Which form of vibrato should I practice as a Beginner? (can play both arm and hand)

Edited: November 6, 2017, 3:57 AM · I've been playing violin for 14 months.
I practice for atleast 2 hours everyday.
My teacher is an incredible cello player, who can also play violin but cannot play vibrato on it.

I was able to develop Arm vibrato after some effort (and have been practicing it for 5-6 months). For some inexplicable reason, I find hand (or wrist) vibrato more natural (perhaps because of shorter vibrato frequencies involved). After hours of painful efforts, I could finally play the hand vibrato too.

As a newbie violinist, which vibrato, in your opinion, should I develop. The arm or the hand?

I do acknowledge that a violinist should be able to play both forms of vibrato (and the choice of vibrato might depend upon the sort of music that is being played), but take into account the fact that I have been playing violin for only 14 months. On the other hand, I can do both forms of vibrato, and therefore, can swing either way as far as 'form of vibrato' is concerned.

In my practice sessions, I practice both forms of vibrato (same piece (usually Handel's Largo), with different vibrato each time) But I have no clue whether its the right way to go about practicing vibrato as a beginner. I therefore, require suggestions.

Replies (11)

Edited: November 6, 2017, 5:50 AM · Adyita, there is a related question, to which I do not have a definite answer: is arm vibrato a relatively recent innovation?

My thinking on the matter is that before the advent of the chin rest in 1820 an arm vibrato would tend to destabilize the instrument, unless special instruction, of whatever nature, were implemented to avoid the issue, so the more natural hand/wrist vibrato would have been the method of choice. The shoulder rest seems to have come into use in the early 1950's.

My teacher, a chin rest and shoulder rest user, wanted to teach me arm vibrato but was happy to see me using hand vibrato, which is what I always use (possibly an age-related choice on my part?). Fwiw, I don't use a shoulder rest and frequently play without a chin rest with no problems.

Another point I'd like to make is that easy and fluent shifting up and down the fingerboard is closely related to a good vibrato - they both require a good degree of relaxation in posture, holding the violin (and bow), and the arm, wrist and hand.

My recommendation is to use the vibrato method that feels more comfortable and easier. Let your body be the guide.

If your present teacher is unable to do vibrato on the violin then they are unlikely to be able to give a pupil the right sort of instruction in this area, and possibly in other areas of violin playing. Vibrato technique on the cello is not the same as on the violin. An obvious recommendation would be to seek a different violin teacher.

November 6, 2017, 5:55 AM · My teacher stresses learning wrist vibrato first. Not sure why, but I've heard other teachers say that the problem with learning arm vibrato first is that it becomes a crutch because the motion is less nuanced, and that makes learning wrist vibrato more difficult later on. I'm an amateur so I don't really know. Maybe some of the pros and teachers will weigh in.

Pay no heed to cello vibrato. There may be concepts in common, but the mechanism is completely different.

Edited: November 6, 2017, 1:27 PM · I agree with both previous writers - however, over the long haul (i.e., the rest of your life) ability for hand/wrist/finger vibrato will serve you better toward the end. Finger vibrato works very well in the higher positions(i.e., 5th and higher).

As Paul says, cello vibrato is completely different, much easier and more natural - more like the vibrato one might use on a guitar. You can try that on your violin with pizzicato - holding it like a guitar to feel the different muscle use - or hold it vertically upright in your lap.

A good cellist can certainly guide you musically even if he does not possess violin technique.

November 6, 2017, 8:04 AM · @Trevor, He's perhaps the only qualified western classical music teacher in my city (or perhaps in the entire country). I belong to a very remote place, where nobody has come across any of the western classical instruments. (A person asked me to open violin-case and upon seeing the violin, he exclaimed "Oh it's guitar with a stick")
There's no way I can get another teacher. Im a student who landed a part time job only to purchase a violin from internet. I travel by a bus and a train to reach his place, and there's no other teacher.
Nevertheless, he manages to drown me into the sea of 'techniques' and music, inspires me, tells me about the 'character' of each music piece, which keeps me going. Switching teachers is completely out of the question.

He never tried to teach me vibrato and admitted that he was incapable of demonstrating it, could only tell me the techniques, the types and the theory behind it. But it was I who ended up spending hours on youtube watching the 'how-to-vibrato' videos.

Anyway, hand-vibrato it is, then.

November 6, 2017, 2:37 PM · In the end, I would use a vibrato that is effective and suits you and the music. You can also do a combo vibrato (involving both arm and hand).
November 6, 2017, 3:12 PM · Adiya, I wasn't aware of the problems you have in finding a teacher where you live, and am sorry to hear about that situation, but fortunately there is good help available on the internet.

Here are some useful videos by the Dutch violinist and teacher Christiaan van Hemert:
Vibrato https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ofdV-zWCyU
Without Pain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=og14eA-6FyU
There are several other violin videos by van Hermert on YouTube.

Among online violin teachers among the most important are the violin teaching videos by Todd Ehle ("ProfessorV") on his website http://www.toddehle.com/. Highly recommended.

November 6, 2017, 3:18 PM · You can search for threads on "online lessons" to get more insight on online instruction.
Edited: November 6, 2017, 7:03 PM · To me it seems that the main reason for beginners to get stuck with the learning of vibrato is the lack of flexibility and strength in the left hand fingers. It doesn't matter so much, if you move your wrist in a good matter, or do a good arm movement, as long as the fingers can't really translate the movement into the string. Usually the problem is, that the fingers fall too vertically on the string and the last finger joint is locked that way.
As a beginner with vibrato you usually want to begin with what comes naturally for you. If both wrist and arm vibrato are equally difficult for you, I would chose to concentrate on wrist vibrato. But sometimes wrist vibrato feels very unnatural in the beginning and you are better off to learn an arm vibrato and on the side develop your wrist movement with exercises.
Important is what sound you want to produce and what vibrato is more suitable for that sound, wrist, arm, or something in between.
November 6, 2017, 11:51 PM · It is normal that one form of vibrato comes more naturally to you than the other. That is the case with most people. I have found it best when teaching vibrato to concentrate on the one that comes naturally to the student first and to develope that. Then, later, it is a lot easyer to develope the other one because many aspects are similar.
November 7, 2017, 1:49 PM · I like your approach, Vivien. Every violinist's vibrato style is different for a multitude of reasons.
November 7, 2017, 2:12 PM · Whatever type of vibrato (hand, finger, wrist, arm, or any combination thereof) allows you to flatten and then retune your note multiple times per second - without disrupting your frame and the flow of your music - is the best vibrato to learn first. In this way, you can learn to use vibrato effectively and beautifully without giving up the more important things, like bow control, tempo, rhythm, and base intonation. Later on you can add more muscle movements to your vibrato to make it more "wristy" or "army" or whatever.

Also keep in mind that certain fingers may need certain vibrato to be effective, AND this might change if you've shifted positions! Naturally, given enough experience and experimentation, you will use the right vibrato for the right situation. As an example, I HAVE to use wrist-movement to vibrato my low-1s in first position (like B-flat on A string), but I'm much more comfortable using arm-actuated vibrato on my 3rd finger. 2s I can go either way, so I usually use a 50/50 combo.

What you're going to learn if you stick with violin long enough is that there is no single "right way" to do any particular thing. There are some common elements regardless of technique, such as the fact that vibrato should FLATTEN the note but never SHARPEN the note. But for the most part, the thing that works for you is the going to be the best path. This may need to be modified as the difficulty of your repertoire increases, but it's always best to start with what actually WORKS, and not what works IN THEORY. This is the reason that with a very young child learning, we're going to start them with a monkey-grip, and not with a perfectly formed franco-belgian grip. Then we will evolve this - as their motor skills allow - into a grip that's more viable for more demanding music. The same concept needs to apply to adults; we use the highest-level technique that's actually viable for that particular player at that particular moment.

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