw my own vibrato plotted on a graph and it went on both sides. Same for the famous soloists. The funny thing is that I still like the way I teach it and conceptualize it, for the result it produces... but I no longer tell my students that it will always stay below the pitch!

August 15, 2017, 12:31 PM · I've been taught that you never crest beyond the desired pitch. You slowly roll back/flat on the note then quickly release it up to pitch. You never go above desired pitch.
August 15, 2017, 12:58 PM · Yes but what you've been taught is not necessarily what you do or even what your teacher does. That's Nathan's point I believe.

Anyway there have been countless threads on this already. The only takeaway I have gotten from them is that we should probably aim for a certain thing without getting too uptight about whether it actually happens and focus more of our effort on the variation in timber, the overall width of the vibrato, the speed, development, etc. Vibrato is an entire musical dimension in violin playing and focusing on only this one aspect of it seems counter-productive.

August 15, 2017, 1:49 PM · I'm with Paul. If you listen carefully when you practice vibrato, your taste will presumably guide you to what you want, which may or may not line up with whatever the currently accepted theory is.

I can see the benefit of having a certain imagery in terms of your hand and the physical sensation, but beyond that, I'm not sure what can be accomplished.

August 15, 2017, 3:15 PM · As Adrian Heath says, there are many car-alarm, siren-like vibratos around. And many of them belong to opera singers. Why is it that they consider themselves exempt? Many singers - particularly sopranos - sound jarringly discordant to my ears. It's the main reason I can't listen to most opera.
August 15, 2017, 6:01 PM · Personally I feel that vibrato goes below the note and does not raise the pitch of a note by any amount. Sometimes a wide vibrato allows the pitch to be sharpen slightly above the note, but in a way not to be conspicuous or noticeable.
August 15, 2017, 6:09 PM · Below and above.
Edited: August 16, 2017, 6:25 AM · The article in the July 2017 issue of the STRAD magazine confirms what Nathan Cole has been quoted above by Eva Savelsberg as saying - that vibrato goes AROUND the note. In fact an online summary of the STRAD article had a lot more graphic evidence to that effect than was shown in the magazine.

Cellists have long believed that vibrato goes AROUND the note (target pitch), not up to it. I have always believed - until this July - that vibrato - went up to the note - and so have many violinists. I can tolerate the sound of very few "opera singers" - only those who sound to me as though they are going up to the note and not fluttering all about.

But going a bit above the note does add some brightness, and engages some overtones necessary to "push the sound." I think that an instrument or singer vibrating in an ensemble can push the boundaries a bit as long as the listeners can still hear the target pitch as "the note."

Excessive vibrato in a large orchestra can make the violin sections sound kind of mushy or "airy" -I've noticed this with the Vienna Philharmonic. Might sometimes gives Brahms' symphonies a bad name - at least for some listeners.

There is a lot about this on line. I always thought most of it was mythology. Now, after seeing the acoustic measurement results I guess it's not. I think all we can do is try to vibrate the notes to be in tune to our own ears and hope they are to others'.

August 16, 2017, 3:32 AM · I think that the car-siren wobble, (although not more extreme than that of many opera singers), lacks the impression of a target note because it only modulates the pitch, but not the intensity or the timbre. I guess that it is vital that when the core note is sounding periodically, it is louder and brighter than its surrounding deviations, as I suggested above.

This would also apply to the rarer fast above-the-note vibratos (e.g. some operetta singers)

August 16, 2017, 4:25 AM · If we can't agree on where the center of pitch should be with respect to vibrato, then what does that say about the effect of vibrato on intonation?
August 16, 2017, 5:42 AM · It b****** it up! Best to avoid vibrato and just play out of tune as they do in some quarters! I always find conductors are invariably flat (or should I also say fat). Pianos without vibrato are all over the shop.
Edited: August 16, 2017, 6:01 AM · In cases of extreme fatigue, vibrato can hide unreliable intonation (although it may not then be a good vibrato).
But it also keeps the hand alive, ready to centre on the note; the violist William Primrose advocated vibrato in scale practice! (No viola jokes, please!)
It also serves to "detach" notes from their surroundings, and even "englobe" slight differences of intonation in the surrounding texture; sort of "softening" the pitch rather than "b*gg*r*ng it up! (If th*t's wh*t you m**nt, P*t*r?
August 16, 2017, 6:12 AM · I think that's the w*r* that I meant, but I don't really know its meaning as i only learnt it from a 10 year old fairly recently.

As for scales, if doing one finger scales on one string I think vib would be counter productive. It's also good to play things at times without any vibrato and get a shock as to how the intonation might suffer.

Viola jokes!? What are they? I did know a viola player once who sounded like he only ever used one finger - or was that a conductor ...??? Then there is the conductor and a viola lying in the middle of a fast road ... but you all know that one.

August 16, 2017, 6:14 AM · I agree with Nathan which I think is a very common opinion: begin at the pitch, go below and then back up to it - not above it. It's possible that in the heat of battle some players with fine-sounding vibratos may go just a tiny bit above as well. But if vibrato approaches an equal amount both ways, it will have a neighing effect.
August 16, 2017, 9:00 AM · "And many of them belong to opera singers. Why is it that they consider themselves exempt? "

I'm not a singer, but I have a feeling that the physiology of the voice results in a different vibrato that can result in the singer vibrating above the pitch.

August 16, 2017, 12:14 PM · Thank you for mentioning my video!
I think, that many musicians are vibrating some kind of around the pitch is a common knowledge nowadays and easy to analyze if someone needs proof. But I also know that there are people, who are still stiff in their rules, that the vibrato should go under the pitch and honestly, I don't want to argue about that, since it is a musical decision as well.
In teaching vibrato for me it seems, that the downwards or backwards movement of the hand is easier to accomplish, than the rolling of the finger tip up the finger board. So exercises in that direction are easier for beginners with still weak fingers.
But if a advanced player comes to me and wants to improve the intensity of his or her vibrato, I would suggest exercises, that concentrate on the movement of rolling up of the finger tip, because there is often the restriction located.
I think that this topic shows us, that we should always make our own assumptions, like some musicians did with analyzing their own or the vibrato of other great musicians.
I think, that many of those of the faction, that vibrate under the pitch, are actually vibrating around the pitch to at least some extend.
Too much rationalization can be in this case counter productive. But we should always question the results, that "scientists" get and trust our own ears, or peoples ears, who have a nice sound on the instrument as well and who we trust.
I think it is not a question for scientists, but for musicians to discuss about. I am perfectly fine, when people teach their method and it works, but for example stating that the ear hears only the highest pitch of the oscillation is in my ears nonsense, because I can hear the oscillation in its full range and I think, we all should learn to do that. It is like saying, that the human ear only hears c-sharps. Our ears can even recognize different overtones and combined notes. They are totally underrepresented by the statement "the ear recognizes the highest pitch" or at least I have to come to my own ears defense right here.
Edited: August 16, 2017, 3:09 PM · Hey, I suggested that the ear "catches" the crest of the wave as the target pitch, not that we only hear that pitch. I also suggested a reasonable acoustic explanation, and so far I'm the only one. Which does not prove me right. Or wrong.
August 16, 2017, 5:31 PM · I think one of the big issues with this question is that the question isn't about whether it oscillates around a target frequency, but rather how far you can go above or below a target frequency and still have it sound like a usable note.

On a violin, many of us teach that you vibrate downwards, away from the target pitch, then back up to it. This kind of instruction has for the most part, generated the kinds of results that we expect with our students, without causing them to vibrate so excessively that they lose their pitch center. However, as Nathan and the Strad article have mentioned, if you plot the frequency on a graph as analyzed through a recording, you will see that on the return of the oscillation, it will actually go above the target frequency.

However, the caveat here is that there is a limit to how far you can oscillate away from the target frequency where the pitch will be perceived as being out of tune. Beyond that threshold, it no longer functions correctly for our musical purposes. Generally, I find that one can oscillate the pitch flatter a greater distance than sharper and still have it sound good, which is probably why my teachers all advocated for physical vibrato motions that traveled a greater distance downwards than upwards.

Edited: August 17, 2017, 5:26 AM · Simon, just for the record, in your introduction to vibrato on You-chewb, you use the same approach as me: wide wave motions "homing in" on the note.
August 17, 2017, 5:08 AM · "Vibrato oscillation center - where is it?"

I think it may be in Yorkshire ...

August 17, 2017, 7:18 AM · ..with Center spelled thus?
Edited: August 17, 2017, 7:25 AM · Well the spelling in Yorkshire is a little below par these days. The same goes for the whole of the UK. But it could be an American Oscillation Center (Centre), working away in Yorkshire ... My oscillation centre is well below the chin, by the way.

We will soon get told off for too much English humour (humor? - spelling?)

Edited: August 17, 2017, 9:06 AM · I've been downloading articles on analyses of violin & 'cello vibrato, which will keep me busy for a while

Skimming a few pages, it seems that the 'percieved pitch might be in the middle of the vibrato after all, particularly on the cello. But maybe the cello vibrato is more even in pressure and contact?

I'll be back when I have digested some of these.

Edited: August 17, 2017, 9:19 AM · In Canada you would have to have the French word there too. I always wondered why a box of peaches would say "Peaches (peches)" and why something made out of cotton would say "Cotton (coton)" until I realize it was intended for French Canadians. Or violists.

At the risk of offending cellists, I don't think intonation needs to be rendered nearly as precisely in the lower frequency range. They can get away with murder until they start moving up the fingerboard. That's why baroque cellists have their fingerboards cut off, so they don't have to deal with it at all.

August 17, 2017, 10:11 AM · The could be some truth in that Paul. But why stop at Baroque cellists? Could be all of 'em!
August 17, 2017, 10:19 AM · Paul, low notes solo may be hard to judge, but playing the violin or viola over an out-of-tune bass line is hell!

At the other end of the spectrum, violas should be made with very wide shoulders, to stop violists even trying to play high up....

Edited: August 17, 2017, 10:29 AM · Perceived Pitch and Vibrato (Journal of Research in Music Education)

Music students were asked to "match" a straight tone with a modulated one.
The perceived pitch is indeed in the middle of the vibrato spread, BUT the authors admit that they have not examined the results of intensity variations.
So maybe I am not so wrong about violin/viola vibrato.
(Cello vibrato is proportionally narrower, and the fingertip rolls without going nearer or farther from the nail?)

Edited: August 17, 2017, 12:38 PM · Adrian, you may be correct about relative pitch-spread of cello vibrato being narrower than violin or viola, but in my experience the optimum vibrato width and intensity may be relative to the characteristics of the specific instrument. My sense in playing all three of these instruments is that (in general) the appropriate vibrato is pretty much proportional to the frequency of the fundamental pitch - depending on how the instrument's overtones "cluster."

Some 55 years ago, as principal cellist in our local orchestra I had to play some solo phrases in an orchestra concert on a cheap (Kay) cello because my own cello had suffered some catastrophic damage (repair costs greater than the value of the cello at that time). As I started to play I realized I had to increase the width and intensity of the vibrato (beyond anything I had ever done since I stared playing cello 12 years earlier) to get "my sound" and project the sound. In fact, I had to vibrate so vigorously that my hand flew off the fingerboard - and I missed a beat or two.

Great vibrato engages an instrument's overtones in such a way as to enhance the tone and perceived volume of sound. I believe vibrato should be taught to train players to find the way to do this for the instrument(s) they (are learning to) play.
I first realized this the first time I was allowed to play for a few minutes on a golden-period violin by Antonio Stradivari (ex. Olé Bull) and found how the sound just grew in beauty and volume the more vibrato I gave it (I never did reach its limit).
Then shortly after that I had the cello experience mentioned earlier.
And finally, a dozen or so years ago STRAD magazine published an article by violin maker, Joseph Curtin, that described (and graphed) the interactions of vibrato and an instrument's overtone spectrum.

Edited: August 17, 2017, 11:46 AM · Paul, low notes solo may be hard to judge, but playing the violin or viola over an out-of-tune bass line is hell!

That is also my experience. Quartet playing (I've played both violin and viola in quartets) is murder if the cello is out of tune.

August 17, 2017, 5:04 PM · Sorry Adrian! Part of the words I've chosen have been due to my mediocre English.
"Hey, I suggested that the ear "catches" the crest of the wave as the target pitch, not that we only hear that pitch."
Explains it much better, what I wanted to say. Though I still not agree with it in the case of my ears ;)

For me for example opera singers who have a very wide vibrato just seem all over the place and indifferent in their intonation to my ears, even if they are so to say stable.
The amplitude of a good vibrato is a very delicate issue and may be different from instrument to instrument. Interesting too is the matter of the tempo of the oscillation. Good musicians even from old generations have their vibrato matched to the tempo of the music and therefore in conjunction with the amplitude get a characteristic sound, which matches the piece and sounds (and is) natural. Also the shape of the vibrato curve might be an characteristic which is different with every player due to natural circumstances.
But I think, that a vibrato should be quite close to a sinus-wave. At least, that is how it feels to me.
Also different registers seem to need different vibrato motions. For example up the fingerboard on the e string you should vibrate kind of different to the first position g-string.

Edited: August 23, 2017, 1:05 PM · Watching my colleagues closely, I find that cellists may vibrate more widely (longer strings!) but don't often quit the pad of the fingertip: I should expect a near sinusoidal pitch variation with very little timbre and intensity variations.

On the other hand, we violinists and violists rock the fingertip to and from the harder area near the nail, producing changes in contact area and strength. Hence my thory that our "sine-wave" is more intense and brighter at the top.

Anecdote: I once heard a professional baritone trying to sing "And he shall dash them to pieces" from Haendel's "Messiah". His vibrato had a 100% amplitude modulation (well, perhaps 98%..) and was slower than the runs of 1/16th notes of the aria. The result was an erratic seies of "dropouts"(an archaic term from the era of tape recording..)

Edit: I like Nathan's account. In praticing and teaching "under-vibrato", his playing sounds in tune, as with many other teachers and players, but the oscilloscope indicates a more symmetrical vibrato (he doesn't say by how much).

Indeed Simon Fischer has his "under-the-note" part with a very light pressure, so he agress with me on that!

My own exercises are more akin to Simon Streuff's: a wide motion homing in on the desired pitch from either side. But I still have the sense of the forward motion pulsing "into" the note rather than around it. (And folks seem to like my intonation!) So my forward pulse has an "into-the-string" component (as in "finger" vibrato?) making a clearer tone on the desired pitch.

Edited: August 26, 2017, 5:28 PM · While I was reading Simon Fischer's The Violin Lesson I found a fragment that describes the experiment we talked about earlier.

The test that proved the wrong result

It is often believed that vibrato takes the finger both above and below the pitch of the principal note. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that one reason for the myth continuing to flourish is because of a test done in the early 1960s.
Apparently, an experiment was set up using an oscilloscope – a scientific device that looks a bit like a small television screen. When a sound is played into the machine, patterns and sequences of moving lines form on the screen representing that sound.
This experiment satisfactorily proved that the pitch of the vibrato did indeed go above and below the principal note. The only trouble was that they used an operatic bass singer for the test – not a violinist or other string player – and this singer had a vibrato that was about a major second wide. The actual note was somewhere in the middle of it.
This myth persists to the present day. In a recent book on violin technique (1998) the author states the incorrect perception clearly and says: “The width of a vibrato movement should be the same below and above the basic notes.”
Yet there is no doubt that if you vibrate sharp of the note, it will sound as though you are playing sharp. You only have to stop and listen to an in-tune note played without vibrato, and then with vibrato, to know that the vibrato cannot go above the principal note.

Fragments of the book can be found here

August 27, 2017, 5:59 AM · I'd say it is in your heart.
Edited: August 27, 2017, 12:35 PM · When all is said and done - what is true is what the O-scope shows when a person agrees that the note is "on pitch." Now this might not be the same for all people hearing it or playing it, but the O-scope will be correct.

Of course it is perfectly fine if we musicians keep on doing what we have been doing and think we are doing what we thought we were doing, but there is no point in arguing with the data. (The O-scope sine curve will go above and below the sensed pitch line - just as Earth's mean surface temperature will continue to rise and so will sea level. That's why we call it "data." It is not "data" that we are returning Earth to a pre-Cambrian atmosphere - it just looks like we are on that path!)

This from one who spent 70 years believing we did not vibrato above the pitch. No longer!

August 28, 2017, 1:59 AM · Damian Hesse: There is more recent research done as well. But mainly from individuals. You can find it here for example:
And for Dietrich-Fischer-Dieskau I would say his vibrato was very tasteful... for a singer :D
and here:

In one video he analyzes the pitch, I can't check now, which one it is, but either are interesting
August 28, 2017, 2:07 AM · Also we have to keep in mind that vibrato is made for concert halls and actually should be adjusted to the music and the accoustics you play in. When we hear recordings, most of the natural reverb is eliminated and therefore the vibrato of a soloist sounds sometimes unnatural. In a great hall from the distance it would sound much different.
August 28, 2017, 2:53 AM · Amazing series of videos! I like the one where he plays "under" then "around". To my ears, the "under" sounds in tune, and warm, while the "around" sounds slightly sharp, but could "project" better against an accompaniment.

Another point: violinists are known for tuning a little sharp, so their "under" vibrato will in fact go over the note?

I'm going to test my own vibrato in Intonia software, which can show the pitch and intesity undulations, but also the momentary harmonic content

Edited: September 1, 2017, 10:33 PM · Well, I have just recorded C5 2nd finger on the A-string and examined the results in Intonia for pitch, intensity and timbre.
- Non vib. In tune!
Leading into:
- Slow Under-vib à la Nathan or Fischer. Yes it goes either side of the note! D*mn! The tone is more muffled and softer in the lower part of the wave. The crest of tha wave resembles the tone of the non-vib.
Leading into:
- My normal vibrato. As above, but faster.

I was not expecting the symmetry round the note, even in the prepartory slow motion, especially since I prepared the vibrato under the note.

But I was right about the intensity and timbre variations: louder and brighter at the crest of the wave.

The crests of the vibrato waves were noticeably louder than the non-vib (maybe a spontaneaous reaction in my bowing). My finger did not leave the string throughout the sequence.

Well, well, well!

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